Digital And Distance: Erasmus+ Project „Learn And Earn” Ends Under Corona Conditions

"See you next time in Portugal“ – those were the hopes and expectations when students and teachers said farewell to each other at the end of their meeting in Malta in December 2019. After a week of close cooperation and dealing with topics like entrepreneurship and starting up a business with our project partners in Italy, Malta and Portugal we were all happy to looking forward to continuing our work and meeting again a couple of months later with our Portuguese partners in Fatima. Three meetings in Catania (Italy), Gummersbach and Paola (Malta) had already taken place during which students and teachers not only became more and more familiar with the topic of starting up a business but also intensified personal relationships and even friendships with their foreign partners. No wonder everyone was keen on continuing the project again at last meeting which was scheduled for May 2020 in Fatima (Portugal).

Well, at least we thought we would. But then a tiny virus invisible to the human eye turned out to be a real game changer. The corona bug made it impossible to fly to Portugal and continue our project with our European friends. Not only were we unable to go abroad, even here at home terms like “home office” or “distance learning” became unexpected features of our everyday life in school instead. In contrast to presenting business ideas to our fellow partners we sat at home and created a digital diary dealing with the question “What did I do during the pandemic”. The only comfort in this was the fact that it showed we were all more or less in the same situation, no matter which country we lived in. A sort of ‘common experience’ in Europe, but certainly one we would have rather escaped.

When lessons returned to a rather normal proceeding after the summer holidays there was at least some hope we could re-schedule our postponed meeting, but things were getting worse over the autumn period. Even when here in Gummersbach lessons were still held in presence, our partners in Italy for example were facing a hard lockdown with widespread school closures. As it was clear that we had to finish the project by the end of this term it became more and more obvious that a physical meeting in Portugal was out of question. So it became true for the “Learn And Earn”-project what we already had experienced in our everyday life for a couple of months: Switch on your device and meet online with those you want to see.

And that’s what we did for three days in the week before the Easter holidays: As the GY13A and B were both classes preparing for their final exams, the North Rine-Westphalian state government allowed them to assemble again in presence. And that’s what we did: We met in room 408, high above the roofs of Gummersbach and in front of a big screen which connected us with our friends. So we started our presentation from the screen into the camera out of a classroom, while our friends abroad still were subject to home schooling and granting us a look into their living rooms at home.

Thanks again to Hélia and her Portuguese colleagues for this well organized online meeting. I think we all made the best of it, though not being able to meet physically, we again got in touch with each other, and that’s what counts above all. Or, as one member of the German group put it: “Three days in room 408 were quite okay, but seven days in Portugal would have been better.” He is right. But at least we were able to get in contact again.

This “Learn & Earn”-project has now come to an end. But how successful it was in building friendships is underlined by some participants’ intention: “Let’s keep in touch”. I suppose we will.