Expansion of the IRT
Writers: Ella Muja and Emilia Parikka
What is the Proakatemia team of international relations?
The International Relations Team, or IRT, is one of three teams within Proakatemia’s community. In addition, there is the Marketing Team which focuses on the branding and marketing of Proakatemia as a whole, and the Data Team which collects data through surveys, for example, to improve the community. The IRT is in charge of hosting visitors, bringing a more international perspective to Proakatemia, and spreading knowledge about Proakatemia outside of Finland. This year’s and last year’s team has been made up of a majority of English speakers, and the team mainly uses English as its language. However, the team is also an excellent opportunity for non-English speakers to practice developing their language skills and learn about various cultures within the community.
According to dictionary.com, the word international can mean ‘having members or activities in several nations.’ With the international community growing at Proakatemia each year, it is important to acknowledge the changes and react to them. One thing that has become apparent is that being international has both its benefits and consequences.
One of the most obvious and rich benefits achieved by interacting within an international community is the diversity and perspectives. When a group of people accumulated of people from different countries and cultures is teamed up to work together on a common goal or vision, the amount of knowledge and additional opinions shared is much larger compared to a group of people from similar backgrounds. Within the IRT, there are members from the USA, South Africa, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Brazil and Hungary. The team is made up of people from four different continents, which creates an entirely new culture and understanding.
Another benefit of gaining international perspective is that it sets up students with experience and credibility for entering the workforce (Bruening & Frick, 2004). If a student can gain some sort of experience with working for an international organization or team, or even studying abroad, they have an increased understanding of cultural diversity and can improve their opportunities for the future. The current IRT offers a chance for students to practice many different skills from marketing to hosting visitors, which sets many of them up with a good base, especially if they plan on focusing on a future with international or cultural impacts.
A literature synthesis from the Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education divided the benefits of international experiences into four categories: international knowledge, personal growth, cultural awareness, and additional skills (Lane & Murphrey, 2020). Each type of international experience, whether it be participating in a training session about a certain topic, or partaking in a multicultural event, will develop a student’s understanding of what being international means.
One thing emphasized at Proakatemia, and in the IRT, is the idea of learning by doing. This means that students will learn more through experiences and participating in various projects. For the IRT, a group of international visitors, whom are often students or teachers, provides a new learning experience for the team. Interacting with a new culture is valuable and enriches knowledge on cultures and internationalism. Each individual can also challenge themselves to step out of their comfort zone and practice communication with a person from a different culture or language background. All four categories of benefits can be applied to the IRT and a student’s learnings.
On the other hand, an international team or company has its consequences. For example, communication is often slowed, and processing of information can take much longer. Compared to a group of people all from the same language and cultural background, international groups are much more complex and require more time to understand each other. Most international groups use English as their language because it is so universal, however, for many people it is not their mother tongue. Basic concepts and ideas can easily be misinterpreted within multilingual groups which could also lead to conflict. Languages are a timeless challenge and require additional time and patience.
A concept known as sociolinguistic exclusion has also been noted within international workplaces. Essentially, there are two groups of people. There are the locals, who speak the local language socially and during small talk around the office, but aren’t as fluent in the professional language which is usually English. Then there are the international employees who don’t have the opportunity to speak their native language socially, and mainly use the professional language in the office, which excludes them from familiarizing themselves with their coworkers (Lonsmann, 2014). It is difficult to connect with employees or colleagues when everyone speaks a different language, or the social language is unfamiliar to international workers. Many times, workers will gather after work or socialize on the weekends, and most often the language used is their local language. International work palces have also started to organize events within their community to allow everyone the possibility of joining, which creates a more welcoming environment for all employees.
International communities and workplaces often require additional resources and energy to create a more inclusive environment. However, this extra challenge will better prepare the workers’ communication skills and improve their ability to adapt to changes.
