Studying with the CAFYR team

- Yu Peng

Since joining the CAFYR team one year ago, time has passed quickly. I’ve had many new experiences in Antwerp and it’s wonderful to be a part of the CAFYR team. Before traveling to Belgium, I had little to no experience with in the fields of digital humanities and English literature studies. At the CAFYR research project changed this considerably; they employ digital tools in their research and operate at the cutting edge of the field. To showcase their research and bring together likeminded researchers, they organized the first international conference on Children’s Literature and Digital Humanities in October 2020. By writing their own code and setting up creative research methods, the team studies not only textual information, but are also finding ways to analyze illustrations in children’s books. Furthermore, the team has close connections with other DH projects inside and outside of the University of Antwerp, which gives me the opportunity to study a broader area as well as to attend different lectures and presentations. During this one-year visit my knowledge of DH increased considerably and enabled me to write a DH review paper. The experience also challenged me to study important contributions to the study of English literature. The academic writing style of literature studies in English is very different from what I’ve learned in Chinese. To comprehend this, to me novel, way of writing and combining it with what I am used to reading, has been a difficult but interesting process. It has shown me alternative ways of thinking from diverse cultures, which definitely broadened my research mind.

All the experience I gained on my research visit is in large part thanks to the support of the CAFYR team. They are all talented and supportive colleagues and mentors. Vanessa supervised my research paper and study process, providing me with a number of opportunities to attend lectures and communicate with different scholars. She also never hesitated to lend me reading material or give her advice on professional as well as personal life choices. The other colleagues, both from the CAFYR team and the broader children’s literature research team, are all warm people who are happy to share their knowledge, thoughts, materials, own papers and life experience. The atmosphere is always warm and kind. Before arriving at the University, I was really nervous to move to a completely unfamiliar country as a student. Getting to know such warm people there, has certainly eased this transition.

Last but not least, I would like to share my experience as an attendee of the Children’s Literature Summer School. While the subject is taught in the University’s Bachelor programme, the children’s literature research team make a great effort to provide children’s literature enthusiasts and researchers a platform to learn, communicate and share. Each year, leading researchers from diverse research disciplines and cultural backgrounds share their methods, children’s literature authors share their creative perceptions, and people from different backgrounds related to the field share their thoughts at the summer school. It’s amazing to learn about so many different aspects of children’s literature from researchers, writers, poets, illustrators, translators, librarians, teachers and students at the same time, as well as to get a more comprehensive knowledge structure. Besides the lectures and practical workshops, I enjoyed the many opportunities to have more informal conversations during the breaks and extracurricular activities. The summer school organisers go above and beyond the purely academic side of the event and show that they are true life lovers! For example, they created a magic city tour for the participants to explore several of their city’s secrets as well as indulge in its charming atmosphere. It was great to see this historical city from both a touristy and scholarly viewpoint.

Over the previous year, I have experienced many ups and downs. The children’s literature research team and members of the CAFYR project have shown me their passion for academics and life, and their strength and supportiveness in the face of difficult times. To be a part of this group is worthwhile and I am happy that I still have some time left to learn from them and study with them.

Yu Peng is a visiting researcher from Lanzhou University in China, whose PhD is on Chinese children’s literature. She has also written several children’s books herself, including Make Myself a Wish (purchase the Chinese version here) and Legend China: Gansu Stories, as well as published more than 50 short stories and poems.