Jana Tondi: Specialist in language and culture studies with the Integration Foundation
Summer language and culture café events await residents of Narva
Summer concerts and events of national minority cultural associations
Knowledge of Estonia tested at Ida-Viru County Vocational Education Centre
31 May 2015 marked five years of working at the Integration and Migration Foundation for Jana Tondi, whose background in education and practical language-teaching – working and communicating with both children and adults – makes her a valued and much-needed member of the foundation’s team, and to its partners.
We interviewed Jana to find out where she learned what she knows, what she did before she joined the foundation and what inspires her most in her work.
1. Where are you from? Where did you grow up and go to school?
I was born in Pärnu, but ever since I’ve lived in Vigala. We’ve always spoken two languages at home – Estonian and Russian. That’s why I feel justified in saying I’m from a multicultural family! I started school in Kivi-Vigala and then went on to Pärnu-Jaagupi High School. My school years coincided with the era when you were taught a profession in high school, which is why I started selling food products after I graduated; the skills I’d learnt also meant I was capable of selling industrial goods, too. It was an interesting time in my life – working in a shop meant my summers weren’t always spent weeding vegetable patches and making jam and planting cucumbers and sorting the hay out.
After I graduated from high school I went on to study what was my strongest subject: Russian language and literature, which I loved and which I was always interested in. I wanted to learn more about it. In basic school I’d wanted to become a teacher. In the end I combined the two, graduating from Tallinn Pedagogical University in Russian Language and Literature in 1992 with a teaching degree.
My first job was right there at the university, working in the Russian Language Department. I really liked it as a place to work. It was while I was there that I started doing my Master’s by correspondence. I did all sorts of courses as part of that.
2. What did you do before you joined the Integration Foundation?
I was working at the Narva College of the University of Tartu. In 1993 I was headhunted to teach Estonian at Narva College, when became the Narva College of the University of Tartu in 1999. At first I carried on teaching practical Estonian to the students there, and I was also teaching it in a basic school, to get a better idea of how learnt and teachable methodology are actually applied in lessons; what works and what doesn’t. I wanted to get some idea of how much material you could get through in a lesson, how kids attain language, how motivated they are and what interests or doesn’t interest them. In any case I soon worked out that my lesson plans had too much going on in them, so I adjusted them accordingly.
Between 2001 and 2009 I was more involved in the administrative side of things – I was organising open university studies, then I became the director of the General Department and in latter years I took up the post of overall director of the college. It was an interesting time, the time I spent in Narva, and quite demanding. I kept finding myself in new roles and having to put myself to the test, learning or experiencing something new pretty much every year.
People would tell wild stories about Narva, but in reality, living and working there, you never saw or felt anything of the sort. What was important was that you knew how to speak to the people there, and I was good at that. That helped hone my Russian, of course, which was much better after I graduated than it is now! On the other hand, so many people wanted to learn Estonian that I was basically teaching it out of hours as well, doing in-company stuff or working for a language company.
3. How and when did you find your way to the Integration Foundation?
I saw an advertisement in 2010, a job vacancy, for a coordinator in the Lifelong Learning Unit, and I thought: why not give it a try? Send in your CV and see how it goes. I’d submitted proposals and applications to the foundation before on behalf of the college to try and get funding for extra language studies for our students, so I was curious as to what went on at the other end – who reviewed our applications? What did they do? I had an interview at the foundation and was then called back for a second one, and after that it was Eduard Odinets, the director of the Lifelong Learning Unit (now working as an external resources expert with the Ministry of Culture – Ed.), who told me the job was mine if I wanted it! I did, and I took up the post in mid-2010. That’s when my journey of discovery started! The first area I worked in was coordinating Estonian lessons for public sector workers, then Estonian lessons for university and college students as part of the ‘Language Studies Development 2007-2010’ and ‘Language Studies Development 2011-2013’ programmes of the ESF (European Social Fund – Ed.) , and since the end of 2013 I’ve been involved in offering Estonian studies in the sphere of vocational education as well.
4. What’s been the most memorable or most important event for you personally in the time you’ve worked for the foundation?
There’ve been lots of memorable moments, since every year I’ve faced new challenges and had a new focus; I’ve never felt like I’ve been stuck in a rut. The end of 2010 was particularly busy, because I’d joined the foundation in the second half of the year and had to hit the ground running, picking things up as I went and starting things and seeing them through all in a short space of time. I managed though, and I was really happy with what I’d pulled off! So was the whole unit, in fact.
2011 was an exciting year, because that’s when the new programme started and this huge field sort of opened out in front of us. Somewhere between 80 and 120 companies and organisations were taking part in our application rounds each year. The number of people interested in language studies was really high. The sad thing was that we had to say ‘no’ to a lot of places, since the resources we were working with were limited.
2013 was something of a breakthrough year for me, since it was that March that I was offered the post of director of the Multicultural Education Unit. I didn’t have to think for too long before accepting it! The work of the unit and the area it operates in were close to my heart, and I was familiar with both – non-formal language and culture studies, projects promoting civic education, culture and sports projects, work with youngsters (including camps and other joint activities) and interaction with Sunday schools and national culture associations. I was also involved in projects connected to the EIF (European Integration Fund for Third Country Nationals – Ed.). There were four of us in the unit, and the atmosphere was always great. We thought along the same lines and we were always willing to help one another out. Working there was fantastic.
