Making It Through Summer in Leuven

Nick Johnston |  May 29, 2019

When the Oudemarkt has fewer familiar faces, the Almas stand empty, and Pangaea closes, what is to become of us latter-day students?

© Wikimedia Commons

Summer, the end of days?
Summer is coming, and many in Leuven will be leaving. Even before exams finish, we’ll see the number of students dwindle, and as exams conclude, the streets will seem empty. For those of us who call the city home in these quiet days, finding ways to spend our time might be a challenge as exams and departed peers appear to spell the end of our social routines. When the Oudemarkt has fewer familiar faces, the Almas stand empty, and Pangaea closes, what is to become of us latter-day students? Are we doomed to dwell in our kots alone? Luckily, the end of the academic year is not the end of life in Leuven.

Stroll and cycle
Lamentations of rain aside, summer promises enough days of fine weather for even the most minimally intrepid to find adventure. Jet-setting isn’t for everyone, but friendly walking and cycling paths are in abundance. The question is simply where to go. I’ll provide some tips on planning a trip along with my own vision for an ideal afternoon.

If you want to plan a trip, the easiest way is to pick a direction and go. A wise person once said, “The easiest way to do something is to do it.” This wisdom applies here. Flanders is remarkably clean, safe and easy to wander in. This being said, having sights and a destination in mind is both a motivation and reward. For that reason consider the following. Using Google Maps, simply search one of the following words: abdij, kasteel, tuin, or park, which mean abbey, castle, garden, or park, respectively. Flanders is dotted with fine buildings and spaces that rich and or religious people once built, and they’re top locations. Alternatively, consider following the canal at the north of the city, or the Dijle river south, for a waterside trip.

If you ask me (and I know you didn’t) the perfect afternoon goes something like this… Saturday morning, rise before dawn because it sounds impressive. Bike into the center of Leuven for the market in front of Sint-Pieterskerk. Then take gratuitous free samples from the stalls selling mangoes and olives etc. Then, buy some picnic food. From there, bike out of Leuven through the tunnel at the station. Pass by Hal 5 because it’s a cute and lively area. Then, head to Provincial Domein, an expansive family friendly park with water features. Take a pit stop there, play on the playground, use the swings or the monkey bars – because youth is a state of mind and no one can stop you. From there bike to Abdij Vlierbeek. Once there, pet some of the horses, grab a drink at the cafe, admire the architecture and continue.

Bike through Sint Gertrudisbos and look for the poppies blooming in the fields. Continue to your final destination, Kasteel van Horst. Admire the castle on the water as you eat the food you brought, and reflect on your journey.

Spicing up studying
All of the above sounds lovely, but we can’t forget that students in Leuven for the summer must also study. As the population of students decreases, so too do your competitors for places in libraries, cafes, and gardens. Take advantage of the quietude by visiting serene places to be productive.

Tucked away high in the central library is the East Asian literature section which grants a sense of ivory tower seclusion, and the few spots that are there are certain to be free on summer days. The Theology library is also a place of refuge for students from outside the faculty looking to get work done. Studying outside is also an attractive option. The green grounds of Abdij Keizersberg at the northern end of the city have benches with a view over the whole city, there’s also a small flock of sheep for a pastoral vibe. Nearby is the Vaartkom and Sluispark, each recently improved public spaces with cafes like Opek in the area to meet friends.

Two tragically underused spaces are the Botanical Garden (the ‘Kruidtuin’) and the M-Museum. It is baffling how so few students study in the greenhouses of the garden or in the museum’s study rooms. The Kruidtuin is an ideal reprieve from our usual geometric confines, and it replaces the smell of coffee with flowers. Hell, they have turtles in one of the enclosed gardens, it’s basically Eden. Meanwhile M-Museum is located conveniently in the center of the city, and during breaks from studying students can wander the grounds or browse its extensive collection of historical artifacts, or whatever exposition is on display. It has an open study space until June 9th.

Filling in the hours
People are going to tell you that it’s boring to stay in Belgium for the summer. They’ll tell you you’ll regret it, that you’re lame if you don’t grab a flight to Ibiza or some shit. Don’t listen to them. They are unimaginative and frankly – we’ll all be better off without them. Yet the skill of filling in the hours between hours is key. So take some time to take your time. 

Young Plato - Docville

Young Plato: A Stirring Portrait of the Power of Teaching and Philosophy

Aliosha Bielenberg | March 30, 2022

A sensitive observational documentary that is both enjoyable and compelling.

