Aranka, Maria and the students involved in the Circular Storytelling student exchange
Aranka, Maria and the students involved in the Circular Storytelling student exchange

Thoughts and Lessons Learned after a Year with Tandem

Tandem Europe participants Maria Cojocariu (Lyon, France) and Aranka Dijkstra (Delft, The Netherlands) have worked on Circular Storytelling, a cross-border project that aims to tackle academic segregation by creating a methodology for an interdisciplinary student exchange. Students from a Dutch technical and a French humanities university worked together on turning abstract ideas into physical and interactive representations during the two festivals. Maria now shares thoughts and lessons learned from this past year.

Exactly one year ago I was leaving Portugal after a week at the Tandem Europe Kick-off meeting in Santa Maria da Feira. Taking part in the Tandem Forum and building a project from scratch with a new partner had already been an exhilarating process, but the best was yet to come.

Aranka and I had imagined a project centred around a cross-border cross-discipline student exchange, that would span at least one year, that would of course be reiterated on a yearly basis, that would grow and gain financiers and partners every year. Not to mention that it would build an excellent platform for growth for many students taking part in it and for other institutions wishing to use our method.

Polaroid taken during the Tandem fiesta on the island of Agios Efstratios
Polaroid taken during the Tandem fiesta on the island of Agios Efstratios

One year later, the results are quite different from what we had expected. Our pilot student exchange took place under great auspices. Our participants and partners were enthusiastic, we are ourselves quite satisfied with the results, however the lessons learned are not what we had set out for:

*First of all, we are unable to reiterate the project in the near future because as is often the case, life got in the way: one of us had a baby, the other one left her organisation. Lesson learned? Make the most of your pilot project because as its name suggests, you never know if you can repeat the experience.

*Secondly, what we thought was a “method” had to constantly be questioned and rethought because our cross-disciplinary project implied that we and our respective groups of students simply did not share the same vocabulary, work culture, or general outlook on life. Lesson learned? Get to know your “audience”, thoroughly define the premises and objectives of your project but be ready to adapt and don’t dwell on misunderstandings.

*We discovered we had underestimated the language barrier. Much of our project was based on language, on writing and on communication. Within our multilingual community bubble it was easy to forget that we would be confronted with real life, with people who were not confident enough to express themselves in English, or who simply did not understand it. Lesson learned? When you map out your potential partners and define your target audience, take into account the fact that images work better than words, texts have to be translated, and people need to be encouraged.

*We also realised that we could not and should not do everything on our own. Lucky that Tandem asks for two participants from each organisation! We had not really enlisted much help within our respective organisations for the realisation of this project. When I unexpectedly went on early prenatal leave, everything threatened to unravel, but thankfully my colleague Léa was there to partially take over. Lesson learned? Make your enthusiasm for your project infectious, talk about it incessantly within your organisation and to your partners, so that they are ready and happy to step in if necessary.

One year on, I feel much wiser, self-assured and experienced. The privilege of discovering other organisations’ projects in different European countries, of learning so many new work methods, or simply building new friendships is a real luxury. My Tandem year has helped me reevaluate my work and picture the place that my organisation might hold it in a larger European context. Even if our project did not become the self-sustaining perennial enterprise we had hoped it would end up being, we have both learned how to do better next time. And we have become great friends.