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Solidarity Rises and Paywalls Fall: Free Services in Times of Social Distancing

While we are all in the same boat and stay at home to stay safe, a number of companies and organizations try to make this time easier for everyone. Every day, more big businesses, start-ups, and artists step up to offer their services — that anyone with an internet connection can access — for free. During the upcoming weeks, this list of products can help you maneuver your way through social distancing and isolation.

Quality Press and Reliable Information

While countless news rapidly spread via social media in times of crisis, it is even more crucial to find the most up-to-date information from reliable sources. This is why outlets like the New York Times or STAT, which covers health and medicine topics, have pulled down their paywalls on articles about coronavirus. Der Spiegel, one of Germany’s largest news outlets offers information about coronavirus on a paywall-free site, some of which is in English. A lot of outlets follow this example, including The Local, an English outlet for expats in Europe. The Local has a European as well as Austrian, Danish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, and Swiss editions.

Additionally, some quality news outlets already had no paywalls before the coronavirus crisis and continue to provide information for free, including The Guardian, Al Jazeera, BBC, or CNN. However, keep in mind that it’s also important to pay attention to your local news sources for updates that specifically apply to your area.

Mental Health Support

Social distancing and constant news consumption, however necessary, can both create anxiety and have other negative effects on your mental health. This is why several health organizations have stepped up to offer free online counselling or individual online therapy at much lower rates than usual.

TalkSpace.com, a popular virtual therapy companies, supports subscribers as well as non-subscribers with a free coronavirus resource hub, which covers various topics from acute anxiety and financial crisis to relationship problems in close quarters.

Another example is the mindfulness app Headspace that has opened up a collection of meditation, sleep, and movement exercises that are supposed to help in crisis situations.

7Cups, which offers counselling by volunteer therapists, or Tara Brach’s website, that gives you access to numerous meditation sessions, have always been free, and right now also focus on current problems their users might be struggling with.

Improving Your Recreational Skills

Looking at the bright side, this is a great time to tick off projects on your bucket list. If you’ve had a guitar lying around for ages but hardly ever touched it, this is a great opportunity to get started: the guitar company Fender is giving away three months of online music lessons to the first 500,000 subscribers.

If you’d rather learn how to cook or improve your skills in the kitchen, there are no excuses not to do so. Nowadays, TV-Stars like Antoni Porowski from Queer Eye or well-known chefs like Massimo Bottura use Instagram as a space to give cooking instructions and teach you about how to use basic ingredients. Samin Nosrat, a cook, teacher, and author of the New York Times Bestseller Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, has even started the Home Cooking podcast to keep everyone interested in nutrition and cooking in times of self-distancing and social isolation.

But these are only a few examples and, depending on your interest, you’ll find ways to improve all kinds of skills. You can even learn how to write plays with the playwright Lauren Gunderson, take ballet lessons with the Royal Academy of Dance, or learn how to doodle with the children’s book creator Mo Willems.

Ivy League Education for Everyone

If you’d like to learn more about data science, programming, business, health, communication, or many other scientific areas, you’ll be happy to find that a number of universities have opened up many of their virtual courses to the public. This includes prestigious Ivy League universities such as Harvard and Yale. Classcentral has published a list of all currently available courses. If you don’t find what you are looking for there, you can also check out Coursera’s free courses list, which includes offers from partnering universities worldwide.

#StayAtHome Fitness Programs

Physical activity is not only crucial for our physical and mental health, but it can also strengthen your immune system. You can either work out outside by going running or cycling by yourself, or you can have the workout of your life right under your own roof.

Many gyms like Planet Fitness, Gold’s Gym, and Puregym share workout videos from their trainers for free. If you prefer less intensive sports, one of the calmer yoga-sessions from Down Dog might be a good match for you. Down Dog currently offers yoga lessons and other workouts for free until 1 May. The best feature is that you can set the focus on body regions you’d like to train and adjust the length as well as the level and intensity of your training.

Get Access to the Books You Love

If you’re a bookworm, have a look at some websites of public libraries in your area. Nowadays, many libraries give you either full or at least temporary access to a library card if you sign up online. Library cards can give you access to several ebooks of your library, and you can also use the card to read or download books on pages like Hoopla or OverDrive.

Additionally, Audible offers a large number of children’s audiobooks for free as long schools are closed, including titles across six different languages.

Free Entertainment for the Little Ones

Children and parents especially struggle to cope with the current measures to fight the pandemic. Entertaining children with video-streaming platforms, gaming consoles, and online games might be easy ways of keeping kids busy indoors. However, screen time can also be used for children’s education while schools are closed.

Scholastic created a free open-access digital hub, and Rosetta Stone offers free three-month language courses for kids. If you have children that can’t have enough of playing games, Minecraft has opened up several educational games until June 2020.

And if your kids should long for screen entertainment: Amazon Prime has temporarily opened up a collection of videos for kids up to the age of 11 years for free.

Music and Theater Performances

For anyone who has always been curious about or already enjoys classical music performed by some of the best artists worldwide, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Viennese Opera, or several operas across Italy now stream operas and concerts for free to everyone with a proper internet connection. Additionally, the Seattle Symphony and the National Theatre in the UK also offer free performances for their virtual audiences.

Socializing on Free Virtual Events

You miss socializing and have started talking to your cats? Or are you about to be kicked out of your home if you keep clinging to your roommate or partner? Don’t worry, you are not the only one. Whether you want to discuss books, attend an online concert, or just have virtual coffee with other expats and global minds: InterNations now also offers free online events for all members.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never attended one of our face-to-face events or if you don’t even live in the community in which an event takes place: you can learn how to paint in Berlin, meet people from the London Book Group to discuss recommendations, enjoy Jane Eyre performed by the National Theatre together, talk about true love based on science in Paris, or get New-York-style dance lessons

The List Goes On

What started with a handful of initiatives has now spread to a large number of offers from big companies, as well as smaller start-ups and organizations. And these services especially benefit those among us who are worried about their finances during this coronavirus social distancing period.

If you didn’t find what you were looking for in this article, don’t give up: just search for the things you’d like to see, hear, learn, or do online and try to include words like “coronavirus” and “free” within your search (e.g. free homeschooling during coronavirus). You will be surprised about the many great resources you will find!



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Paula Covington

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