Posts in the Intercultural Communication category

“I started very young; I was in my 30s. It was a freezing water I had to jump in. But I enjoyed it because I always loved the concept of leading. Since I was a child, leadership was a big part of me.”

Persistent and insightful, Director of Business Operations at TAMK EDU, Carita Prokki has spent almost two decades of her life serving Tampere University of Applied Sciences in different roles. Although she started as a teacher in the early 90s, her leadership vision manifested in her actions, beliefs and goals opened doors to new opportunities and career advancements. Carita was soon appointed the dean of School of Business, a role she stayed in for many years and allowed her to practice side teaching.

“When you’re working as a manager or leader, you start missing the teaching. I was then teaching adults, mostly during evenings and Saturdays. I was in heaven those times. And I think the students loved it too because we all had a great time. I used different teaching methods such as group discussions, rather than lectures”, she recalls.

Carita surprised many people when she decided to step out of the dean role and the institution she regards highly. But she reached a turning point in her professional life and felt it was time to do something different. Therefore, she focused her attention on trying something new and completed a PhD in Organizational Leadership.

“If you are not satisfied with your job or life, it also affects people around you. You have to step out and try something new. It’s not always safe, you might fail, but actually, you’re growing all the time. You become stronger. Too many adults feel pushed in the corner and stay there afraid.

Have you ever paid attention to what they say during a pre-flight safety demonstration? If there is a loss of cabin pressure, the panels above your seat will open, and oxygen masks will drop down. If this happens, place the mask over your nose and mouth, and adjust it as necessary. Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others. Think about it metaphorically. You cannot be good to others if you are not good to yourself. First, help yourself and then somebody else.”

Far from being over, her journey with TAMK took a new direction in the area of global education. TAMK has started this fresh concept in 2011 and Carita came into the picture two years later. In the beginning, there was only the 21st Century Educators programme, but Carita’s huge advantage was her comprehensive knowledge of TAMK.

“I know very well what this institution does and is capable of. You cannot sell Finnish education or tell other people about TAMK without a substantial in-house knowledge. The beginning was very fast, smooth and fruitful. But now, with other universities of applied sciences selling their expertise worldwide, the competition is getting harder, and we think it’s smart to cooperate and unite our forces. While the global trend is more present nowadays, the business ideology is not very developed in Finnish universities.”

So where does TAMK stand out compared to other universities of applied sciences? Carita’s reply is on point: “The vocational teacher education which TAMK takes very seriously. We want to do our best and deliver high-quality results. You need passion to do international business. When you’re passionate about something, it will separate you from the rest.”

On a global scale, TAMK has a unique product found nowhere else: Proakatemia. And Carita knows very well how to make good use of it:  “It happened to me sometimes to go to universities above TAMK’s level. In 30 seconds I realised I have nothing to sell to them, apart from Proakatemia. Nobody in this world has Proakatemia. That’s the ace of spades in my pocket. And I can always use that card to sell our advanced entrepreneurial studies.

She continues: “Almost every day, I think how we can praise our country and education more. Finns are modest; they are not so used with words like excellent or amazing to describe their best assets. But when you go abroad, you have to start using these words. Almost the first question I get no matter where in this world I go is: “What is your ranking in Finland?” There are no rankings in Finland. We never aimed at, we never had any competition or ranked ourselves. I hope we will never do that because it will ruin the basics of our educational system. Let’s leave our references and results speak for themselves.”

TAMK EDU makes Finnish education available worldwide. The most important aspect is adapting to different realities, Carita believes:  “Whether I go to an Arabic, Asian or Latin American country, I have to be very fast and clever with adapting to their cultures. I can’t go there with Finland tattooed on my forehead and say: “Hey! We come from Finland, and we do things like this.” Although everyone admires and knows so much about Finnish education already. To give you an example, China is such a big market that you can have all the Finnish amks (universities of applied sciences) to offer their services there, and it would still cover only a small part of it.

Chinese customers have a different understanding of a group size. We sent them a letter saying we can host a workshop for 30 people and their reply was that their minimum is 300. Last year in August, we flew there for one big training. We had 340 teachers and rectors in the auditorium waiting for us and wanting an interactive training. I was there with Mark Curcher (Program Director of 21st Century Educators and Senior Lecturer), and we had to split all those people into groups to make it interactive. It was a huge learning opportunity for us and an enjoyable experience.”

