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Organising long mobility periods inspires general upper secondary school teachers

Experiences Erasmus+ Erasmus+ for general education Internationalisation
Kuvituskuva maapallo ja nainen

All it takes now is a young person brave enough to seize the opportunity and make their dream come true. All other necessary support and encouragement will be provided by the school and Erasmus. How great is that!

These words of encouragement are spoken by Tiina Fredriksson, a teacher in Laanila General Upper Secondary School in Oulu, who has planned and implemented Erasmus + student mobility periods for upper secondary school students.

Together with a partner school, Svenska Privatskolan i Uleåborg, Fredriksson sent two students to the French island of Réunion in autumn 2019. Fredriksson has several years of experience in organising student mobility. In particular, she praises the support and funding provided by Erasmus +. In addition to travel costs, the support covers living expenses at the destination, making an exchange possible also for less advantaged students.

– In my opinion, these two-month exchanges are the best thing that Erasmus + has ever offered to young people in upper secondary school age, says Fredriksson.

Esko Mielonen from Joensuun lyseo upper secondary school has also organised mobility periods lasting a few months for his students. In the early spring of last year, Mielonen sent some students in his Spanish course to a partner school in Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. Mielonen finds that being able to offer this opportunity to the students was a great pleasure.

– You can teach theoretical aspects of a language at school, but there is little time for anything else. This is why I would like to encourage young people to use their language skills in real life.

Heard it through the grapevine

But how have teachers managed to stoke students’ enthusiasm for exchanges? Both current and future students, not forgetting their parents, have been informed about the opportunity of going on an Erasmus + exchange in many ways.

– Among other things, we have presented our exchange programme at joint meetings of the entire school and during the introductory day for incoming grade 9 students and on the social media. In English classes, we have used videos as well as exchange students’ presentations and interviews, Fredriksson explains.

Mielonen says that students have been happy about the opportunity to go on exchanges and experienced international activities as important. The opportunity for internationalisation may also have motivated a student to apply for the general upper secondary school in question.

– When students apply for places in general upper secondary schools in Joensuu, they hear through the grapevine that our school has a good track record in organising these opportunities for internationalisation, Mielonen says with a smile.

Fredriksson also wants to believe that internationality is appreciated. Her school has had a high rate of attraction in Oulu in recent years, and young people come to her school for many reasons.

– Of course, I would like to think that our international activities may have something to do with it.

Coaching for an international adventure

Before their departure, exchange students received coaching, which included ‘support lessons’. In addition to language training, Mielonen also provided his students with basic information about the destination country and its school culture, not forgetting practical tips.

– Even if they only scratch the surface, the support lessons give the student some idea of what they may come across.

Language and cultural coaching has also been provided after the exchange has started. According to Fredriksson, coaching can be provided with a relaxed approach, for example on a tennis court.

– Teachers in partner schools, or experts sourced by them, have given exchange students lessons in the foreign language and culture. I taught Finnish to our French exchange students myself, and in connection with our Finland-France tennis matches, we continued to pick up new vocabulary and learn about Finnish culture.

 

Pitkäaikaisliikkuvuus kuvituskuva
French exchange students in Oulu.

Getting the timing right is important

Finding a suitable time window is important when organising long mobility periods. In Oulu, exchange periods both in autumn and spring were scheduled for the months following the matriculation examination, while in Joensuu, the schedule proposed by the partner school in Las Palmas was followed.

The students also made progress with their upper secondary school studies during the mobility periods. For the students from Joensuu, the exchange period in Las Palmas corresponded to four courses of optional studies. The students from Oulu were encouraged and facilitated in completing general upper secondary courses independently during the exchange period, and the partner schools allowed them slots in their timetables for taking a break and studying independently.

– Teachers in both schools also supervised exchange students when they were taking tests for their home schools, Fredriksson adds.

Help and support are available

While each project requires work, support for organising long student mobility periods has been available from various parties. Mielonen says that he received concrete help with such tasks as using information systems and filling in forms from Finland’s national Erasmus + agency. After the pandemic, the Finnish National Agency for Education will organise preparatory training for both teachers and young people going out on exchanges and publish material to supports mobility periods.

– You must be prepared to face problems, which you can then turn into your strengths, Mielonen says encouragingly.

– You should not hesitate to start organising exchanges, it is highly rewarding!

Useful resources for the international world

More than 300,000 Finns have participated in mobility periods supported by Erasmus + and the preceding programmes since 1992. The programme has improved the international competence, working life skills and understanding of different perspectives and cultures of students, teachers and others involved in the activities alike. In addition, educational institutions and organisations have had the opportunity to learn new practices and operating models from each other, develop international education, and create joint courses across national borders.

Fredriksson says that the differences in climate, language and culture between partner countries have been rewarding, and as a result, the countries have learned a great deal from each other on such topics as the 2030 Agenda. The project has enabled incredible shared adventures.

Mobility periods offer useful resources for pupils, students and teachers alike for operating in an increasingly international world. The new Erasmus + programme period, which began in 2021, focuses increasingly on responsibility, sustainable internationalisation, inclusion and digitalisation.

Fredriksson aptly sums up the main content of student mobility.

– Above all, we have had opportunities to meet wonderful people, share our thoughts and experiences, and learn and be inspired to love and develop our common world together, making it a slightly better place to live in.

 

The Erasmus + programme funds various international mobility and cooperation projects for general education institutions and organisations. Pupils and students can go on a mobility period in any Erasmus + programme country, and the duration of the period may be anything from 30 days to as long as 12 months. In addition to long mobility periods of this type, Erasmus+ also supports shorter periods of mobility for both individuals and groups. Educational institutions can both send and receive exchange students.

 

Katariina Kivi