Language Centre cooperation with a local high school

Picture of Laura Martin (writer of the article)

Laura Martin

As a part of my duties as an English language teaching assistant at the University of Helsinki Language Centre, I was asked to give a presentation on what it is like to be a university students to some local high school students for the ENA 6 course on Studying and Work Life.

I was put in touch with Sari Hopeakoski, an English and French teacher at Helsingin medialukio, with whom I exchanged some emails about what was expected. We agreed that I would give my presentation remotely on 16 March 2020 (which worked out perfectly as this ended up being the first day of distance learning for Finnish high schools due to the coronavirus pandemic).

The day before the presentation, Sari and I met online to test the video conferencing tool we would be using and further discussed what I could include in my presentation. After introducing myself and going a bit more in detail about my background, we decided to expand the scope of my presentation from just what it is like to be a university student, to an introduction to the educational system of my home country, Barbados, and what life is like there, my experiences studying as a Bachelor’s and Master’s student in England, my Erasmus exchange in France, and finally what it has been like studying at the University of Helsinki, in contrast to my previous studies.

I put together a presentation with lots of pictures and a few notes, which I gave twice, to two groups. The students were very active and interested to hear about my experiences, and had many questions especially regarding what it was like studying in England and how it differs from studying in Finland.

As it was the first day of distance learning, the students were not quite yet accustomed to this style of learning, so many of the students were quite shy, preferring to keep their videos off and typing their questions rather than using their voices. This sometimes made it hard to grasp how much they understood and to know whether I was talking too quickly, or whether they were even listening. In this regard, I think it would have been nicer to be physically present at the school, but it was a nice warm up for what would soon become 2.5 months of distance learning and teaching worldwide!

Overall, it was a really rewarding experience for me. I was able to meet a local English teacher and students, and gain better insight into how the Finnish school system works. It was also a nice opportunity to reflect on my experiences – as humans we adapt so quickly to change and what was once so new and so different quickly becomes totally normal. It was refreshing to look back on my previous and current studies from a new perspective and see how far I’ve come from the nervous 18-year-old who left a small island to study abroad.

Text and picture: Laura Martin, MA student at the University of Helsinki and course assistant

Asian Language Clubs: continuing online during an exceptional time period

The Asian Language clubs have been an important part of the internationalization at home work coordinated by the Support for Learning and Teaching Unit (also known as OOTU). International exchange students from China, Japan and Korea have organized amazing, relaxed and informal language workshops for local students who are eager to learn a variety of aspects related to Chinese, Japanese and Korean language and culture. There is another post in this blog titled Hands on internalization that covers topics and feedback from previous face-to-face Asian Language Clubs in more detail. I recommend reading that article if you are not familiar with the club events.

In spring 2020, it was not possible to carry out the Asian Language Clubs the usual way, due to the coronavirus epidemic and the limitations that followed. The University of Helsinki was forced to declare an exceptional situation, which meant that people could not meet at the Language Centre and share their thoughts in a physically shared place such as a classroom. Therefore, there was an obvious need to get people connected online, but also some troubling questions: Would international students have the energy and the will to host the meetings? How many would participate the online meetings? Which ways of sharing information, ideas and materials might work best online? Despite the preliminary anxiety about taking on the challenge, I was fairly optimistic in finding answers to the above questions together with the Asian club leaders.

Firstly, I approached the active club leaders who had already carried out two face-to-face meetings with the local students at the Language Centre before the exceptional situation. I was very pleased to hear when Shengyu Wang, Sayaka Fukada and Hyemin Park were willing to try out hosting a meeting online in Microsoft Teams. We set up a testing meeting in Teams and I showed them some basic functions that they could do both on their laptops or mobile phones: e.g. how to share the screen, use the chat during a video call and share files if needed. We also discussed possible themes or topics for the meeting, but in the end I gave the hosts and hostesses the freedom to make the final choice independently.

Secondly, it was time to invite participants to the Chinese, Japanese and Korean online language clubs. The Teams scheduled meetings proved to be helpful in this process, so I created one main channel and three sub-channels to enable simultaneous video calls. In picture one below you can see the Chinese groups’ scheduled meeting in Teams.

