Returning to International Travel: Report and Reflection

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Part I:  Kigali, Rwanda

by Ian Rowlands

Ian Rowlands is embarking upon his first international trip as Waterloo’s Associate Vice-President, International since 2019. In a series of articles, he will briefly reflect upon the three stages of the trip, providing a brief overview and some analysis. The first up is his week in Rwanda.

I spent the past week (19-25 June 2022) in Kigali, Rwanda, engaged in some of the events around the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), as well as making two university visits for the purposes of advancing Waterloo’s internationalization goals.

The CHOGM is a bi-annual conference, at which the leaders from the 56 Commonwealth countries come together to reaffirm common values and to agree on actions and policies to improve the lives of their citizens. My engagement around the CHOGM was facilitated by my association with the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), a membership organization of more than 500 universities across 50 countries. I previously served as a Special Advisor for the ACU during a sabbatical year in 2020.

Fast-forward two years and wearing my Waterloo hat, I jumped at the offer from the ACU to engage in CHOGM as part of their team. I did so for at least two reasons:

  • It would allow me to bring the University of Waterloo to a global – and well-connected – audience in a part of the world to which I had not travelled as the Associate Vice-President, International. Strategic opportunities to grow Waterloo’s name recognition can be beneficial, and the chance to search for new opportunities for Waterloo’s members was also attractive.
  • It would allow me to reconnect with the ACU, be reacquainted with its strategic thinking and priority activities, and to have access to some of its global networks. I found my 2020 experience to be informative and eye-opening; with Waterloo’s Strategic Plan theme of “Community” in mind – particularly at the international and global scales – immersed engagement in the ACU’s work would, I anticipated, offer ideas, information, and inspiration.

So, though a week of European travel was already scheduled for me for late June/early July, I added this on, hoping that it would be worthwhile. In the end, it was.

Working, in turn, as conversator, presenter, moderator, and facilitator as part of the ACU team, I networked and met many people, I learned a lot, and I was inspired. I also felt so welcomed by ACU colleagues, which made the week all the more enjoyable (and successful).

Old friends of the University of Waterloo were encountered in many venues, and I am hopeful that the tangible reminder of Waterloo’s activity in internationalization left a positive impression. New opportunities for Waterloo also emerged and/or current ones rose up the agenda – but more about those below

I also had the chance, during my CHOGM activities, to steward connections with valued international partners for Waterloo. These included organizations and individuals, as well as a number of alumni!

And, indeed, after CHOGM finished, but before I departed Rwanda, I had the opportunity to make two “site visits” in Kigali. One was to an established Waterloo partner, the other to a newer relationship.

My visit to AIMS-Rwanda was wonderful. I not only met many of the team there (led by Dr. Sam Yala), and learned about their many activities, but I also had the opportunity to see thousands of contest scores – from across Rwanda and in partnership with Waterloo’s Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing – being uploaded (photo below).

Ian Rowlands with group in Kigali, Rwanda

And the visit to the beautiful campus of the African Leadership University (ALU) was informative and inspiring. Building upon email and video discussions we have had over the past couple of months, it was truly fortuitous that I was travelling to Rwanda, thus able to see one of the ALU’s campuses, and to meet some of its staff and students! A couple of additional photos (additional, that is, to what I tweeted) appear below.

Campus in Kigali, RwandaCampus in Kigali, Rwanda

Returning to the week as a whole, in addition to other invitations to start new or to continue ongoing conversations – which I am pursuing – I have two priority areas upon which to act:

  1. Sustainable Urbanisation – Through the good work of a coalition of the ACU, the Commonwealth Association of Architects, the Commonwealth Association of Planners, and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum – and following three years of hard work – sustainable urbanisation emerged as a major issue at CHOGM. A side-event was followed by mention in the Communiqué and an explicit Declaration on Sustainable Urbanisation. With Waterloo’s interest in Future Cities and its world-renowned School of Planning, this seems a good candidate to investigate. I will discuss further with some of Waterloo’s leaders in this space.
  2. Future of Education Broadly Defined – The ways in which education evolves will continue to be of paramount interest, worldwide, what with new educational models being proffered (some offered by new players), many workplaces having been transformed during the pandemic, and automation and other technologies potentially upending some traditional employment categories. Occupying the Commonwealth Chair for the next two years, Rwanda will take forward this issue (as will, of course, many others around the world). At Waterloo, groups like the Work-Learn Institute will continue to offer global thought leadership on these kinds of issues, and the Waterloo at 100 project – out of the Office of the President at the University of Waterloo – has these themes running through many of its Futures. Again, this seems a good candidate to investigate. I will explore connections further.

And while I identify a few sets of colleagues with whom I will follow up on the above, I offer this open invitation to anyone in the University of Waterloo community to contact me regarding either of these, or anything else associated with the activities described in this post. I can be reached at

Let me conclude with broader reflections:

For me, the return to international travel was exhilarating and fascinating. “In-person” activity – as compared with virtual engagement – is indeed different and uniquely-impactful. It was so good to “be back” in this way. And the act of “travelling for work” again (beyond, that is, shuffling from the kitchen to the home-office) was not without its unexpected moments!

After more than two years away from these kinds of activities (both the in-person engagement and the physical travel), I was “out of practice”. And in any case, we are not returning to the pre-2020 “ways things were”; there will be differences going forward. A personal take-away for me was to prioritize planning, adaptiveness, and resilience. There were some “travel hiccups” during this trip – ones that I probably could have ameliorated, though also probably not eliminated altogether. I live and learn, and will take a bit more wisdom into the future.

In summary, it was a wonderful week in Kigali, Rwanda. I welcome any feedback on this post (, and I hope to deliver another post early next week regarding the second stage of my trip!

- Ian Rowlands, 28 June 2022

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