VAMOS – some testimonials following the VE experience
Name of university – PhD student at the University of Padova, Italy
VAMOS VE involved in – Water & Forest – issues on community sustainable tourism and agroecology
Student Feedback – “As a PhD student, I’m just learning how to develop courses, so this new concept of virtual exchange was really interesting for me in terms of tools and new pedagogy. My university partnered with Para’ university in Brazil and I was able to observe how professors co-created the course, how they motivated and encouraged students to become active and take part in the process. This was a new and different approach for me. I’m inspired to use the techniques I have learned in the future. I enjoyed the icebreaker activities and I particularly liked the idea that a VE can be extended into a local community. My research with Prof. de Marchi focuses on the rainforest in Ecuador, so it would be fabulous to transmit these ideas into local indigenous communities and get students and indigenous people together to discuss and tackle ‘wicked problems’. We are researching oil extraction in the forest in Ecuador and I’ve been involved for the past four years. This really is a ‘wicked problem’ as on the one hand, of course lives have been improved due to increasing wealth, but on the downside, there is a huge impact on the environment due to deforestation. We are looking at how to make development sustainable in the area.
Gaia Quarella Padovani and Giacomo Rosina
Both study natural science at UNIPD. Gaia is an undergraduate and Giacomo is a PhD student.
VAMOS VE – both involved in Water & Forests
Student Feedback – Gaia – “I learned a lot about new topics. I study natural science so the focus on sustainable development and agroecology was really useful. We partnered with Para’ university in Brazil. We had to interact in English and some of our partners did not speak English so well, but I’d say that ultimately, we managed to experience a rich exchange of knowledge. We learned about Brazil and how they approach so-called ‘wicked problems’ and hopefully they learned something of the Italian context. My perspective has changed and the way I think is different. I now find my mind ticking over and I begin to reflect on the issue of complex ‘wicked problems’ and how we might begin to solve them. For example, I live in wine region in Italy and I grew up there. But I now realise it’s a monoculture and there is no forest, and no biodiversity. So, this project has opened my eyes to things that for me were normal. I have learned that many things are influenced by so many factors and solving one doesn’t solve another. Sometimes they worsen an issue and I never realised this before. This is the best thing I got and it opened my mind. My world view has changed.”
Giacomo – “This was a really useful project in terms of topics, understanding the concept of ‘wicked problems’ but I must admit, my participation wasn’t great as I was really busy writing my thesis at the time. But I enjoyed the tasks, although connecting with the other students was difficult because of the time difference and issues with communicating in English. My main takeaway is the word ‘wicked problems’, for which there is no translation into Italian. It could be useful to have this recognised more in Italy. We need a terminology like this. ‘Problemi complessi’ isn’t the same thing, and it doesn’t convey the idea that if you try and resolve an issue on one side, there will be disadvantages on another. In our case, deforestation for cultivation helps the local economy, but on the other hand it destroys the forest if you extract oil. But money derived from the practice can improve life and schools and education. So, these are more than complex issues and irresolvable in the long term.”
Karla Flores and Claudia Chavez
Name of university – UNAICFOR the university of Forestry in Honduras under project coordinator and teacher, Nelson Mejia
VAMOS project involved in – Forests and Water
Student Feedback – Karla said, “It was a joy to participate in this exchange, to learn about sustainable tourism and to learn more about water and forest conservation. I enjoyed meeting and learning with students from other countries as we have not had an experience like this before. It was challenging at times because the time difference with Italy was so big which made it hard for us to meet each other, but we managed it. We learned about the differences between the two countries – Italy and Honduras. Italy has many regulations in terms of conservation and some things were similar and some different. We found that the laws on conservation are quite similar. We also experienced another culture and learned about festivals and similar religious festivals and beliefs so good relationship building. We are very different but share much common ground, many similarities.”
