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Annual International Cultural Diversity Festival (ICDF) celebration: EMBRACING DIVERSITY IN VIRTUAL SPACES




2021 UFS Virtual Africa Month Welcome Message, by Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Francis Petersen.




Prof Corli Witthuhn

Prof Corli Witthuhn, Vice-Rector:  Research and Internationalisation

Hello, Kovsie staff and students. It is my tremendous pleasure to welcome you all to the second virtual iteration of the International Cultural Diversity Festival!

Amid all the challenges and disruptions caused by the pandemic, we have seen our institution rise and adjust to the fast-changing circumstances, moving its activities to the virtual space. This fast adaptation was essential to ensure that, as a university, we continue with our core business of learning and teaching, research, internationalisation, and engaged scholarship. Demonstrating the ‘care value’ through alternate strategies in the virtual space has become increasingly important to maintain a human connection with our UFS staff and students. Maintaining this connection has required us to rethink and be innovative. Today’s festival is an apt example of rethinking co-curricular activities for a virtual space! Read more...

Incubating International Collaboration in Pandemic Times: Virtual Social Spaces

Social spaces are the lifeblood of internationalisation. Tea breaks at workshops, informal staff room conversations during research visits, and excursions or receptions alongside international conferences used to be the spaces where new international projects and new knowledge were incubated and where networks were forged. Moreover, they provided spaces where trust capital, a critical prerequisite for any successful international collaboration, was created.

The pandemic abruptly disrupted all conventional social spaces – now, ‘social distancing’ has become the order of the day, which is a ‘natural enemy’ of networking. While stakeholders were quick to develop virtual academic activities, the conceptualisation of virtual social spaces lagged behind. Many conferences were transformed into webinars, staff exchanges were replaced with guest lectures, and stakeholder information sessions were traded for interactive virtual engagements. However, in many instances, these did not offer social spaces. Read More...

Mr Cornelius Hagenmeier

Cornelius Hagenmeier, Director: Office for International Affairs


I AM COLORED - Shanique

WHO I AM - Lindelwa

ROOTS - Dylan

International Cultural Diversity Festival Archives
More about the International Cultural Diversity

Mrs Chevon Slambee

Chevon Slambee, Internationalisation: Office for International Affairs

How the move to virtual spaces has affected the building of collaboration in informal spaces across borders and how you have managed to create trust with the partners

Before the pandemic hit the world, interactions with our international partners were largely focused on face-to-face interactions supported by online engagements, because to build a trust relationship with an international partner, regular face-to-face interactions were necessary. This often required local and international travel. However, when the pandemic hit the world, not a single person was prepared for its impact. It created feelings of panic and uncertainty, it dislocated not only how we work and engage in business and industry, but also disrupted project plans and timelines without notice.

Immediate adaptation to the fast-changing situation was required. Everything was moving to the virtual space, and we all found ourselves forced to learn new technology, software, and terminology. We were forced to rely solely on virtual interventions to maintain and sustain contact with our international partners. Read more...

Moving to virtual spaces and collaboration for internationalisation

A paradigm shift is currently taking place within the practice of international collaborations. Virtual collaboration has become a mainstream activity in higher education internationalisation. It has encouraged individual higher-education institutions to balance the response to national higher education needs and the response to collaboration demands. International collaboration is an essential driver of research and requires an urgent response; thus, the virtual space is no longer seen as a support tool, but rather as a strategic tool and asset to advance collaboration. Higher-education institutions must adapt to new technologies and harness effective methods of communication, as well as evolving dynamics of the virtual world to diversify collaborations and maintain trust.

Although there are challenges, virtual engagements have led to the advancement of internationalisation by supporting new collaborative platforms for research, teaching, and learning. This includes virtual exchanges, virtual mobilities, virtual study abroad fairs, online consultations, social media, and other visual platforms to strengthen relationships with partners. Read More...

Mrs Mbali Moiketsi

Mbali Moiketsi, Internationalisation: Study abroad and Marketing Cordinator

Mrs Bulelwa Moikwatlhai

Bulelwa Moikwatlhai, Internationalisation: Internationalisation at home and inbound student mobility

Virtual mobilities at the University of the Free State

When the global COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores, the University of the Free State (UFS) had to send its exchange students home before the borders closed, and no one knew what would happen next. The country went through a hard lockdown, forcing all universities to limit access to campuses and creating the need for universities to adapt to new strategies to continue operations. The Office for International Affairs (OIA) at the UFS, therefore, adopted a new initiative – virtual mobility. Virtual mobility refers to the use of technology to facilitate the participation of a student in studies for credit at a higher education institution in another country for a limited time, without physically leaving home. This mobility became essential for the UFS, because the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of all physical mobilities for the time being. Read More...

