The Art of Exploration: Professor Carel Jansen

A very good soccer player and even better friend spoke to me about his love for languages and why it is so important to understand a context of connection. We met many years ago on a soccer pitch when Carel came to Stellenbosch again as extraordinary professor in Afrikaans and Nederlands and as staff member of the University of Stellenbosch Language Centre (Unit for Document Design; see this video made by Ablindspot productions).

Please take a look at what Carel is up to here.

I remember him playing a very good game of soccer and running circles around most of the younger players. His passion and love for the game is connected to his willingness to want to inspire students and learners, and this soon became apparent through his encouraging words of motivation. Since then we see each other almost every time he visits Stellenbosch, and together with mutual friends, we talk politics, believes, sport, economics and language. Carel is very well adjusted to Afrikaans, by the way. I had the opportunity to ask Carel some questions, and I think you will enjoy his answers:


How old are you now Carel?
I am 61 now; I was born in 1952, on August 15th to be exact.


Your dream at the age of 17?
I was hoping to become a professional soccer player, or if I wouldn’t be regarded as talented enough (and that proved to be the case indeed), I was hoping for a nice education followed by ?? – I really had no idea at that age.


What has been your biggest adventure in life thus far?
Most importantly: going to a good high school and later to a good university. In the family and the neighbourhood where I grew up, kids such as I were expected to get a job and to contribute to the household income as quickly as possible – preferably before the age of 16. I was the first to do it different – or perhaps better: to get the chance from my parents to do so. That made the whole thing quite special and also challenging. Furthermore going to SA for the first time meant a lot to me, because it gave me the chance to learn about a country and a society that in a great number of respects is different from my own, and also because it gave me the chance to contribute to an adequate education for SA students interested in my field.


List five of your interests?
Health Communication.
Language and Literature.
Sports. (especially soccer)


What makes you feel passionate about your language?
First of all the fact that such a complicated system can be learned so easily by young children all over the world, while it is so difficult to master it at a later age. And secondly that this system plays such an important role in two of the most essential human activities: thinking and communicating.


What was the one thing that made you realize that you want to invest your energy and knowledge in South Africa’s youth?
The idea that the development of a country for a great part depends on the level of education of the young generations. That is why I am committed to investing knowledge and energy not only in the education of SA students at tertiary level, but also in raising funds for the ‘boektrommelproject’ (see, aimed at creating more possibilities for young children from low income SA families to start and keep on reading.


What do you think of Picasso’s following words: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
Important and true, but not always easy to live up to.


What is your favorite quote, and why does this specific quote have a special meaning? (You can give us a Dutch quote as well)
Cruijff, the most famous Dutch soccer player and later on soccer coach, once said: “Je moet schieten om te kunnen scoren” (something like: You have to shoot in order to be able to score a goal.) That is very true, inside and outside the soccer pitch: if you are not prepared to do new things and take a risk every now and then, you won’t get anywhere.


One of your students comes to you after class and tells you that his biggest dream is to become a professional soccer player. What would you tell him?
I would say to him (or her!) something like: Becoming a soccer professional is not a bad idea, but only if that is where your talents are. If not, then please consider another kind of future where you can optimally use the talents that you are gifted with.


You have a passion for communication design and especially regarding health care. Explain to me how effective communication design can ‘literally’ save lives?
If we succeed in making people aware what they can win by taking good advice seriously, then there is a good chance that they live longer, and very important: healthier.


I read a wonderful advertisement from ‘Bryaston Parallel Medium School’ the other day:

My pen is my wonderland.

Word water in my hand.

In my pen is wonder ink.

Stories sing. Stories sink.

My stories loop. My stories stop.

My pen is my wonder mop.

Drink letters. Drink my ink.

My pen is blind. My stories blink.


Net vier uit elke honderd mense besef,
That this can be read in Afrikaans and English.

Gee jou kind the best of both worlds.


Something about this is sure to excite you? Why do you also feel passionate about the Afrikaans language?
Sure, especially since I have gotten involved in studies into the effects of telling stories as a way to inform and persuade people in health communication. Results from research so far seem very promising (see an article I recently published – regrettably in Dutch – in a journal called Tekstblad:


You have been an extraordinary Professor at the Stellenbosch University Language Centre for more than ten years. Would you move to South Africa given the chance?
Perhaps I would if I was on my own. But fortunately I am in a very happy marriage, and although my wife loves me too and visit SA every few years, she prefers to stay in the Netherlands – most of all because of the security situation. And I understand her.


What do you think are the most prominent differences between Dutch citizens and South African citizens.
The way we define multiculturallity. Dutch people seems to think that they live in a multicultural situation because the last decades there have been many immigrants with different cultural backgrounds coming in. But when you take a closer look at our society, almost everybody (including most newcomers themselves) really seems to hope that all newcomers take over as much of the Dutch culture as possible. In SA the situation that many people strive for seems different: a rainbow nation with people from all colours living together, creating not so much a big melting pot, but rather a rainbow nation with different colours that together are more beautiful than just the sum of its parts.


If you knew you could not fail, what would you do next?
That is so very unrealistic in my case that I really have no idea..


Would you give 30min of your week for a young and aspiring cultural researcher to come and have coffee with you?




2014-03-07T08:38:14+00:00March 7th, 2014|Curiosity, Vocation|