March 2020, the month that witnessed the closing of borders due to COVID-19, in Europe and between Europe and the world, had for us StEER-Leb folks, a completely different beginning. After the activity was postponed in January due to problems in Lebanon, it was finally held in the first week of March with the participation of the host, Université de Rouen Normandie, as well as UNIMED – Mediterranean Universities Union, University of Cadiz from Spain and from Lebanon, Université Saint-joseph, Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik and Lebanese Amercian University. Unfortunately, University of Bologna could not participate due to the impact of the pandemic in Italy. On the 4th,5th and 6th of March students and staff from these universities were able to communicate, exchange ideas, experiences and most importantly build valuable skills that can empower them back to their respective universities.
Although borders were about to close, our skills to create new bonds were not, and we demonstrated that with the team buildings developed at the beginning of the Capacity Building, but also during the whole event. Team building activities are always nice, because they create this kind of bond which already exists between students who have already participated in other shadowing visits or capacity building activities, and with the new participating students.
Activities led by the University of Rouen were interesting and stimulating. We listened to the presentation of Antoine Megie, a professor from this University who showed us the importance of the student movement in France, and also all around the world. We also get to exchange with students’ associations, and notably the Association Amicale des Anciens et amis de l’ARES, a European association of students that came to explain us how they work and what can youth do to engage people to make a better Europe. We visited some rooms dedicated to students’ associations at the University of Rouen and were explained their functioning and financing. Thanks to the presentation of Valérié Rasolojaona, we exchanged some ideas and ways to take advantage of the news to create students’ events, and thanks to the one of Rafaël Chastagner, we discussed the role for youth engagement in Europe. These presentations triggered debates and discussions, which empowered us to discuss how to improve things not just in Lebanon, but in every country. We shared our thoughts on these occasions but also afterwards among us during the meals we shared and the free time activities.
We participated in a really interesting workshop led by Romane Janovet who linked volunteering and soft skills learnt in these situations. We were showed student engagement importance, not just in personal life, but also in professional life. We also spoke about the importance of developing volunteering in every country, what it is like, and the necessity of Universities to recognize the value of these soft skills and the ways students can try to develop a system where their own Universities give them some diploma letting companies know that they got these skills. Meanwhile, the staff discussed how student services in universities can support student associations during strikes.
We also contributed to two communication workshops led by Camille Limon, from UNIMED. She is the responsible of the Student communication team of the StEER-Leb project. During these workshops, we learned how to adapt our speech to whom we are trying to convince and broke into teams to write articles on student engagement, student elections, gender in student representation… All our articles are available on the project’s website. We also brainstormed on the good practices identified during the shadowing visits, focusing on 4 of them in order to identify what could be the obstacles and find solutions to be able to implement these good practices in our universities. During these workshops, we also shared our thoughts on student empowerment, engagement and representation and our experiences in the StEER-Leb activities. Our testimonials will notably be shared in the framework of the Students of StEER-Leb campaign on social media and on the project’s website (please, do not forget to take a look at it, because you will find really interesting declarations).
In the end, we regret the absence of University of Bologna, because we lost a different point of view in debates and we hope Italy and the whole world will recover from this pandemic as soon as possible. We do not want to lose the opportunity to thank USEK, the University which leads the project, all the partners of the project, and the European Union with Erasmus+ program, to give us this unique chance. As students we will keep improving every day and as students’ representatives, we will keep pushing whoever we need to create better conditions for students to study and live.