Staff and student exchange: between Cardiff and Jyväskylä

In her both enthusiastic and inspiring account, Shelagh Weeks, our colleague from Cardiff Univeristy (Wales), shares her recent pedagogical and cultural interchange experience at Jyväskylä University (Finland) along with Terhi Forssén’s at Cardiff University within the frame of a bilateral cooperation between both EACWP institutions 

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Shelagh Weeks

In May 2015, I attended the EACWP Symposium in Madrid. This event, hosting activities and presentations by individuals from disparate European countries, explored the role of Creative Writing in colleges, universities and community classes across the continent, examining pedagogical, social and cultural differences, synergies and corollaries. The exchange of knowledge, information, theory, ideas and questions, the sharing of meals, anecdotes and life stories was a stimulating and intense experience. We forged closer understandings, a sharper awareness of our own and others’ pedagogical practice and also made good friends. Discovering what we held in common and what we might still learn from one another led to discussions of possible tutor exchanges, the chance to shadow one another at work.

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Terhi Forséen

Terhi Forssén, from Jyvaskyla University, on an Erasmus travel scheme, arrived at Cardiff airport in October 2015. For almost a week, she shadowed my own and my colleagues’ teaching, sitting in on undergraduate and postgraduate classes, observing, in particular, the way in which the workshop operates at Cardiff, how we have fashioned small group practice, facilitating student-centred learning where the tutor’s feedback seldom dominates but supplements the autonomous and efficiently run student groups; she also noticed how office hours and one-to-ones extend and develop the thinking and practice examined in the workshop. Terhi explored the city, experienced Welsh rain, taught and gave a reading at a Visiting Speaker event which Cardiff hosted in the centre of town. Her reading, in both Finnish and English, to students and members of the general public was a great success.  Prior to this event, Terhi and I worked on creating an English translation of her haunting poetry, an experience we found exciting and demanding, one we plan to continue.

In February 2016, I flew to Helsinki and then on to Jyväskylä to experience the deep snow and muffled soundscape of a Finnish winter. I attended seminars, meetings, teaching events, had my first sauna and pieced together how Creative Writing functions in Jyväskylä: at dissertation and research level and as an optional unassessed extra for students in Jyväskylä University Language Centre. What was particularly interesting was teaching alongside Terhi as she offered a four-hour optional and unassessed Creative Writing class, available for university students who are willing to learn creative writing alongside their university studies. The students were all there because they loved writing, were eager to give up time to talk, to analyse texts and to write. I presented and gave an exercise in English, and the students wrote in both Finnish and English. It is humbling how linguistically fluent the rest of Europe is: many Finns speak Finnish, Swedish, English and German.

shelagh-2Later in the week, I attended a research seminar where a series of teachers and students presented, including Lorena Briedis of EACWP, whom I met at the Madrid symposium and who is shadowing a Finnish poet and well-known poetry teacher Risto Ahti at the Orivesi College of Arts. Lorena is also teaching Finnish students and her visit is for two months: mine was for one week. The evening ended with readings in English and Finnish, with Finnish songs and shared food, including Lapland cheese. There are plans for PhD students to continue the exchange later in 2016 and in 2017. Jyväskylä has a strong research interest in experimental poetry and in using Creative Writing for therapeutic purposes.

I returned home to Wales enthused by cultural difference, by people’s kindness and warmth and by the richness of communication, of language and song.

Dr Shelagh Weeks, Cardiff University, March 2016