A digital journey through three countries
In their penultimate semester, Social Work students have the chance of completing an international e-project. Maike Schröder is just one of those who gained valuable experience by working on one of these online projects.
Being part of an international project conducted in English was a dream come true for Maike. The opportunity eventually presented itself in the 2018 autumn semester, when the Social Work students at the FHS St.Gallen were able to choose an e-project as part of a module. Maike thereby set off on an exciting online journey together with a fellow student, plus two students from NHL Stenden and two from the University of Tirana. Their task was to select a social problem and address the country-specific challenges together. The project group chose the topic “Poverty among youngsters” and called itself “The Lucky Ones”. They immediately encountered their first hurdle: comparing the sociopolitical and social work approaches in the participating countries.
This is precisely what the e-projects are about – the students exploring social discourses and looking for institutional answers to the corresponding challenges. They interact exclusively via online media, including video conferences, Skype and Whatsapp, and they create a report and an audiovisual production. There is one coach per country.
At the beginning, this project model took the form of a collaboration between NHL in Holland and GMIT in Ireland. Ruedi von Fischer, a Social Work lecturer at the FHS at the time, came into contact with the two universities through the TISSA network. This gave rise to the partnership with the Swiss institution and the launch of the online project. Albania also came into play via the same network. “These international projects give students the opportunity to reflect upon the facts and circumstances in their own professional environment and to discuss new approaches in the field of social work,” says Catrina Maag-Capraro from the International Office Social Work. Her job is to get the e-projects off the ground. This means compiling the topics by means of video conferences, and accompanying and supporting the FHS students as a coach. It also includes supporting conflict resolution within the groups, assessing the reports and videos, and optimising the project process with the different partner countries.
When poverty becomes wealth
On their digital journey through the three countries, “The Lucky Ones” experienced places they had never been exposed to. Some of the things they learned were sobering, while others were reassuring. “I learned, for example, that Holland does a lot more to fight poverty than Switzerland does, and that Albania is reliant on external help,” says Maike. She also learned how social work functions in other countries, as well as acquiring various new skills. Through interviews with renowned institutions, she was also able to make some important contacts.
Our future will be about students from all over the world interacting online.
According to Maike, the biggest challenge was time management. “We were all at different stages of our studies. This called for consideration, sometimes even patience, and required a great deal of discipline to keep going.” We also encountered language barriers. But, as a whole, the project group’s experience was positive: “I thought it was very special, how well the collaboration went, because we all have a different background and also different cultures,” says the student from Holland. And the Albanian student said: “It was a great and unforgettable experience for me to participate in this project and also for Albania as a small country to be able to activate students in international projects of this kind.” Catrina Maag is convinced that e-projects are highly relevant, especially in this day and age: “Technology poses big challenges, but it also opens up new opportunities. After all, our future will be about students from all over the world interacting online.”
Poverty ultimately became wealth: the Lucky Ones were able to get some valuable experience under their belts and – true to their name – were lucky to have been part of this project and make some new friends.
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In January 2019, the Chernihiv National University of Technology (Ukraine) welcomed professors and students of the FHS St. Gallen (Switzerland) and Sukhoi State Technical University of Gomel (Belarus). This visit was carried out within the Movetia Project “Social work as a ‘seismograph’ for social change and social needs” and became a starting point in the process of joint comparative student researches on the current issues of social work and social transformations in the three countries.
«first days and impressions»
The day is the 19th of January 2019. It is a cold, but sunny morning in St.Gallen but nothing compared to the cold weather we were about to face in Ukraine! A part of the group met at the airport to travel together, another part would be travelling later the day. We arrived safely in Kiev and from there we got a taxi to “Our Kids” - a NGO and “Children Home” were we hosted for the three first days in Kiev. Even though it was dark we could already have an impression of the city. Big, broad streets. Very intense traffic. The soviet-style architecture is impressive and really stands out.