Returning to International Travel: Report and Reflection

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Part III:  Presidential Travels in Europe

by Ian Rowlands

Ian Rowlands recently completed his first international trip as Waterloo’s Associate Vice-President, International since 2019. In a series of articles, he is briefly reflecting upon the three stages of the trip, providing a brief overview and some analysis. The third and final stage involved supporting Waterloo’s President Vivek Goel as the two travelled together in Germany and the Netherlands.

I spent the third and final week of my international trip (3-7 July 2022) in Germany and the Netherlands, accompanying and supporting the University of Waterloo President, Dr. Vivek Goel, as he visited three locations in order to advance Waterloo’s internationalization goals.

Complementing President Goel’s recent post about the visits, I highlight in this post the ways in which this week allowed us to put into action a number of strategies that we had proposed in order to help make Waterloo’s inter-university partnerships more impactful.

More specifically, at the International Operations Council, we had presented and discussed the ways in which we might be more purposeful, more focused, and more strategic in our international engagements. Using the occasion of a ‘Presidential Visit’ as the focal point, let me offer some comments around three stages of travel: pre-travel, travel, and post-travel.


Engagement between world-class universities at the executive level can serve multiple purposes for both Waterloo and our global peers:

  • It can help to build tried and trusted connections, so as to have a ‘ready partner’ when opportunities arise;
  • It can catalyze new and innovative shared activities;
  • It can encourage each to access the other’s national and international networks;
  • It can boost morale and serve as a motivator to those at the two universities already engaging in collaborative work and/or considering the same; and
  • It allows each to demonstrate global prominence and leadership.

As we, in Waterloo International, prepare such trips, we look for partners in potential destinations with shared strengths, priorities, and values. We also look for the potential for impactful work together (as evidenced, not least of all, by successful work together to date). Practical factors, for example, geographical proximity and key member availability, also play roles. Extensive preparatory work led by the team in Waterloo International and our partner’s international office is meant to make the trip itself as meaningful as possible.

In the case of this trip, preparation involved reviewing long histories of engagement (much of which has been led by individual units at the University of Waterloo), as well as initiating more recent pandemic-period virtual engagement (including meetings between analogous departments from Waterloo and the partner universities). International offices also compared notes about respective strengths, priorities, and national environments.


Co-created agendas (a result of friendly negotiations between us and the partner universities) are meant to build upon and/or to create momentum for impact. This can mean reviewing and celebrating successes to date, as well as catalyzing new areas for collaboration. Openings for the unexpected to arise are also built into schedules.

For this trip in particular, full working days in Karlsruhe, Enschede, and Eindhoven highlighted areas like energy, entrepreneurship, health-tech, innovation, and technology-for-impact. Not only did President Goel and I get to discuss these (and other) issues with experts at these three locations, but we brought in, through synchronous virtual means, the perspectives of Waterloo colleagues at key junctures. This enriched and advanced the discussions considerably.


Follow-up discussions are already underway – with Waterloo colleagues about what we heard and saw abroad (as well as the opportunities that may be present), and with our partners’ international office colleagues regarding potential ways forward. The trip indeed advanced prominence and understanding, as well as created momentum for inter-university collaborations. In order for the work undertaken abroad to have maximum impact, it of course has to be capitalized upon promptly in meaningful and focused ways.

Using the knowledge gained, Waterloo International will work to build and to reinforce these key partnerships. It is our aim to establish a foundation from which interested colleagues at Waterloo, and the respective partners, can take action together on common interests. Our hope is that collaborative research, joint educational activities, and/or innovative community-building undertakings will be led by interested professors, other professional services staff, and students from Waterloo and the partner universities.

Working with our peers, we will strive to provide opportunities for engagement, which may take the form of curated mailing lists, community updates, virtual match-making events, digital prominence, seed funding competitions, and more. We are open to ideas as to how our follow-up activities in these international areas could help Waterloo achieve its strategic goals.

In summary, it was a wonderful final week in Europe – great to support President Goel and to meet so many interesting and hospitable colleagues on valued partners’ campuses. I welcome any feedback on this post (, and I look forward to continuing to develop impactful international, inter-university partnerships for the University of Waterloo through international travel and other means.

- Ian Rowlands, 2 August 2022

Team presentation