International instructor exchange

Teaching abroad during the corona crisis

Prof. Dr. Natalia Ribberink is a professor of foreign trade and international management in the HAW Hamburg Department of Business. She is active in promoting international exchange in teaching and research. With the support of the ERASMUS+ programme for instructor mobility, she taught at our partner university Universidad de Europeia in Lisbon, Portugal, in September 2020 (before the second lockdown). In this interview, Prof. Ribberink talks about her experiences there.


A street scene in Lisbon, Portugal.

International Office: How did the contact with Portugal come about and what made you decide to go there to teach, despite the current corona crisis?

Prof. Natalia Ribberink: The contact with Portugal came about in 2016 with the support of my colleague from the Department of Business, Prof. Dr. Adelheid Iken, who was working in cooperation with the Fernando Pessoa University in Porto at the time. Since 2016 I've organised annual research stays in Portugal for the students in our International Business Master's course, each of which has been dedicated to a current research topic in international business. As part of these trips we visit various institutions and research facilities with the students, in addition to completing the academic programme. The cooperation was expanded to Lisbon (Universidad de Europeia) in 2018 and to another university in Porto (University of Porto) in 2019.

The September 2020 teaching exchange was arranged as part of the Erasmus mobility programme, at the invitation of our partner university in Lisbon. The winter semester in Portugal had already started, and on-campus teaching in small groups was really welcomed, especially when it gave students the opportunity to attend an international guest presentation and gain new insights. In the current situation, this is the only option for getting international input that is available to many students.

International Office: What corona-related measures were in place at the partner university and did you feel safe?

Prof. Natalia Ribberink: The partner university has adapted to the current situation. Masks are required across the entire campus, both inside and outside. This was the first time I had taught for several hours while wearing a mask, which definitely required getting used to. And there were hand disinfectant dispensers everywhere on the campus which – like those everywhere else in Lisbon – had a practical foot pedal. All of the rooms were aired continuously, something the climate in Portugal makes easier. I felt very safe.

International Office: What subjects did you teach and how did the teaching experience differ this time?

Prof. Natalia Ribberink: I taught on the following topics: internationalisation strategies of small and medium-sized enterprises, supply chain management, and port competitiveness. What was different this time was the emotional component. After countless online conferences and presentations over Zoom and Microsoft Teams, both the students and I appreciated being able to have a live, in-person discussion. There was lively conversation with the students in each course, and they took part actively. That was very inspiring. What was also different was that I taught my courses using a hybrid format, which meant that online participants attended in addition to those in the room and took part in the discussions.

International Office: Is another teaching stay planned, when international travel regulations permit?

Prof. Natalia Ribberink: Definitely! In April and May 2021 two colleagues from Lisbon are coming to Hamburg as Erasmus instructors. If the travel regulations allow for it, I'm planning another research stay in Portugal with our Master's students for June and July 2021.

International Office: Do you think teaching abroad, and the accompanying intercultural exchange, is important? Why?

Prof. Natalia Ribberink: I view teaching abroad as very important, especially in the area of international business, which is what I teach and study. Only through direct exchange and your own experiences and impressions on the ground is it possible to carry out objective and critical analysis, collect primary data and form your own picture of a country. This picture is often completely different than what is reported in the media. This is why international academic exchange is so important to me. I encourage everyone to take part, and I'm optimistic that we'll be able to do so again soon.