13 Dec 2022
by Piet Van Hove

Finding our allies in 'interesting times'

Finding our allies in 'interesting times'


As another year comes to a close, I’m glad to report that our association, the EAIE, is in good shape. Our Capturing the full spectrum of human beauty at #EAIE2022 turned out to be our biggest ever. More than 6300 participants were so happy to meet face to face again, eager to connect, to learn, to plan, to share and to create a ‘future in full colour’ together. In some ways it felt like we hardly skipped a beat.

Everyone agreed that the EAIE was back in full force. Still, Meet the 2022–2024 EAIE leaders and volunteers is not resting on any laurels. The EAIE Vision, as expressed in our Strategy 2020–2026, is for “an equitable world in which international education connects diverse perspectives and fosters greater understanding”. If we truly believe that international education has the power to create a better world, then there is some work to be done… 

Embracing the moral duty of optimism

“May you live in interesting times”. This phrase crosses my mind each time the headlines point out another way in which the world is surely doomed. The current moment in time has no shortage of disheartening realities to reflect on: be it the climate catastrophe, the brutal pandemic and the endless ways in which it turned our world upside-down, the scary rise of populism, the growing disregard for basic human rights across the world and the barbaric war going on in the heart of Europe, not to mention all the other violent conflicts raging in different corners of our planet. “Interesting times” indeed: times in which it is easy to get completely discouraged and give up. However, if education is indeed the most powerful weapon to change the world as Nelson Mandela once said, then there is a specific responsibility on us as professionals in international education to rise up and unleash that weapon in every way we can. I do believe that optimism is a moral duty. I also know that we can’t achieve our objectives without collaboration.

We have the most powerful weapon for a better world in our hands. Moreover, optimism is contagious. Spreading it through our community is key to the mission of the EAIE, not only energising our collective spirits but also empowering us by creating and sharing the tools we need to translate dedication into real positive impact. Let’s optimistically embrace this work together.

Foregrounding trust, collaboration and inclusion

Trust and collaboration across borders are at the core of what we do in our daily work in international education. It’s what we bring to our institutions, to our colleagues and our students. It’s also what we need to function well as professionals. We crave real human connection and a sense of belonging to a community, not only for our basic mental health but also as a basis for the projects and the partnerships we aim to develop. In our sector, the only way to grow and succeed is together. We build bridges and open doors.

Having become EAIE President in September 2022, it’s my first New Year in this role. When I think about how the EAIE can be a welcoming and smart community which lifts up, engages and inspires our sector, I think about the narratives we develop and the terminology we use. Our reality is shaped by our words. Through the way we use certain terms to build up our analysis, our theories and our strategies, we reveal, often unwittingly, our prejudices and preconceptions.

For example, in a blog post late last year I already expressed Words matter: why we should stop talking about ‘virtual mobility’ because in my opinion it carries a number of misguided connotations.

More broadly, a number of terms we use seem to imply implicit contradictions or juxtapositions, which upon closer scrutiny are doubtful at best: inclusivity and diversity vs. excellence, collaboration vs. competition, skills and employability vs. soft skills, etc. Questioning norms and practices means questioning the terms we use to shape the narrative.

Words can include or exclude people, draw them closer or alienate them, before we even get to the point we are trying to make. That’s why we need to be mindful and deliberate about our choice of words for ordering and making sense of the complex realities around us and for articulating our plans and aspirations for the future. In the new year I hope to find many opportunities to discuss what we see happening in the world, always digging a little bit deeper and looking for the truth under the surface, seeing our common humanity through a different lens and in a different light in every conversation, through exchanges with colleagues who are different from us in more ways than we realise, but also, at a deeper level, much more similar than we sometimes think. At our deepest core we humans are connected by the stories we tell each other, and no amount of technology will change that basic fact. Let’s make sure our stories in internationalisation are shared in a welcoming, constructive and inclusive way.

Connecting currents

Aiming for real, meaningful impact also means reaching out to others outside our world of higher education. As an international education community we have to be creative in forming alliances with whomever we can learn from, influence and collaborate with towards our common goals. In a world of overwhelming complexity, where all the challenges we face require coordinated action on many fronts and different levels, we have to do all we can to make impactful connections. In 2023 we will work hard to Connecting currents at EAIE Rotterdam 2023, not only when we are together in Rotterdam in September, but every day of the year and certainly when we gather online for our Community Summit in March, to explore how we can “thrive in complexity”, trying to make sense of the apparent chaos and contradictions.

The EAIE will be there for you on your professional journey. With my colleagues in the leadership and volunteer groups as well as the Office, we will work hard to provide even more ways for you to connect with our community. When people say “may you live in interesting times”, it’s not always clear if it is meant as a curse or as a blessing – but it really doesn’t matter. We don’t choose the challenges or the hardships the world throws at us. We do choose how we respond. And we choose our allies. Let’s continue to build the EAIE as a strong community of allies in 2023, ready to face any challenge that comes our way.

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