Personal reflections on the 3rd CASO Staff meeting.

Sitting in the Train from Lahti Finland to Vantaa Airport Helsinki. My thoughts still with last week’s @caringsociety3 #CASO project staff meeting. The 3rd one of this EU-funded capacity building project. We celebrated our first anniversary last week!

An intense, yet wonderful and constructive meeting where South African and northern European university partners are collaborating, in a three-year project to develop and improve healthcare and social wellbeing education, capacitate patients, learners, educators and care professionals. The partners are working to find innovative ways to empower social and healthcare professionals, and in turn help them to empower clients, patients, and communities.

Being the project leader, project coordinator and project manager (many hats … although they all fit …) I experience this entire journey also as a personal and professional learning and training event. It is part of my personal way to shape my lifelong learning experience as well as a context in which I (further) develop international and intercultural competencies. The ICOMs framework developed by Leuven Education College (http://www.internationalecompetenties.be/en/) fits well in this context and has already proven itself useful. Not only to me but to the entire consortium, to all participants contributing to this project.

We are a group of around 25 to 30 international and intercultural professionals and ditto personalities. Some have ample experience in international projects, some very little or none. Of course, I have my doubts and insecurities at times, being confronted with so many ideas, backgrounds, needs, personal comfort zones, asking myself if I am on the right track. Am I doing the right thing? Is my approach well perceived? Are my mistakes accepted? Am I guiding in the right direction and do I provide enough support? How can I stay well connected ‘in the now’ while in my head I am already six steps ahead looking at linking the project outputs to EU requirements and sustaining this consortium into the future after the project life time?

Our first staff meeting, the exciting kick-off of the CASO project was characterized by celebrating the success of our application, but also by our attempts to understand what this project was about. And by translating the successful application into a realistic project. We continued doing so in the second staff meeting which was further characterized by the eagerness to get to work and to develop. Sometimes forgetting the bigger picture of the consortium and CASO as a whole but still moving ahead. Where our third meeting showed the development of concrete project output driven by the forwardly directed force of first personal and institutional successes. In between the meetings, various international subproject related teams and institutional teams continuously worked together using Skype to share, discuss, evaluate and reflect. Sometimes hampered by failing technique, missed meetings or conflicting schedules, but always striving forward with similar project objectives.

Recalling the dynamics of last week, listening to the diverse and intense team discussions (at times somewhat conflicting or ambiguous), stepping in and out in providing an explanation, support and reassurance, I can only confirm that this team is on the right track. We, all together, are doing the right thing. We are where we are and where we need to be. My South African colleague and extremely valuable counterpart, stated: “looking into all the EU Erasmus+ Programme guides and documentation, I realise this is all about people!”.

Yes! Definitely! This is very much all about people. In this project, it is all about people, not only the people for whom we develop our CASO outputs, but also the CASO participants themselves. This is about personal experience, and personal development. This is about capacitating oneself through international and intercultural teamwork. Understanding the importance of training globally competent professionals and the need for international and intercultural competencies to support that, we also need to realise we need to reflect on our own personal positions in this context and in the way we cooperate as a team. We are confronted with various, sometimes conflicting, perspectives and group dynamics. But we are where we need to be. Looking at the three-year CASO project from a process perspective, just having turned one year old, we needed this first year to get where we are right now. It has not been easy, it will probably not be easy for the two years to come, but we are creating beautiful and valuable international and intercultural experiences. I am convinced the output of the CASO project will be successful for all universities, each in their own context. I am sure there will be a great spinoff of this project. A number of South African students have already been successful in finding a job, while other students are working on their master thesis or Ph.D. projects through CASO! Meanwhile collaboration with non-university organisations have been developed!

I am sure last week’s participants returned home invigorated, inspired, energised, eager, enthused, with new ideas and a clearer understanding of the direction their teams are headed concerning the specific CASO projects. The output of this week was amazing! I am so proud of this team, I am proud of CASO!

Time to start preparing our next staff meeting in March 2018!

Written by Rene Teunissen

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