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The pandemic undoubtedly transformed the way universities approach and facilitate exchange programs. The annual Cologne Summer School was not an exception in this regard. Two years of online teaching and studying introduced new possibilities for international cooperation concepts and raised questions about equality of participation and access to educational resources. Having chosen the topic of Equality of Opportunity the necessary consequence for us was to reflect on the factors that limit onsite participation and to try to minimize their effect. Therefore, next to providing full- and part-time scholarships designing a hybrid program seemed the best solution.

We are incredibly thankful to our colleagues at the International Office who adapted a couple of seminar rooms to hybrid teaching during the pandemic and trained us in using the technical infrastructure. Based on the insights from two entirely online schools we knew that the engagement of the online participants could not be the same as that of the onsite group. Thus, the online participation included only the hybrid academic and cultural slots in the afternoon, usually 3 to 4 hours long. In this way, time zone differences could be managed and online participants could meet their responsibilities at university, work, or internships without missing out on the opportunity to be in a summer school program.

Moreover, the highlight of the hybrid program was the Buddy Program. It was a specially created format in which every online participant was paired with an onsite participant to communicate and exchange in designated slots. In general, we set great value on networking outside the academic program; therefore, it was pivotal for us that the online participants feel truly integrated and welcomed in the summer school group. The buddies worked on different tasks during each slot and presented the outcomes of their intercultural exchange in a 5-minute presentation at the end of the program. They explored similarities and differences in their cultures, languages, countries, and ways of living and studying.

The Buddy Program enriched the non-academic part of the summer school for both onsite and online students. Even friendships were formed throughout the two-and-a-half weeks across the continents thanks to the hybrid format.

This was a great opportunity to meet someone onsite and I enjoyed it a lot!

I love this part of the school! My buddy was super nice, we discussed a lot together!

Accessing a different culture in such depth and getting to know a new person that lives a completely different life was the highlight of this program.

How would you present yourself, your culture and traditions in a couple of pictures?

During the designated slots the students had different assignments and suggested topics to work on. At the last day of the summer school, every buddy team presented the results of their intercultural exchange. The galleries below represent the highlights of the buddy project.