Let’s talk about Interreg! #5

In 2020 we celebrate 30 years of Interreg. On this occasion, we asked representatives of the Interreg South Baltic Programme projects, regional authorities, as well as local people and activists to share their experiences about the Interreg funds and the cross-border cooperation.

Let's talk about Interreg!

Helle Birch, Pedagogical Leader at Slotshaven Gymnasium in Holbæk, Denmark, shares her impressions on the effect the SB Bridge project had on students. In the SB Bridge project, she supports the Holbaek Municipality, the Danish project’s partner, and coordinates the organisation of green camps. At work, Helle ensures that the camps are tailored for the concrete group of students and meet the educational requirements of the Danish Ministry of Education. Lola Thorsteen, the project’s development consultant at Holbaek Municipality, talked with Helle about her experience in working directly with students during the green camps in Germany and in Denmark.
Helle: I attended both the camp in Schwerin and the one that was here, in Brorfelde, and in both cases students reported afterwards that they have gained a lot of experience by working with young people from other European countries – from Germany and from Poland. I think that the experience has made them aware of some regional differences.
They have discovered that the way they regard themselves and the way of schooling, the way they are used to interacting with the teacher, the way they access knowledge. They discovered that, although they are always told that Danish young students are so cool and know everything, that there is someone who may have a lot of trivia, and who in reality can do the math and physics much more in-depth and a little more at the tip of the finger than they can themselves. They discovered that they have some competencies that are about generating new ideas and having an entrepreneurial mind. I think that it has been a real eye-opener for many of the students.
Lola: If the project had started as an online project, i.e. where they were to meet in some virtual spaces do you think they would have gained the same experiences? Would they realise that there are students from the other countries who really know a lot? And that we know something, but they know something else?
Helle: For sure they would have learned the same but there is absolutely nothing that beats the physical encounter! It is the whole issue of spare time when we were out bowling in the evening and we got to know each other. SB Bridge is not an online project. There is also lots of good to say about online projects – we’ve made a lot of good experiences during the Corona about what they can do but an online project often focuses merely on the case, and then you miss everything else. You miss talking over lunch and meetings in the evening. All this happens where the really good connections are created, so I definitely prefer the physical form of meetings.
Lola: So, if you were to make a recommendation, should project like this incorporate a physical element?
Helle: Yes, I prefer physical but it does not have to be exclusively a physical event. It can be a mixed form but I definitely think the physical element is important.
Lola: Do you think the students here, in Holbæk, have achieved an academic advantage by being part of the SB Bridge project?
Helle: Yes, I think so. Partly ... Now, in addition to being a pedagogical leader, I am also a teacher. I am an English language teacher. I can hardly explain what it has done for their English! The whole premise of collaborating with young people, so they must collaborate in a language that is a foreign language to all of them. So that is a great strength. They definitely benefitted out of it. The high school reform we had a couple of years ago says that we must work with students' global competencies and that we must work with their innovative competencies. The fact that we have had the opportunity to participate in SB Bridge has meant that we can do a big mark on the global competencies. And it is so valuable! We are not reading about how things are done in other countries, but we are actually in it together, during this cooperation and we can reflect on it.
Lola: There can be many problem areas where you have to collaborate across borders. If you were to recommend issues that are relevant to develop collaboration, something that provides value for young people, something they are interested in that also carries an across borders issue. What would it be? Can you name areas where it is obvious to develop collaboration? 
Helle: This is a good question. I think, the whole issue of environment and sustainability. This is for me the most obvious issue. Also, we should work with youth culture and pay attention to what young people want to do. However, I do not really think that is necessary, since young people are not quite as self-absorbed as the rumour sometimes says. The point is that when they see a purpose in the topic, and the environmental theme is right on point, people get engaged in the topic. 
Lola: If you had to do a recommendation for Interreg, which co-finances and supports projects, what would you recommend that they focus on? Could it be something in lines with cross border pollution that require cross border solutions?
Helle: Yes, I think that the transnational issues must be real and ongoing, something that actually makes a difference for them. This is also why I think the whole environment and sustainability area is such a good theme to tackle because by its nature it goes across borders and cannot be solved without going across borders.
Lola: Young people are very interested in this topic and are very committed to it. Perhaps because they know that their future depends on good solutions being created?
Helle: Yes. It may not be very present in their everyday life but when you involve our students in a task and give them the opportunity to come up with something meaningful, they go for it with their heart and mind and with a quite high level of awareness.