That October I agreed to help wind up the activities of the ‘Language Studies Development 2011-2013’ programme and take on the responsibilities of the programme manager. In 2014 I fulfilled the role of director of the Lifelong Learning and Multicultural Education Unit. I’m sure this year will go down as one of new roles and challenges, too. Now I’m the director of culture and language immersion and both what I do and how I go about it have changed. Society’s expectations have changed as well. There’s still a lot of interest in and need for Estonian studies among people who don’t speak it as a mother tongue, which is reflected in the huge number who’ve registered for the free Estonian courses we’re offering at the moment – almost 5000 people.
5. What do you get up to outside of work? What helps you relax and unwind?
I spend a lot of time with my sisters’ kids. Playing with them really relaxes me. They’re so open and so genuine about everything. They have a way of drawing every bit of attention to themselves!
I love going mushrooming and berry-picking in the forest, and jogging in the park, and skiing in winter. I haven’t been to any shaping classes since I’ve been in Tallinn, but I did go to them in Narva. Sometimes I read, or knit, and I go to cultural events every now and again. I love making cakes, and talking to my friends. And working in the garden! I spend every weekend in the country, at my dad’s place.
Part of my holidays I always try to spend exploring somewhere new that I’ve never been to before. Some of the most exciting places I’ve been to are Crete, Brazil and Thailand.
6. How has the field of integration in Estonia developed in your view? Has it developed? What do you think we have to be proud of? What do we need to change and improve? What do we need to focus more on?
Of course it’s developed, over time. Integration’s constantly evolving and changing with society; as society develops, so does integration. It doesn’t tread water. The results of the latest integration monitoring, which was carried out this year, were presented in June, and they showed that compared to 2011 the proportion of people who can’t speak Estonian has decreased and the number who can has increased. Active use of the language has increased significantly among young people, to as much as 63% – that’s a rise of 16% since last time. We’re seeing the same sort of shifts among older people as well. The study also showed that Estonian’s being used a lot more in studies and in talking to colleagues, as well as in recreational situations and hobbies.
I was really pleased with those results, and I am proud of them. I’ve contributed to quite a few goals being met, like equal opportunities for competing on the labour market and obtaining education, including Estonian language studies, finding contacts and shaping attitudes. We all have – my colleagues at the foundation, and our partners.
We’ve also supported Estonian studies for both young people and adults on traditional language courses, in language clubs, at meetings, through cooperation initiatives and at kids’ and other project-based camps.
Since the field has needed some fine-tuning, I think we’ve taken things in the right direction. In future though I think we’ll need to turn more attention to the content and quality of what we do – by which I mean getting to know the language and the culture – and offer more opportunities for people to create contacts and do things together. That way we should reinforce the feeling among everyone who lives in Estonia that this is their community, this is their country.
We have to focus more on integrating the two biggest cultural groups here in Estonia. That’s something that people who speak Estonian as their native language can get involved in, too. I’m of the view that Estonians need to be integrated as well so that they understand people from other countries and the diversity of the cultures that exist within Estonian society. Our cultural space is actually really rich and it’s because of that diversity. For example, Estonia has its own cultural groups – the islanders in the west, the Setos in the south – and they’re really strongly connected to their linguistic and cultural heritage and identity. But without knowing their customs and their traditions, even Estonians will be a stranger among them. And apart from them there are almost 190 different nationalities living in Estonia, from almost 90 different countries. Different cultural backgrounds and cultural experiences and expectations can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts between people. It’s important to know other cultures so as to better understand your own, and shape your understanding of yourself.
I think language and culture activities help people who don’t speak Estonian as a mother tongue improve their Estonian language skills and gain a better understanding of Estonian culture. It also leads them to play more of a part in it. And all of this boosts people’s language abilities generally, and their social skills, which in turn contributes to breaking down social barriers and creating conditions for people to break through on the labour market.
7. What’s been the high point of the year for you so far, at work and at home? And when you look back on the year as it comes to an end and consider whether it was a successful one, what will decide it for you?
I should dig out the list of new year’s resolutions I made at the end of last year, I guess – see what I’ve already done and what’s left to tick off! That way I’d have more idea of what I still want to achieve, or what’s already coming along nicely, or what’s fallen by the wayside. We’re only halfway through the year yet, so I hope I get the chance to do everything I’ve planned to at work, and also focus more on my life at home.
One of the biggest things will be in autumn, when the language courses and language clubs will be starting up. This year marks five years for me with the foundation, which is a nice little number, and I suppose an achievement of sorts! If nothing else it tells me that I’m doing something that I’m good at and that I care about.
The Narva office of the Integration and Migration Foundation at the Keres Centre has been playing host to weekly language and culture café get-togethers since May. These events, which are educational and informative but also social, will be taking place all summer. The dates and themes of the July and August meetings can be found below.
