Over a year ago I had this dream of spending some time abroad to dig deep into the methodology I’ve been using in my research. After I attended the Participatory Design Conference in Namibia at the end of 2014, I knew that I had to spend some time in a country where most design fields, and industry structures are based on PD principles. I applied for all the funding opportunities I could get, and after much backwards and forwards regarding available dates, I settled on May/June as my potential window for escape. After having applied for funding the previous year and being unsuccessful, I didn’t put my hopes on this journey becoming a reality, but it did! two weeks before my departure date, the University of Cape Town offered me the Sir Robert Kotze scholarship for international travel. The conditions were, that if I were awarded a COIMBRA scholarship (which was about double the amount, and a million times more competitive), I would have to repay them. I scrambled for visa’s, tickets, and housing until the very day that I left.
Soon I arrived in Aarhus, and the rest is now (quite literally) history. I’ve tried my best to keep my blog up to date, and I am now very thankful that I have these posts to refer to.
Here is a breakdown of my life for those 9 weeks (see links for connected blog posts):
Week 1: I settled into my new house, Aldrersrovej 27B, with the assistance of native guide Nicolas Hansen Brodersen (my Aarhus-supervisor’s star PhD). I had 12 housemates from all over Europe during my stay in Aarhus. These guys were one of the few constants of my stay, and I think we learned a lot from each other. I spend this first week acclimatizing [full blog], getting keycards, and settled into my office. On the weekend, I watched some excellent punk bands with my new housemates at the Studenterhus, and attended my first and last “Friday bar” before the exam period started – a Danish tradition, where each academic department has their own “after party” for the week.
Week 2: On Monday, I presented in front of the Participatory Information Technology research group, and received fantastic feedback, which has now become part of the detailed tapestries of case studies that support my research (thanks for introducing me to Coding Pirates, material culture studies, the RADAR table, and bricolage in design, team!) Based on this extensive feedback I started my thesis planning wall [full blog], and ruminated on structure (and avoiding panic attacks). I also had my first meeting with my foster-supervisor Kim Halskov – and we discussed the possibilities of writing a paper together. I attended a PIT seminar[full blog], and suddenly had mountains of new reading material. I escaped to Flensburg, Germany (which is a stone’s throw away from Århus) for the weekend, to go have a “work party” with my old friend, Danielle and her fiance, Alex.
Week 3: Back in Århus I start planning my thesis; I edit down video for particular case studies (under the order of Kim) and set up meetings with various faculty members, which saw me in meetings for most of the week. I connecting with a number of people looking at research methodologies in gaming, and many reminded me that this was the weekend of the (now-annual) Shayla VR games jam[full blog]. I attended the jam, our team won, and this changed the trajectory of the next few weeks: Other than us each winning a VR headset from Occulus; we now also had to calender in a trip to Karlshamn (Sweden) to demo our game at the Creative Coast festival; and we got tickets to attend the annual Unity Conference in Amsterdam!
In other news, this was also the week that I joined the climbing gym with my new climbing partner, Allan. With whom I spent at least one evening a week tackling routes at the Århus Climbing Club
Week 4: The works continues. I spent the week furiously editing videos, writing up case studies, and meeting (the seemingly infinite pool) of people that occupy the Nygaard building. On Friday, our team from the VR jam headed through to Karlshamn, in Sweden, to go demo our game at the Creative Coast Festival [full blog]
Week 5: back in Århus I am structuring abstracts for each of my chapters. I have a lunch date with Joanna Saad-Sulonen. I meet Anne-Marit Waade, who tells me about a very exciting Visual Cultures Seminar with Sarah Pink and Annette Markham (!!) that she invites me to submit a proposal for. I attend the second PIT seminar, which is fascinating, but I am chasing a deadline for a special issue of the IPID journal in the back of the room. Joanna delivers a compelling talk, and it is very illuminating to see the department discuss the future of the research group. There are also beautiful horses at the conference venue, and a chill, late afternoon “walk and talk” session across the property is a good chance to get to know the other students and professors. On Friday, I depart for Berlin to attend Droidcon and meet Thorsten Storno[full blog], of A MAZE.
Week 6: My proposal to attend the Visual Cultures, Visual Methods[full blog] course was a success! So I spend the first half of the week writing, and finishing up an edit, before meeting my course siblings (who, after this excercise, are brothers and sisters for life!), and being thrust into the exciting and demanding world of visual research. See the blog post for a detailed account of this life-altering experience.
Week 7: Our Visual Cultures Visual Methods course had continued over the weekend and into the middle of this week. On Tuesday evening we have our farewell dinner and drinks. It’s heart breaking to say good bye to my course comrades. I receive an e-mail that changes everything, I had received the COIMBRA scholarship! But there are issues with the timing – they usually only give the grant to people for the next academic year. The week is spent in my office completing work while writing motivations for why the committee should give me the award. The Danish elections take place on the Thursday – there is some local dissonance at the fact that for the first time in decades, the Danish “majority” (25%) voted for a right-wing party. I meet Rikke Toft Nørgård who I wish I had met sooner – she introduces me to an incredible library of books, and once again I have reading to do!
Week 8: I pack up my room at Aldrersrovej 27B, which is a sad and challenging excercise. I had somehow accumulated more stuff than I have space for in my bag, and my bag is already falling apart. Most of my housemates had either already moved out, or were away for the weekend. I bus for Copenhagen, drop my bags at my friend Inger’s, and fly out to Amsterdam the next day for the Unite conference[full blog]
Week 9: My last week in Århus. I stay with my new friend Nanna Inie, who is also a PhD student at CAVI. I get a chance to visit ArOs, which was magnificent (thanks to the University of Aarhus for giving me the free pass!). I also spend an afternoon doing a micro-analysis session with Kim and Nicolai, and planning out a conference and a journal article based on the work. I get to attend an international student barbecue with Nanna and Leon. I drop off my keys, pack up my office, and head off to Copenhagen the night before I need to fly out to Cape Town. Inger and I spend my last night at Tivoli – where I get thrown around on stomach-churning rides, and sadly try salted liquorice ice cream for the first and last time. A pretty surreal end to a pretty surreal journey.
In Dubai while waiting for the last leg of my flight, at 5 in the morning I jotted down a list of lessons I learned over these two months. Which I would like to share:
“1. throw yrself in the deep end more often. It pays to feel uncomfortable – it’s the only way to grow
2. Document. Process is everything.
3. Tell people about your plans. How else will you find collaborators?
4. Pay it forward. there is no reward in selfishness.
5. South Africa is the best place in the world.
6. Being a creative, and being an academic aren’t mutually exclusive. make more stuff.
7. Game Jams (and VR) are the future.”
I would like to thanks Prof Kim Halskov, Nicolai Brodersen and the rest of the PIT/CAVI/media studies gang at Aarhus for taking me under their wing and throwing me in the deep end. I have learned and grown more than I could ever have imagined. Thanks to COIMBRA for their generosity, and helping me to come back from a two month stint in Århus with zero debt. Special thank you to Mr Vibhuti Bhushan for his invaluable assistance in helping me secure funding, and to UCT for fronting the costs.
Lastly, thank you to every single person who has offered their expertise, homes, time and friendship. You guys always have a room in Cape Town if you need it.
The good news is that the adventuring doesn’t stop here. Next up – Vancouver for ISEA in less than a month (thanks Microsoft/Nokia for footing the bill!). Johannesburg for A MAZE in September. And then, the USA for AoIR’s IR15 in October (thanks AoIR for the grant!)
I am beyond thankful at the opportunities I have been given by wonderful mentors and funders, this is all thanks to you.