“Great work. I was happy to have this joint study with students from another country. Hope to do this again. Thank you teachers.” “It was really fun to talk to other people and hear more about sustainability worldwide.” “It was nice to make new connections.” These recent feedback quotes from Finnish and Dutch tourism students after their virtual international exchange raised up that international competence of VET students can be acquired virtually too. During the past year, there has been plenty of examples of fruitful virtual staff exchanges, but projects which involve students have been less common.
Vantaa Vocational College Varia and Deltion College have been planning and implementing together virtual international exchanges for students in several study fields since last autumn. Earlier small virtual exchanges have been carried out in safety and security as well as ICT helpdesk programmes and in March, tourism students implemented a successful and interesting cooperation project of sustainable tourism.
This project was implemented in small student teams. Teachers recommend this similar method for other international virtual experiences too because it is easier to create supportive and safe environment to communicate with new people. The project was divided into three phases: 1. getting to know each other, 2. presenting sustainability in travel and tourism in both countries and 3. a discussion and feedback session. As a result of the project, students improved their competence on sustainable tourism and also learnt good practices and examples from both Finland and the Netherlands. Several topics were covered such as the future of cycling and tourism for the Dutch travel industry and a Finnish Sustainable Travel Program with examples from first certified destination, nature tourism and indigenous Sami tourism ethical guidelines. In addition, students demonstrated their knowledge of UN Sustainable Development Goals and clearly reported an improvement of both their international competence and communication skills too.
As all feedback from students was very positive and many wished for more similar projects, new cooperation ideas are being developed for the future! Besides tourism teachers, English teachers in aircraft maintenance, as well as logistics teachers are also planning their virtual international cooperation. It has been very interesting to notice that the new possibilities have been discovered and little by little virtual international exchanges are becoming more popular. There are plenty of challenges, but luckily inside the Network of Networks partnership it has been possible to learn, create and work together towards more versatile international activities offered by the VET colleges.