The Global Education department does not only provide learning experiences for the team that puts its soul into it, but also for TAMK’s teachers. Carita recalls one particular occasion that cracked open a strong taboo: teachers don’t work during their summer holidays.

“In 2013, I was facing a difficult situation. A group from Oman sent me a short notice message that they’d like to visit TAMK during July. Their arrival date was scheduled right after Juhannus, which in Finland is a popular public holiday. Most Finns celebrate it at their summer cottages with family and friends. I emailed the teachers in the morning with no expectations. Anyone who wants to come to work this July? A few hours later, all the teachers were at TAMK. I was amazed by the positive response, and everything went smoothly with the visit. Teachers confessed to me how grateful they were for this opportunity. I believe that the international context is the fastest highway to develop TAMK thanks to the possibilities it provides. International students are very active, they want to make the most out of their studies, and this makes it very pleasant to the teachers as well. There are an extra gratefulness and love you can feel during international courses.”

Carita travels abroad in connection with her work approximately one week each month. When everyone else is at home sleeping, she has to put up with long and often, uncomfortable flights. An alluring smile graced her lips when she detailed about showing up at a workplace: “Sometimes I feel I could be a gardener and grow flowers. But I think we all have moments in our work when we are not happy. Balancing those moments is important. I have to be patient with the global business; to build the trust and develop the relationship with our customers. In a way, I’m like an entrepreneur; I take care of sales, keep the things rolling all the time and motivate my people to sell. But I don’t put the money ahead. That’s not my style. I believe that when you show good results, the money follows.

She adds: “The Global Education department doesn’t receive a budget from TAMK. We rely entirely on the deals we make. “

Despite the high factor of uncertainty associated with her work, Carita collects distinctive rewards: “It’s challenging and the most difficult job I’ve ever done in my whole life so far. At the very moment, you can be challenged until the limits of your skills. But at the very another moment, you are in heaven with people, and you get your second salary from their sentences.”

An effective leader knows that storytelling is an essential part of leadership. And maybe another beautiful thing about Carita is that she is not afraid to pass along brave sentences on feminism and inspire other women to live an authentic life: “Many women have been under a lot of pressure for so long that they have forgotten about themselves. There are so many things women are capable of achieving in their lives. And I think that media is very cautious and not writing about all these things because they are afraid of empowered women. Women are multi-talented and multi-energized.”

Read more about TAMK Global Education

Text: Andruta Ilie
Photo: Tiina Suvanto


Text: Mirja Onduso
Photo: Merja Halivaara

Laughter and chatter in various languages filled TAMK’s cafeteria on a Friday evening in March when 59 international students from TAMK, TUT and UTA and 43 local Friend Families met each other for the first time over blueberry pie at TAMK.

IMG_3332– I was thrilled and eager to meet my friend family, said Hai Luong Dang, a first-year student from Tampere University of Technology (TUT).

Hai was one of the lucky international students studying in TUT, Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) or University of Tampere (UTA) to get a local friend family through the universities’ Friend Family Programme. His Friend Family is Mira Pihlström’s family.

The universities have been running the Friend Family Programme together for already six years, and this year a record number of 43 families got involved. Earlier the programme was coordinated by UNIPOLI staff; from this year onwards it will be TAMK’s responsibility.

The idea of the programme is to help international students integrate into Finnish way of life, and to offer families a chance to practice their foreign language and intercultural skills. TAMK arranges the first and the last meeting jointly to all participants, and the family-student pairs otherwise agree on how often to meet and what to do. The families and the students commit to the programme for one year – but may even become friends for life!

Most families ‘adopt’ one international student, some brave ones even two.

Exciting experience for both sides

Mira Pihlström was an exchange student in Spain during her own studies, so she knows how it is to live in another country.

– I like meeting people from different countries and learning about their cultures, and it’s never a bad thing to have more friends either, she said.

In her application, she wished to have a “social, humorous and chatty” student friend – and she got two social, humorous and chatty Vietnamese boys, who had never met each other even though they have both lived in Finland for almost one year.

