University of Edinburgh student Luis Reyes reflects on his short visit to the Leuven Institute of Criminology (LINC), supported by the SCCJR International Mobility Fund:
It was my first day in Leuven on a short, one week visit, and I was still feeling the effects of fatigue from the last-minute logistics planning my trip there.
I attended my first meeting with Dr Stefaan Pleysier, Director of the Leuven Institute of Criminology (LINC). After the formal introductions, he invited me to go for a cup of coffee outside, to enjoy the wonderful sunny day. We had the chance to discuss my academic interests in detail and review the activities that he kindly organised for me. In previous communications I had described to him the research that I’m doing research on collective efficacy and crime, and the role of neighbourhood perceptions of the police in the State of Nuevo Leon, Mexico. As a first-year PhD student I’m currently developing my research proposal, which means reviewing the extant literature to get insights from the theory and the evidence behind it. During this process I understood the importance of situating my research amidst the institutional changes and challenges that have occurred in Mexico during the last few years.
The international mobility scheme provided by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research announced its call for applications at a good time. I had previously attended a seminar on criminal reform in Belgium, and the challenges that the institutional changes pose to policing. As I was thinking about to refine my research ideas, it was ideal for me to visit the Leuven Institute to get further insights on how policing and crime prevention policies work in a different context.
Considering that I was there for a very short (one week) academic visit I had to make the most of it. Fortunately, I had the chance to talk to expert scholars on policing and crime prevention that left me with important considerations to include in my research. For example, in a meeting with Dr Ivo Aertsen, I learned about the role of police officers in their encounters with citizens in light of Restorative Justice processes. Similarly, I met with Dr Jeroen Maesschalck, who explained to me the relevance of understanding policing in a context of institutional reform with differences in its implementation between the Flemish and the French regions in Belgium. Moreover, he pointed out key elements of policing, such as the differences between local and federal levels, concepts of accountability and the necessity of situating these in a wider security governance framework.
I also had the chance to meet with PhD students to learn from their experiences, challenges and opinions about the themes that they are researching. Actually, one of them, Ellen Van Damme, visited SCCJR in Glasgow last year and is being funded by SCCJR to do so again this year. It was a nice experience to talk about my first day in Leuven, and the possible ways in which we can collaborate in the future. Other students were also very helpful in providing relevant literature on policing in the Belgian context.
Finally, I was given the opportunity to attend a Doctoral Seminar, by Danique Gudders. This presentation was very useful for two reasons: First, I got some ideas on how I can structure my presentation for my own doctoral seminar when the time comes. Second, at the end of the presentation I was able to describe a bit about SCCJR and the international mobility scheme. I handed out informative leaflets that the LINC’s secretaries very kindly helped me to print.
Beyond the academic experiences that I got in Leuven, I enjoyed walking around the town, and admired the astonishing architecture and the vibrant student-driven social dynamic. I even got a local craft… beer. Actually, I learned a good lesson at a local bar when I asked for a beer. When the barman gave me a nice curved glass served halfway I asked him: “Is this all? At least, could you throw away one of the two inches of foam?” He replied: “This is the way Belgian beer is served… this is not Guinness”. Then, I understood (or recalled) that local context definitely matters and current trends are explained by the historical background. Belgians have been working during the last 500 years to perfect beer. This anecdote reinforced in me the idea of how inappropriate it is to address a specific context through the spectacles of a different culture or academic (Anglo-Saxon) tradition.
And when it was time to go back to Scotland, I could only reflect that one week was not enough. Next time, I’ll hope to stay a bit longer, to avoid rushing my activities and my beer.