Picture 1. Screenshot from Teams.Picture 1. Screenshot from Teams.

I filled in the participants’ emails to each scheduled meeting and after typing in a brief description of the event created the event. This way all active participants of the previous Asian Language Clubs received an automatic calendar invitation to the meetings. Two days before the meeting I sent a reminder, just wanting to make sure students had received the invitation and understood that the meeting would be online for the very first time. By the time I sent the reminder I could see from the scheduled meetings’ details who had accepted, declined or not responded to the invitation. I was again pleased to see that many local students were willing and had time to participate.

Thirdly, it was time for the big day everyone had been waiting for, 3 April 2020 at 14:15 local time (GMT+2) we were ready to start the video calls. I was lucky to have the OOTU unit’s long-time assistant and trainee Anna-Lena Krug assisting me in starting the events. She joined the Korean group and helped keeping small talk going on until the Korean meeting could start after some technical difficulties with Hyemin Park’s laptop microphone. While Anna-Lena stayed in the Korean group, I visited the Chinese and Japanese groups’ online calls. The latter group had quite experienced Japanese speakers among them, so they were able to both discuss and write in the chat during their call. The Chinese group was hosted not only by Shengyu Wang but also his volunteering Chinese friend Qin Yu. Their idea was to first show the participants a number of short videos describing Chinese cities with narration, and the possibility to turn on or off subtitles, and then discuss them in more detail.

Picture 2. Screenshot from the Chinese video call chat.Picture 2. Screenshot from the Chinese video call chat.

However, sharing the screen did not work with a participant, so we decided to move the meeting to Zoom. Both the main host and the participant had used Zoom before, so the transition did not take too long and they could continue with the original topic, even though the focus turned more on the host telling about the cities (e.g. their climate and population).

After a while I headed back to the Korean and Japanese video calls in Teams and wrapped up the meetings together with the hosts/hostesses and participants around 15:45 local time (GMT+2). I asked the participants how they felt about the online meeting and the response that I got from them was encouraging. I had a short chat or talk with the hosts/hostesses too and they had positive feelings about the meetings. It was also great to hear that the last Asian Language Club meeting, 17 April 2020, could be arranged in Teams or Zoom (Chinese group).

Asian Language Club, Japanese online chat and feedback
Picture 3. Screenshot from the Japanese group’s chat.

Text and pictures: Lasse Ehrnrooth


What is internationalization at home?

This is an important question and happens to be the title of chapter 1.1.1 in a research article by Leasa Weimer, David Hoffman and Anni Silvonen published in 2019. Their publication, Internationalisation at Home in Finnish Higher Education Institutions and Research Institutes, addresses a need to understand how international contacts, communication and collaboration can be made an integral part of a higher education institution.

According to the aforementioned publication, the term internationalization at home (IAH) is relatively new and used in 1998 to refer to “intentional intercultural learning between domestic and international students”. Researchers have then pursued to develop the definition of IAH to differentiate it from traditional internationalization, e,g. in the form of exchange programmes like Erasmus in the EU, as well as include formal and informal aspects. Weimer et al. (2019, 19) give their reader a checklist of key elements of IAH:

– Offers all students global perspectives in their program of study;
− IAH elements are systematically integrated into compulsory curriculum;
− International and/or intercultural perspectives are included in learning outcomes;
− Classroom diversity is integrated into learning;
− Opportunities for informal co-curricular activities to engage with international perspectives (both on campus and in the local community);
− Opportunities for international virtual mobility;
− Purposeful engagement of and with international students; and
− All staff (including international officers, teachers, administrative
staff, and university leadership) support IAH practices (Jones & Reiffenrath 2018).



Hands on internalization

Cultural Mythbusters in Action!

