Covid lockdowns have made us need to find connections more than ever and Europe Talks is a unique opportunity to chat with someone from another European country.
The project is carried out with Zeit Online in Germany and brings you together in a video call with someone from one of 30 nations.
To join, all you have to do is answer a few quick questions and our Europe Talks algorithm will do the rest. You will be matched with someone who thinks differently about the world and is from a different European country. You can then arrange your personal meeting by video call – and if you want, you can tell us how you fared.
Last year, as the UK reached the end of the EU transition period, we reached out to our closest neighbors to mate 20,000 people across Europe, including 4,000 from the UK.
This year the number of media partners involved in the project has doubled to 30.
To join, visit mirror.co.uk/europetalks
To kick off Europe Talks 2021, we tracked down two of the people who made the greatest contribution to ET2020 – the frontline doctors Roberto Cosentini, an ICU nurse from Lombardy, Italy, and London resident Shaan Sahota.
When they met through Zoom a year ago, they immediately connected over their traumatic experiences treating Covid patients in the intensive care unit.
“It was such a privilege,” says Shaan, 32.
“Hearing this man who I have no connection with but who has this parallel experience, hearing what he went through and how difficult he found it was very powerful.”
Between shifts at Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamo, Northern Italy, Roberto, 62, explained how Europe Talks had helped him.
He said: “Sharing experiences is part of our job and makes us feel useful not only for patients but also for our colleagues, it is fundamental.
“Although we knew almost nothing about the disease, we treated patients.
“The people felt that they were in good hands”
A year later, and things are still busy, but less strained for both medics. After caring for Covid patients from Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, North West London, during the second and third waves of the UK pandemic, Shaan is about to earn a tropical medicine diploma to work as an international volunteer.
She wrote a play based on her experience caring for Covid patients, Under the Mask, which was performed in London earlier this year. She remembers finding Roberto’s words inspiring.
Shaan said, “It was important for me to hear how overwhelming it was for someone with this expertise in the emergency room. How he felt having this sense of responsibility, “We have to teach the world what we learn,” but also just how he shared on a personal level what they did to maintain morality.
“I hadn’t heard that, the idea of them thanking each other, that was really moving.”
It’s quieter over in Bergamo, with a few instead of hundreds of admissions a day. Still, Roberto believes Italy is entering a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Like Shaan, he managed to take summer time off and spend time with the family he had been separated from. And both medical professionals say they are finally more optimistic about the future of public health.
From Bangkok, where she is visiting her actor partner, Shaan says: “I came back because of the terrible wave we had in January. That was pretty tough.
“We had more treatment, everything was prepared faster, it was less confusing and confusing.
“But it was tough, a lot of people died and everyone left empty-handed.
Get the messages you want straight to your inbox. Sign up for a Mirror newsletter here.
“The vaccine really changed things. Although the numbers rose in June and July, that didn’t mean that many people were really sick. It feels like the world is coming back. “Roberto gets ready to return to the ward, adding,” I think it will at least go away in Italy, where we will be vaccinating even more people.
“Unless there is a new, strong and virulent strain that becomes resistant to vaccination, Covid will go away within a year.”
We also checked in our two youngest participants from last year – British student Rachael Chun (13) and Spanish colleague Sara Martinez Quevedo (11).
They discovered a shared love for books and frustration because they were trapped in lockdown in their skyscrapers. Rachael from Birmingham says, “Things are better now – it’s a lot more like it used to be. We went camping in Somerset in the summer.
“Meeting Sara was a really good experience. We live in different places, but many things that happened to me also happened to her. I am glad that she is fine. “
For Sara, who lives in Madrid, the last year was about returning to “normality”. After several localized bans for Christmas, she was able to play outside with friends.
In the summer the Spaniards were able to travel again, so she enjoyed spending time with her family in France and Portugal and other parts of Spain. She is now booked for the January vaccination and smiles as she looks back on her conversation with Rachael.
Sara said, “We exchanged experiences and I really liked to know how things were going elsewhere in England. I liked meeting her and talking to her. It was very nice to just get to know new people, especially someone in another country. We had a lot in common. “
Last year our next game was a postman from the Portuguese Azores and a young Greek.
The largest differences between the answers were found between Bulgaria and Switzerland and the smallest between Belgium and Portugal.
Reaching out to a stranger in Europe may sound daunting, but the overwhelming feedback from participants was that people who signed up for Europe Talks were rewarded for their courage.
This year we hope Europe Talks brings many more connections, with the next meetings scheduled for December 12th.
We have left the EU, but there are new relationships with our neighbors that need to be explored.