Top tips from a college tutor

Nicola Smart is the Travel & Tourism Team Leader at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College. She successfully integrated an international element into her Travel & Tourism course, offering students the opportunity to take up work placements in Seville over a six week period, funded by the Erasmus Plus programme. This was the first group of SGS students to be involved in the programme and, as a result of the success of this initiative, SGS are now planning to expand the offer to other vocational learners within the College.

Here, she talks about her experience and gives some advice to tutors who would like to introduce this opportunity.

“I would highly recommend this opportunity to other tutors. It seems like a big thing to take on, but the end results are worth it.”

What will students get out of the project?

“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and an experience that they will not forget. It is an opportunity to work in and experience the culture of another country and to gain independence. It is important to manage student expectations realistically. Don’t sell it as a holiday; it is a cultural experience.”

What is involved?

“It was a six week placement and the time slipped by. Students were provided with airport transfers, flights, insurance, language classes, cultural activities and a living allowance, which was paid directly into the students’ bank account.

Students stayed with host families throughout the placement, which offered an additional layer of support for the students and all meals were provided by the family.

Pastoral support was provided by the local partner, Third Sector International. The support was amazing, and any problems that came up were resolved within the same day.

I accompanied the group to Seville during the first week to help them settle in. This gave me an opportunity to visit all the work placements and host homes, which gave me an insight into the personalities of the people they would be working with.

During the first week, I set up activities to support the students to become more independent in their new surroundings. I arranged meetings in different locations to encourage them to get to know the city and learn their way around.

I also joined the group for the last week of their placement, which provided an opportunity to revisit their placements and sign off their learner assessments.”

What will you, as a staff member, need to do?

“Offer support to students to prepare for their placement and introduce opportunities to discuss the placement during lessons. Students will attend preparatory training at least a week before they travel, which includes cultural adaptation, money management and safety abroad.

Build a relationship with the students’ parents, family and friends. It is helpful to have an event for parents, to give them information about the placement and an opportunity to ask questions. Involve them as much as you can; Their buy in and support will ultimately contribute to the success of the programme.

Help students gain the full support of their employers. It is helpful to contact employers and provide a letter of support to explain the opportunity and ensure that they will keep the students’ job open for them for the period of time they are abroad.

It is also helpful to involve staff responsible for safeguarding within the college, to ensure all the arrangements meet safeguarding standards.”

What support is offered to students while they are away?

“Each student is assigned a mentor and monitored throughout their placement, by the mentor and their employer, who hold weekly meetings to monitor progress, offer support and address any issues.

I also kept in touch with students via skype and social media, and was available by email for the duration of the mobility. As they became more settled, I heard from them a lot less!”

What would your three tips be for a tutor introducing a mobility initiative?

“Make sure you have a long lead in time to plan the mobility and integrate it into your course.

Be confident in who you’re sending. I recommend sending second year students, that you know better.

Good preparation for the students is key, in helping manage their expectations realistically.”