After the huge success of the first Language Centre workshop “Talking Cultures” in March, a second one was organized. At “Cultural Myth Busters” on 19th of April participants gathered at specific language tables, hosted by international students, and discussed stereotypes from different angles. A multitude of fascinating, confusing and funny stereotypes and myths about different countries were gathered on posters around the room. They were then debated at the language tables in Chinese, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish and placed in categories ‘true’, ‘false’, and ‘partly true’. OOTU assistant Ignacio Valero Rodenas gave some inspiration with his presentation about Spanish myths and their explanations. (Did you know that one origin of the siesta is that people had to work two different jobs during the war to make ends meet? So much for the stereotype of lazy Spaniards!) At the end of the session participants finished with a poster walk to see each other’s results. These posters are also currently exhibited in the Language Centre (Fabianinkatu 26) on the second floor and have already been curiously inspected by many students and staff members.

The workshop is part of a new event series from the Language Centre that started this spring. The idea of these events is to bring international and local students together, brush up language skills and to learn more about intercultural communication and different cultures. They also help international students integrate into the university community while providing internationalization at home for local students.

LC events are organized by OOTU (Support for Teaching and Learning) specialists Nina Sulonen and Janne Niinivaara, trainee Sina Timme and international OOTU assistants Ignacio Valero Rodenas and Zi Yu. Workshops will continue the following academic year and are open for all University of Helsinki students and staff.

Asian Language Clubs

Due to the past success, Asian language clubs were organised once again by the language centre during the spring semester 2018. In five bi-weekly meetings participants got together with international hosts to practice speaking Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Thanks to motivated hosts, partakers got to not only practice their language skills but also experience a variety of cultural activities and internationalisation at home. The clubs are great for students that do not have the possibility of attending other language classes or simply wish to extend their knowledge beyond what they learn in lessons.

The informal and relaxed atmosphere made for a great learning environment, and the feedback speaks for itself: “I had so much fun in language club! I wish to attend next semester as well!” & “I really like this language club. Glad to know some people who also want to learn Mandarin. And it’s much easier for me to make friends with them.”& “Five stars to all staff and student helpers.”

For the hosts, the clubs enabled them to better integrate into the university community, make new friends and get to know the local culture better. It was also a way to feel at home away from home by being able to speak their language and share their culture. Or as one host wrote: “Thank you for arranging this language club activities! Every two weeks on Friday, when I meet you two, I feel very happy!!! Having chances to meet someone who can speak Chinese is the luckiest thing in my exchange life!”

The hosts really went above and beyond in preparing fun activities and conversational topics. One club participant described their host as “very supportive and involved” and making sure they had fun practicing the language. During the sessions hosts introduced the club participants to writing haiku (a type of poetry) and folding origami, and even a chance to practice calligraphy with authentic materials. The topics of conversation varied from food to recent events. Traditional games were played, such as Ddaki, where players first fold paper into little square tiles and then try to throw them in such a way that the other player’s square is flipped over. Not only made it for great entertainment, it was also quickly learned how to cheer or complain in another language. A visit to the botanical garden and different museums in Helsinki were also part of the program. During the last session, club coordinator Nina Sulonen and language centre trainee Sina Timme also introduced some Finnish culture: sima and donuts in a small pre-vappu celebration.

Internationalisation specialist Nina Sulonen was very satisfied with the clubs: “Thanks to all participants and our really great hosts, we will continue the Asian language clubs after the summer break.”

Text and photos: Sina Timme

Terveiset Helsingin kielilukiosta!

Kielikeskus vieraili koulun kieliviikolla keskiviikkona 12.11. osallistuen italian opetustunnille. Mukana olivat italian kurssiassistentit Giulia Pernisi ja Talia Sbardella sekä assistenttitoimintaa koordinoiva opinto-ohjaaja Nina Sulonen.

Assistentit olivat valmistelleet tuntia varten kiinnostavat esitykset omista kotikaupungeistaan sekä runsaasti pienimuotoisia ja aktivoivia suullisia tehtäviä. Aiheet liikkuivat italialaisesta ja suomalaisesta ruokakulttuurista ja joulunvietosta mm. musiikkiin ja perhe-elämään. Tunnilla kävi mukava iloinen pulina ja oppilaat olivat aktiivisesti keskustelussa mukana.

Giulia ja Talia keskustelemassa opiskelijoiden kanssa suomalaisista ja italialaisista joulutraditioista.

Giulia ja Talia keskustelemassa opiskelijoiden kanssa suomalaisista ja italialaisista joulunviettotraditioista.