Last spring, teacher and international coordinator Marte Lundberg accompanied eight students all the way from a tiny village in northern Norway to London with ADC’s Internship Programme. The students, nearing the end of their second year at Aust-Lofoten Upper Secondary School, took part in Erasmus+, an EU initiative that grants vocational students the opportunity to gain work experience abroad. Over the course of two weeks, Marte saw her students become more self-confident and self-aware as they completed internships in London nurseries, nursing homes for the elderly, hotels, travel agencies and IT companies; and explored the corners of Oxford Street with wide-eyed fascination, all while staying with British host families in the residential borough of Harrow.
Aust-Lofoten Upper Secondary School, located in the incredible region of Lofoten Islands (we’re not joking, google it and you will be amazed), offers both general and vocational education, with internationalisation as one of the most prominent aspects of their profile. As Lofoten is one of Norway’s most famous tourist destinations, vocational studies play an important part in developing the thriving regional industry. At the moment, we are working together with Marte to bring about a project that far exceeds our first collaboration - as a total of 13 Tourism students, as well as five students in Health Care, Media and Child Care, have been chosen to take part in the programme next year.
Amid Erasmus+ paperwork and her day to day responsibilities as a Natural Sciences teacher, Marte kindly took the time to speak to us about project planning, peer-to-peer motivation and the lessons learned from Aust-Lofoten’s most recent adventure in London.
Did you have any experience with international mobility projects before you applied for a project with ADC?
Our school has engaged in EU programmes preceding Erasmus+, e.g. Leonardo da Vinci and Comenius, in addition to Nordic programmes like Nordplus, but to me it was new. Taking on the project, it was reassuring to cooperate with an experienced partner such as ADC College, that could provide our students with both work placements and host families. This, together with the fact that ADC is located in London – an attractive metropolis to students from a small town in the far north – and an English-speaking country, added to our choice of partner.
What do you find most important when it comes to project planning?
First of all, I like project planning. Allocating time and people to planning is essential for projects to succeed, and can be difficult in schools, where the curriculum decides our timetables every week. In my opinion, involving the teachers who are going to be part of the project is key to success. If the teachers are involved and on-board, they will be dedicated to the follow-up of students and can be your most important point of support throughout the project period. In the Erasmus+ project we now run, I find so much inspiration and help in our team of teachers.
What are your aims with the project?
The main objectives of the project are to motivate students to complete their vocational education and training, and to raise the attractiveness of vocational studies and hence increase the number of applicants to our school and vocational training in general. Expected learning outcomes for the students going to London are improved English skills and cross-cultural competence, as well as greater international orientation and improved self-confidence.
How do you select students?
We encourage all second year students in the relevant fields of studies to apply. At the start of the school year, we give information on the mobility project and what students can expect to learn and achieve through work placements abroad. We select students based on criteria such as their potential to develop their English and professional skills, their suitability and their potential for personal development. Our focus is not to send the ”best” students, but try to send students we think will profit most from the challenge. We’ve had a few more applicants than we were able to send, and this year we had to pull names from a hat to decide who was going.
New to this year is that we applied for a full class to go - the second year Service and Transport students specialising in Tourism. Students in this class automatically qualify for mobility grants. By doing so, we hope to see even more positive results for students at the lower end of the motivation scale, who most likely would not have applied by choice. These students are the next generation of workers in the tourist industry in Lofoten, the ones who will welcome tourists to our region both in hotels and other organisations. Being trained in English and getting some first-hand experience of how to welcome international guests politely, they will most likely be sought after as workers when they graduate.
How do you motivate your students to engage with the project?
We inform them about the project. Most second year students this year had already heard the stories of the group who visited London last year and seen videos from their stay on a day with international focus. Peer-to-peer motivation is probably stronger than motivation by teachers.
How would you describe your last project with ADC College in London?
