Robert Kotzé, Senior Director, SU International, Stellenbosch University

International mobility is being challenged as one of the cornerstones of internationalisation of Higher Education. It suddenly became a remote idea with student exchanges and Study Abroad programmes being cancelled. It became something with constantly moving goalposts: from perhaps, possible, depending and then all ended with in the dreadful regrettably cancelled.

During the initial stages of lockdown, I have rediscovered a family hobby – building puzzles – scratching through the 1000 pieces for the frame, then the roofs, rivers, trees, people and then, usually, struggling with the blue sky or clouds. Through this puzzling journey, I managed to visit Bled (Slovenia), Brussels, Leipzig, Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, stayed in Chequers Inn, Norfolk in the UK and then ended up visiting the Karlstein Castle close to Prague.

During my travels I also encountered Che Guevara and Mona Lisa:

At SU International we see ourselves as internationalisation practitioners – colleagues who actively engage, respond and take action to integrate an international, intercultural and global dimension into the university community. It is transformative, changes perspectives and adds value to the individual and the institution. Even more, it changes your own take on matters and encourages you to continue with the daily administration, answering difficult questions and thinking more creatively. This is where the words of Guevara about motivation and work inspire:

This is not a matter of how many pounds of meat one might be able to eat, or how many times a year someone can go to the beach, or how many ornaments from abroad one might be able to buy with his current salary. What really matters is that the individual feels more complete, with much more internal richness and much more responsibility.

Amongst all the challenges, it is at the end about the individual feeling more complete and still how we as SU International, as internationalisation practitioners, add value to the lives of others. Our task is to inspire fellow colleagues in our institutions to also become internationalisation practitioners – to think international, intercultural and global when creating institutional processes or when designing new academic programmes….

The ongoing effects of the pandemic are continuously shattering lives, livelihoods and dreams – everything feels like the 3000 pieces of a big puzzle – overwhelming when you open the box. But it is possible to get going – look for the frame, the roofs, rivers, trees, people … and when you get to the sky and the clouds that seem “impuzzable”, you click into your networks: local and international colleagues, bilateral partners and interest groups to get the interlocking going….

This is where my Mona Lisa puzzle encounter comes in – a Da Vinci painting on a poplar plank – not a canvas. She cannot be bought or sold – priceless. “With his Mona Lisa, Leonardo created a new formula, at the same time more monumental and more lively, more concrete and yet more poetic than that of his predecessors.” How do we reframe our internationalisation efforts to be more monumental, lively, concrete and poetic…..?

Puzzling together a new way of internationalisation will still have the core elements: the roofs, rivers, trees and the people. Joint research collaboration will be different, but will still have its value in joint publications. Joint academic programmes will be more virtual, but still have the add-on value through the certification and personal growth. The content of student programmes will be more global in its core, but stripped of officialdom and waiting at check-in counters. The new internationalisation puzzle might even be without a frame – endless sky and clouds – a recovery of nature and return to core basics……

I invite you to join us at SU International to piece together the new internationalisation realities, to patiently explore new possibilities and to actually enjoy the hopefully greener route and bluer sky….