Young Plato - Docville
Young Plato © Docville

When I first heard that Docville would be screening Young Plato, I expected to see some depiction of ancient Athens on the screen. Instead, viewers last Thursday night were treated to a sensitive observational documentary set in Ardoyne, a neighborhood in north Belfast. At the Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School, the headmaster, Kevin McArevey, has run a program of philosophy for children for the past ten years. Neasa Ní Chaináin’s camera follows Mr. McArevey and the children of the school through their daily conflicts and little triumphs with empathy and sensitivity.

The film employs archival footage to show us the difficulties Ardoyne went through during the Troubles, with a “Peace Wall” still dividing the Protestant and Catholic communities. These long-simmering tensions are compounded by problems that many urban communities face: drugs, violence, and poverty. In an insightful post-screening conversation last Thursday, the directors emphasized that Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School and its crown jewel, the philosophy program, are a source of pride for the community.

The film does not shy away from the difficulties of life in Ardoyne. Urban decay and social issues are presented honestly and unflinchingly, and one memorable scene involves the funeral of a former Holy Cross student just seven years after he left the school. Yet the film does not indulge in maudlin sentimentality either. Instead, the directors work with a clear vision and excellent technique to observe the school at work, and present viewers with a tightly woven, engaging storyline. Much of the credit for shaping the film out of the many hours of primary footage must go to the Belgian editor, Philippe Ravoet.

At the film’s heart is Mr. McArevey, who is buoyant whether giving his children high-fives in the morning, sharing some Stoic wisdom with parents in assembly, or dancing to the music of Elvis Presley. And at the heart of Mr. McArevey is his faith in philosophical education. He has taken it upon himself to add an extra subject to the curriculum, adorning his classroom with portraits of Confucius, Kant, and Seneca, and a little bit of ivy, too. In this space, young students can engage in a Socratic Circle around questions like: “Is it okay to take out your anger on someone else?”. Mr. McArevey is an adept facilitator and guide for his young students, as they take the answers to questions like these into the messy real world.

The premise that both Mr. McArevey and the film share is that studying philosophy from such a young age can defuse violence and change lives. Philosophy emerges in this film as a fresh, vital, gleaming discipline – something that belongs in the playground and in discussions with seven-year-olds as much as in stuffy university lectures. This is a film about philosophy as a means for social change. It is one of those rare documentaries that is both enjoyable and compelling, especially for those of us with experience of other societies with long-simmering conflicts. I can only dream of a Mr. McArevey running a similar philosophy program in Cyprus, for instance.

In the final scene of Young Plato, a new mural is added to the brick walls of Ardoyne, which are otherwise adorned with images of guns and slogans reminding us of the Troubles. This new mural replaces the philosopher in Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker with a boy from Mr. McArevey’s class. Now, when teachers, parents, and students enter the Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School, they are reminded of the remarkable experiment that the school has witnessed over the past decade. And, thanks to Young Plato, many more of us from all over the globe can share in their pride and joy.


Something Free Floats up Into the Air

Nida Işik |  June 7, 2020

Sometimes you feel like you’re flying with the passion of a kiss, and then you open your eyes to see that it’s over.

The place where he was born had stony roads and his feet got used to the fatigue, but I believed I had the cure for his blisters as we suffered from vertigo after hours of kisses. I plucked the petal of a daisy. “He loves me, he loves me not” . He sat across from me and instead of a daisy, he plucked my lashes free. 

He said he dreamed about that moment the whole day. He was back from work, tired, and song on my chest as my silk dress fell onto his shoulders. We enjoyed causing each other’s tears, stomach cramps and goose bumps. It started out with a casual gaze, in a drunk train from Brussels. He smiled when I made fun of his life as a lonely boy. I loved the wrinkles in the corner of his eye. I smiled when he quoted Milan Kundera. He loved his voice while singing The Doors. We discussed after late-night concerts, we spilled each other’s wine on our prettiest clothes, we danced at the Grand Place, danced in the streets, danced on his rustic farm table, and danced in bars which used to be old factories.

He touched my neck to correct me everytime I tried the Dutch “r” and called me “tatlim”, a word for sweetheart in my mother tongue. He probably never learned how to write it properly.

I hesitated every time I texted him, getting anxious feelings that destroyed me in my bed. They say, being paranoid does not mean they are not after you . However, there was an old, white curtain that hindered me from seeing what I actually felt. He said he couldn’t marry me. He said relationships go further and he could not go further with me. We were free, floating up into the air, not soaring, but high enough to shake him up like dozens of bulls. Once, people screamed “I hope you will be happy forever”while we were kissing in the streets, leaning against the walls of other people’s houses, he smiled and thanked them. I with his friends at a crowded Christmas party. He tucked my hair behind that night, as he kept his gaze unbroken and told me that God created me for him. He wasn’t a believer.

