The following blog post is contributed by our fellow AFSer, Omer Ongun. Omer went on an exchange to USA in 2003 with AFS and since then has been a volunteer, volunteer trainer and project coordinator in AFS Turkey. After finishing college in business administration, with a great inspiration from AFS, he chose the intercultural learning field and intercultural competence as his area of profession. He is currently a graduate student at Galatasaray University, doing a research in understanding mobility programs as cultural diplomacy tools and developing a better mutual understanding of diverse groups in Turkey through cultural exchanges. Omer is also a folk/contemporary dancer of various cultures in Anatolia. He practices body music and dance too, trying to experience body music in different folk cultures throughout the world.
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For the second year in a row, I was honored to be a trainer at the Summer Academy on Sustainability from an Intercultural Perspective which took place in Istanbul in July 2014. The Academy is organized by four partners from Germany and Turkey, InterCultur (subsidy of AFS Germany) and Karlshochschule International University as well as AFS Turkey and Istanbul Kültür University, in cooperation with Stiftung Mercator, one of Germany’s largest foundations. The Academy focuses on the intercultural perspective of international energy politics, environmental ethics and further ecological issues.
The model brings together lecturers from formal academic world and trainers from non-formal learning environments. The atmosphere itself deserves another long blog post but for now I will concentrate on the training experience I had with my co-trainer Laura Armborst from AFS Germany. As usual, long Skype calls, email exchanges and prep days were behind us on the first day of the Academy. We had designed three-hour sessions for four days to be delivered in one week. Though trainers generally receive the list of participants and further information on the group profile and their knowledge level of the subject beforehand, you never really know until the first day what kind of a group you will be working with.
To avoid concentrating on one learning style only, our design included various methodologies for each day. At the end of the first day, we already knew we needed to make some adjustments to the design for the following days. Our group of 18 university students turned out to be very bodily-kinesthetic learners and we were very aware of their expectations: interactive, physical and visual activities. As soon as “lecturing” or “presenting” methodologies were used, we had the risk of “losing” the group. It is quite important to increase interactivity and the sharing aspect of non-formal learning to avoid “learner-teacher” distance. It is also highly essential in non-formal learning to give participants a chance to stand up, speak and/or present in order to maximize the learning, increase the participation and ownership of the training. This is how we rearranged or highlighted the design:
- Each day started with an energizer that would focus on increasing the group feeling and group spirit. The participants loved learning a folk Turkish dance which was actually an energizer after a long morning lecture and before a long training afternoon.
- On day one, we created all the rules together and called them “norms”. Since all the norms were created and agreed upon collectively, it was much easier to remind participants who would forget them through the week
- There was a board in the workshop room on which participants could write open questions or topics that would arise during the sessions, breaks or evenings. At the end of each day, we looked back at them all together.
- Each participant felt free to play their music during breaks.
- We used participants first names to show we really try to address them and that we were interested in getting to know them. In some groups this might be found disrespectful so it is highly important to check during the group norms how comfortable the group would be.
- For the daily reflections, we tried a variety of tools and means such as balls, postcards, music or movement to increase the creativity and promote other ways of reflection then just speech.
- Instead of standing up in front of the group, trainers usually preferred sitting with participants in a circle and decreasing the visual image of the “powerful” trainer or educator.
- We increased active/interactive methodologies. e.g. nonverbal communication elements were supposed to be understood through individual case studies though later we asked participants to work in groups and prepare a sketch for each nonverbal communication dimension and later they reflected this activity with great positive feelings.
After all, it is still a challenge for any trainer to design a training non-formal learning. We can feel satisfied creating the link with the aims, objectives or general concepts but how flexible are we when the group profile seems much more different than what we expected? This seems to be an exciting challenge for innovative trainers.