Words of action

Words of action

This year, the international higher education community was, in many ways, shaken to its core. Recent world events have led international educators to question what it means to promote internationalisation in times of seemingly growing insularity. Resistance to global forces is nothing new, but it certainly appears to be gaining momentum in mainstream politics. Reflecting on his own experiences of learning a foreign language, EAIE President Markus Laitinen uses the power of words to discuss this new reality for our field.

I like language. You could almost say I love it. I am into word games and wordplay. As a child, I used to sit by my grandmother as she did her crossword puzzles. A bit later in life, I started learning English, which came easily to me – unlike French which, unfortunately, didn’t… I got to appreciate English for its expressiveness. I liked how some words just roll off the tongue. I learned to love the idioms and expressions, like ‘rolling off the tongue’.
English words. I like many of them. I expanded my vocabulary during a high school senior year in Massachusetts, USA. Every week we were asked to memorise definitions of up to 30 new words and use each one in a sentence. Words like ‘gossamer’ and ‘abet’. Nowadays, I mostly read books in English and I write down words which I still do not know. There are many, such as ‘caustic’ and ‘facetious’. You might wonder what, if anything, this has to do with international education or EAIE, but bear with me…

Words are action

In my relatively short experience as President of the EAIE, I have come to realise very clearly that words are action. From a position of power, what you say is often taken seriously. Whether the audience agrees or disagrees, the words one uses become actionable. Let me take a few examples of words, which I have been thinking about lately.

  • Complacent
  • Despondent
  • Resolve [verb]
  • Resolve [noun]
  • Reinvigorate
  • Trajectory

Why these words? Well, let me explain. Given the very positive ring internationalisation has had in higher education for the last 25–30 years, I think we may have become a bit ‘complacent’ (showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements). Perhaps we took for granted that it would be all smooth sailing and that the success and progress of international higher education would go untouched by world events. Lately, however, some of these very events have caused many people to grow ‘despondent’ (in low spirits from loss of hope or courage). Quite a few colleagues around the world seem to feel unable to ‘resolve’ (settle or find a solution to) the situation.
What we all need to do, I believe, is find the ‘resolve’ (firm determination to do something), to ‘reinvigorate’ (give new energy or strength to) the international higher education agenda. History is not linear, but cyclical, and it is our very duty to make sure we return to an upward ‘trajectory’ (the path followed by an object moving under the action of given forces) without a delay.

Markus Laitinen
University of Helsinki, FinlandMarkus Laitinen is Head of International Affairs of the University of Helsinki and is the immediate past President of the EAIE.