József Kőrösy VET School
English teacher and International Project Manager
The József Kőrösy VET School of the VET centre in Szeged is an vocational educational institution which offers training courses in the field of business and economics that last for 4, 5 or 6 years. Alongside the economic subjects, the school puts great emphasis of foreign language teaching. Mrs Ágnes Pákozdi Melegné is one of the English language teachers and is responsible for the school’s international projects.
Project team: How do you personally understand the term ‘Europeanisation’?
Ágnes Melegné Pákozdi: I understand it as openness to other cultures; a motivation for our learners that teaches them to be open, interested and curious. Knowing foreign languages is absolutely necessary. It is very important for us to observe how teachers work in different countries and how learners are taught in different vocational education systems. These are the values that we primarily focus on. We are trying to integrate as many teachers into our mobility programmes as possible, since these mobilities allow us to collect many very useful materials and build them into our foreign language teaching curriculum. Our main focus so far has been on our mobilities and it has been the privilege of the foreign language teachers to take part. We are now also aiming to involve teachers who teach vocational subjects. This should highlight a wider range of good practices that we can adapt and transfer to our own circumstances. I personally liked the practical approach and self-evaluation model of the German educational system and have already integrated some of these elements into my everyday teaching routine.
Project team: You already mentioned that your organisation is actively involved in international work. Can you tell us when that started and how it began?
Ágnes Melegné Pákozdi: Our first partnership started in 1990 with a school from Switzerland, and it has remained a very strong link ever since. We regularly carry out the following three types of activities together with this Swiss school: we annually enable 1 or 2 learners to spend a whole year in Switzerland; we annually enable 20 learners to spend one week in Switzerland for language learning purposes in the first semester; we annually host a group of Swiss learners here in Hungary in the second semester. During these weeks, we usually divide the learners into smaller groups and have one group use German and the other English whilst working on different tasks. In this way we ensure that we are improving both foreign languages at the same time. You are probably all aware that Switzerland has unfortunately been denied the right to apply for further EU grants, but this does not have an impact on our partnership: we are still able to support each other.
Since 2013 we have maintained a successful partnership with a school from Kiel, Germany. The two schools carry out a mobility programme in which students conduct an apprenticeship abroad for three weeks at a company that best suits their professional profile. These companies include banks, insurance companies and different financial departments at various companies.
We are also in a partnership with another German school from Flöha, although this partnership is a little bit younger since it has only existed for the last two years.
Project team: Which EU financial support have you used to strengthen your international relationships?
Ágnes Melegné Pákozdi: Nowadays, we primarily benefit from the Erasmus+ programme, although we also applied for financial support from Comenius and Leonardo da Vinci programmes in the past. When Switzerland was removed from the list of potential EU project beneficiaries, we had to find alternative ways of financing our partnership with our Swiss partner, since we were keen to maintain it because of the positive results. To this end, we contacted representatives in the business sector who were willing to support our learners and act as their sponsors.
Project team: What is the biggest challenge that your organisation has faced in its international activities?
Ágnes Melegné Pákozdi: The biggest challenge for us has always been finding the most suitable companies where our foreign learners can complete their apprenticeships. It has always been very important for us to find the best companies that completely match the professional profile of our learners, whilst simultaneously doing our best to fulfil the personal wishes of our learners. It very often happens that learners are best friends and both are involved in a mobility, so they would like to live at the same place and to complete their practical training at the same company. We do all we can to ensure that their requests are met. I must admit that the business sector is really not as open as it should be.
Project team: The challenges you have mentioned are the result of factors outside of your organisation. Have you experienced any challenges that have arisen from within you own organisation?
Ágnes Melegné Pákozdi: I would like to emphasise that the school’s management supports every single international activity as much as it can. I do think that the biggest challenge for the organisation is finding suitable partners for our partnerships. It is also a challenge to get approval for our proposals. We do not currently have a professional project developer within our organisation, but our aim is to provide our staff with training for proposal writing and project management. To be honest, we are not intimidated by the rejection of our project proposals, since the evaluations of the proposals are a great indicator of what things need to be improved the next time and how we can use them to our advantage.
The second biggest challenge is the time factor. Because the schools are centralised, they are not in a position to decide on financial issues. This situation makes it impossible for us to have a person whose only responsibility would be to manage our international activities, although that would be an ideal solution. These tasks are currently dealt with by a very motivated group of teachers on an almost „charity” basis, without having any financial support for the tasks completed.
Project team: Is your organisation considering strengthening its international activities?
Ágnes Melegné Pákozdi: Yes, without a doubt. This is a top priority for our organisation.
Project team: Do you think that this will be implemented with your current partners, or will you expand your current list of partners with new partner organisations?
Ágnes Melegné Pákozdi: Our present partnerships are very strong, but this does not mean that we are not looking for new partners from other countries. We are constantly checking the Tempus Foundation’s (Erasmus + National Agency in Hungary) partner match platform.
Project team: Does your organisation have an internationalisation strategy?
Ágnes Melegné Pákozdi: In 2014, I attended an international seminar in Helsinki, where one of the main topics was the importance of an internationalisation strategy. When we came home from Finland we sat down and, with our specific priorities in mind, drew up an internationalisation strategy for our organisation.
Project team: In which area of your organisational have you most experienced the positive impact of Europeanisation?
Ágnes Melegné Pákozdi: During our European work we carry out a lot of dissemination activities. We take photos, set up websites and can be seen at many events. As a result of this, many people have become aware of our organisation’s international activities. Many VET school learners choose our school precisely because they know that our organisation offers the possibility of taking part in mobility programmes. It is also an undeniable benefit that our international activities considerably improve the reputation of our institution.
Project team: Where do you see your Europeanised institution in the future?
Ágnes Melegné Pákozdi: I am convinced that we will continue to be actively involved in projects and, since all of our current partners come from German speaking regions, we would really love to establish successful partnerships with organisations from other language backgrounds.
Project team: What would be your advice to organisations so that they can better manage their Europeanisation process?
Ágnes Melegné Pákozdi: I am convinced that being open is a key to successful internationalisation. Many organisations are afraid to start working internationally. International work clearly requires a lot of time and energy and, to be completely honest, you need to invest a lot of money, since financial support is only available for certain activities. PR is important and it is crucial that parents and sponsors are kept informed. Continuous searching is also necessary. I can say from experience, however, that any energy and time you invest will inevitably benefit your organisation in the long term.