Beyond the Classroom: When Students and Community Come Together

5 min readSep 14, 2023


written by Merle Beerens

One of the many ways that we strive to innovate education is by taking it outside of the classroom. In line with Redefining the Classroom, one of our community-oriented projects, the course “Career Skills: Inclusive Leadership” brought higher education students in contact with status holders (i.e. refugees with a temporary asylum residence permit). Part of Erasmus School of Economics’ selection of electives, this course aimed to help status holders become active candidates in the job market.

Let’s discover Merle Beerens’ story, as she navigates this course week by week and shares her most valuable insights.

In the past few weeks, I went out of my student bubble with around 15 economics students. Every Tuesday afternoon we’d take the course: “Career Skills: Inclusive Leadership”. However, this time it wouldn’t be at the university buildings Theil or at Polak. Instead, it was at the Albeda College in Rotterdam South, next to the Maasstad hospital. Here, we followed along with a project held by Stichting Werkshop, where we were coupled with young status holders. The sessions consisted of interactive presentations and games centred around: What can I do? What are my core qualities and what do I want to do in the future?

Stichting Werkshop is committed to helping vulnerable people become active candidates at the job market, by helping them to get a job. Through coaching, the candidates grow to become more self-sustainable. This in turn increases the motivation to take action in their search for a job. This had been the main goal of these sessions: to help all the young people who just arrived in the Netherlands think about their future and inspire them about the possibilities.

For the sessions, we were divided in groups consisting of two EUR students with 3 to 4 status holders. The students came from many various places: Ukraine, Syria, Congo, Egypt and Turkey for example. The ages differed from 18 to 26. The language levels varied considerably, ranging from people who were barely understandable to people who could give an entire presentation in Dutch. The first session turned out a bit challenging. Both the students from Albeda and us from Erasmus were hesitant and did not really know what should be said. It felt very much like an interview, where we were asking questions just to get the conversation going. Bertine, the teacher of this class noticed this too.

“It was a very slow start at first, but through each session more connections started to develop, and with that the sessions became increasingly pleasant and fun. Even the shy students, who are not used to interaction, started to bloom.”

In the first week, the main question was: “What do I like?”, and to do this, we made a vision board. The week after, the main question was: “What am I good at?” and, “what kind of work would suit my capabilities?”. Finally, in the last few weeks we focused on the last main question: “How do I present myself?”. It was at this phase that we, the students of Erasmus University, gave a course on how to give an elevator pitch and the students of Albeda College helped create LinkedIn profiles.

The importance of career prospects

In the beginning, I was quite skeptical about the effect of these sessions on the young status holders. While keeping Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in mind, I asked myself how much do they really want to spend time pondering the question of what they want to do in life. These are young people that are in a country where they don’t speak the language and don’t understand the culture yet. Aside from having left everything behind, some of them had also experienced traumatic events.

It was throughout these weeks that I learned this is of utmost importance for them. This experience really helped bring perspective. During the last week, I had a conversation about this matter with my two buddies. Marc, originally from the Philippines, told me:

“Stichting Werkshop has helped me get to know myself better. I realize that I can develop a lot more, and that it is important to think of my future.”

Likewise Ahmed, originally from Egypt, was very enthusiastic and shared:

“These weeks have helped me to learn about myself and to think and question who I am and what I want to do in life. I have learned how to network and make connections via LinkedIn or with a CV. Besides that, it has been really fun as well to get to know new people.”

Combining theory with practice

Aside from the interactive sessions, we had a weekly reflection moment. During this moment, we looked at theory: how do I become an inclusive leader? Themes such as “cultural intelligence” and “unconscious bias” were considered. This was a good addition to the interactive sessions with status holders, and they gave us the chance to develop on this aspect. The combination of interaction and reflection was an effective way to quickly pick up theory and consequently applying it in practice. This is something you hardly ever do during your study, which is why I think it was extra valuable. I knew very little about these subjects, but I have learnt to communicate with someone from a different cultural background and with different experiences than my own. It is also quite educational to be aware of where you are from yourself, and what factors influence your perception.

I talked about this to Dora, a fellow student. She said:

“It was a highly interesting and good subject. Quite refreshing to be outside of your own bubble and talk to people that have experienced totally different things than you have. I also learnt to reflect more on myself, and reflect on my own qualities.”

Participants of the elective at the Albeda College

The challenge of coaching

During the interactive sessions, we as Erasmus students took on a coaching role. This was quite a challenge: how do you communicate with someone from another culture, who has experienced totally different things than you have? Thanks to the reflection sessions, we became increasingly better at taking on this role. This meant the connection with the students became better and a more open environment grew, where we felt more openness and space to share experiences with each other.

The coaching of one specific student over the course of several weeks ensured that we built a personal relationship with ‘our’ students. In my opinion, that is one of the most valuable aspects of the project.

Our teacher, Bertine, also mentioned this:

“The one-on-one contact and having someone that takes the time to think with you about your wishes and capabilities. I can never offer them that by myself as a teacher.”

The same thing goes for my fellow students and myself. This project got me outside of my comfort zone. At the Albeda college in Rotterdam-South I was completely out of my own bubble, and I met people I never would have met otherwise. The human connection is immensely valuable for now, but also for the future. And no textbook could possibly compare to it.




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