The global pandemic has, in a sense, dramatically shifted the landscape of international education. Student and faculty mobility has taken a pause, and instead, we relied on virtual spaces to continue our collaborative efforts around the world.

At the same time, the pandemic underscored something that we have known all along – that we do not facilitate international travel just for the sake of travel. We are neither travel agents nor tour guides. Rather, we provide meaningful opportunities for our campus community to interact with the world and for the world to interact with our campus community. 

Shifting to virtual spaces has allowed for a more creative approach to global engagement. We are hosting, and joining, virtual conferences and webinars in collaboration with our international partners. We are making connections between classrooms here and abroad in new and exciting ways, engaging with faculty and students who might otherwise not ever have come through the doors of the international office. Students are learning new skills through global virtual internships to better prepare them for careers that will inevitably require virtual fluency. Read More...

Dr Chrissie Faupel

Dr Chrissie Faupel, Director of Education Abroad
Office of International Education and Development, Appalachian State University

How the move to the virtual spaces has affected the building of collaboration in informal spaces across borders and how you have managed to create trust with the partners

The COVID-19 pandemic has caught all of us by surprise. I remember in February 2020 – just before the President imposed the hard lockdown – I was coming from the office, walking towards the Thakaneng Bridge. While I was walking, minding my own business, I saw three young ladies coming from the direction of the Sasol Library. Something made me notice them; it was their unusual appearance – they were all wearing masks. Though the pandemic was wreaking havoc in Wuhan, China, we could not anticipate the damage it would cause to the world. Fast-forward to today: whenever I wear a mask, I recall how astonished I was when those three young ladies showed up with masks at the university. A lot has happened since then.

As it was clear that the pandemic would be with us for quite some time, the university and its staff – like any other institution – had to find a way to work under these conditions. As such, the Office for International Affairs had to make adjustments to its day-to-day operations. The portfolio for Outgoing Mobility and Partnerships was not exempted from this new normal. We had to find a way to continue with the work of the portfolio, and one of our core responsibilities was to facilitate the signing of cooperation agreements between the UFS and partner universities. This process is usually done through email or through hosting a delegation from a partner university. Since travel was suspended, we opted to facilitate signing ceremonies online. It was a new thing for us, but we are getting used to it now. Though it lacks the human touch, it creates an atmosphere of engagement.  It also has a touch of Ubuntu, where people can still see and greet each other.

Mr Kagiso Ngake


Kagiso Ngake and Zenzele Mdletshe; Partnership and outgoing student mobility portfolio; UFS Office for International Affairs

Zettie Venter
Johann Möller
Beverley Wilcock 
Lynette Jacobs
Building collaborations in informal spaces across borders: a UFS South Campus narrative

A visit to the South Campus by Prof Barbara Howard from the Appalachian State University in North Carolina in May 2019 started a conversation that resulted in experimental virtual collaboration between three universities on three continents. Drawing from the diverse strengths of academic and professional staff across these spaces, and working transdisciplinary, we are building a series of short courses to support the internationalisation of higher education and to inclusively develop global competencies in staff and students, while embracing local and international diversity. When the first drafts of the learning platform for two of these future SLPs were developed, staff members from the South Campus and the International Office took on the role of ‘students’. We experimentally went through the learning that future students will experience. For six weeks at a time, we met virtually on a set weekday evening, while in between, the ‘students’ worked in smaller groups across continents on their ‘assignments’ to present to the ‘class’. Read More...

Mr Josia Nkuna

Josia Nkuna, final-year LLB student and Umoja Buddy Programme Ambassador

Embracing diversity in virtual spaces: a student perspective

Because we are in the second year of virtual classes, it was easy to adapt to the diversified method of teaching. The move from contact classes to online collaboration sessions was challenging at first, but I got the hang of things as time went by. Gratitude goes to the lecturers and those around me for positively contributing towards my adaptation to the change. Fellow students have also been instrumental in assisting to grasp the work better. Because we are a diverse group, the virtual platform enabled us to obtain more information from students in our class, compared to how things were in a traditional class setting. One needs to understand that the UFS community is diverse, as this will aid in understanding each other. This also applies to the programme, because as a buddy you are paired with a diverse group of first-year students, and you are to help them get acquainted with the virtual space provided by the UFS, while giving them the space to freely express themselves. An important point is that one must pay enough attention to all your buddies, and by all means try to make sure that you understand the person who each of them is. In doing this, I believe we are also aiding them to become independent outside the UBP.

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