Opettaja oppimassa – Finnish Educators Going International
The language course in Cardiff, Wales
On July 31th last summer 34 English teachers gathered at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport to fly to London and from there to Cardiff in Wales. We all had decided to spend the last week of our summer holiday in studying both how to be a better language teacher and to familiarize with one more English-speaking country.
When we arrived at the University campus area and stepped out of the bus we all were a bit tired of the long journey and astonished by the darkness that surrounded us. We did come from the country of white nights! And the streets were sparsely lit, we thought. But by the end of the course nobody noticed the darkness any more.
On the following morning we were reminded of the fact that we really had come to a country called Wales. When standing at the bus stop we started a conversation with the locals where one of us asked ’and you, are you English?’ She got a quick answer ’ no, we are not English, we are Welsh!’
We were to get many stories (and facts of course) about the Welsh history throughout the centuries. We had a wonderful dinner with entertainment in the Cardiff Castle, we visited a nearby town of Llandaff and on our bus trip to Bath in England our guide who had a huge command of both English and Welsh history made us familar with a vast number of details of the sights that we saw on our way to Bath. In Bath the history lesson continued, especially in the Roman Baths, which so vividly showed us the influence of the Roman Empire on the British Isles.
The many layers of buildings built during hundreds of decades in the Cardiff Castle told their story of how the peoples living by the Atlantic had to defend themselves and the British Isles against the enemy from the sea. A good example of what it meant to be prepared for the enemy was the Llandaff Cathedral, which was built in a valley so that it could not be seen from the sea.
The trips and all free time activities were vey well organised and the guides as well as all Welsh people we met, bus drivers, shop assistants, bartenders, were very friendly and treated us Finns extremely well. People started asking questions about us on buses and bus stops. We were quite impressed by the hospitality when considering that Cardiff isn’t a small town but a city nearly as big as Helsinki. One day a lady in our group had difficulties in finding the right amount of coins to buy a bus ticket. The lady became more and more embarrased as the queue behind her grew longer and longer. It was the bus driver who reassured her by saying ’don’t panic’. That would definitely not happen in Helsinki.
The language course was not only fun. It was hard work, too. But as it turned out, stuying was mostly fun, too. We were divided into two different groups according to what school level we taught. Upper secondary school teachers were one group and secondary school teachers the other. The groups gathered in classrooms which were near each other. From time to time we were ’disturbed’ by loud bursts of laughter coming from the neighbouring classroom.
The laughter and fun in the educational sessions was to a great extent due to our excellent educators Ms Lucy Norris and Ph.D. Diana Hicks. The sessions were far from lectures but we were learning by doing. We were made to do the same tasks we were supposed to make our students do. And that was by far the best teaching method because it made us remember the strategies in our own classes later on. By doing things ourselves we were also able to ’test’ the new methods. As our students’ learning strategies differ from one another so do ours, teachers. In that way we saw already during the course which means worked for us and which didn’t.
The timing for the language course was perfect in many ways. As were were fully occupied the whole weak, it was easy to forget that the summer holiday was soon over. In stead of worrying of the coming school year were enjoying the warmth and beauty of Wales and the hospitality of the Welsh people. We even had become aquinted by the whimsical weather and remembered to take umbrellas with us every time we went out, no matter how sunny it may have looked. And as to shopping, the favourites among our group were pretty Welsh wellies in many teaches’ luggage.
In our minds, mental luggage so to speak, we had a vast amount of fresh ideas, ready to put into use in our classrooms the very next week.