“Take care of yourselves and the planet”
Towards the end of the 9-week virtual exchange journey, participants reflect and express their gratitude towards the group for the experience and the learning that happened. Facilitators invite participants to bring a ‘(virtual) parting gift’ to their last online session as a way of saying goodbye and celebrating their achievements. Over the years our facilitators have seen this exercise lead to wonderful expressions from participants, like digital cards and even musical performances.
This spring iteration, one virtual gift stood out in particular for its relevance to the subject matter of ‘Climate Movements’. Marco, a student from the University of Padua, donated a tree on behalf of his group through the organization ‘Treedom’;
“I believe in the power of individuals to drive the world’s behaviors, so when I heard about this organization, I thought it’s perfect. The tree is donated to local farmers who make it grow and they can exploit its fruits. All trees are registered on the website and can be seen through a GPS localization and the tree “feed” where its photos and updates are published. (…) I already had bought trees for myself, or as gifts to my girlfriend or for Mother’s Day, so it’s almost natural to think about it as a way to thank the group and a good gesture, both symbolic and actual.”
About his participation in ‘Climate Movements’, Marco says that it has been a “great experience”;
“It was my first exchange and I’m happy to have had the possibility to do it and meet new people and perspectives notwithstanding the pandemic”,Marco continues, sharing his experience participating in ‘Climate Movements’. Though I like to discuss and talk, I’m usually the shy guy who rarely starts a conversation, so finding other people to speak with has helped me a lot in being more confident of myself. Moreover, I made friends from many countries in the Mediterranean and I value this aspect a lot. Plus, doing it in English gave me a huge help in exercising more of my language skills!”
Next to gaining confidence, making connections and improving his language skills, Marco says that the learning materials for this Virtual Exchange course were “very rich” and provided room for challenging conversations in the sessions;
“I was already interested and quite aware of the many aspects of climate change, but this course helped me delve more into each aspect, link them together and try to keep these connections in mind while talking with the rest of the group. I’ve found fascinating insights on indigenous cultures, something we as ‘Western peoples’ have difficulties keeping in mind. This course raised my interest in these stories and made me think about the responsibilities we have in their regards.”
With the help of senior facilitator Rawan, the group bonded over fun activities; “Surely I’ll treasure the experiences I’ve had, we as a group will try to stay connected in the future. And if the tree can also be a way to strengthen our bond, it’ll be another great aspect of it!”
Thank you, Marco, for the great gift to your group and sharing your thoughts on ‘Climate Movements’!
Insights from our partner ‘ESIEE Paris’
Why do you think it is important to use Virtual Exchange in your curriculum?
While physical mobility is compulsory for all students at our institution and irreplaceable for its immersive and full sensory experience, it only brings students in contact with one national culture. This is all the more problematic if the experience is not a happy one. Young people today need several international experiences in order to be ready for a globally-connected workplace. High international competence is sought by businesses, and it is vital for reducing political and economic tensions between countries. On a personal level, it is an empowering and stimulating experience.
What does this Virtual Exchange course offer your students?
This Virtual Exchange gives our students the opportunity to discuss important global issues with young people from several different countries. They hear different perspectives on these issues. This broadens their understanding and encourages them to think more critically. Our students connect empathically with people from different cultural backgrounds, which helps to reduce ‘othering’. Strong bonds are created during the course, and many of the students continue their friendship on social media, after the course.
What can interested professors expect when partnering to implement Virtual Exchange at their institutions?
At first, one feels rather on the outside. The course materials are available for professors to watch and read when you look for them. It is your job to ask the students to share their deliverables with you if you want to evaluate the quality of their deliverables.
Helen’s advice for future partners is to [m]aintain a balance between giving the students some autonomy and your expectations from the students”.
Thank you Helen Eve, Coordinator Internationalisation at Home and English modules at ESIEE PARIS, for your cooperation.
Partnership conversations for the autumn iteration of ‘Climate Movements’ are currently taking place. Learn more on how to offer this online course at your education institution or organization here >
Or contact us
What do Virtual Exchange and a potluck have in common?
Over the past 9 weeks, 1131 youth from 84 countries engaged in discussions on the themes of climate change, migration and contemporary political action in the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange course ‘Cultural Encounters: The Big Climate Movement’. They met for a live two-hour session each week, in which trained facilitators helped guide participants in constructive dialogue that put value and emphasis on participants’ lived experiences, identities, and unique contexts.
“At first, some participants were confused since they thought it was going to be another ‘course’ where they would be bombarded with data and taught the facts that they could find anywhere online” one of the group facilitators explains.
“(S)tep by step, as they were asked not only what they think about the topic but why and how they think, feel, or believe as they do, they began getting more and more engaged. As participants grasp the idea that it’s not necessarily about what they know, but how they perceive the issue, they begin feeling confident to contribute, get empowered, and the sessions became cozy and rich potlucks where everyone brings the most authentic things they have without fearing if others will like them or not.”
It is this group and relationship building process in our Virtual Exchange model that allows participants to learn about different experiences directly from the people who lived them, develop empathy, challenge their beliefs and move toward thinking collaboratively about solutions.
