Georgina Davies is a student at University West of Scotland (UWS) and recently attended DCLivingLab in Antwerp. She shared her experiences of her trip with our team.
I went to Antwerp from Monday 24th – Saturday 29th September. The reason? I took part in the DCLivingLab, a collaborative and international student project. It was a once-in-a-life-time-experience!
Having never been to Belgium before, I didn’t know what to expect from Antwerp. I certainly didn’t know what to expect from the DCLivingLab, which described itself online as; "the opportunity to work hands-on in an international team on a concrete business or societal related challenge." UWS had kindly booked my travel so I knew that I was travelling with two other Scottish girls – one of them got in touch with me on Facebook and we agreed to meet at the airport.
After catching the plane and then the train (first class, no less – we were even given a meal!), we arrived in Antwerp. By the time we arrived, I’d realised the two UWS girls were absolutely lovely and I knew we’d be firm friends.
We arrived at the Antwerp Student Hostel (ASH) where we were staying – accommodation provided by the DCLivingLab - made our beds and headed down to meet the other students we’d be spending the week with. We met in a bar in town, the organisers gave us drinks tokens and sorted us into team for the week.
There were 10 posters around the room with five different challenges (there were two of each poster)…we had been given name stickers which were colour-coded. The colour-coding demarcated our skills so that each project had a range of people working on it. For example, my project had space for two reds, a green and a blue.
Once we had divided into groups, we got told to find out funny stories about each other so that we could present them to the whole group. We also had to say what had attracted us to our projects; mine was about future-proofing an old business park in Leuven, called C-Valley.
The next day, we met the real businesses behind our challenges. The man from C-Valley told us about the infrastructure problems with the business park, how transport links were slow and why the park was unattractive to start-ups. After he’d left, we brainstormed using post-it notes in our groups – some of our ideas were really outlandish (from offices in aquariums to harnessing energy from treadmills/exercise bikes).
Finally, my group decided to settle on a social action plan to retain existing businesses, attract new-starts and make it a fulfilling place to work. Over the next two days, we worked on refining our idea. We had to produce a presentation, complete with storyboard visuals for Thursday night and a A0 poster for Friday. I worked on writing the script for the presentation.
We had to get the poster design in by Wednesday 10pm which meant a quick bite to eat before my group regrouped in the hostel on Wednesday evening. I was in a group with two Danish girls, both called Cecilie and a French boy.
One of the most interesting parts of the trip for me was a conversation I had with one of the Cecilies who’d completely reinvented herself. She wore really bright dresses; one was lime green and another, hot pink. I asked her about her clothes and she said that she’d struggled with depression until last summer. She completely changed her style to change how she felt – it had worked apparently. Similarly, she had a tattoo on her wrist that simply said ‘nej’ (‘no’ in English) – she said it was to stop intrusive thoughts by training her brain to say ‘no’ immediately.
We did have some friction in the group however, but I think most of the groups did too. I think that was ‘the point’ to some extent. It’s difficult being in a group of people from different countries with different backgrounds and trying to reach a shared vision for a project. It was a challenge but very rewarding.
Having worked on the project for two days, we went to the Supernova Conference on Thursday and Friday. Supernova was a technology and creativity conference – there were key note speakers, including the co-founder of Shazam. The tech fair was part of Supernova, and there we admired the incredible inventions and various virtual reality headsets. I was offended by one stall who told me that my biological age was 35 (I’ve just turned 25!) and amazed by a mapping system developed by a Belgian enterprise; it worked like Google Maps but mapped noise and air pollution in real time using the data collected from the tracking system on delivery vans and lorries. They wanted to sell the technology to towns and cities, and since it showed traffic very precisely, it could be invaluable for town planning etc.
One of the best talks was by Seth Godin, entrepreneur and best-selling author. His talk was about marketing and although he spoke for 40 minutes, it felt like five. I’d strongly recommend you seek him out on the internet if you’ve never heard of him.
The food was absolutely amazing too! We’d been fed very well whilst working on our projects courtesy of Antwerp University but the conference food was seriously impressive. Delicious burgers, meat balls, hot dogs and pizza were on offer…except they were all veggie! It honestly blew of our minds that the food wasn’t meat – it looked and tasted so convincingly like meat that several vegetarians panicked. It certainly gave me a glimpse into the strong future of innovative food solutions.
On Thursday evening we had to present our business solutions in the bar we started off in…I presented ours with very little notice. I used my best ‘broadcast journalist voice’ and everyone seemed very impressed. All my new friends approached me afterwards to tell me how calm and commanding my voice had been…success!
To celebrate our time together, we hit the Supernova club – it was meant to be a networking opportunity, but the music was a tad too loud, so we cut some shapes on the dancefloor instead!
The next day, we had to present our posters between 6-8pm so we had the rest of the day at our disposal. I wanted to meet Jozefien Daelemans, the founder and editor of Charlie Magazine. I went to her talk about setting up the magazine, the ethics of the publication, why she’d set it up and her target audience. I was slightly disappointed that I couldn’t write for the magazine because it’s completely in Dutch and they don’t have an English branch. It sounded like a perfect fit for me!
After that, I joined Megan and Jennifer (the two UWS girls) and some hilarious American boys we’d become friends with. We spend the afternoon eating a Belgian waffle and chatting. Jennifer - who’s a very talented photographer - took everyone’s picture as we made our way to the DCLivingLab stall for the closing ceremony. I was truly shattered that evening and whilst a few people did go out for a last hurrah, others went to bed early because they had early flights or because they were still recovering from the night before!
We chatted to our new friends – they wanted the Scottish girls to say things in Scottish accents and we introduced them to Scottish Peppa Pig (if you’ve never seen it, have a quick Google!) That evening there were a lot of sad goodbyes – we’d been living in each other’s pockets for the full week!
We got up slowly on Saturday morning, packed, had breakfast and hit the shops. We had lunch and then it was time for the UWS contingent to leave. More sad goodbyes before taking the train, and then the plane home.
It was an incredible experience - the DCLivingLab was very well organised and it was great to meet, work and become friends with so many creative minds from all over the world. I'd like to thank UWS for sponsoring our trip, and DCLivingLab for their extreme generosity.
The funding and support for this trip was provided by UWS Creative Media Academy.