In the early spring of 2017, I got the chance to travel to the picturesque Slovenia. In addition to the spring warmth, the country had a lot more to offer – I returned from Slovenia with an international experience; and I have already been able to implement what I learnt in Slovenia in my work as a learning coach and career counsellor at the Pärnumaa Vocational Education Centre, greatly benefitting both my students and myself. In this essay, I will be talking about my exciting trip. To begin with, I will touch upon the preparations for the job shadowing, then I will go over my greatest achievements; there will certainly be many thoughts about what a valuable experience this has been – I believe that others will have something to learn from this as well.
The journey to my learning mobility in Slovenia began by me finding an e-mail in my inbox about an opportunity to apply for a learning mobility in Slovenia, at the Biotehniški centre Naklo school, for the spring of 2017. There were other countries listed as well; however, Slovenia was especially captivating for me; namely, because the Biotehniški centre Naklo has put a strong emphasis on the career counselling and adult education. The Biotehniški centre Naklo and the Pärnumaa Vocational Education Centre have already been cooperating for several years, and we know that, if possible, they are always happy to host us.
Thus, I really only had one and only option – Slovenia! Soon after, I submitted my motivation letter to the project coordinator of learning mobilities at the Pärnumaa Vocational Education Centre. The committee composed of the project coordinator and the head of the department chose the participants for the Slovenia project based on how they had been ranked; and to my delight, I was one of the lucky applicants chosen. In my motivation letter, I described in depth my wish to develop cooperative relationships with partners, to increase the quality of teaching based on the experiences gained through this mobility, and also to share my experiences at the Pärnumaa Vocational Education Centre’s learning mobility seminar as well as the information events organised by the department with my colleagues, in order to motivate them to take part in different projects as well.
I went on the mobility with my colleagues and a couple of students. Thanks to the active cooperation between the sending and receiving institutions’ project coordinators, both our job shadowing and the students’ traineeships were very well thought out and varied, specifically targeting our professional development. Both the sending and the receiving school’s project coordinators supported us throughout and asked our impressions from the previous days – that sort of approach was very encouraging and nice. The other employees at the Biotehniški centre Naklo were very helpful as well, and they all helped make our job shadowing very enjoyable. Several teachers also suggested different activities for us to do in the evenings; for example, one teacher arranged a field trip for us to the historic Škofja Loka town, where we had the chance to visit a monastery. Our tour guide in that beautiful town was a soon-to-be nun, who was introduced to us by the English teacher at the Biotehniški centre Naklo, who was also a nun. That English teacher, by the way, was the mentor for the English teacher of the Pärnumaa Vocational Education Centre.
The biggest success for this job shadowing was, in my opinion, the fact that the project coordinator there expressed sincere interest in our cooking as well as baking and confectionery technology specialities. We introduced the Pärnumaa Vocational Education Centre and our opportunities to the employees of the Biotehniški centre Naklo. It did not take long until two teachers and five students from the food processing and baking departments of our Slovenian partner school, the Biotehniški centre Naklo, came on a mobility to our school – in September 2017, to be precise. We consider this a definite accomplishment!
In order to get the most out of an Erasmus+ mobility, it is helpful to gain prior knowledge about the receiving institution by browsing its website and by talking to the colleagues who have already been to the receiving school or country. The latter can sometimes be even more effective – personal experiences are genuine and paint a pretty realistic picture of what to expect. During the job shadowing, you should ask lots of relevant questions and be open and curious – this will also make the mentors’ job easier. This is the kind of approach that helped me learn as much as possible.
The mobility questionnaire developed by the Pärnumaa Vocational Education Centre about the receiving institution’s teaching materials, curricula, training bases, and work and learning environment was great at helping me approach the job shadowing in a structured manner; equally importantly, I was able to take lots of notes while talking with the employees of the Slovenian school, which later came in handy when sharing my impressions with my colleagues. After completing my first Erasmus+ learning mobility, I also feel that it contributes greatly to the preparations if you have already been on a mobility previously – that way, you get a better sense of what job shadowing even entails.
I definitely found what I was seeking in Slovenia. Namely, I was able to share with my colleagues who work in adult education some ideas on how advertising for adult education is arranged in the partner institution. One of the most colourful examples is that each year, the flower arrangement students of the Biotehniški centre Naklo help decorate St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican during Easter and Christmas, through which they get a lot of media coverage. I also liked the idea that the students at the Biotehniški centre Naklo learn about the different fields of study at their school during the project days which are arranged twice a year, when they have the chance to attend lessons of interest. I started implementing this idea at the Pärnumaa Vocational Education Centre soon after finishing my job shadowing. I organised an information day for the students of the Pärnumaa Vocational Education Centre who are in their last year of vocational studies that can be entered on the basis of basic education. At that information event, we introduced our school’s curricula that are accessible on the basis of secondary education and the chance to come and job shadow those specialities. Several students jumped at the opportunity and did exactly that.
During the job shadowing period, we were able to see the arrangement of lessons at the Biotehniški centre Naklo, as well as the classrooms and different practical work areas (cow barn, stable, cheese and milk production facilities). I was also impressed by the school’s fields, greenhouses, and store, where they sell the produce produced by their own students.
I made several other interesting observations. For example, I noticed that all the students wore slippers in the school buildings and the hallways were decorated with the students’ artwork. At the Biotehniški centre Naklo, I chatted with some of the staff members involved in the career field, including the school psychologist, the special education teacher, and the vice principal, the latter being my direct mentor during that job shadowing period. Talking with them, I got an in-depth overview of how the students’ career-related planning and the learning process are organised and supported. One of the biggest benefits of the job shadowing for me was also an increase in my work-related motivation after getting this experience abroad, since I saw that we do a lot of similar things in support of students’ studies. I feel supported and inspired by knowing that even in a different country they have a similar understanding of good practices and effective organisation of work.
During the job shadowing at the Biotehniški centre Naklo in Slovenia, I gained new knowledge on how to popularise the specialities at the Pärnumaa Vocational Education Centre. The ideas gained from the Slovenian partner institution’s staff members helped promote my professional development and broadened my worldview. Being thoroughly prepared before the Slovenian mobility allowed me to get the most out of the job shadowing and benefit both myself and the international cooperation between the partner institutions. During my first experience abroad, I was able to contribute to the development of international cooperation between the partner schools; and by sharing my learning mobility experience, I have motivated my colleagues to take part in mobilities, too. I hope they will jump at the wonderful chance!
Kersti Karu is a Learning coach and career counsellor at the Pärnumaa Vocational Education Centre