Germany (University of Bonn) Expanding Horizons: The International Days 2022 Offered A Varied Program

With a varied program of events lasting nearly two weeks, the International Days 2022 were all about the University of Bonn’s international links and initiatives, including everything from academic panel discussions and workshops to research policy formats and cultural happenings. This year’s International Days opened with the state awards—including the Queen’s Prize, set up by the recently departed Queen Elizabeth II—being presented to outstanding early-career researchers by representatives from the British, Spanish and French Embassies.

Taking its inspiration from the Frankfurt Book Fair, the concept behind the International Days involves paying particular tribute to one of the University’s partner countries. This time, it was Japan—not least because last year marked the 60th anniversary of German-Japanese friendship. Highlights of the Japan Day included a crash course in Japanese and a manga workshop. “I’ve never drawn anything like that, but they taught us really well at the event,” said one participant in the manga course, happily showing off a very professional-looking drawing of a manga figure. Also in the program was the showing of the latest Japanese films to hit cinemas. Across the board, everyone involved in the Japan Day was able to take much away with them in terms of the country’s culture and research landscape. Especially popular was the information offered on studying and researching in Japan and the Information Market assembled by Japanese institutions including the Japanese Consulate-General in Düsseldorf, the Bonn German-Japanese Society and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The program was brought to a close with a keynote lecture by Germanist Prof. Kikuko Kashiwagi from Kansai University, who discussed German-Japanese food. However, the International Days focused not just on Japan: there were also information events on the Global Exchange Program, which provides opportunities for studying all over the world.

“The International Days have demonstrated that the University of Bonn benefits enormously from the strong partnerships that have been in place for many years now, particularly with those that have formed part of the multilateral Global Network since 2021,” says an enthusiastic Prof. Dr. Birgit Ulrike Münch, Vice Rector for International Affairs. “Our 20 Bonn University Ambassadors, all of whom have spent many years researching in Bonn and who represent us abroad, are particular proof of the shining reputation that we enjoy all around the globe.” Many of them had traveled to Bonn during the International Days for a three-day workshop. The close dialogue reinforced what were already strong ties, Münch says: “It’s very encouraging to know that these outstanding people are representing our University across the world.”

However, the International Days also addressed the war in Ukraine and the unique challenges posed by internationality in the context of specific countries such as China, Russia and Iran. The University of Bonn is supporting Ukrainian researchers who are no longer able to work at their home universities because of the war through the major support program offered by the new Cologne/Bonn Academy in Exile. However, it is also supporting researchers of other nationalities who have been affected by the war, such as Belarusians and Russians facing persecution for opposing it.

One particular cultural highlight was the immersive exhibition by the renowned U.S. composer and artist Ari Benjamin Meyers. His piece “Duet”, which has already featured at the OFF Biennale in Cairo and many other venues around the world since 2014, has usually been performed in museums and concert halls, until now. The University of Bonn’s International Days marked its debut in a university setting. For this intervention, singers were positioned in the courtyard of the University’s main building for four hours, inviting passersby to join them in singing. Thus, two strangers who had never met before ended up singing a piece of music together, which both underlined the connection between the city and its university and conveyed a feeling of togetherness.“

Especially after two years of the pandemic, we wanted to use the International Days as an opportunity to shine a light on our many varied international partnerships in Bonn, a UN city, as well as in Europe and across the world—whether this was in person or virtually,” sums up Birgit Münch, who arranged the program together with her team. “For the sake of our students, I hope that the ongoing wars, crises and challenges of the pandemic do not erode the firm belief that only dialogue with international partners and the will to remain ready to talk and hungry for knowledge here for as long as possible can make us stronger. You don’t just learn an unbelievable amount about other people but also just as much—if not more—about yourself.”