Internationalisation without meeting people feels at first like a Carelian pie without a crust. There is the rice porridge to eat, but something essential is missing. The corona era first created a vacuum at the field of internationalisation, but gradually universities who were hungry for global contacts, began to cook their various virtual tasters to make the international encounters successful online.
Carelian pie goes virtual
Kirsi Vartia is accustomed to crumpling Carelian pies at the Savonia teaching kitchen with lecturer Hanna Kyrölä assisting in kitchen work. Instead of the traditional teaching situation, this is an international project of Algoma University in Canada, in which Kirsi is involved. Algoma University wanted to create opportunities for intercultural cooperation for its students together with its partners. It conceived a project in which the students involved in the project each introduced each other via video to the traditional food of one’s own country, all the way to its history, meaning and preparation.
Kirsi is studying in Savonia in the degree program in Tourism and Hospitality. During her studies, she has been interested in food tourism and was therefore enthusiastic about the Algoma project. Videotaping and communicating with Canadians in English sounded like a challenge she wanted to take on in order to maintain her language skills. In her opinion, all Savonia students should have opportunities for similar projects. Especially in the field of tourism, these international encounters are necessary for professional skills.
Kirsi’s virtual Carelian pies can now be enjoyed off-campus too: in addition to the project universities, the video will also be shown at the Finnish nursing home in Ontario. Like Savonia, Algoma University is part of the uArtic network and the thematic Northern Food Security uArctic network involving partners from Norway, Finland and Canada.
Studying the history of St. Petersburg at the Christmas table
History and Russia as a neighboring country had long been of interest to Tourism student Mia Väntti. In the autumn of 2020, she learned that Savonia students would have the opportunity to study the history of St. Petersburg with an online course at Saint-Petersburg State University of Technology and Design. She seized the opportunity, although not all the details of the course were yet available.
The professor at the partner university led the group of students through St. Petersburg sights on St. Petersburg and Russian history, architecture and culture through weekly zoom lectures. The teacher’s enthusiasm for the subject caught up with Mia as well. The small group size, with students from Germany and India, enabled fluent interaction.
Russian hospitality was reflected in the practical arrangements of the course. The weekly lecture time partially overlapped with the students’ other courses, but the teacher postponed his course to later hours. As Christmas is celebrated in Russia a bit later than in Finland, the last lecture took place on Finnish Christmas Eve. Mia enjoyed her Christmas meal while recapping the course contents with the teacher and the group. In addition to scheduling, the only challenges were related to occasional problems with network connections.
Mia felt that the course gave her a lot of new knowledge about St. Petersburg, Russian history and culture, which will increase her professional skills in the field of tourism. She sees virtual exchange as a good way to acquire international skills in cases where participation in a traditional long-term student exchange is difficult for practical reasons.
A world-wide course catalogue
Many international degree students of 2020 are accustomed to studying online due to the circumstances. It was therefore very natural for a Savonia 1st year Mechanical Engineering student, Olakunle Shopeju, to hop on a 3-week online winter school offered by the Samara University. The course focus was on 3D, but it also touched the areas of sustainability, circular economy and additive manufacturing in general.
The biggest motivator for Shopenju was to earn credits by studying a subject that interested him. In addition to flexibility, one of the biggest benefits of international online studying for students is that it allows more choices of course topics. By taking an online course, one can focus on subjects one is interested in instead of being limited to the options offered inside the walls of one’s home university.
Shopenju evaluates the application process and study arrangements of the Samara winter school as smooth, although there were overlaps in daily zoom lectures. The course did not include mere lectures, but also group work with peer students e.g. from Malaysia, France, Italy and the USA. He would recommend a similar course to other students as well. Through short exchanges and online courses, many students are encouraged to participate in a traditional long-term student exchange later on.
With baby steps from MooCs to virtual exchange
Shortly after the first wave of the corona, Savonia’s partner universities began offering their online courses, such as above, to students of their partners. E.g. Savonia students of IT followed programming lectures offered by a German university, Fashion Design students designed fashion pieces under the online guidance of Russian teachers, and Natural Resource students were introduced to a theme of tropical by a lecture from Costa Rica. School of Business has a long-term experience of online teaching cooperation in a sales and marketing with an Austrian partner university. As one can see, international encounters are possible, despite possible travel barriers.
As every university student should be able to test their wings in an international environment, it is good to remember that virtual internationality does not have to be complicated. At its simplest, the teacher can open his or her own lecture via zoom to students at a partner university in their field. Or students can meet online around a common theme or an assignment. This is a good place to start on a low threshold to test virtual internationality.
MOOCs are not yet virtual exchanges in the true sense of the word, but virtual exchanges refer to facilitated online learning, which usually takes place synchronously, where students can interact with students at a partner university. But that’s the subject of a whole new article…
Savonia International Service