Learning in Brusselian style – activating and fun!

Working on solving cultural conflicts
The program of the study trip and seminar in Brussels in February was diverse and activating. The cross-cutting idea was to learn by doing, experiencing and having fun. This post is based on the remarks of us researchers in the EME project. We participated in the seminar and observed the learning process there.

Visits and introduction to the context of Brussels

The seminar included many visits during which we saw the local grassroots level activities and met the people involved in those activities. One of the places we visited was Groep INTRO and especially the ‘Women Work’ project aimed at unemployed women with migration background.  Fruitful discussion arose with the women there and we got the chance to participate concretely in their activities by doing handicrafts. Many of the seminar participants mentioned the visit as one of the most interesting activities during the seminar and that learning by doing was the best way for them to learn.

Introduction to non-violent communication
One of the main aims of the seminar was to familiarize the seminar participants with the Culturally Sensitive Care Ambassadors project organised by EVA bxl. We participated in two sessions of the training of the care ambassadors. One session was about ‘non-violent communication’ which is a step-by-step approach in communicating especially with elderly people, being friendly and calm – not judging but listening. The method was demonstrated by real-life problems of the participants. However, it was a bit unclear how to apply the method when working with migrants with limited language skills.

In the other session we did an exercise regularly used in the care ambassador training: How to encounter other people in different ways, for example hugging, looking in the eyes – or ignoring. It made the different cultural manners visible and emphasized the importance of non-verbal communication. To grasp the meaning of the exercise, it was important that we reflected the exercise afterwards with the trainer.

Working on the themes of the EME-project

By using the ‘learning café’ method, we discussed the key aspects of the EME project (Gender, The target group, Empowerment and Successes & Failures). Each table had one theme and the participants were divided into groups to go round the tables and discuss one theme at a time. The participants could reflect the themes by using their own expertise. During the session, the understanding of the key themes seemed to deepen. However, the “walk in the neighborhoods” – a playful group competition in which we explored the city and local social activities before the learning café session – seemed to take energy away from the discussion.

Working on cultural stereotypes
One of the participants of the Belgian team in the EME project, Edna, can also be seen as an expert by experience in addition to being an expert in job consultation. She organised a session titled ‘Working culturally sensitive’ which made us reflect on the differences between groups culture typical for many migrants and western individualistic culture. We learned how to move from the ethnocentric ‘we and they’ thinking towards a more equal and understanding approach. The session was diverse and practical. It combined lectures with exercises and a workshop about cultural conflicts at workplaces. However, it would have been useful to reflect together how the exercises, such as collecting stereotypes of different nationalities, related to cultural sensitivity.

In the end of the seminar, the researchers from Vrije Universiteit Brussel, organized and led a focus group discussion.  The aim was to reflect and evaluate the EME project and the transnational collaboration from different angles through small group discussion. Each participant was encouraged to share their thoughts based on their own context and experiences. Focus groups evoked active discussion within the participants and thus seemed to be very useful regarding both the participants’ individual and mutual learning.


In the seminar, we were invited to explore Brussels and see with our own eyes the activities for migrants offered there. Unlike the other seminars, the good practices from all the partner countries were not discussed. Instead, the focus was distinctly on the local context. In many activities, the participants were divided in smaller groups, which made it easier to participate, listen and ask questions. It would also have been good to enable reflection with all the seminar participants. This way all the expertise of the participants could be used and shared with all to enhance mutual learning.

Researcher Katriina Tapanila & Research Assistant Anna Ojapelto
Tampere University