Language café programme
- 13 July (17:00-18:00) The magic of numbers | ‘I know your family’ game | Interesting experiences connected with numbers (Boosting people’s numbers vocabulary)
- 27 July (17:00-18:00) My family are the best! (Boosting people’s family-related vocabulary)
- 10 August (17:00-18:00) Happiness – life’s greatest achievement | Do I know how to give myself praise? (Boosting people’s vocabulary related to life stories, behaviour and characterising people)
- 24 August (17:00-18:00) Is your job your life’s calling? (Boosting people’s work-related vocabulary)
Culture café programme
- 8 July (16:00-17:00) Jazz in Estonia – the history of jazz in this little Baltic country | 90th anniversary of The Murphy Band – the first professional jazz band in the country and their first ever performance at the Marcelle dance-café | 70th anniversary of The Mickeys big band
- 22 July (16:00-17:00) The Birgitta Festival – its history and programme for 2015
- 5 August (16:00-17:00) Lea Dali Lion’s Joonista valgus /Draw the light/ – the Estonian bestseller in June | Discussion: Spiritual strength and life experience | Why do we read such books?
- 19 August (16:00-17:00) What are the Free Stage and Independent Dance Stage? Why were they created, and who for.
Language and culture café events take place at the Narva office of the Integration Foundation on the 3rd floor of the Keres Centre (Kerese 3, Narva). Tea and coffee are provided for attendees. Feel free to brings snacks with you. The themes of the café events are updated regularly on the website of the Integration Foundation.
For further information e-mail [email protected] or call +372 800 9999.
Summer is a time for travelling, meeting new people and taking part in a wide range of exciting events.
Below you will find information about the events being organised by national minority cultural associations this summer.
- 11 July (19:00) The NPO Varnja Perekonna Selts is organising the annual Fisherman’s Day in Varnja village. The programme includes a concert, and traditional fish soup will be made for all.
- 13-31 July The Union of Russian Education and Charity Associations in Estonia and the Russian Philharmonic Society are organising the Alion Baltic International Music Festival for the second year running. It will feature performances from Russian, Germany, American and Serbian pianists, violin players and vocalists.
- 14 July(10:00) The festival will be opened at the Russian Cultural Centre. Pianist Daniel Pollak from the United States will be giving a solo performance at 19:00.
- 3 August(18:00) Youngsters from the Estonian-Russian Chamber of Culture are organising a concert at the Lindakivi Cultural Centre which will feature a performance by the ancient Russian folk music group Rusichi.
- 15 August(20:00) The vocal ensemble Orthodox Singers will perform at the Church of St Mary in Jõelähtme.
- 15 August (from 15:00) Various groups from the Pärnu Open Centre and Pärnu County cultural centres will perform as part of the August Insomnia Festival in the courtyard of Pärnu Community Centre (Lõuna 18). There will also be performers from Finland. The centre will simultaneously host an exhibition of national handicrafts.
- 15 & 16 August The Union of National Minorities is organising ‘Multicultural Pärnu 2015’ as part of the Raduga Festival, including:
- 15 August– performances by national minority troupes from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia; tasting of national cuisine; an exhibition of the works of national minority societies; and a dance troupe and visitor flash mob; and
- 16 August– a dance workshop led by the Chuvash Cultural Society from St Petersburg; and an introduction to Russian cuisine by the Chuvash Cultural Society from Tallinn.
Anyone can play Eesti mäng, the educational and entertaining quiz show known to viewers of ETV. This was proven by first-year students from Ida-Viru County Vocational Education Centre, who held their own version of the quiz show at the school in June.
The rules were simple: in turns, the teams were asked questions on six subjects and had to choose the correct answer from the multiple-choice options given. All of the subjects were related to Estonia – the state; history; culture; nature & geography; sport; and miscellaneous. Five teams took part, each featuring one native speaker of Estonian and three students with Russian as their mother tongue. A total of 20 first-year students competed in the game.
According to the organisers, what appealed most to those taking part was the chance the quiz gave them to put themselves to the test and learn something new in a fun format. “It was great rolling the giant wooden die, which was pretty heavy, so that spurred the youngsters on to roll it further and further in hopes of a higher number of points,” said Signe Abel, the organiser of the event and a technology studies teacher at the Ida-Viru County Vocational Education Centre. “The party afterwards was great as well, as it gave all of us – those taking part and those of us who’d organised it – the chance to try some of the very best traditional and contemporary Estonian dishes.”
The organisers were very pleased with the fact that the game took place simultaneously in two formats: live and online. The Internet version will be able to be used later in lessons. All of those who took part received an Estonia-shaped badge as a memento.
The quiz took place online at http://teemenii.planet.ee/index.php, established by the school’s creativity teacher Olga Popova.
The first three teams to complete the game were rewarded with baseball caps and scarves featuring Estonian emblems and mugs emblazoned with patterns from national costumes. All of the competitors received a badge and a letter of thanks for participating.
The event was able to be held thanks to the activities of the ‘My home is in Estonia’ project of the ‘Civic awareness- and tolerance-themed events and materials’ project competition organised by the Integration and Migration Foundation, funded from the state budget via the Ministry of Education and Research. Two such events are to be held during the term of the project.