When groups are reaching the ‘potluck’ level of comfort and trust, facilitators also observe a high level of activation concerning the course theme. As they heard stories from their peers about enduring natural disasters and seeing less snow in their mountains every year, they often expressed feeling fear and anxiety about their future. However, there was also often a palpable sense of hope and determination;
“We’re gonna go forward and inform other people about the climate”
“I was pessimistic and didn’t see any hope. After these sessions, I got my hope back. What I heard from others in the group made me feel like we can get through this.”
“Even though everyone here has different stories, we all care. If all young people care this much we can create change.”
Here are some remarkable examples to illustrate how groups collectively or participants individually continue their engagement with climate action and other crouse themes beyond this Virtual Exchange:
- One group that decided to write a book for kids on Sustainable Development, and have already begun to collaborate on this via Zoom.
- A group that did a ‘Two Truths and a Lie: Environment Edition’ activity in which they each completed a number of green actions before their session and then tried to guess which one of the three green action ideas presented by each person they had not done (yet!)
- A participant who joined a group of young people in Morocco on a regular basis to clear beaches of plastic waste.
- A participant who is a member of UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development who asked one of his fellows to help facilitate an online event with him, and invited his whole group to participate.
- A participant who is bringing the knowledge and experiences she has gained from the discussions into an initiative to fight climate change in her country.
- A participant who was inspired by this course to do a podcast on the environment, and is now recruiting her fellow group members to be guests in her upcoming episodes.
- A participant who founded a startup to help girls in rural areas use their voice to speak up about climate change.
Bilal on gaining confidence and spreading awareness
Do you feel the Virtual Exchange course you participated in helped to raise awareness about refugees experiences?
“The course made me realise how important it is for us, as Syrians and newcomers in Europe, to express ourselves. We need to tell our story and make others hear it from us and not from the media. It is also essential to open communication channels with our new communities. This helps with our integration and understanding. However, in this course we also found common grounds to all of us: residents and refugees/newcomers. We agreed that nowadays, it is difficult to talk about different identities, as current migration waves are pushing us to build a common identity for all of us.”
Can you remember a specific moment that had an impact on you (or the group) during your participation?
“I still remember when one of the participants said: “It’s the first time I am talking to a refugee, now I know they are like me. Media gave me a negative impression about them and this was affecting my relationship with them”. In that moment I understood the impact of this project. It improves our critical thinking and provides skills to help us achieve (almost) the truth.”
Did you come in contact with participants that usually have limited access to education or intercultural experiences?
“Many participants come from conflict areas, a lot of them were not able to leave their country so could not continue with their education. Also, some of them had never met people from other countries or cultures. Remember, conflicts like the one in Syria started nine years ago.
These participants were so excited to meet people from different backgrounds and to share their stories with them. I feel proud to be contributing to giving them access to a platform where they can express themselves and learn from others. However, there are still many vulnerable people living in refugee camps and conflict areas that will never have a chance to participate in projects like Erasmus+Virtual Exchange. We should work hard to provide them with internet access.”
How did your participation in ‘Refuge/es in Europe’ impact you?
“I gained knowledge, new relationships, friends, a new way of thinking. Refugees need platforms to understand what’s happening in the rest of the world and safe spaces to express themselves. Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange provides a window to intercultural exchanges, something that is not always accessible to refugees; it’s a unique opportunity, and they deserve it.
I gained self-confidence. Now, I believe we can all contribute to promoting a global change. Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange made me realise that the impact we can make in society is not related to where we come from or what kind of official paper/citizenship situation we have, but to the efforts we are willing to make in learning and sharing experiences. “
Thank you, Bilal Hazzouri for sharing your story.
‘How can we find opportunities in conflict?’
“I took special interest in human rights, gender and conflict and therefore volunteered as a pro bono legal officer with the National Human Rights Commission in Nigeria. Being born in a conflict era in the 1990’s and having experienced the impact of violent conflict, I developed an interest in understanding conflict and how such situations can be transformed to build sustainable peace. “
Her personal and professional background motivated her to participate in the virtual exchange ‘Youth Peace and Security’ (2020) offered through the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange initiative. Meeting weekly online in highly diverse groups guided by trained facilitators, Evelyn and her fellow group members explored core concepts of conflict and peace in a way that privileged participants’ lived experiences as expertise.
“This experience broadened my thinking on peace building and conflict transformation processes. I learnt a lot sharing ideas with peers and having the opportunity to interact with people across the world.
It gave me the platform to create new connections and relationships. To have young minds across the globe see the need to do something about the conflict situations around us. Indeed there is hope knowing that together we can take steps to make our world better and shine the light for others. I learnt a lot from my group mates, our diversity and the way things are handled in our different countries.”
Evelyn explains how she looked forward to the weekly meetings to connect and discuss. Especially the conversations about youth activation and opportunities for conflict transformation made an impact:
“I had many best moments but the one that stood out most was the discussion on the role of youth in peace building. It was interesting to note that this is our future, it’s about us, which makes it vital for us to take active steps. And I received new insight from the discussion on the ‘how can we find opportunities in Conflict?’ from my group mates. Where I had always seen the negative outcome of conflict, I came to realize that conflict offers us the opportunity to choose the kind of outcome with the way we decide to address it.
(…) We must not forget our humanity and if we see each other in this light, then we learn to treat each other better and find common grounds to resolve issues amicably. We must start with ourselves to take responsibility and be accountable with our actions towards each other.”
Thank you, Evelyn Anietie James, for sharing your story.