I felt like he carried his emotional history with him with every step, even when we were walking together. The heaviest of burdens that he was being crushed by, was himself. I was sure that they are after me , when I heard of him only hours after midnight on the last day of the year. I wanted a man to give me more than enough to stay. I wanted a man who knew how happy I was when I was with him. I wanted him to pursue my romantic dream and suffer to believe it is real, though he was never weak. “You do not like it when things leave you,” I said, “but you have no problem walking away.” I concluded that this was a man with very dismissed, disorganized feelings. I reassured myself that whatever he did was not about me or my gatekeeper anxiety.“Don’t mess with my head, woman.” He said, laughing and pretending to bite me as we giggled. Woman, no one had ever called me that before.

We were standing in front of a painting called “Kiss”, made by the craziest man of the last century. It was a landscape painting with a huge slit in the middle. “Like a hole in time.” he said. “Wanna try?” I said. We kissed. 

I used up all of my courage when I walked away from him, not long after Christmas. We kissed once more. We fought once more. I froze time that night, around the roundabout where we first met, like an enchanted rose of beauty. And just like the Beast, I waited for love’s presence to heal me.

Rose - Kelly Sikkema
© Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Belgium I | Vivienne Chen

My First Impressions of Belgium

Vivienne Chen December 10, 2020

When I arrived in Belgium for the first time, the first thing that crossed my mind was “I’m finally here, after what felt like decades of travelling by plane.”  

Belgium I | Vivienne Chen
© Vivienne Chen

I come from Taiwan, which is an island country with lots of tropical fruits and a diverse cuisine, and studying abroad has been my dream ever since I was a little kid. I admired other kids who had the opportunity of discovering different cultures and environments outside their home country. Although this is not my first time in Europe, I still can’t truly describe to friends and family back home what Europe is to me and how I feel about it. However, Europe is certainly a continent rich with history, art, and culture. You know you are in Europe, when you can smell bread fresh out of the oven while walking on the street and whenever you step you walk into a fairy tale story with old stone houses arranged closely together, with people walking past you or sitting outside enjoying a drink on a cozy afternoon. 

Belgium is a place full of historical architecture. The moment you step on cobblestone roads and hear the clatter of horse’s hooves hitting the road you realize that you are in Belgium. My arrival in Belgium for the first time was in the late summer, so I was fortunate enough to enjoy some of the last moments of sunshine. Since I’m a photographer one of my habits is to walk through all the streets and alleys chasing the changes in sunlight. I like to immerse myself in every instant, to capture every single one of the special little moments that are happening around me. 

Belgium II | Vivienne Chen
A Walk in Belgium © Vivienne Chen

A Walk In Belgium
This photo was taken near Rue des Fripiers. The spotlight in this picture is on the man in yellow as his clothes make him stand out and contrast with the metallic blue colour of the background. From my camera lens it looked like he was slowly walking through his past, and I was fortunate enough to capture this scene.

Belgium III | Vivienne Chen
Manneken Pis © Vivienne Chen

Manneken Pis
This photo was taken near the Manneken Pis, one of Belgium’s most iconic sculptures.

Belgium IV | Vivienne Chen
A Peek © Vivienne Chen

A Peek
While walking past an alley on a clear warm summer day in August, I was able to capture the shadows with sharp distinct shapes over the buildings. Walking further along the winding street led from an area submerged in shadows to another area bathed in sunlight.

Belgium V | Vivienne Chen
Morning of Belgium © Vivienne Chen

Morning of Belgium
This photo was taken near the Gallery. There wasn’t a lot of hustle and bustle on this weekend morning in Brussel but sunlight showered the streets. It was warm and peaceful walking along the street where restaurants were preparing to open for customers.  


The Factory Worker’s Son

Djamel White (Inspired by Wang Xiaoshuai) | May 24, 2021

© Robert Montgomery (Flickr)

There is no exception to the rule

Return to the steelworks now and

billow smoke around the town

The grind and the groan

The colossal moan


the residual dust


I am the shadow of that thing you saw

Rise from the reservoir with gills and claws

Romantic China’s dead and gone

Drowned in the glow and the neon hum


And dusk

Your half-light shimmers

A silhouette in the window