Learning mobility during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown (February – June 2020)
Written by Gabriela David, REPLAY Network Association, Italy
Youth mobility projects are learning pathways in which youngsters, youth workers and associations engage building the conditions for a process of empowerment: personal, social, professional. Young people participating to a volunteering project abroad raise self-awareness, learn what they want or don’t want to do in life, and develop their capacity to make choices. When youngsters feel free to express themselves and to explore, when they become aware of their potential and are encouraged to take responsibilities, motivation – that light kept on by the will to do and the trust in realizing one’s own dream – boosts.
It meant seeing part of a dream suffocated
The Covid19 pandemic arrived unexpectedly and with no possible guidelines or ready-made tools to manage such a crisis. In any field. From the health system, to politics, to economics, to education, to youth work. It brought closure of schools, closure of youth centres and other socio-educational places, closure of commercial activities except for the ones essential to survival, etc. until full lockdown. Everyone was asked to remain in the limits of their “home”. To be patient. To wait.
Being a youngster and a volunteer abroad, a once-in-a-life-time experience, it meant seeing part of a dream suffocated while the project entered in a sort of “stand by”. It meant finding oneself from a perspective of “the world has no borders” to a perspective of “closed borders”, from a perspective of social and intercultural exchange to a perspective of “keeping social distance to keep safe”. Many international volunteers were obliged to interrupt their activities or to continue some in smart working. Many remained blocked in the hosting country without travel options to return home to their country of origin. Some managed to return, despite the lockdown, only after weeks or months of research, work and exchange with the authorities to assure a safe return travel. Many times, it meant two or three layovers of 10 to 15 hours in two or three airports followed by another piece of journey by car, in the arch of 3 or 4 days, between destinations that before the pandemic took at maximum 3 hours of a direct flight. It meant spending the triple or the quadruple of the amount of money foreseen by the learning mobility project.
To support this, the EU Commission issued recommendations to National Agencies towards meeting the needs of the volunteers and the organisations supporting them by introducing the possibility to project extension, interruption and the recognition of exceptional expenses caused by the pandemic situation. All within certain limits, of course, nevertheless a recognition of the efforts undertaken and a way to deal with the uncertainty of the moment.
Uncertainty, indeed. And anguish, that state determined by not having reference points. Overworking was one way to catch up with the constant changing situation and cope with the myriad of measures that characterized the context in the different countries, or even regions. I don’t know if there could have been another way, considering the limitation of resources and lack of possibility to control something like a pandemic. Youngsters and youth workers alike felt the stress of not being able to predict and to programme, two aspects that feed people’s trust and hope. Uncertainty on the present and future remains one of the big challenges of the field of learning mobility nowadays.
Following the metaphor of the “hero’s journey” applied to education: “the obstacle” or the “unexpected problem” is that which makes the hero grow
In youth work in general, and in the learning mobility process in particular, an important role is played by what we may call, following the metaphor of the “hero’s journey” applied to education: “the obstacle” or the “unexpected problem”. It is that which makes the hero grow, face his/her own fears and be reborn. The crisis brought by the pandemic was quite a challenge that disrupted the learning mobility pathways. Without specific guidelines to manage such a crisis, mentor support focused on expressing higher capacity of listening and special attention to supporting youngsters in their process to make sense of the uncertainty of the situation and continue their process of autonomy and empowerment.
It allowed us to become “the spokesperson”
Having the possibility to count on a network as LEMON for exchange of information and reflection, as well as having the knowledge and trust among partners that was built and reinforced through the LEMON cooperation, has been a true anchor. It allowed us to become “the spokesperson” on learning mobility through awareness campaigns towards the EU Commission and influence supporting measures for the benefit of all the actors of the field. It made us feel less isolated, each locked down within their own borders, and more connected to carry on the European dream.