In the spring of 2015 we sent our first eight students to London, to work in hotels, travel agencies, IT companies, kindergartens and homes for the elderly. The project was well planned, and the students were all very motivated. I think I can say that they all fell in love with London - two even said they want to move to London as soon as they finish their studies! They were thrilled about the lively metropolitan life, and by the expansion of their own worldview. It was such an amazing chance for us as teachers to see our students grow and how their perception of themselves and their home town changed over two short weeks.
This project was our first with ADC College. We felt safe in the hands of such an experienced and professional partner. Our Country Manager Linnea Enström handled our project and communication promptly and efficiently. Even though some students had difficulties settling in with the host family or handling situations or communication at work, we were able to sort everything out with the students in close cooperation with ADC and Linnea. The sum of the project is utterly positive, and a driving force to continue working with ADC and applying for new Erasmus+ grants.
What did you find most important when accompanying the group to London?
My colleague Laila Juliussen accompanied the eight students to London in April and stayed there the first week of their two week stay. I arrived on the Friday, and we spent the weekend together, until Laila left on Sunday. Having two teachers was very important, in particular when we took the group out in London for a full day excursion on the Saturday. Highlights of the day included a pub dinner in Covent Garden and seeing The Lion King musical, which was an amazing experience for all. Many students did not have much spare time to spend in the city centre, so they were quite happy to spend a day with the group and teachers sightseeing around different areas and famous sites. One student got ill during the tour, and I accompanied her to the doctor. From that we learnt that being two teachers was important for accompanying the whole group. Even with ADC's support, we felt quite a heavy responsibility resting on our teacher shoulders!
We felt it was important to be close, visiting the students at work and seeing for ourselves what they experienced. In retrospect, we know that we helped sort out some difficulties that could have escalated without our close attention on site. The project is strengthened by the teacher experiences, which add to the students’ own perspectives. This has helped in the follow-up on students’ tasks, and the dissemination of the project.
What were your students reactions after the project?
The students were euphoric about their London experience. Despite some initial discontent with accommodation and one or two work placements, all students said they wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I was lucky to accompany them on their way home, which took us all day, from an early departure in Harrow, to a late evening arrival in Lofoten, including a three-hour long boat ride on the last leg. We had plenty of time to talk, sorting thoughts and feelings and summing up the stay.
Many of them were fascinated with the English politeness, and commented on how impolite Norwegians seemed in comparison. They noticed that they had become more polite themselves, and that they brought their adopted phrases “sorry”, “pardon me” and “excuse me” back home. We reflected on the newly gained ability to view Norway and Norwegians from an outside perspective. Some reflected on the level of living standards, and concluded that they now appreciated more what they had at home. Another focal point was the appreciation for the qualities of living in a tiny, quiet town, compared to the hustle and bustle of a world metropolis. Others came back more humble, having been exposed to new environments and people, a different culture, and having to speak a foreign language continuously. Upon departure from Harrow, most of them didn’t want to leave at all.
How do you think the school benefits from having an international profile?
Through international engagement, our school acknowledges the multicultural world and time we live in. Students need international knowledge and perspectives to succeed in life and work, and these skills will become more and more important in the future. Having an international profile makes the school more attractive and relevant to both students and businesses taking on students for vocational training. Through Erasmus+ mobility projects we open the door to the rest of the world for some of our students, and they in turn bring a piece of the world back to the school to share with classmates and friends. In the long run, we hope this will help achieve the aims of having more students choosing vocational studies, and a lower drop out rate.
What do students learn from a trip like this?
I think students grow as people by gaining self-confidence through handling a lot of new situations, staying in host families and having to speak a different language to get around. Being in a large city for the first time is quite stressful, in particular compared to our safe and easy-to-get-around small town, and this teaches them to take care of themselves and each other. Working under different conditions, within a much more hierarchical structure, was quite challenging to some. They learn to show respect, and to appreciate trust and the opportunities they are given. They also learn to appreciate that people and cultures are different, and to see the world from another point of view.
Aust-Lofoten Upper Secondary School is one of ADC College's partner schools. Earlier this year they took part in the Internship Programme, a project eligible for Erasmus+ funding. Would you like to know more about the programme? Please message us or call a Country Manager today on +44 20 84249424.