Understanding international customers is part of vocational skills

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Internationalisation is an important development tool for vocational institutions. Mari Jokela, eTwinning Ambassador and teacher of tourism at Lapland Education Centre REDU, encourages teachers to get started with planning and developing international activities and projects.
Opiskelijat työskentelevät pöydän ääressä

The eTwinning platform, which encourages European teachers and students to work together, has completely changed the way of teaching for Mari Jokela, who works as a teacher of tourism at Lapland Education Centre REDU.

– There are not very many textbooks for the field of tourism, so we teachers make a lot of learning material ourselves. I began to use eTwinning as support for teaching about ten years ago. In a contact seminar in Vienna, I met an Austrian teacher who asked our students to join a business correspondence project. Our students got interested in the idea as they would be communicating with customers and tour operators from different countries when working in tourism companies in the future. Now, real people were available for practising that.

In the beginning, even the teacher herself was nervous about how the cooperation would work. However, Jokela says that even in internationalisation, it is important to understand that you do not need to know how to do everything yourself.

– The devices do not always work, or it may be difficult to connect even though everything has been checked the night before. In such situations, it may be the student guiding the teacher. Over the years, teaching has changed and started to resemble workshops. Like at workplaces, the same group may have people with different backgrounds.

Working online has added a wide variety of different IT tools to Jokela’s teaching.  However, what she finds the most valuable is the contacts gained through eTwinning.

– For example, if the topic the students are studying is European tourism geography, it does make teaching and learning quite different if it you include partners from across Europe to talk about their home countries. Because students do not primarily study languages in the projects, but other cultures, it is a good idea particularly for tourism students to learn English spoken by other nationalities, too.

Important to understand a foreign customer

Mari Jokela had a long career in tourism before becoming a vocational teacher and she still actively updates her vocational competence. In the autumn, Jokela was on study leave for three months, one of which she spent working as a travel guide in southern Portugal. When she left for Portugal, in addition to her role as a customer in the tourism sector, she could also step into the shoes of a customer service agent in the tourism business.

– I had to decide which woolly hat to take with me when the temperature there would be 25 degrees on arrival but would change over the following few weeks. A personal experience of what it feels like when a Finnish person abroad cannot get dinner until after eight in the evening helps to understand the expectations of international customers when they come to our home region.

Jokela, who has been an eTwinning Ambassador for vocational education and training for six years, still sometimes gets contact requests and cooperation proposals on a weekly basis. However, she emphasises that you do not always have to say yes.

– It is important to reflect on what you want from the cooperation yourself and what the students would need. If I ask the students who they would like to cooperate with, their answer is usually the Spanish. But if we know that there will be charter flights to Levi from Romania this winter and I am not very familiar with the culture, it would be wise to consider an eTwinning project with Romanians. It also depends on how the teacher wants to sell the project to the students.

Feedback from students has been extremely positive.

Students find internationalisation an important part of vocational studies."

– It is also nice to see that especially young people who would not go abroad on their own initiative come back with completely new ideas from an internationalisation period.

And Jokela does not mean only tourism students. Internationalisation is an important development tool for the entire educational institution.

– Understanding international customers and the ability to empathise are important working life skills in any field. At REDU, an internationalisation target has been determined for each vocational field and resources have also been reserved for it.

Information, ideas, and contacts from the seminar

In the internationalisation event organised in Kittilä in the autumn, representatives of schools in northern Finland were able to familiarise themselves in depth with the themes of participation and digitalisation and learn about the internationalisation opportunities offered by the Erasmus+ and Nordplus programmes and eTwinning.

Teacher of tourism Mari Jokela held a workshop on European cooperation in vocational education and training. A working paper designed by her for planning international cooperation was used in the workshop.

– Filling in the working paper clarified even to the more experienced participants in what kind of shape their activities are at the moment and how they could be improved. The workshop participants representing accredited educational institutions and new actors had a chance to learn from each other. I gave examples of how to combine group mobility and eTwinning. We also discussed topics such as competition activities, how old the students participating in projects are and on what grounds the students are selected. I believe that everyone was able to take something home from the workshop, Jokela summarises.                                    

The feedback given by the participants in the Kittilä event confirms Jokela’s feelings. Here is a sample from the feedback received:

“It was fun! New ideas. There was a lot to think about. Lovely to meet colleagues. Learnt to know many new people. Such an incredibly beautiful place.”

“Completely new information and a lot of new opportunities opened up. Perhaps also more work.”

“In addition to general information, I could also ask questions about my own organisation face-to-face.”

“New ideas about networking and new contacts. It was excellent. Thank you!”

“A very good training course! A very well planned package, and the leader had a positive approach. I will participate next time, too.”


Video: eTwinning in vocational education and training (in Finnish)