Another 500 Brazilian students at the University from September

We are taking a flexible and open-minded approach to their education, says László Dvorszki, Director of International Affairs. In our articles we are interviewing some of the students and the leader of the mentoring team.

BME received the largest number of foreign students among Hungarian higher education institutions last year and the trend continues this year as well. How successful the “Science without Borders”, the idea of the Brazilian Government has been and how successful we, as a partner institution have been? It is also important to assess how the “Brazilian project” has met our expectations.

László Dvorszki, Director of International Affairs and University Coordinator: This is a success story from all aspects. The Brazilian government is drawing their conclusions after the return of the first group but so far there has been no complaint reported to CAPES, the Brazilian grant coordinating organisation in relation to our University. Nobody has had any criticism or objection; we have not received any negative feedback. We tend to take a flexible and efficient approach to their education, which is not an easy task as the group is greatly varied. Their level of English is also quite different, some of the students needed to take language courses to be able to catch up. Their ages and education levels are also diverse: some students completed three terms in Brazil, while others did 11. They all have different expectations and needs.

How can the University cope with such diversity?

László Dvorszki: With a constructive approach. We are expected to offer them between 24 and 30 credits; they are aware that they have to take at least 21. Students with higher education levels are offered credits of Master programmes as well, although originally they are supposed to join BSc programmes.

Some of them arrive with such high level of knowledge?

László Dvorszki: We have made a half-term pre-assessment and some of the Brazilian students are really excellent. We are one of the institutions where taking credits has happened mostly according to our rules and system. At the same time students report their performance and progress directly to CAPES. In autumn 2013 239 students arrived; they are finishing their studies at the University this summer. In the February semester 221 students joined who are studying with us until December. Some of the students received a 5-week English course prior to their University studies and in the new group some students are studying English in the summertime and their University programme is started in the autumn. In September 2014 altogether 195 Brazilian students are starting the technical training programme. Quite a few students from the 239 arriving last year are staying longer as the grant can be extended to 18 months. Altogether we expect that the newly arriving students, the students from the February term and the ones staying from the first group (who have excellent performance therefore receive Admission Notice from the faculty, grant from the Hungarian Rectors’ Conference and permission from CAPES) will be around 550 again.

Brazilian-Hungarian Dance Club

Members of this latter group ensure further income for the university; and it is also a professional challenge to educate them as they are the best students. The Brazilian students are required to submit official reports about their training; what does the report include exactly?

László Dvorszki: These students – similarly to the ones who are studying here through the Erasmus Programme – are included in the Neptun system of the university. Admission to courses and performance are registered by the Neptun system. We prepare a transcript of these including the courses that were offered by the University originally. They take part in professional practice and visit factories or have work placement. For example 20 students have received certificates from Graphisoft for studying architectural design software. They also perform individual projects to present their knowledge and technical or management skills and they can also join faculty or department research programmes and projects. These activities are all added to the transcript contents. We, as a receiving institution are obliged to report to the Hungarian Rectors’ Conference as CAPES made an agreement with them before the Hungarian Rectors’ Conference contacted Hungarian educational institutions. I can say on behalf of all participating institutions that we are very grateful to the Hungarian Rectors’ Conference as they manage and supervise the programme on national level from the idea to the realisation and they are doing a great job in this Brazilian-Hungarian cooperation, which needs to adjust to both countries’ systems and environment.

Paula Chiachia Pasta, Brazilian exchange student at the Faculty of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology, who made a welcome speech on behalf of the Brazilian students at the University’s opening ceremony in October

What can our report include about the performance of the Brazilian students?

László Dvorszki: It includes a lot more information about everything else that we have undertaken: a mentoring network supports their adaptation; we even help them find flats to rent. We teach them Hungarian language and culture. Besides the professional programmes we organize excursions to the countryside and other free-time activities. We plan for long term: if they enjoy their stay in Hungary there are better chances that they would return in the future for their Master or PhD programmes or as researchers. We are open to making bilateral exchange agreements in „studyabroad” system.

Do Brazilian students take part in evaluation of lecturers?

László Dvorszki: Directly not but we are aware of their opinions. In the second round there were even more applications and we know that they pass the information on about the country and our institution. CAPES has raised the expectations in the call for applications for the 2014 autumn semester: only students with high level of English have been accepted and a language course is not part of the programme. Although we are very good at English language teaching and we are experienced in English language university programmes this time the coordinating institution did not want to take these opportunities.

What kind of people are they, what impression did they make here at the university?

László Dvorszki: They are very enthusiastic and very critical. They express their opinion immediately and directly. Latin American lifestyle habits can be perceived of course; they have problems for example with getting up in the morning. They do not like cold weather but Hungarian climate suits them. Hungary has got a very good geographical location, many other European countries are easily accessible from here and costs of living are relatively low. The quality and standard of education is also very high. As the Director of International Affairs I think the Brazilian project will have long term effects. Some of the students have already announced that they would return to Brazil for their BSc graduation and then come back to Hungary for the MSc programme. I am very grateful to the faculty coordinators, the colleagues who organize and manage education and professional practice of the Brazilian students and they also listen to their personal issues and problems.

All Brazilian students have personal mentors during their stay at the University. “When selecting mentors for the programme a major criterion was speaking proper English. We also required that mentors should be available at least for one morning every week when they can help Brazilian students with administration issues and other arrangements” as Klára Lovas, chief mentor of the programme, who coordinates mentors on behalf of the Student Centre, summarized the selection criteria.

„In the programme we are working with strangers, we have to be able to build contacts to them and sometimes lead a whole group of students. You need true self-confidence to be able to cope” highlighted the Chief Mentor the most important aspects, who assessed suitability of the applicants in practice. “In the last round of the selection process applicants were required to find solutions to existing problems; what they would do for example if their mentee asked for their help because they had broken the window in their rented apartment. By analyzing such cases we could assess practical thinking of applicants and how they would behave with their mentees. We find it important that mentors should be able to understand the real problem and be aware that what may be obvious for them is not necessarily so for a foreign student” explained Klára.

“Most mentors have already performed social activities, which they wanted to continue in the Brazilian programme. For some of them international contacts were appealing while others have already experienced what it is like to adjust to a new country and a new culture. During the programme mentors gain a lot of new experiences and they can improve their organisational and language skills.” In the past year of the programme Brazilian students have asked mentors’ help mostly about rent issues to find out more about the area and the prices of the available apartments. With their smart phones Brazilian students are able to find their way easily; mentors first showed them around the campus and canteens because these are not marked in the maps. Very rarely has it happened that a student was pick-pocketed in the tram or closed their flat with the keys inside; and some of them asked for help when they wanted to buy some special products that were not easy to find.”

“As Brazil is a large country its climate has a wide spectrum, therefore for some students Hungary’s climate was not unusual, while others have seen snow here for the first time in their lives. As we had mild winter last year cold weather was not a big issue, just the opposite: the snow programmes like ice-skating and snowball fight were very popular” said Klára Lovas about the experiences of the Brazilian students. “Our guests love spicy Hungarian dishes; one of their favourites is the traditional Goulash. We experienced that they are much more open than Hungarians and they like to speak about themselves. Classical sightseeing programmes are not very attractive for them; they rather prefer to try everything in practice. They travel a lot, tend to use their time well and visit other European countries. It is a speciality that they wash everything in low temperature, almost cold water, so our washing machines sometimes damage their clothes even on 30 degrees” as the Chief Mentor summarized the experiences of the guest students.

According to the rules of the “Science without Borders” student exchange programme after one year but maximum 18 months students return to Brazil for at least a full academic year.