UWC has a long-standing relationship with several Flemish universities. One of the initiatives from this partnership is the RIP programme, which entails collaboration between the Information Systems department at UWC, the CoLab and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel on research projects, publications, workshops, and seminars. As part of this programme and through funding from VLIR-UOS we were fortunate enough to travel to Belgium for six months to work on our PhD research. During this time, we were based at SMIT (Studies on Media, Information and Telecommunication), a research institute at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and one of the Colab’s collaborative partners.
The time spent at SMIT was thoroughly rewarding both personally and academically. Under the invaluable mentorship and guidance of Prof Leo Van Audenhove and Dr Ilse Marien, we were exposed to a world of resources, from the vast collection of international literature, to the data collection and analysis software, and diverse skills of the SMIT team. We were able to participate in strategic workshops, meetings, presentations and other events which exposed us to how these researchers work in response to global and local challenges. We also had the opportunity to guest lecture to undergraduate and Masters’ level International Communications students. Engaging with them was a definite highlight for us given their enthusiasm in understanding digital and social exclusion challenges in the developing countries context.
Outside of the office Belgium did not disappoint. After spending six months there, we suggest not underestimating this beautiful and vibrant country, which is often not considered as having the same appeal as many other European destinations. Belgium is a hub of cultural activity, picturesque parks and canals, stunning architecture, lively festivals, markets, restaurants, and nightlife. Of course, travelling is not without certain ‘culture shocks’. The constant and pervasive Belgian military presence due to the current terrorism predicament was probably one of the more unnerving examples. It did however give us new a perspective of this global crisis, which for the most part South Africans are largely unexposed to. Being able to engage on this and so many other issues with people from all around the world – which is exactly what you’re likely to find in the Brussels city centre – definitely added to the enlightening nature of our stay. The fact that we were fortunate enough to see a bit more of Europe before returning home only added to this cultural enrichment, and ultimately our gratitude for the entire experience.
We hope to return for some world renowned Belgian chocolates and fries soon – they are definitely worthy of their reputation!