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New Latin America Student Community LASCOM ready for recognition

Translated by Wietse Vergauwe (lees de Nederlandstalige versie hier)
If everything goes according to plan, the VUB will soon add a new student community to its organisation. The new community, LASCOM, aims to unite the more than two hundred Latin American students who are currently studying at the VUB. In addition, the community tries to give a representative voice to these students within the university. The first steps have been made and members are waiting for official recognition by the VUB.

The Latin America Student Community (LASCOM) is growing quickly. On October 15, eight students of the VUB held a first meeting of the community, where their statutes were submitted. One week later LASCOM already selected their first board. If LASCOM sounds vaguely familiar, you’re probably thinking about ASCOM, or the ‘Africa Student Community’ of the VUB. ASCOM, founded one and a half years ago, tries to bring together African and other students at the VUB who want to commit themselves to the African community. The community organises several lectures and an annual ‘African Liberation Week’. Carlos Andrés Figueroa Viloria, the founder of the brand new Latin America student community, was inspired by the success of ASCOM and its accomplishments, and decided to start a similar community for  Latin America students.

From romantic to entrepreneur

First proposal for the LASCOM logo
Carlos was born in Colombia and has been living in Belgium for the past four years. He started his career at the VUB with a Master of Linguistics and Literary Studies, and moved on to become a PhD student. Six years ago he would not have been able to tell you where Belgium is, but an unexpected turn in his life eventually brought him to Europe’s capital city. Carlos: “I taught English courses in Colombia at a university. There I met a French girl who also taught English just like me. We started to get to know each other, which ultimately led to a romantic relationship. At the end of that year I came to visit her in Belgium, where she had been living for twenty years. During my stay here I decided to visit some universities, because I was thinking of enrolling myself for a master’s program in Belgium.” Once Carlos started his studies at the VUB, he noticed that there were a lot of Facebook groups for students from different Latin American countries such as ‘Colombians at the VUB’ and ‘Mexicans at the VUB’. “But all these groups were too isolated, and as a community you can’t accomplish much when you’re not organised”, says Carlos. In his attempt to unite all these Latin American students, Carlos decided to set up LASCOM. Thanks to this new community, incoming and current Latin American students can come together to participate in the student board. In addition, the community wants to promote the Latin American continent at the VUB, so students from all over the world are more than welcome to join.

Latin America: danger and violence?

In terms of exchange programs to Latin America, the promotion of the continent seems to be more than necessary. Last year only two VUB students  visited Mexico as part of an exchange program, and this year no VUB student is set to study in Latin America as a whole. For this reason, the International Relations and Mobility Office (IRMO) of the VUB organised the first ‘Latin America Day’ last month, an initiative to raise awareness of the academic cooperation between the VUB and Latin America. This is an activity which LASCOM wants to support next year. According to Carlos many students don’t realise what Latin America has to offer. “Maybe people think Latin-America is unsafe and dangerous, which makes students less eager to visit the continent. Students may not know that there are excellent universities in Latin America, so it could be a problem of lack of information, despite the many programs that are organised with the continent.”

“Maybe people think Latin-America is unsafe and dangerous, which makes students less eager to visit the continent”

Carlos Andrés Figueroa Viloria, president of LASCOM

LASCOM’s motto is ‘Libertad & Unidade’,  which means ‘freedom and unity’, the first part in Spanish, the latter in Portuguese. It is a deliberate choice to involve Portuguese-speaking Brazilians in the organisation, as together with Mexicans and Colombians they form the largest group of Latin American students at the VUB. LASCOM’s meetings are therefore held in English, which also aids non-Latin American students in engaging with the community.

LASCOM – a pending acknowledgment?

Carlos would like to organise a Latin American party in the near future, but lectures and other ‘social events’ are also possible. Already after the first meeting voices are calling for a collective event with the ASCOM student board who inspired the Latin American Student Community. The ULB also has a similar organisation with whom LASCOM members are eager  to cooperate. But it is still too early to make any particular plans. First, LASCOM needs to be officially acknowledged by the VUB, and to achieve that the community needs to arrange some official paperwork. The statutes of LASCOM were already approved during their second meeting, and also the seats of their first board have been assigned. Their enthusiasm was so great that members had to vote to distribute the positions over the registered candidates. After that, the new board collected the required forty signatures from VUB students that want to support LASCOM in their admission in less than an hour.

All of this will be presented at the next meeting of the Student Council after which the matter will be voted on by the student representatives. From that moment, LASCOM will start their trial-period which means they will not yet receive money from the university. After that period their case will be again presented during a meeting of the student council and again the student representatives will vote, this time for a definitive recognition. Carlos isn’t worried about the recognition of his creation, given the smooth recognition of the ASCOM last year, the rapid development of the file and the already positive reactions from the student board. Jimmy Hendry Nzally, co-founder of ASCOM, took part in the Latin American student community meetings to help them start the new organisation, and expects a positive outcome in the recognition of LASCOM. He told me that LASCOM is just the latest of a series of international organisations which have been founded at the VUB: “There’s LASCOM, ASCOM, and the active Chinese organisation at the VUB. You can see that students are actively helping international colleagues to integrate. There’s a connection between the student and the administration, but also between student and organisation. LASCOM is still on schedule – if they can proceed at this pace the organisation could receive official acknowledgement before the end of this semester. Although it is crucial they keep focussing on their ultimate goal.”

Members from LASCOM
© Kilian Adriaenssens
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