Claudia said, “The shared knowledge and what we learned from each other was constructive. The assignments were structured so that the students needed to collect information about their own countries before sharing it with others. The tourism students learned about forest and conservation and Italian students were literature students so they had a big learning curve too. We all had to familiarise ourselves with a topic we knew very little about. This was a good thing. Also, we were forced to use English and we were shy at first, but we gained confidence as time went on and we had to practice. The experience was ultimately good. Information was absorbed and presented and all students learned about forest and water conservation and we shared good ideas that we can adopt in our respective countries. I also learned that I can do anything when faced with challenges. There are no limits to what we can do if we put our mind to it. “
Teacher feedback – Nelson said, “Our training with UNICollaboration helped me understand how to structure an international virtual exchange course. Of course, we could not anticipate all the challenges and the greatest one for us was the time difference with our partner, Italy, plus the fact that we have trimesters and the Italians have semesters which created another layer of difficulty we had to overcome to be able to work together. For me it was also interesting to see how to make the topic ‘fit’ with my course. I teach English at the forestry university so for me it was easier to make the topic of ‘wicked problems’ complement my course, but I guess for Dr Francesca Helm at Padova this was harder as her students are mostly students of literature and political science. She was incredibly pro-active in learning things she did not know and our shared space in Google classroom for our course materials was very easy to manage and well-organised with quizzes and other materials.
I am planning to repeat the experience and will apply the lessons learned from this pilot project in the planning phase. I will be sure to match the timings better and set dates for meetings. But VE is an easy and low-cost way to learn and much more inclusive. The exchange of culture is also a big plus. The holistic approach to learning is what I liked.”
Parisa Rouhi, teaching assistant and facilitator
Name of university – Uppsala university, Sweden
Role in VAMOS project – project coordinator involved in the design of 2 VAMOS courses: Sustainable tourism and Sustainable cities and communities.
Feedback – Parisa said, “The VE training undertaken with UNICollaboration was helpful in terms of building expectations and being prepared for challenges. This is all a new concept for us and there were overwhelming moments. But we were told it would not all be plain sailing and this is not to be considered a failure, but is part of the process. The case studies we were given to read and analyse were helpful in understanding what the student dynamics would be like as working on an international VE is quite different. We had varying dynamics with the other partnering teachers as some were more on board than others. If we do it all again, I would definitely allocate particular tasks to people. For one of the projects we did this and it worked well. In the other, everyone was involved in everything and this was complicated. Planning ahead would need to be more extensive next time. We underestimated how much time is needed to build and set up a VE and the time differences with our partners in Brazil and Honduras added to the complexity. But I loved it and so did the students so in the end the challenges were rewarding. We created nice relationships in spite of the language difficulties, and on a personal level I still have those relationships. Patricia and Eloy in Curitiba, Brazil, for example. I learned that we can all find our place in a VE and everyone has a role in spite of their level of knowledge and experience.”
Felippe Anthony Barbosa Correia, qualified pharmacist and a post graduate student in business management
Name of university – Pernambuco, Brazil
VAMOS project involved in – Sustainable Tourism with Honduran partner university
Feedback – Felippe said, “This was a whole new area for me. Our project was about sustainable tourism in coastal areas and I don’t live in a coastal area. But I found the learning component really interesting. VAMOS was a wonderful opportunity to learn about new countries and environments and I just love travel so this made me very curious to visit Honduras. I’ve been on other exchange programmes to Toronto Canada and Buenos Aires in Argentina. The VAMOS experience has really opened my mind to new possibilities and opportunities, and this aspect of sustainability is interesting for the world of medicine too, and to help to save the planet, and the environment. We did eight weeks of weekly zoom sessions with teams and professors and after that we had a Whatsapp group to collaborate outside of the sessions. We organised ourselves online zoom session to meet and discuss. We used English to communicate and this was good for me to practice…. Honduras is different from Brazil in terms of environment, Brazil is not so good in terms of caring for the environment so I learned a lot from our Honduran partners and how they protect their environment and now I feel inspired to travel to Honduras after I saw the pictures. We exchanged information on conservation practices which I hope to be able to share in my own community as a way forward. Maybe I can use my university to spread the word about conservation and I would really recommend the experience. Try and open your mind as it’s a fantastic project and exchange a lot of fantastic information, improve your language, and yourself in relation to others.”