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Berlin meets Helsinki: International collaboration virtually

Colourful building in Spephankiez.
How is international collaboration possible during the pandemic? How can online meetings and real-life action be combined? The students of Diak and Fachhochschule Potsdam share their experiences about a shared course.

The Social Services students from Diak’s DSS programme and the social services students from Fachhochschule Potsdam participated in a joint online course that included live elements. The students interviewed people face to face in Stephankiez, Berlin and Kallio, Helsinki and documented the interviews.

– For me, this kind of virtual collaboration always a great option to come in conversations with other students. I have already participated in something similar before, and I enjoyed it, says Sarah, one of the students.

Interviewing face to face

The course was a part of the students’ social service studies. They practised social work in action by encountering and interviewing people they had not met before. After this, they shared and compared their observations online.

– At first, it was a little bit difficult to draw the line between the professional and personal self when the people started opening up about their lives, says Linda.

Despite some challenges, the students got out of their comfort zones and even gained confidence.

– I was positively surprised how much the people I interviewed opened up about their lives when I approached them. Although, I was sometimes hesitant to dig deeper, says Samira.

Kallio vs. Stephankiez

Sunny view from Kallio.
Picture: Linda

The students found similarities between the experiences of the people they interviewed in Kallio and Stephankiez. Racism was a problem that was visible in both neighbourhoods. There were also shared problems with gentrification. Henriette interviewed a hairdresser who criticized the rising rents.

– She said she would not leave the area, but the high rents should, explains Henriette.

There were also differences between the two neighbourhoods. In Kallio, the streets were generally cleaner, and the people were happier. On the other hand, Stephankiez is a calmer area with less drug abuse, the students noticed.

Collaboration in the future?

The students got to know each other even though they only met virtually. They have laughed a lot and enjoyed the atmosphere in the course.

– For me, the best part about the cooperation has been the meetings. I have enjoyed discussing the assignments, says Timofei.

The cooperation will also continue in the future.

– In the future, it would be nice to come together with students worldwide and not just in Europe, but I am not sure if there are any programs like that yet, continues Sarah.

The students were going to visit each other already last spring, but those plans are still going to happen later.

– We will keep in touch on social media and hopefully meet face to face as soon as possible, says Timofei.