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Virtual exchange with Finland: Oulu Online Collaboration Program 2022 Report

For the second year now, the European Branch Office of Yokohama National University (YNU) organized a virtual exchange program, "Oulu Online Collaboration 22" in collaboration with the University of Oulu. The one week-long program took place from March 14th to 18th and was open for all students from YNU. Ultimately, 23 students from various faculties and study years participated which made the program a great opportunity for interdisciplinary learning.
The program was designed around the main topic of Finnish education. After a small introduction on the structure and strengths of the Finnish education, we discussed topics such as equality and equity in Finnish education, as well as the impact of globalization on education in general and Finnish education in particular.

While Finland was the focus of the program, we encouraged the students to look beyond
Finland and Finnish education and reflect on their own cultural contexts. During our discussion rounds, the students were asked to draw on their personal experiences, reflecting on the strengths of the Japanese education and schools, for instance. Throughout the program, we also had two guest lectures by the PhD students Mehmed Oeztuerk (the University of Oulu) on democratic education and Will LaFleur (the University of Helsinki) on the role of sense in education. They both introduced different ways of thinking about school and learning. We believe that those classes and the chance to discuss and compare Finnish and Japanese education from various angles helped the students to see education in a larger context and think about education outside the box.

It was also a pleasure to have amazing guest lectures from both the University of Oulu and YNU. Prof. Seija Jalagin (University of Oulu) talked about history of gender equality of Finland, and Prof. IJU Morinao (YNU) gave a fascinating talk on the relationship between economics and public finances, the welfare state and the role of education as a driver for political participation. Thanks to their contributions, the program was able to discuss topics beyond the field of education. Widening the students' perspectives was very important for us, which for example also prompted us to look at why Finland has been voted the happiest country in the world by the World Happiness Report for 5 years in a row. As a result, the students will hopefully take a holistic view on education by discussing the goals and philosophies behind education and how education and other societal factors are linked are intertwined.

The other emphasis of Oulu Online Collaboration was intercultural communication. We had three different joint classes with local universities and a Finnish high school where students discussed cultural similarities and differences, school lives and multicultural education in Japan and Finland. We are very grateful to all those schools for giving us such an awesome experience and we are very happy to report that we also received very positive feedback from our Finnish partners. They really enjoyed the discussions with the YNU students and would like to continue cooperating with YNU.
     Joint class with Joutsenon college
    Joint class with Joutsenon college
    Joint class with Alajärvi highschool
    Joint class with Alajärvi highschool
The students didn’t only have a chance to talk with Finnish students, but also had lot of discussion rounds and groupworks among YNU students. It was very happy to see students shared their interests and expertise each other. Due to the diversity among our YNU students, these discussions were another great opportunity for interdisciplinary and intercultural learning.

According to the feedback that were collected at the end of the program, it seems that the students were able to use these opportunities for intercultural learning. While they discussed the challenges that come with intercultural dialogues and studying in a foreign language, they gave us very positive feedback and commented that they were able to learn a lot during the program. Therefore, we want to start a virtual YNU Oulu English learning community in the future in which students can hopefully continue the discussions around education and global issues that we started during the Oulu Online Collaboration Program. If you or your students are interested in joining us, you can write an e-mail to ynu-oulu-staff☆(@)ynu.ac.jp. We are hoping to see you all soon.

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