More than 40 students from Finland and South Africa came together to discuss learning in an online workshop on 27 October 2021. The workshop was organised by the third semester Tourism and Event Management students of Haaga-Helia Porvoo campus for the SUCSESS project, which aims to increase the employability of university graduates in South Africa.
Erasmus+ projects offer ample opportunities for creating platforms for both students and academic staff to meet and share experiences. The students organising the workshop learnt competences such as project management, setting up an online workshop and intercultural communication. It was great to experience the exchange of information and learning taking place on both sides.
The participants shared their views on a wide range of topics, including learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and the competences they need to succeed in their future careers. The discussions were intensive, and the participants appreciated the possibility to meet up with students from the other side of the world.
Diverse experiences of online learning
Students had diverse experiences from online learning. Universities all over the world had to transfer online practically overnight in March 2020 after the global COVID-19 outbreak put societies in lockdown. Some students appreciated the time they saved from not having to go to normal classes at universities. For them, working online was seen as the new normal of the future. The South African students mentioned problems with electricity and poor Internet connections as challenges relating to online learning during the pandemic. Moreover, some students thought that online learning was rather exhausting.
However, all students acknowledged that studying during a pandemic is an extraordinary situation, and they accepted the fact that universities need time to adapt to new circumstances. One student summarised it with the words ”willingness makes everything possible”.
Learning competences for the future
While the South African students mentioned infrastructural issues bringing challenges to learning during the pandemic, the Finnish students brought up issues relating to inquiry learning in an online setting. According to the Finns, there has been too much group work and too little feedback. However, the students acknowledged that competences such as collaboration, communication and stress management are regarded as important for their future careers, and they can be learnt at university. The Finnish students also mentioned the internships and projects as making them more confident about employability.
South African students, who are used to more traditional teaching approaches, would like to see more diverse ways of learning in the future. Social learning and volunteering were mentioned by them as effective ways of combining competence development and doing good for the community. This is something we could learn from our South African partners and build it into our own new curricula at Haaga-Helia.
Students also mentioned that it is important to learn to communicate and work with people from different cultures and backgrounds – exactly what was happening in the workshop!
Thoughts on career dreams
In the workshop, the students also discussed their ideas about future careers. They shared some worries about the challenges of making their dreams come true. For instance, COVID-19 has created concerns especially among future tourism and hospitality graduates about finding internships and proper jobs after graduation.
However, when talking about their long-term expectations, the students were rather optimistic about the future. As most of the students participating in the workshop came from tourism and hospitality programmes, the vision among the participants was that people will always travel. There will be employment opportunities in the industry at some point after when the pandemic is over.
An important message from the students was the importance of keeping an open mind and being prepared to move to another region, or even aboard, to gain work experience. Thus, gaining a strength that can be used for the local area or the domestic market at a later stage.