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What does the Annual Gala tell about our community?



Kirjoittanut: Niina Piirainen - tiimistä Roima.

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What does the Annual Gala tell about our community?

 

Annual gala 2023

In January 2023, the Proakatemia Annual Gala was celebrated again, this time in the magnificent setting of the Hotel Rosendahl. The Annual Gala is a celebration of graduating teams, where the whole community comes together to honour and celebrate the end of their academy journey. The Annual Gala is mainly a series of various speeches and prizes, which are distributed among the graduating teams and the community as a whole. These awards include Hall of Fame mentions and Value awards. The categories for the Value Awards are determined by the Proacademy’s values of Trust, Courage, Actions, Learning and Success.  In addition to the Academy’s prizewinners, we heard moving words of appreciation from graduating teams and their coaches. It was a pleasure to listen to these speeches and I noticed some common themes in them that tells about the imprint that life at the Academy leaves on people. I purposely use the word ‘life’ here, rather than ‘studies’, because team learning binds us together in a much broader sense than just studies, which was strongly reflected in the speeches of the students. What else can we learn about our community when we observe a single event that is charged with a lot of anticipation, relief and farewells?

 

”What a grazy journey!”

When you ask a team entrepreneur what kind of place Proakatemia is, you rarely get a clear and concise answer, or if you do, the answer usually includes the term crazy. Proakatemia develops us on so many different levels that it is difficult to describe what the studies involve. There was a sense of confused pride and satisfaction in the speeches of graduating students about the journey they are now completing. They described the challenges of the journey and the roller-coaster ride from good moments to difficult situations and back again. But the focus was on progress, both at individual and team level. In retrospect, many of the challenges were seen as necessary steps for development, even if they did not seem so at the time. While development was collective, its manifestation was individual – where one had gained confidence, another had found humility, or where one had gained the courage to speak up, another had learned what is achieved by stepping back from time to time to listen for a change.

Another common link between graduates and alumni was the pain of leaving the community. The methods of team learning and building our own close-knit community makes us experience a different kind of attachment and connection to our community than usual. This is a likely reason for our active alumni involvement, as suggested by Esa Lappalainen, an alumnus who presented the value awards. The future of the teams together, in terms of business or other contacts, is another matter, but more than that, the speeches reflected the longing that remains for Proakatemia and the community. Personally, I feel that such an environment, which supports individual development and encourages entrepreneurship, is an important asset. When you have a safe place to test your skills and boundaries, and a community with modern values, it is certainly a culture shock to change to a different work environment. Hopefully, each of our graduates can contribute to a healthier and fresher work culture and act as a paragon of entrepreneurship.

 

Self doubts hides in development

Miisa Hiltunen, a graduate from team Revena, reminded me of a topic I have discussed at the Academy before. As the youngest in her team, Miisa felt she was at the academy too early, because others’ courage and actions seemed greater than her own. Miisa is by no means alone in experiencing the age-related self doubts. It is somewhat amusing that you can look at this same problem from a different age perspective, and still experience the same sense of being an outsider. While the youngest members of the teams are shy about their inexperience, I, at the oldest end of my team, felt I was behind the others because it took me so long to find my way here in the academy. Comparisons are pointless, but so very human.

The learning and development process is not straightforward and smooth. It requires attempts, mistakes, reflection and the perseverance to try again to learn from the lessons of failure. Naturally, such a journey evokes a range of emotions in us, including pride, fear and uncertainty. Aleksi Kolunsarka, a third-year team entrepreneur who won the Value Award of Trust, said in his speech that the past academic year has also provided a crack in self-confidence, which is why community appreciation felt particularly meaningful. I empathised with Aleksi’s experience, as I have experienced it as well. Uncertainties and questioning one’s own actions and role from time to time are, in my view, part of the process of developing and growing. The academy environment guides us to constant reflection and self-work, where we learn the limits of how close look is profitable at any given time. The team also acts as a mirror for us, for better or worse, and sometimes we need help interpreting it. I confess that I’ve spent way too much time berating myself and questioning my actions. Reflection and asking for feedback is certainly worthwhile, but it should support progress, not slow it down. In these moments of uncertainty, talking things through with a safe teammate or coach has helped me the most, giving me a new perspective and a gentle shake-up of my assumptions and thinking.

