You say goodbye Glasgow, and we say hello Liverpool!

You say goodbye Glasgow, and we say hello Liverpool!

What an eventful week this has been! Over 5000 international higher education professionals took over the Scottish city of Glasgow and made it even more bustling. Hundreds of activities took place, knowledge was shared, contacts were made, and our field became a little richer in the process. Today’s Closing Plenary and “Hello, Goodbye” Luncheon were the last little cherries on top of what can only be described as a truly remarkable time.

At the Closing Plenary, we were treated to a beautiful performance by the EAIE Choir, saw the Rising Star EAIE Awards presented, and heard an incredibly motivational keynote address by Terry Waite.

Words of wisdom

Terry is a writer, lecturer, and humanitarian who, in the late-1980s, in trying to negotiate the release of hostages in Lebanon, was himself taken hostage. He had been successfully negotiating hostage releases throughout the Middle-East for years, often acting alone and putting himself at risk “the danger is always there”, Terry said. Before all of the technology we have now was available, hostage release negotiators such as our afternoon keynote speaker “had to take decisions by [themselves] and hope that those decisions were of quality”. One very decisive time, things did not go according to plan. This, of course, was the theme of his speech because “it is from failure that one can learn important lessons”.

After being captured, Terry spent almost five years in total solitary confinement without many distractions or any kind of communication with the outside world. Being held captive indoors, Terry’s skin slowly grew paler and his muscles weaker. He told the crowd: “as I saw my body deteriorate, I wondered if that would happen to my mind”. Terry survived perhaps one of the most traumatic experiences a human being can have and managed to stay mentally fit by essentially writing his first book in his head. He would use his creativity and imagination to maintain a degree of normalcy and mental well-being every day that he was there.

As professionals in education, Terry says we have one serious responsibility: to “encourage the young to think critically, encourage the development of creative imagination and the love of language”. It is this kind of fundamental teaching that can help mental health to prevail in any situation, but also that can keep the young from falling prey to extremist ideas that lead to the violence we see in the world.

While most of us will be lucky enough to avoid such extreme situations, Terry’s message resonated with us all: there is no distress that human beings cannot overcome through creatively developing their inner selves. Moreover, he believes it is important not to lose our spirit: “we don’t allow them to rob us of our humour because smiling is in itself therapeutic”.

The burning question

Terry rounded off his stage time at the Closing Plenary by taking questions from the audience which, much like many other discussions this week, led to a question about the refugee crisis. ‘What can we realistically do about it?’ seems to be a question on everyone’s mind. Terry answered that “some people say there is nothing that individuals can do but I don’t believe that for a second”. Many years after his release, Terry went back to see his captors. He told them “the past is in the past, let’s start over” in order to negotiate heating oil for people who needed it. It worked. One person, one small act. And while most people do feel powerless when faced with the horrors of the world, a small deed by one person can in fact make a difference. If more of us take such initiative, the bigger the positive change will be.

Looking forward

It feels like just yesterday that we were all packing our bags and business cards to come together in the city of music, creativity, curry, culture and cobblestones, in the country of ethereal natural beauty to meet our peers and catapult the further internationalisation of higher education in Europe and beyond. While people say all good things come to an end, here at the EAIE, we know the end of one wonderful conference is only really the beginning of a brand new one! Imagine that!