Internationality is an integral part of Savonia, accordingly, one goal is that every Savonia graduate is skilled, open-minded, and well prepared for international work. Therefore, being part of organizing an international conference, offers students a great opportunity to learn and train internationalization at home.

Process towards conference work is as follows: Teachers inform students of the becoming event in good time, announce the conference information, and student requirements – qualities – skills, knowledge, and abilities needed – when organizing conference.  Teacher makes a conference assistant announcement that searches students who should be active, extroverts and have ability to pay attention to details, have good and many-sided networking and communication skills (including use of social media and other digital elements), can solve problems and have ability to manage time effectively.

Furthermore, good English skills, both spoken and written language, are recommended. This all means that students interested in conference assistance, apply and introduce themselves both to teachers and customer, conference organiser. The customer and teacher together interview students, and make selection in order to form a well-functioning conference student group. Student get information e.g.  that conference participants bring with them their personal and societal cultural background. Acknowledging cultural diversity, like racial, religious, economic, linguistic and social diversity, increases ‘brilliance’ of international conference, and provides tools to study and train in fruitful learning environment. The onus is on the conference assistant to navigate through this cultural diversity and to have special possibility to learn international cooperation.

After selection, every student makes an agreement with customer, conference organizer, and she/he commits the process. The group gets organized and the roles are chosen, usually there is a project manager and several project assistants. The group decides the roles, which can be rotated during project period. When the conference fundamental information like timing, venue, expectation of amount of attendees, is shared, the project starts. Often organizing body has own duties and conference assistant students their own. Organizing body is responsible for the conference program, budgeting, registration system with fees, venue, accommodation, catering, contacting the media & creating promotional material, and site-events for accompanying persons, for instance. Most commonly, the contact person(s) is nominated who will also be the main point of contact for questions/answers related to the conference. The students can be involved in this task, too, depending of their work experience.

The phases can be divided in pre-conference, conference days and post-conference phases. The tasks are planned, and shared among group members. The conference assistants support project manager in balancing resources reserved, like time and money. They handle administrative tasks such as scheduling and reporting meetings, in addition to assembling and disseminating information. However, the assistants may also perform project management duties when necessary. The assistants need to be organized and manage their own practical study time well, so they can stay abreast of the conference project at all times and know what’s going on through each phase of the project.

Below are listed examples of tasks related to the three main phases are as follows:

During pre-conference phase the student familiarize the theme of the conference, plan who will be in registration desk, in conference room and in guiding other places. Student plan their outlook how participants recognize them e.g. clothing, name badges, how registration desk looks like, for instance.

In actual conference days the conference assistants are helping with all on-site activities on the day of the conference. Activities are e.g.  welcoming attendees, door management, registration check, keeping track of the guest list, get signed license to publish slides given by the presenters, manning the wardrobe, guiding people to right places, etc. one or two students can handle conference related website, blogging, and using social media activities like video-clips for the ‘FaceBook’ (remember to have permission to publish). All earlier mentioned activities or tasks familiarize students to react and work in versatile situations, ‘test’ their language understanding and producing skills. Conference assistants often they get immediate feedback. During pre-conference and conference days representative of the customer, teachers and named manager of the conference assistant group are responsible for supervising conference in progress and ensure  that all issues related to the conference phases are clarified and completed to avoid confusion and interruption during realization of conference.

During post-conference phase student reflects planned activities, their conference working, challenges or problems solved, and report their learning. The report(s) of conference assistants are evaluated by the teacher(s) and customer. Finally, they apply for the study credits.

Conference assistance resembles neighborly help and students should have a ‘Scout attitude’: A Scout makes good use of learning time and is careful of possessions and customer property. Furthermore, a Scout has self-respect and respect for others.

Pirkko Kouri, PhD, PHN, RN
Principal Lecturer in Healthcare Technology
Savonia UAS

Students learning internationalization via conference assistance

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