– I didn’t know anything about Vietnam but they told me e.g. that the traffic is chaotic and that families are only allowed to have two children, Mira said.

Hai was also excited:

– Meeting Mira erased my preassumed thoughts that Finnish people are not so into small talk: she was so receptive to our conversation and it was a memorable experience. We talked a lot of many different things: life in Vietnam and for example Finnish life, food, traffic and law. We helped Mira to know a lot more about Vietnam, since she didn’t have any clues about our country before, said Hai.

IMG_3354 IMG_3333

Students may live here for 4-5 years without ever seeing a Finnish home

International students often find it difficult to integrate into the Finnish society and local activities. Many have said that they have lived in Finland for many years and have never been to a Finnish home or met other people than students: children, elderly or working people.

– My first meeting with my Friend Family is actually my first time ever talking to Finnish people outside the university and supermarket, said Hai.

The Friend Family Programme is open to TAMK, TUT and UTA students and any local families. Students may be selected for the Friend Family programme only once but families may act as Friend Families as many times as they wish!

Although most of the advertising is done through the universities, families don’t need to be related to the universities: any family interested in sharing their family experiences and learning about other cultures is welcome to apply. Also, all kinds of families are welcome: families with children or no children, large families or single-person families.

Both students and families have to apply for the programme. The application period is in January-March, and the programme runs in March-December.

The next application period for 2018 programme will be in January-March 2018. The instructions can be found on the UNIPOLI website.

Kauppi forests calling in May


Many international students are usually interested in nature – and they have often only heard stories of the Finnish summer cottages. Hai might or might not yet know that Mira’s family also has a summer cottage!

In May, TAMK usually arranges also a joint forest trip and sausage roasting in Kauppi forest for the families and students.

Before the forest walk, they have plans for May Day (in Finnish, vappu) celebration:

– I wait for more activity with my Friend Family. These weeks are very busy for us, the exam week. However, we are going to have a picnic after the exam. I hope the weather will be nice to us, wished Hai.

Hai, how was blueberry pie?

– I don’t remember, all my memory and attention was drawn into the conversation with Mira!


Text: Mirja Onduso
Photo: Merja Halivaara

Coventry University has gone through a massive change during the past 6-7 years from a recruiting university seeking for students into a university that is especially chosen by the students. The university received the title University of the Year for Student Experience, 2015. The title Modern University of the year was given to it two times in a row for 2014 and 2015. These acknowledgements were given by The Times and The Sunday Times based on national League Tables for university rankings in the UK.


A group of us from TAMK were able to peek into what lies behind this success. What we found was strategic leadership and consistent work throughout the university. The committed leadership team had a vision of Coventry University being on top of the ranking lists for teaching and learning. It was not only about setting the goal. Money was invested in modern learning environments, in students services, teachers were supported in developing activity led learning, and the campus was developed into a truly multicultural one.

We had an opportunity to interview students from Qatar, Oman, Saudi-Arabia and three students from different parts of England. What especially impressed me was what the students said about their university. Their message was the same as the message we heard from the leadership: Coventry University is an excellent place to study because of excellent teaching (“teachers are helping students to learn”), excellent student support, good facilities and the multicultural university community.


The student numbers have increased and now there are some 6 000 tuition paying ( 9 000 pounds per year) international students studying at Coventry University together with some 20 000 British students. This has created a surplus of income that makes the further strategic development of the university possible.

As Coventry is now the top university for student experience it needs to look into developing its research activities to move up the League Tables. Again the university has set a stretching goal and is aligning the leadership and management processes for reaching this goal. There is no wishful thinking. There are clear plans and procedures to follow this new chosen path. Money is invested, support is given to staff. Based on what we saw, heard and experienced, I am certain Coventry University will, again, be a different university in five years known for its excellent student experience AS WELL AS it´s world class research.

Text: Aura Loikkanen, Director, Higher Education Services

TAMK Global Education has had a busy few weeks promoting the programs of the university and raising its international education profile.

