ISAAC, a European project to improve the cultural integration of international university students

On 29 October, the event to present the results of the International Students’ Action for Adapting Cross-cultural activities (ISAAC) project, funded by the European Commission in the framework of the Erasmus+ KA2 programme, was held at the Cordoba campus of Universidad Loyola (Spain).

The ISAAC project aims to identify the main challenges faced by foreign and national university students in adapting to a new academic environment in the context of international academic mobility, addressing possible areas of improvement in the student support system to develop the capacity of staff members in intercultural management and communication.

After two years of work coordinated by WSEI University (Poland) with the participation of Fundación ETEA – Universidad Loyola (Spain), COFAC – Lusófona University (Portugal), the University of Thessaly (Greece) and the NGO Proficio Skopje (Republic of North Macedonia), a model for supporting the adaptation of international students has been developed, including a guide for university students and a handbook with good practice guidelines for university staff supporting foreign students, accompanied by supporting graphic materials.

A study to analyse international students’ needs and challenges

The project aims to address the main difficulties and tensions faced by international students during their stay in the foreign country, such as culture clashes, language barriers, non-verbal communication and foreign social norms, or even problems in organising daily life in a different environment.

With 500 respondents, both university staff and national and international students, the study highlights some key areas concerning the management of activities and relationships between university staff and international students. These include the transparency of the organisational structure, language skills, intercultural communication, internal coordination between the different institutional units and cooperation with external organisations to support different areas of student life.

Material for students and university staff

Together with the report containing the support model for addressing the needs, challenges, expectations and good practices of universities and their students, a guidebook for university staff working with international students has been produced, which includes proposals for improving the relationship of university staff with international students. This also aims to strengthen the international character of universities in destination countries that are less attractive to students by drawing on the experience of the most attractive countries.

Moreover, university students will also find a guide document of great interest to them. According to Pablo Simón, Communication Manager of Fundación ETEA and coordinator of this guide for foreign students, “the guide was conceived so that every student who wants to study abroad can get the most out of the international experience -both academically and personally-. It is a practical document that accompanies students on their journey from the moment they first consider the idea of studying in another country until they return to their country of origin”. The guide includes key questions on each of the topics covered, as well as stories about other students’ experiences.

Finally, these documents are complemented by a set of very creative graphic materials that synthesise the main ideas put forward, thus facilitating the assimilation of the contents.