 

Same in English

The Proakatemia community has grown and internationalised exponentially in recent years. Bilingualism is sometimes a challenge and this was also visible at the Annual Gala, where the speeches were mainly in Finnish. It felt sad that a large part of our community was excluded from what was happening in the ballroom. I fully understand that a surprised and somewhat emotional Finn will easily resort to the native language, and speaking English in front of an audience can be a strain in general. We should think about how we can support our community in using a common language. Could we make use of interpretation, either human or artificial intelligence? Is there some way we could lower the threshold for fumbling with a foreign language or help with word-finding? Finns speak mostly very good English, but we set our own standards too high.

It may well be that a year and a half ago I would have resorted to my mother tongue myself in such a situation. However, my time at the Proakatemia and my indulgence in bilingualism has made it easier to speak English. In some ways I have certainly gained confidence and courage in my own expression, but what has helped most is the realisation that no one assumes I speak completely correctly or even fluently. If it’s a choice between the two, I’d rather embarrass myself in an attempt to communicate than save face at the expense of connection. I try to put myself in the position of what it would be like to be in a country whose language I didn’t understand and not have anyone to talk to because people’s standards for their own language skills were so high. So I want to encourage everyone to give up the fear of embarrassing themselves and prioritise communication. The more we use a foreign language, the less attention we pay to it.

 

Fire on a dance floor

After the speeches had been made and the dinner had been enjoyed, it was time to set the dance floor on fire. The nightclub of the Hotel Rosendahl was filled with celebrating students and coaches alike. The communal party atmosphere was blazing and I wondered if this is how lecturers at traditional study line parties put their A-game at the centre of the dance circle. It was great to see how the spirit of throwing oneself into the dance and cheering each other on carried through even in such an environment. The annual gala is a really important and positively charged event for the community. An individual’s respect for the graduating teams and the community as a whole grows as the journey progresses, and I found that the event was more important this year than last, at least for me. I understood its meaning more, identified more with its message and felt more part of the community. The Annual Gala is also, on top of all this, a project organised by the team entrepreneurs themselves. The project team had done a really great job and what makes the celebration perfect is that it is 100% Proakatemian.

 

Reflection

At its best, the Annual Gala showcases the best of Proakatemia, both in terms of individual development and community cohesion. However, our community is now in a state of change with its continued growth, bilingualism and the prospect of a move next autumn, so more than ever we need the glue that holds the community together. As I reflect on our strengths as a community as revealed in the Annual Gala, I highlight the hard evolution we are going through together, the pride and respect we have for our community, and our strong ownership of our circumstances. These things can continue to serve as tools for keeping our community together. Based on the analysis of the annual gala, I would say that the challenge for our community is that it takes time to integrate in it. First year students and international teams are a bit disconnected in my opinion and although some integration is already happening, I think there is still room for improvement. So how can we harness our strengths; collective development, community pride and ownership to build a more seamless community and integrate new teams more quickly into the whole?

For my part, I will integrate first-year students through active mentoring and participation in community-based spars and training sessions, such as Sales Day coaching and Team Leader workshops. I will encourage and lead by example in normalising bilingualism and strive to create an open and warm atmosphere among all teams. Next week’s workshop programme includes a community workshop facilitated by Apuva team, which will be a great opportunity to explore these challenges with our whole team. In addition, we will explore change management as a team and prepare for our move to Kuntokatu with the aim of eliminating unnecessary adaptation difficulties and resistance to change. Adaptation needs time, but with our own attitude we can make it faster and more enjoyable. Together, we can make the community even closer by building on our strengths and remembering our collective responsibility.

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