Mark and Julia present at Bangkok Educa Conference

Mark and Julia present at Bangkok Educa Conference

The month of October started with a trip to Tallinn, Estonia for a visit to Tallinn Technical University to discuss and explore possible areas of collaboration. There are several areas of follow up and we are optimistic about the possibilities ahead.


Next stop was Bangkok, Thailand for Bangkok Educa Exhibition and conference. Thanks to some excellent preparatory work by Her Excellency Kirsti Westphalen, the Finnish Ambassador and her team at the Finnish Embassy in Thailand and Kai Tuorila from FinPro, this was a very worthwhile trip. The trip was notable for the genuine collaboration among the Team Finland delegation. Julia Sergeeva from TAMK Global Education gave delegates an insight into the range of education services that TAMK could provide to help support Thailand in its development. There is currently a lot of interest in vocational education which is currently under developed in the country. Julia’s presentation highlighted the areas where TAMK could help improve this.

Mark Curcher, program director of 21st Century Educators presented the program to an interested audience who were keen to hear about this established international teacher development program. A high level meeting with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration Education Ministry discussed how Finland could support teacher professional development. Over the months ahead TAMK Global Education will be working with the Embassy and FinPro and a Finnish commercial E-Learning enterprise, Skilltize, to explore the market. TAMK and Skilltize have also been invited to co-author and present a paper at The Eleventh International Conference on eLearning for a Knowledge-Based Society in Bangkok in December.

 Team Finland at Bangkok Educa with Her Excellency Kirsti Westphalen, the Finnish Ambassador

Team Finland at Bangkok Educa with Her Excellency Kirsti Westphalen, the Finnish Ambassador


A meeting with Her Excellency the Ambassador and the Bangkok Ministry of Education

A meeting with Her Excellency the Ambassador and the Bangkok Ministry of Education

New Orleans

Mark introduces the Keynote speaker on the first day of the E-Learn conference in New Orleans

Mark introduces the Keynote speaker on the first day of the E-Learn conference in New Orleans

With almost no time to repack the team were then off again, this time heading West to New Orleans (or ‘Norleans’ as it is pronounced by locals) for the AACE E-Learning 2014 conference. This annual international conference brings together around a thousand delegates from 60 countries to present and to discuss innovations and developments in educational technology and E-Learning.

The first task faced by the team was when Mark was asked at very short notice to introduce the opening keynote speaker for the conference. The first presentation session for the team was a showcase session where a poster developed by Julia, Mark and Essi Kannelkoski was displayed and discussed with conference delegates.

Later the same day Julia and Mark co-presented the range of programs that TAMK can offer to the international education community. The next day saw Julia present a paper she had written on the adoption of E-Learning in Russia based on some research that she undertaking. She was excited to have some high profile attendees in the audience such as Prof Jon Dron of Athabasca University, Canada. The extended question and answer session following Julia’s presentation was a reflection of the interest and engagement she had engender in the audience. Prof Dron was complimentary about her presentation.

Mark also presented a paper co-written with Esther Carvalho, Head Principal, Colégio Rio Branco, our partner for the Brazilian cohort of 21st Century Educators. The paper examines how a Finnish online teacher education program is impacting Brazilian teachers and their practice.

Julia presents her paper at E-Learn New Orleans

Julia presents her paper at E-Learn New Orleans

The conference also saw Mark being invited to join the Executive Committee for E-Learn conferences for a three year term and so he will be playing a major role in the planning and organisation of future conferences. Julia’s abilities were recognized by her joining the Special Interest Group (SIG) which is focused on E-Learning in emerging and developing countries.

Raising TAMK Profile

Having travelled thousands of kilometers across time zones and airport transfers, it has been a pretty intense few weeks for the team. This continues at the time of writing with Dr. Carita Prokki represents TAMK in the Middle East in Oman and Qatar. Information on that trip will be provided in a future blog blog post.

It is true to say that the name and reputation of TAMK as an international provider of high quality education programs has been raised from Bangkok in the East to Hawaii (there was a large delegation from Hawaii in New Orleans) in the West. The stress of travel has brought the team members a few coughs and colds, but there is no doubt that this is a small price to pay for the very real promotional work being undertaken. Look out for future updates.


Text: Mark Curcher, Program Director, 21st Century Educators