A few weeks ago I was conducting entrance exam interviews for our Digital International Business degree program. Online. How else? At the end of the interview, we always asked applicants, if they had any questions for us. One girl asked about our International Week, as she has come across some fun looking pictures on the internet about it. So, I told her that it is one of the most colorful and energetic times on campus. I told her that for one week in November (the least colorful and appealing time in Finland), the teaching language at the university changes to English, due to numerous visiting lecturers from all around the world.
I also told her that the highlight of the week is the international food tasting, where usually around 30 countries´ delicacies can be tasted, prepared by our very own international students. How I usually make Hungarian poppy seed pie and market it as “opium pie” and it is usually gone in seconds. At the same time when I was gushing about it to her, I felt a sudden ache for times before the pandemic. Mental images of the international food tasting at the Kouvola campus in 2019 started appearing in my head: no masks, no social distancing, and reckless touching of displayed food. Fun times.
There is hardly any university in the world, which has never organized such an event. International weeks are used by higher education institutions to showcase/increase their level of internationality. Xamk is no exception. I personally have undertaken several times the initiative of making our international students visible to our Finnish students and by that promoting internationalization. Guest lectures held by international professors served the same purpose in addition to creating connections and common grounds for further cooperation.
In many cultures, relationship building precedes deeper cooperation and I can confirm that based on years of personal experience, too. Meeting international colleagues in person, result with higher probability in joint action and partnership, than an e-mail exchange or Teams meeting. Traveling somewhere and experiencing with six senses demonstrates motivation and a deeper investment into the relationship.
When benchmarking the faith of International Weeks in the past year I came to realize that many universities have attempted to hold online events instead of traditional International Weeks. I myself got several invitations to such events and I have to admit, I felt no urge whatsoever participating in more online workshops and presentations conducted in Teams.
I reckon I am not the only one sorely missing old-fashioned kind of human interactions.
Don´t get me wrong, I appreciate Teams as a remote communication tool and it has definitely enabled us to transition smoothly to remote teaching in this pandemic. However, now it has been a year that I haven´t seen human faces, only colorful bubbles with initials. I reckon I am not the only one sorely missing old-fashioned kind of human interactions. If pandemics are here to stay and returning to our old normal won´t be possible, I believe that technological advancements like home holograms could transform the way of remote collaboration. At the moment, we are not just there yet.
International Week 2021
So the million-dollar question is, are we going to have an International Week this year? Call me an optimist, but I will start brainstorming for ideas for our upcoming International Week in November 2021. Nevertheless, I have promised that applicant she could cook her national dish for the international food tasting.