The Koning Willem I College in ‘s-Hertogenbosch firmly aims to provide its students with the best possible preparation for the job market. As part of this effort, its hospitality department recently embarked on a collaboration that allows students to do a work placement at Intercontinental Hotel Group in Jiangsu.
TEXT: MAYA WITTERS | PHOTOS © KONING WILLEM I COLLEGE
As a UNESCO school, stimulating equal opportunities, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue lies at the heart of everything Koning Willem I College, a School for Senior Secondary Vocational Education, Adult General Secondary Education and Adult Education in the Noord-Brabant province, undertakes. “We offer each one of our 15,000 students the opportunity to have an international experience during their training,” explains head of the school’s international office Renée Frommé. “Whether that’s a placement in an international company within the Netherlands, or an internship abroad.”
Chance of a lifetime
Given the school’s international outlook, its international office jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with the Intercontinental Hotel Group in the Jiangsu province. “We were contacted by Rob Spiekerman, director of operations for IHG hotels in Jiangsu and GM of the InterContinental Nanjing,” attests Paul Swinkels, coordinator of international placements for the school’s hospitality department. “He has a passion for education, and was looking for ways to enrich the learning experience of both Dutch and Chinese students in the hospitality sector.”
“Collaborations with China are often challenging, because the culture and procedures are very different,” explains Frommé. “You need plenty of patience and good contacts to get established. Luckily, we have a new president of the Board of Governors, Yolande Ulenaers, who has close affiliations with China and speaks the language fluently. She was immediately behind the project.”
“It really seemed too good to be true when Rob contacted us,” adds Swinkels. “He already found a school in Wuxi for us to organise exchanges with, and was committed to providing great placements at Intercontinental Hotels. On top of that, ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Wuxi are sister cities. Everything just clicked.”
Paul Swinkels, Marc Raaijmakers, Yolande Ulenaers and Renée Fromme.
The first student on the exchange programme swapped ‘s-Hertogenbosch for Wuxi in mid-August, and was warmly received by Mr Spiekerman. In the first stage of the programme, four Dutch and four Chinese students per year will swap places for five months each. “The next two Dutch students will leave in February, and we will welcome the first two Chinese students here in March,” explains Swinkels.
A five-month exchange is no mean feat for someone who is barely 18 years old, and China certainly isn’t the most obvious location, either. “Of course, parents are anxious at seeing their children move so far away,” says Frommé. “But we organise information sessions to put their minds at ease, and we know our students well. This exchange is only offered to those who we believe can handle the challenge. Other students get equally exciting opportunities, for example in South Africa or Europe.”
The cooperation between the schools in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Wuxi comes at an apt time: the provinces of Noord-Brabant and Jiangsu have had a close relationship for 25 years, which they are about to celebrate with a trade mission to China in November. Various Dutch company delegations and local government officials will make the trip to Jiangsu province capital Nanjing.
This offers a unique opportunity for the Koning Willem I College to showcase its exchange programme as well as the Dutch cuisine. “We will join the Dutch delegation together with four students from the chefs’ training department,” explains Swinkels. “They will cook up the final celebration dinner according to the five principles of Dutch cuisine: culture, health, nature, quality and value. We look forward to presenting a bit of the Netherlands to the Chinese dignitaries.”
Anouk de Ridder, first student on the exchange programme.
Looking to the future
For a school of 15,000 pupils, sending four people per year over to China might seem like a drop in the ocean, but the college has further ambitions. “We hope to expand this programme in the coming years, not only within the hospitality department, but in other areas too,” explains Frommé. “We will work with the companies on the November trade delegation to see if we can organise placements with them. That way, Jiangsu could become a real Dutch hotspot.”
For Mr Spiekerman, it’s the collaboration he was hoping for when he contacted the college. “I love to see how much these students look forward to their experience, how they arrive as youngsters and return as young adults. Seeing the Dutch and Chinese students mingle, despite the language barrier, is fantastic. It’s enriching to students and teachers alike, and ultimately benefits our intercultural understanding and teaching standards on both sides of the globe.”
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