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(Ward Vloeberghs, 37, senior Lecturer in Political Science EUC)

“When I was young, we lived in Beijing. My father was a Sinologist, or China expert. When I got a bit older, I decided that I didn’t want to be a Daddy’s boy and owe everything I achieved to him. I wanted to find my own way. So after leaving school, I did Arabic studies in Leuven – that’s where I come from. Now I’m very grateful that I’ve inherited my father’s passion for cultures and history.

11 September 2001: the day I had to defend my thesis in Arabic studies. After a successful presentation, I took a deep breath and walked outside, ready for a beer. ‘Have you seen the news?!’, shouted a fellow student down the phone. ‘The WTC’s on fire!’ ‘In Brussels?!’, I asked naively. We soon learned that it had been the work of Bin Laden. A very black day. Suddenly, Arab specialists were in great demand.

Soon afterwards, I went to Egypt to learn Arabic. You can’t learn languages from a book, you have to get out on the street and become part of the society. For my master in Politicology, I moved to Beirut where I also embarked on my PhD research combining politics, architecture and religion. When I was in Beirut, I regularly spent weekends in Syria. At the time, it was a lovely, friendly country, beautiful towns, good food and very hospitable people. It makes me terribly sad to see Syria now, especially when you realise it will never be like that again. People often ask me how I view news from the Middle East. With scepticism! It’s often very one-sided. That’s what I tell my students during my lectures here. My most important message is therefore: go out and see things with your own eyes! Get to know the countries and people you’re studying. You need the context to understand the reality and its complexity.”

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