Effects of corona on intercultural exchange and international mobility

I‘m writing this report in Germany in early June, and when I look back at our mailstore I find a very long list of mails that dealt and deal with the corona virus. Since I received the first email from an Italian colleague in the middle of February discussing the effect of corona on our mutual programs, my email program numbers about 1500 emails that I sent out or received in the last four months. As an organisation that focuses on intercultural communication and international understanding, we have closely monitored the development of corona and the measures taken against it on a global scale, and we have also been quite heavily affected by it. But even beyond the immediate impact on our organisation, we found it very disappointing, that international cooperation was one of the first societal victims of corona, and from the beginning many nations (and certainly our own) reacted by closing down borders, ordering protective gear for national purposes alone and repatriating Germans even from those countries, that were a lot safer than Germany.

We have had literally hundreds of conversations with participants and parents regarding the advisability of staying in another country. In the end, about 90% of all participants who have been abroad at the outbreak of the pandemic, have decided to return home and hopefully have been able to do so in a more or less orderly fashion and, what’s more to the point, without any loss of health due to the pandemic. While on one side we are quite happy to know that our participants are as safe as they can be, we would have wished for a more transnational, even global attitude to this global phenomenon.
From a European point of view, I feel that this has been another lost opportunity to show European unity, but we are happy to see that many things are happening these days to make up for this temporary weakening of the European project.
Whereas we have been quite busy (and to some extent still are) to organise the return of our participants and to deal with the financial consequences of all those interrupted stays abroad, we slowly turn towards the future.

The pandemic also had a strong effect on our international Erasmus partnerships. The last real meeting took place in the beginning of March, and already one could notice that the airports and flights have been considerably less crowded than usual, and for me personally this has been the last trip outside my home town of Kiel. On the other side, we have shifted many of our meetings to zoom or other web conferencing programs, which we have become somewhat used to. It will be interesting to see, to what extent these new meeting types will become the new normal. From an ecological point of view, this would certainly be an improvement, but I personally fear, that much of the European spirit of our partnerships gets lost without personal meetings.

The pandemic has also largely affected our discussion on the topic of digital competences and the risk of fake news. We had already, at our last meeting in March, decided that critical thinking is a key competence if one wants to deal with fake news, and not only in digital media.Here in Germany, we have been overwhelmed by fake news and the rise of conspiracy theories in connection with the corona virus. Although it is probably quite normal for us humans to look for easy answers if we feel threatened, it was still quite disheartening to see to what extent populists gained new followers. Within our project, we will discuss this in more detail and can watch the development of the situation as it unfolds under our very eyes. It is also good and encouraging to see, that other European partners have more mature ways to deal with this issue than we do, and we look forward to learning from them. Still, it is just one more example that shows to what extent adult education needs to play a role in order to make our society more resilient towards the lures of populism and nationalism.