What kind of experiences have you had with virtual formats?
The Coronavirus pandemic has definitely transferred international activities into digital environments. There is trust that international cooperation and youth exchanges will continue in the midst of change, but it is clear that the ways we act will change and we need to change the ways we are used to act and operate. The unpredictability of the situations has created challenges, and some exchanges have had to be cancelled. In part, the situation may also have affected the employment situation of youth workers. The effects of the pandemic have certainly affected us all, but we have been particularly concerned about those young people who do not have equal opportunities or who do not have the means to act digitally. So, my question is, can international experience be gained in the same way in ones homecountry?
Responsibility has always been a key factor in exchanges and in the current situation its meaning has only been emphasized. Project workers have had to react quickly in order to find innovative solutions for implementing exchanges and actions virtually and in digital spaces. Today international mobility is perceived as important, even more important than before. But repositioning has also required more work. Youth workers were required to reach more and more young people online and through social media, we also heard criticism as to why resources should be invested in virtual, digital mobility.
What has proved particularly successful?
I appreciate the fact that having knowledge of different places and cultures, peer learning and international encounters are still considered important. A survey conducted among youth workers in spring raised a key factor in the exchanges. The exchange of ideas in international operating environments, even in digital format, is still considered important. New types of partnerships have also been launched with new implementations. With the pandemic, important topics such as the ecology of international exchanges have also come up in the discussions.
Do you consider virtual formats to be a suitable supplement to international youth work even after Corona?
I believe that this era will leave us with a new way of thinking. Internationality doesn’t always mean traveling from one country to another, but instead, the world opens up right where you are. This is also an economic issue. Although funding is still being granted to mobility projects, we need to start thinking whether there will be sufficient funding in the future. Will it be sufficient in such a way that all young people really have the possibility to participate in the international mobility projects and exchanges? On the other hand, we must consider whether something is missing from the experience when it does not happen face to face. For some international exchanges, the virtual format is better suited than for others.
What do you think is particularly important in your country?
Recommendation nr. 5 of the Engage, Inform, Empower. paper of ERYICA, Eurodesk and EYCA. To make mobility accessible to all young people is a strong message. The publication emphasizes that mobility is a right for young people and that it should be made accessible to all young people in Europe. In Finland, there are many young people living in peripheral regions. These are regions where fewer young people live than in other parts of our country. I feel that it is important to enable mobility especially for these young people. And digital implementation will also likely lower the threshold to join in these projects. The competences of those working with young people to carry out international youth exchanges must be supported at both national and European level.
I promote youth information and counselling work for young people both in Finland and, more broadly, in Europe and I consider it particularly important that digital opportunities for international youth exchanges are flexible and adaptable to the current situation. It is important to gather information, experiences and results on the long-term impacts right now.
Koordinaatti together with the National Board of Education co-organized a national webinar on 9 December last year on how the pandemic has affected our work in youth information and counselling and how youth exchanges have changed since last spring. The theme is very relevant and crucial to all of us around Europe.
Wishing you all the best and take care
Koordinaatti, Development Manager, Finland