As a member of the International Relations Team of Proakatemia last year, I had the opportunity to create something new. The goal of the semester was to create something concreate that would last and make the team more stable. The idea was that the IRT would not have to start from the beginning every single year as the new team would be formed. We created an email, started a podcast and Instagram account that would be given to the team next year to continue.
Starting the podcast had difficulties. We struggled with Covid, because we were not allowed to use the premises at Proakatemia and no guests were allowed at the premises, so all needed to be recorded online. The podcast equipment was also totally new to us, so it took time to practise using them and get used to talking to a microphone.
Because of Covid we did not have the usual number of visitors at Proakatemia, so hosting was not an option. Due to this reason, we had dived deeply into the making of podcasts and creating connections through that. WingsOfAcademy had guests such as entrepreneurs from fashion, education, art, self-development, and photography. These and other entrepreneurs we had on the show shared their knowledge and tips to us new entrepreneurs in the making. One important learning was that everyone struggles in the beginning and failure is not dangerous, it’s the best way of learning.
Six international women working as entrepreneurs in Finland came to share about how their multicultural background has affected their business adventures in Finland. Due to restrictions on Pakistan for example, a female entrepreneur was not able to open a bank account in Finland because her clothing company’s’ supplier is from Pakistan. Another thing that came out in the conversations was how difficult it was to navigate through all the paperwork that starting a business in Finland required. Many of these ladies were not used to the amount of bureaucracy and papers they had to go through in order to even start the business.
As I was chosen the leader of IRT for the next semester continuing the podcast was a natural continuation for the team. We were successful in our goal of creating something stable. The new goal was to grow the team and make it even bigger and see if it would be able to run it as a mini organisation. In the previous year the team had 6 members, the leader included and for this year 14 people were chosen for IRT, leader included. Doubling the number of members might seem like a big risk, but it was something worth doing. These 14 people were divided into smaller teams with certain parts to take care of. Every team has a contact person responsible for making sure all necessary information between the small teams is being delivered.
The responsibilities of small teams
Podcast Team is responsible for planning, scheduling, and creating podcast episodes for IRT. The topic of these episodes can vary from entrepreneurship and Proakatemia to many other study and work related. Team finds topics that would be interesting to listeners of WingsOfAcademy, they find visitors that could have an interesting story to share or knowledge that could benefit the Proakatemia community.
Hosting Team is responsible for taking care of visitors arriving to Proakatemia. They can use their own contacts to find new visitors, or they can host the visitors that come through TAMK/the leader of IRT. Teams’ responsibilities also include creating and making sure Proakatemia presentations are up to date and have multiple options depending on the interests and pre-existing knowledge of visitors.
Social Media Team is responsible for making IRT visible on Proakatemias’ channels. They create content that shows what IRT is and what we do. Teams’ responsibilities include close working with the marketing team of Proakatemia, planning a posting schedule, creating posts and collecting material from other small groups. Currently the team is sharing about podcasts, visitors that come to Proakatemia and things that happen behind the scenes of IRT.
Leader Team is consisting of Emilia Parikka, the head of IRT and Tuuli-Emily Liivat who is working as a secretary to help share the responsibilities of the leader. The leader team is responsible for making sure the whole team stays up to date on things, organising weekly and monthly meetings for the team, keeping team members motivated and that all teams know what they are doing and why are they an important part of the whole team.
All teams are responsible for keeping the leader team up to date on what they are currently working on, how are they planning to execute it and let them know if any help is needed.
Weekly Meetings are designed to keep the leader team and all other small teams updated on what is happening overall and what others are up to. In the meeting there has to be at least one representative of each small team present and able to share what have they been doing, how has it gone, do they need any help and what are the next steps. If there is information that needs to be taken to the small teams, the leader will share it with the representatives to take to their teams. All weekly meetings will be recorded to a memo that is shared to the whole team by the leader team to make it possible to double check what was discussed and agreed.
