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Virpi Markkanen: Experiences from Rome

27/03/2019
by Linda JUNTUNEN
Language: EN
Document available also in: FI SV

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I had the great opportunity to participate at the last moment in a joint Erasmus+ mobility project involving Sivis, KSL and Citizen’s Forum. Thanks to a cancellation, I got to take part in a course geared for European teachers. It was a wonderful and extremely welcome opportunity for me.​

I found it difficult to choose a course: there were so many choices available, the course had to be confirmed for it to be organised at all and it also had to suit my own schedule. After a few twists and turns, I opted for Infol Roma’s course Coaching for teaching. Coaching is a topic that interests me, and I believe that it can be of great use in teaching, customer service and in human communication overall, both at work and in other spheres of life. So, I packed my bag and headed towards Rome, with some butterflies in my stomach.

Having wound my way to the course venue through a hectic Monday morning rush hour in Rome, I met with my European colleagues and Infol representatives. The reception was very warm, making me feel welcome at the event. Our group was not large. There were four participants from Turkey and one each from Croatia, Cyprus and Finland. Only one of the Turkish participants spoke English, so our communication with them was slightly limited. Smiles, positive body language and a few words helped us along. The Croatian participant proved to be a very talkative, swift and determined woman. The participant from Cyprus introduced a more reflective approach and also talked a great deal about his own life. And the Finn? Well, I may not be the right person to comment on that.

The advance information we received was not very detailed, but it did reveal that Loris Mitrutti would be our instructor for four days and Mariangela Spadafora for one day. Loris also accompanied us during Spadafora’s day, but in the role of interpreter.

Loris proved to be great. He also spoke excellent English and articulated clearly. In other words, there was no need to worry about language! We were introduced to various models dealing with topics such as providing feedback, conflict resolution and positive goal setting. We talked a great deal about communication, coaching and trust and exchanged numerous experiences. At times, I would have liked Loris to take over and keep the discussions more focused. However, he was very polite and didn’t really restrict our conversations, which at times digressed pretty far—maybe even too far—from the topic. I know he had prepared the classes very meticulously, and was sometimes annoyed that so much of what he had planned to deal with was left unhandled. The members in our group were aware of taking up their space, but this remained an observation, even though we agreed to tap each other on the shoulder if we veered from the topic.

Since our group was multicultural and multilingual, interpreting also took up time. Our Wednesday evening instructor only spoke Italian, so Loris served as our English interpreter, and the Turkish participants had their own interpreter. Luckily, we also had exercises, which we completed in small groups.

I made friends with Kiriyas from Cyprus and Zeljka from Croatia. We spent our coffee breaks together, and I also spent the evenings with Zeljka. We formed a close group and talked a lot, also about the course. We even discovered a “fun” detail. All three of us had signed up for a different course, yet studied together throughout the course. The Turkish participants had most likely signed up for another course, too, but they were also offered a separate programme. We found this a bit puzzling and discussed it for quite a while. We also brought it up with our instructor. Adopting an Italian carefree approach, or whatever you choose to call it, we concluded that the topics of all our courses were discussed in any case. We actually started joking about “whose day” we were dealing with at any given time.

The director of Infol spoke with a charming Italian accent, pronouncing Finland as “Fineland”. That’s actually how I felt especially the first day, when the Finnish school system was praised extensively. We even watched a clip of US filmmaker Michael Moore’s documentary dealing with the Finnish education system. I felt really proud about our system and hope it will remain worthy of such praise in the future.

I learned new things that I can certainly use in my own work and got to experience a course in a culture very different from my dear “Fineland”. Perhaps I prefer the Finnish, more precise way of handling things, but this was my Italian experience. At the end of the day, everything worked fine and the course gave me more than I dared expect after the first day. Europe is a large continent, and countries have different ways of going about activities. Finnish precision is also respected, but there are areas where we could learn from a more relaxed culture. Mutual cultural exchange, that is. Rome offered a magnificent setting for independent evening activities. I was happy to have found a friend to spend the evenings with, talking about various topics and, at the same time, strengthening my English skills.

To return to my earlier question about the Finnish representative’s input in the group, after the coaching exercise that I did in front of the group, I received praise for being an active listener, showing empathetic presence and being silent without it being awkward. One morning, when the spluttering city bus that we were on stalled, it was the Finn who used the navigator on her phone and guided the group to the course site. I should add that after a short walk our Italian bus driver picked us up again to the sound of loud honks. Once again, everything worked out in the end. With a swish of his elegant scarf, the bus driver continued towards the school.

I had a great experience and will remember the week forever. I encourage all my colleagues to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity offered by our European community, to be open, share your experiences, and listen to and learn from others. I felt nervous about the week, but this again proves it: moving out of your comfort zone leads to great insights.

Virpi Markkanen

Sivis Study Centre

This article is part of a series of articles about learning experiences in the field of adult education in an European context. Our ERASMUS+ KA1 project is called “European Educational Know-how Supporting Civil Society”.

 

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