Student mobility may equip international students with a range of positive experiences, i.e. getting to know different cultures and educational systems or improving language and intercultural skills – important aspects of personality development and social skills development. At the same time, international students are faced with many critical life events without their usual social support systems, when they are abroad. They are often subjected to discrimination both inside and out of the classroom (Sherry et al. 2010: 33–34) and experience instances of “culture shock” and of intercultural conflict in the foreign country. In a survey with over 19.000 students at the University of Vienna, 16.7% of international students state that they have personally experienced discrimination (University of Vienna 2015: 64). A comparative study of the experiences of international students in 5 European countries shows that about 40% of the respondents both in Germany and France report experiences of discrimination and stereotyping. Only 22.3% of the international students in France think that they would be welcome to stay in the country after studying (Sachverständigen Rat dt Stiftungen für Integration und Migration 2012: 44).
In the wake of growing nationalism and anti-immigrant attitudes institutions of Higher Education are called upon to facilitate the development of “inclusive societies” (European Commission 2017). While internationalisation constitutes a top priority for most HEIs, its implementation in practice in the sense of ‘internationalisation at home’ remains lacking. Only rarely institutional practices are put into action aiming to further development of intercultural skills of students and staff or the strengthening of intercultural dialogue in the institutions.
The Solvinc project, by creating appropriate tools such as interactive platform: http://learningfromcultureshocks.eu/, meets the above-described expectations, helping to overcome the negative experiences resulting from culture shock.
The aim of SOLVINC project is to facilitate the development of intercultural and conflict management skills among international students, local students and HE staff and to further the implementation of intercultural student encounters in HEIs, thereby contributing to the promotion of inclusion in practice. Moreover, SOLVINC will also strengthen conflict management and communication skills by engaging with real-life cases of intercultural conflict, proposing possible solutions and thus alleviating experiences of discrimination for HE students. Within the project, we collected and analysed real experiences of intercultural conflict, devising negotiation and conflict management strategies as well as training material for HE staff to better deal with an increasingly diverse student population. Also, formats of intercultural learning between international and local students were implemented at partner universities in order to facilitate the development of intercultural skills among all students.
SOLVINC aims to impact (1) international and local students facilitating their development of intercultural and conflict management skills, (2) HE teaching and counselling staff improving their ability to cater to a diverse student body, and (3) HE institutions in the institutionalisation of formats of intercultural dialogue.