“A great learning opportunity”: Museum Professionals in Viet Nam and Finland Recount Their Exchange

One of the muDSCF9457seum education exchange projects supported by ASEMUS in 2014 involved staff of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (Hanoi, Viet Nam) and the Helinä Rautavaara Museum (Espoo, Finland). The project enabled vice head of education Vu Hong Nhi and curator of education Ilona Niinikangas to learn new skills and share their knowledge.

On the institutional level new relationships between two continents were established. Future cooperation in the form of a mobile exhibition and cultural cooperation is planned and waiting for the appropriate funding channels to be opened. Now beneficiaries recount that fruitful experience.

Vu Hong Nhi visited Finland between 23 September and 10 October 2014. The visit gave her an excellent opportunity to understand the history, people and culture in Espoo and Finland. To this end, several visits, meetings and discussions with staff of the Helinä Rautavaara Museum as well as other museums took place, including KAMU – the City Museum of Espoo, the Espoo Museum of Modern Art (EMMA), the Finnish Museum of Horology, the Finnish Toy Museum and the National Museum of Finland.

In addition, in order to help Vietnamese children living in Finland to improve their language skills and strengthen their cultural identity, a workshop for Vietnamese-speaking pupils was organised, in collaboration with the Vietnamese teacher at the Hakunilanrinne school. Two other workshops were organised related to traditional culture and the making of Vietnamese folk toys.

Vu Hong Nhi also prepared a presentation on Viet Nam for museum visitors and introduced Vietnamese culture through activities like using bamboo chop sticks, wearing hats, identifying the healing power of few tubers, seeds and identifying the traditional dress of some ethnic groups.

Her visits to other museums were helpful, by illustrating how to introduce certain techniques and contents in educational activities: “I got more information and real context on how to use traditional tools and folk games in daily life activities and annual Finnish festivals. During a visit to the Farms Glim Museum I gathered information about toys, daily life in the farmhouse and annual festivals. We also discussed the role of artisans and craftsmen in guided tours.”

These reflections also extended to the important role of museums in providing educational opportunities for children, as Vu Hong Nhi says: “Through the visits and discussions with Finnish colleagues, we realized how important it is to tell children about the traditional toys and folk games. It is difficult for children who live in the urban area to get the raw material needed for the toys. Therefore the museums should find appropriate ways and suitable materials readily available to encourage children to cherish and appreciate the value of the traditional toys and folk games.”indonesia opening

On the other hand, Ilona Niinikangas visited Viet Nam between 1 and 16 December. The programme included numerous museum visits, meetings with their staff, workshops and field trips to suburbs of Hanoi, Sapa and Ha Long Bay. In addition to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (VME), museums visited included the Women’s Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Family Museum of Nguyen Van Huyen.

Initial discussions with staff of the VME helped to identify similar challenges to those of the Helinä Rautavaara Museum, including how to maintain the interest of pupils, but also some differences in regarding the ways of teaching and learning.

One of the issues addressed concerned the VME’s experience in working with sensitive groups and communities, including minority groups and disadvantaged people. In 2010 Ilona had visited the VME’s exhibition “Pain and Hope. 20 Years of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam”, which she found was very well-curated and touching, and she was very interested in finding out more about that experience. She discussed this with the Museum’s two vice directors, one of whom, Prof. Dr. Thieu, told her about the background to the project and the museum’s field work. “He also told me about the resistance inside the museum and the feelings that the exhibition team was going through during the process – how their own perceptions and prejudices had changed. On the other hand, Dr. Duong’s view was that the VME wants to link the museum to society and reflect the contemporary changes in life. Though museums cannot provide solutions for dilemmas like HIV, the museum can still make these phenomena visible and known.”

The VME’s field work methodologies were discussed at several points in the course of the visit, as Ilona recounts: “I learnt a great deal about the way the VME does field work and works with different vulnerable groups and ethnic minorsapajpgities. This was a topic that we regularly returned during the field trip that I took with Vu Hong Nhi. She told me about the field work that museum staff is doing for various exhibitions. She also told me about the VME’s “code of conduct”. We had interesting talks of the ethics of field work and the role of informants.”

In the course of the visit, Ilona conducted six workshops, four in Hanoi, aimed at VME staff and other museum professionals, and two in Lao Cai, for cultural and tourism sector workers. Topics included museum texts and working with different communities, media work and museum education. Each workshop included presentations and group discussions. The feedback gathered after the sessions was very positive.

Ilona summarises the project as follows: “The exchange between Viet Nam and Finland provided great learning opportunities for the individuals involved as well as for the organisations as a whole. I was happy to share the daily life and see the many faces of Viet Nam. The insights will help me to carry on with global education projects in Finland.”

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