Show off your international skills with Europass

Pauliina Savola was the first intern to work at the Europass Centre at the National Board of Education. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Europass, she reflects on her international experiences.

“The internship strengthened the feeling that I want to work with international issues,” says Pauliina Savola.

Pauliina Savola

Savola was the first person to work as an intern for the Europass Centre at the Finnish National Board of Education. This year, Europass turns ten. In 2014, over 200 000 Europass CVs and thousands of language passports were created in Finland.

Europass is especially popular among young people who have studied or completed an internship abroad. All Finnish students graduating from vocational or higher education receive the Europass Diploma Supplement, which provides more detailed information about their degree, particularly information relevant for looking for work internationally.

Savola’s work these days is international. She is adviser of international affairs at SAMOK, the Union of Students in Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences. She is responsible for co-operation with international NGOs and issues related to studying abroad and development cooperation.

Wide experience

Savola has warm memories of her four-month internship back in 2006. “The Europass Centre is the only place where I used to work as an intern that I still regularly visit.”

Savola says that the internship was well organized, and the intern’s role was carefully thought out. Savola was involved in marketing Europass, and had the opportunity to edit a publication on the Russian education system. She returned to work at the Board of Education in 2008.

Savola thinks that perhaps her interest in international affairs has its roots in her family. Both Savola’s parents had lived abroad when they were younger, and international issues were discussed at home.

When Savola was twelve years old, the family moved to the United States for a year and a half. She hardly knew any English back then - and says that she was very shy. “I was put into school in a class for immigrants, and at first I didn’t know a word of English. After a couple of months, I was moved to a regular class. It didn’t take long for me to become the top student in English, which really shored up my confidence.”

In addition to living in the United States as an adolescent, Savola has amassed an impressive range of international experience. She has interned at Finland’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York City, studied for a year in Scotland as an exchange student, and worked at the Finnish embassy in London.

Queueing for aid

The five months Savola spent working as a volunteer in Nepal through the Finnish Volunteer Programme ETVO probably formed the most profound international experience she has yet had. In ETVO, Finnish NGOs send volunteers to work for their partner organizations in developing countries, with Kepa, the umbrella organization for Finnish development NGOs, acting as an intermediary. Savola worked as a volunteer for the Finnish Interpedia at the Nepalese NGO Loo Niva, which promotes children’s rights and the right to education.

Savola wanted to gain practical experience of living and working in a developing country, as she was responsible for development issues in SAMOK. “I also wanted to utilize my experience of communications and lobbying, as Loo Niva is aiming to boost its advocacy work.”

It was not easy for Savola to become acclimatized to a completely different culture. The lack of privacy was the most difficult thing to get used to. “Everything is communal, and everyone knows everyone else’s business. The sense of time is also different, and people don’t make precise plans like they do in Finland,” reminisces Savola. It was impossible for the blonde Finnish woman to blend in. “I couldn’t escape the colour of my skin. I got special treatment everywhere I went.”

Savola was mid-way through her time in Nepal at the end of April 2015, when the great earthquake brought death and destruction to Nepal.

Savola was greatly impressed by the strong communal spirit that emerged in the catastrophe’s aftermath. People gave from what little they had left.

The area where Savola lived was spared the brunt of the destruction, but she did spend the first nights after the quake in a hastily constructed tent. “In 2008, I reported on UN humanitarian work at the Finnish UN mission. Now, I was standing in line to get a tarp myself. It was pretty surreal.”

International expertise

In her blog, Savola describes how odd she felt when she realized that the situation in Nepal was getting less and less coverage in Finnish media as time went on. At the same time, life in Nepal revolved around how to move on from the destruction.

Savola says that it felt good to return home, but the mood in Finland seemed negative. In Nepal, negative thoughts are rarely expressed directly or publicly.

Savola says that it has not been long enough since her return to really evaluate the impact of the experience. But she says that she has learned a lot from all her experiences abroad: open-mindedness, empathy, the ability to understand different kinds of people.

At SAMOK, Savola’s goal is that all students have the opportunity to gain international experience. She says that in today’s world, international know-how is an important component of professionalism.

“We’re not alone in this world. There are hardly any fields where an understanding of international politics and different cultures is not required,” she notes.

Learning from Europass

Students have plenty of opportunities to go abroad through exchange programmes. International students and staff provide international opportunities at Finnish universities.

Europass is a useful tool for presenting one’s international know-how. Savola has used Europass for several job applications.

The Europass CV provides the opportunity for the user to present their social and organizational skills, which Savola considers a strength of the Europass model. “Even if you do not use the Europass CV, it is worth learning about it and utilizing it as a template on which you can base your own CVs.”

Pauliina SavolaPauliina Savola was the the first intern to work at the Finnish Europass Centre. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Europass, she reflects on her international experiences.

Text: Juha Rudanko
Photo: Samuli Siirala

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