Monthly meeting is on every Friday of each month. All members of the IRT need to be present in this meeting. The coach of IRT is also present in this meeting to share their knowledge and support. Idea of these meetings is to make the team bond better and find that team spirit while important topics are being talked about. All monthly meetings are held in a more relaxed environment such as a café, someone’s home or a restaurant for example. First part of the meeting is spent getting to know how everyone is doing and what is happening in the small teams. After those important announcements and information is shared with the team and when that is done can we start to discuss about topics that need the team’s attention.
Small teams have their own weekly meetings where they agree on how to share the teams’ responsibilities. Many of the teams are also using this time to finish their tasks or take ideas forward. These meetings the teams can agree on how they want to have them and what they find most beneficial in the big picture. If the team wishes so the leader team can join in their meeting for sparring session, exchange of ideas or just observing.
Expanding the IRT
The International Relations Team is an enterprise. It has different departments and is paid for its’ various provided services. Any company, or enterprise, has to be able to adapt to changes and recognize when change is needed. Flexible companies can assist more customers and benefit the most from their learnings.
Each year the IRT has a new leader, who can organize the structure of the team in their own way and learn by doing. In the 2020-21 year, the team was made up of 6 students who ran mainly the podcast, because Covid limited the possibility of visitors. This small team was easy to manage, close-knit, and reliable. This year’s lead, Emilia Parikka, decided to create a larger team with around 14 members. Within the larger team, there are three smaller teams, each one with its own focus. The new structure is an expansion compared to the previous year, but offers the lead the chance to delegate more.
Part of expanding an enterprise is the usage of all member’s contacts and resources. With the IRT, all members are also students at Proakatemia, and many students are in contact with others, so utilizing skills and contacts within a community is a great place to start. One example is the IRT’s new social media team that handles the marketing of the IRT and working alongside Proakatemia’s marketing and communications team. The social media team is also in charge of gathering pictures, which is something that another project or contact could help with. This also applies to the hosting team, which can utilize its contacts to TAMK or the international community in Tampere to ask about having visitors at Proakatemia. All members of an enterprise matter, and since an enterprise is similar to a team, it should work together towards a common goal.
The IRT has the goal of reaching the most people as possible. This being through hosting visitors, recording podcasts that are accessible around the world, and marketing through social media. The IRT has not focused on social media in the past and it is a new field for the team. Thankfully, the hosting and podcast team are more experienced and can continue the work of previous International Relations teams at Proakatemia, which allows time for the social media team to learn how to market the team in a more comfortable and relaxed environment. One thing that also promotes growth in a business is a positive attitude and healthy work environment. In this case, the social media team does not need to be rushed or pressured into executing their work. This style of working creates a higher quality and valued outcome for the entire community.
The growth of IRT was a surprise to many but made sense to the leader and will help Proakatemia in the long run. With bigger team there are more opportunities that can be taken, because the responsibilities can be share with multiple people and do not overwhelm just one or two people. IRT is able to reach out to different aspects of being international and create even stronger base and structure that allows the team to stay sustainable.
So far the team has been successful to share responsibilities and reach out to different aspects of making Proakatemia more international.
Bruening, T. H., & Frick, M. (2004). Globalizing the U.S. undergraduate experience: A case study of the benefits of an international agriculture field-based course. Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education, 11(1), 89–96. https://doi.org/10.5191/jiaee.2004.11110
Lane, K & Murphrey, T. 2020. Benefits of and Best Practices for International Experiences for College Students: A Synthesis of the Literature. Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education. Volume 27, Issue 4. doi: 10.5191/jiaee.2020.27439
Lonsmann, D. 2014. Linguistic diversity in the international workplace: Language ideologies and processes of exclusion. University of Copenhagen. Multilingua, 33(1-2), 89-116. https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2014-0005
Cover Image credits:
Barber, R. 2021. Will the Taliban Represent Afghanistan in the United Nations General Assembly? : EJIL: Talk! https://www.ejiltalk.org/will-the-taliban-represent-afghanistan-at-the-un-general-assembly/