Experiential Learning in the Caribbean Netherlands

Experiential Learning in the Caribbean Netherlands

12/04/2023 - 15:18

In the context of Buas’ Experiential Learning Programme, lecturer Arian van der Werff visited the Caribbean Netherlands. What were the results?
  • Stories

Arian van der Werff, who once studied at NHTV himself, is a Travel & Aviation lecturer at Breda University of Applied Sciences. Late October, he had the opportunity to travel to the so-called ABC Islands. Or actually, the BC Islands, because Aruba no longer fit the very busy schedule. 

What were the trip's results? 
‘That question comes a little too early,’ Arian laughs, ‘I have not been back for that long and have yet to write down my findings.’

Then this interview is a great opportunity to exchange some thoughts on it perhaps?
‘Certainly, and then let me start by saying that I am immensely grateful to have been able to go on this journey. BUas’ Experiential Learning Programme, funded through the Erasmus+ programme, was created to allow colleagues to gain more experience outside of BUas. I myself – after a lifetime in tourism and aviation – have just been part of BUas for two years.’

But outside is where things are happening?
‘We must – as a University of Applied Sciences – continue to connect with the industry. We are a practice oriented and international educational institution. This means that good work placement positions abroad are essential. And then, when our students go there, we should also take good care of them.’

And that is how you ended up in the Caribbean Netherlands? 
‘I like to be on the road and I am always looking to make new connections. Preferably in a cross-cultural context. I think the seed was planted during my Master's degree in European Tourism Management (Buas’ very first Master’s programme, ed.) for which I went to Chambéry and Bournemouth. I also have some connection to the Caribbean. My wife’s roots lie there, we lived and worked there for two years and our oldest daughter was born there. So, I know the islands quite well, and that helps in the search for opportunities for greater collaboration.’

And those opportunities are there?
‘Now I can go back for a moment to your question of what the results were; not only recognition, but mostly confirmation. It reinforced my feeling that we need to strengthen our cooperation with the ABC Islands. As BUas, we are leaders in tourism, even in the past, and if we really want to make a difference, we have to help there. I mean, those islands depend overwhelmingly on tourism, it is simply the main source of income. So that tourism remains, but it has to change, look at diving on Bonaire and the effects on the coral there, for example. There are plenty of challenges, how can you turn this around? That is where I think we can really contribute.’

So, enough study material for our new travel professionals?
‘Exactly and that is the great thing, it also brings us something, because yes, I remain a bit of a businessman. It provides us with an awful lot of opportunities for projects and research. I visited the Mangazina di Rei, literally the king's warehouse. Currently it is a cultural park – I may not call it an open-air museum – where people make an effort to propagate and preserve the local culture that is disappearing for future generations. For now, it means that there are mostly tourists from cruise ships, who have half an hour to watch some folklore and then they leave. The people I have talked to would like to organise this differently, make it broader. There is so much more, but we lack manpower and knowledge, we do not know how to do it, they told me. That is where our students, the future travel professionals, can add value.’

What else did you do?
‘The main purpose of my trip was to visit BUas students on their work placements on the islands. I have visited 8 of the 9 work placement companies. The 9th was in Aruba, which unfortunately did not fit my schedule. Fortunately, the student there has family on the island and thus a social framework. That is important, you see students gravitate toward each other if possible. The community is close-knit. We went out to dinner together and we also visited all the work placement companies together. That way they also see what their fellow students are doing and they learn from each other.’

Talked to many people?
‘Not only did I visit companies which already hosted a student of ours, but I also went to potential new work placement or graduate placement companies. This all came about in collaboration with BUas’ Placement Office. So yes, I have made many connections and I have talked to a lot of stakeholders.’ 

In education as well?
‘Through our Global Engagement Team’s connections, I ended up at the University of Curacao. There they have an International Hospitality & Tourism Management programme. By the way, Aruba also has a very good university, which has been focussing on tourism for many years. It is good that these programmes are there. Students from the islands often have trouble here in Breda with the freedom they suddenly have or with the study programme, often not wanting to go back after graduation. And the future of the islands really depends on people who return to the islands after their studies or who have studied tourism there.’

What can we at BUas do in this regard?
‘I think we should not only bring students here, but more importantly do something there. If I may dream out loud for a moment, I say, let us start a branch of BUas there, but I understand that such a thing is not easy and may not be an option at all. But we can start with more guest lectures back and forth, and of course that can be easily done online. The new Kingdom Fund will also create more opportunities in terms of exchange. In everything we do, it is important that we do it collectively. We are not going to act like managers there and tell them how things should be done, but we can help our colleagues with innovative ideas and implementing them independently. That in turn adds to our profile of a leading programme.’

What kind of innovative ideas would you suggest?
‘As an aviation guy, I am naturally very interested in everything regarding sustainability in this field. There are a lot of flights between the islands and that region is very keen to become a testing ground for electric powered aircraft. Interesting, because it involves small distances and thin passenger flows. Talk about Experiential Learning! And then it is a matter of taking something like that to the next level. That was one of the topics of A Flight to the Future, the second International Sustainable Air Transportation event of the Dutch Caribbean Cooperation of Airports. I also went there; it was very educational, especially in the context of our intended Transformative Aviation & Airport Management track.’

So, a conference as well, a busy schedule!
‘I quickly calculated that I visited a total of 8 work placement companies on 2 islands, as well as 8 other companies, 1 university and 1 4-day conference. I have made many connections, so now together we have to follow these up quickly. Active account management is a prerequisite for success.’