Everything is under control in global education
Key Account Managers Virpi Heinonen and Peter Perttula travel around the world presenting and providing maybe the most interesting Finnish export product, our high-quality education. In TAMK’s Global Education team Heinonen is in charge of Latin America and Perttula of Arab countries.
Over the years the networks grow. Personal connections are everything. Potential customers do not look for TAMK but an individual person with whom to carry on the matter. The key account managers have to get involved.
Always with a suit on – just in case
The work calls for flexibility and ability to react quickly. Meetings may surprise with their time, agenda and parties. Ministers, investors and other high-level parties often participate in negotiations. The clock card is unknown and evenings and weekends are also working time: customers are taken care of in Finland as well as abroad.
“We are always on the run”. This autumn I haven’t sat at my desk once,” Heinonen laughs.
In Chile Heinonen was taken to a slum in a police escort and unexpectedly required to address the whole school and community. In the blink of an eye she had to come up with a speech in Spanish on how we have solved social problems by means of education.
Such surprising situations are not uncommon and some events are also streamed online. The speech themes can be anything from early childhood education to taxation and teenage pregnancies.
“You just have to see what the situation is and who are present and learn to steer through the situation,” Heinonen states calmly.
Everything from an ambulance driver to a friend
The first foreign student group arrived at TAMK more than ten years ago. Everyday challenges became familiar. Diverse problems were discussed daily, for example the Finnish juice was not considered good enough.
Even if the years have taught a lot, same things come up with every group: group members suffer from home sickness and everyday life in a foreign country can be challenging. The key account managers serve as parents, friends, ambulance drivers – and everything in between. Bright light lamps have been sought to treat winter depression and an emergency at night turned out to be a blown fuse. Once a visit to the dentist became a rough experience as the Ramadan prevented the dentist from using local anaesthesia when removing a tooth.
Boundaries between work and leisure become blurred as the key account managers make friends and spend time with the visitors. Hospitality can also be experienced the other way around: in Brazil after Peter Perttula mentioned about there being no gym in the hotel, so a local teacher took him to his private gym at home.
Finnish school cannot be bought
The global education staff often come across the erroneous conception of it being possible to buy the Finnish education system as such and take it to another country. The system can however not be directly copied as changes in legislation and adaptation are often needed and the timelines are long. Even the Finnish education system was formed by adopting and contextualizing the best foreign practices and models. The same is now offered to others.
Education export is a complex process, which may take years. The key account managers have to read what the customer wants to achieve, if it is about a genuine change process or a publicity stunt of a couple of weeks. There are no established practices and the job description changes continuously.
“This work doesn’t suit everyone. Tolerance of uncertainty has to be high,” Heinonen states.
Iron stomach is needed
When travelling, food is most often a positive experience but every now and then you come across some less enjoyable culinary experiences. There may be cock necks or fish eyes on the plate. You have to taste everything bravely – and pretend, as it was delicious.
“In China you have to remember not to eat your bowl empty or you will have more,” Heinonen and Perttula laugh.
What is required most of all is caffeine tolerance. Coffee is served everywhere and the days are long. This does however not disturb the key account managers. The work takes them to wonderful places. New cultures, people and experiences are the best part of the work. Most rewarding is to see how local practices change and overall wellbeing increase.
“The best thing is to see how you have made somebody’s work more meaningful,” Heinonen sums.
Key Account Manager Virpi Heinonen, tel. 040 020 9907, virpi.heinonen [at] tuni.fi
Key Account Manager Peter Perttula, tel. 040 628 2661, peter.perttula [at] tuni.fi
Text and photos: Anna Vättö