23 July 2018 Photo Johan Roux
Pilot exchange programme between UFS and University of Wisconsin
Dionne van Reenen, JC van der Merwe, and Prof John Grider from the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse.

The Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice at the University of the Free State (UFS) partnered with the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in the United States of America (USA) to pilot the first Global Education student-staff exchange. 

The pilot project hosted seven students from the USA and five students from the UFS in a joint tour. The group delved into the political histories of South Africa, visiting among others Freedom Park, the Voortrekker Museum, the Apartheid Museum, and Mandela House during the first leg of the tour in Johannesburg. Before departing from Johannesburg, they had enriching, thought-provoking round-table sessions with Sello Hatang, Leon Wessels, and some of the staff from the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

En route to Pilanesberg in North-West, the tour visited the Sterkfontein Caves and the Cradle of Humankind at Marupeng. Interactive days at the Mphebatho Cultural Museum and Pilanesberg National Park as well as an excursion to Korannaberg to view some San paintings, provided an opportunity to further survey the place of natural, environmental, and cultural heritage in a globalising, modern world.

JC van der Merwe and Dionne van Reenen were joined by Shirley du Plooy and Matau Setshase, together with La Crosse History Chair, Prof John Grider.

Insightful engagements on diverse issues
In Bloemfontein, the lecturing staff facilitated several full-day classes and dialogues at the UFS, after which students offered enlightening presentations on their insights, and showed some serious and deep engagement with legacies of segregation in many different contexts. 

During the closing evening’s discussions with Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, staff conveyed that, while they usually expect personally transformative moments during such engagements, there is always hope for real critical developments and deepened understandings of how we see and are seen – students on the tour exceeded this hope by seriously grappling with a large array of social and political challenges and initiating lively, inclusive discussions, debating in their own time and spaces.  
“Education, in all its facets, flourished beyond the classroom for staff, students, hosts, and visitors alike, and both institutions look forward to further collaborations in what promises to be a really productive model for international higher-education exchange programmes,” Van der Merwe said.

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