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From 4 till 8 April 2018 an important congress for geographers is taking place in the heart of Brussels, organised by EGEA, the European Geography Association for students and young geographers. They have been working on a European collaboration between geography students since 1987 through congresses, workshops, and networking events. Given that EGEA is a European association that receives subsidies from the European Commission, they are committed to sustaining the European identity and solidarity.
EGEA operates ninety local branches across the whole of Europe, and VUB is one of those ‘entities.’ In this way, our geography students can come into contact with people from across the continent with similar interests. EGEA is also active in Leuven and Ghent and together these three universities make up EGEA Belgium. Mathias Cox, self-proclaimed ‘polyvalent VUB member’ due to his inexhaustible commitment as a student during his years at VUB, is president of EGEA Belgium and is co-organising this large conference.
Those 90 entities are then subdivided into four regions: West, East, Mediterranean, and North. Every year, EGEA organises four congresses. One conference deals with its workings as a whole, whereas the other conferences are devoted to each region. This year, the symposium on the Western region is being organised in Brussels by the diligent geography students of our country. The young enthusiasts will be working on the theme of ‘Living Apart Together’ in Brussels for four days. “Our capital is a challenging city with numerous logistical problems and great mobility. All the more reason for devoting our geographical analysis to this subject and experiencing it from within”, says Mathias.
Four kinds of activities are planned, including, first of all, knowledge transfer through lectures or workshops, sometimes given by researchers or professors, but also by the students themselves. Secondly, it is possible to receive training in soft skills, such as public speaking, visualisation techniques, or group dynamics. Thirdly, there is room for networking, but more in an informal way. You are spending four days with students of different nationalities and in this way, you can make lifelong travel connections. “As a member of EGEA you are not a tourist anymore anywhere in Europe, since you know at least one person in every city”, says Mathias. Finally, numerous excursions are planned, for example to the Ardennes or places with an interesting soil profile. Apparently, Belgium is world-renowned for its old soil, so visits are a must.
They are expecting some 160 people during this four-day event. “You really learn a lot by organising a congress of this kind and you also come into contact with numerous people and services. For example, we had to contact the Student Council of the VUB, AV-Services, and many more. The VUB is really being actively involved, insofar as EGEA Belgium has its headquarters at the campus, so to speak”, says Mathias. Fortunately, those congresses are not only held in Belgium, as you are discovering the whole of Europe with EGEA. “This is the first congress Brussels is organising since 2008. The beauty of the project lies in the fact that it broadens your horizons since you can travel so often and get to know people from different countries within your own field. People are often visiting Brussels and we then take them out. For instance, we invited a couple of Poles to the baptism thé dansant organised by the polytechnic society at the BSG room. I do not think they will soon forget this experience.” Mathias goes on: “It also opens up new perspectives on your studies, since not everyone in Europe is offered the same kinds of courses as students at VUB. Not surprisingly, it is especially devoted to creativity within the academic field.” But the project not only covers geographical learning. “It also places great emphasis on the development of soft skills, such as public speaking or human interaction, and all of this at your own pace. EGEA is really committed to personal development.”