Our home away from home is turning a quarter of a century this week – and what a journey it’s been!
I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of being with it for all its life, but if, like me, you are curious about why we got this beautiful, vibrant place and how it came to be the safe space we came to love it as, let me take you on the of how Pangaea became our Pangaea.
While there’s no (longer any) denying that the history of Belgian-Congo and our KUL university’s history have been linked since the 1800’s, with classes discussing the colonies and colonial details, foundations to aid and improve educational levels in their colony didn’t come to life until the 1920’s. FOMULAC (‘Fondation médicale de l’Université de Louvain au Congo’) and CADULAC (‘Centres agronomiques de l’Université de Louvain au Congo’) helped found educational centres to spread knowledge about western medicine and agriculture.
It all started out as Home Congolais in 1951 – a student-residence for children of the Belgian colonials, who didn’t have a university to go to in Congo. It started out as a “home away from home” for white, Belgian students who were privileged and rich enough to come to their parents’ native country and get an education, a possibility many of their non-white peers back home in Congo were not (yet) granted. But the dream of a “fraternity between whites and blacks” was alive from the moment it was built, and now the residence of Home Vesalius, which is the attached building to Pangaea, makes it a point to not only host a culturally diverse group of students as part of the Pangaea Theme House, but also gives housing students from Asian and African countries priority.
You can still find the colonial Mosaik of the flag of the Independent State of the Congo on the floor of the residential entrance to Pangaea, from Vesaliusstraat.
In 1954, the KUL helped build a real campus on-site in Congo, extending their own university faculties to a campus named Lovanium, sharing knowledge with 400 curious Congolese students by the of the decennia. But Belgium, being in the middle of what we now call the more cruel parts of its history, invested very little funding in educational standards, focusing mostly on hands-on work, potentially streamlining colonial exploitation profits even more. Luckily, at the same time other statewide universities were founded, and the students and professors found power and possibilities in the institutions they had become a part of, and declaring independence from Belgium came within reach. And since the Democratic Republic of Congo has been politically decolonised for a long time, debates and discussions have been held about how to finally achieve decolonising the collective Belgian mindset.
Pangaea, with its intercultural POV in welcoming international students to the KUL and Belgium, plays a big role in this.
While we, the community of Pangaea, pride ourselves in being a haven for international students, doctorates and professors, we also deal with the same issues many of our international students face: Belgian culture isn’t as pervasive as it pretends to be. While they try to hide away in shame from their colonial past, they also seem to shy away from the intercultural-ness visiting students bring with them, the different knowledge, cultures and customs that enrich your life and broaden your thinking-capacities when you experience them. It seems we, the internationals, are doing a pretty good job living in Belgium and taking part in its cultural peculiarities (frietjes, anyone? Or a pintje in the pub around the corner?) – but how can we, as Pangaea, make Belgians engage in the same way? Should we even have to make any more effort in that direction? Or is it maybe, after all this time and effort, not our role?