Mr Cornelius Hagenmeier

Mr Cornelius Hagenmeier, Director: Office for International Affairs

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.

As we are starting to realise the ‘new normal’ that will characterise the foreseeable future, we note that virtual engagement will remain the dominant modus operandi of internationalisation. Virtual social spaces are required to avoid running out of new ideas and the trust capital needed to establish successful collaboration. They may take many forms, ranging from informal ‘coffee hours’ to sophisticated virtual interactions.

Seminal to sustaining internationalisation in pandemic times is that we successfully create spaces for virtual social interaction among stakeholders in the internationalisation process. Hence, we need to include virtual social activities in our virtual conferences and webinars, create virtual ‘staff rooms’ for our international projects, and find other ways to connect colleagues from different countries socially. Neglecting this important aspect of internationalisation could seriously impact the incubation of new knowledge and internationalisation activities in the long term.

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