In 2024, 11 Flemish teachers and school directors take part in the European LIFE project. They start a search for the meaning of their personal and professional lives and reflect on important life questions. But how does such a journey effect a person? And does LIFE also have an impact on their job? We asked Leen Langenbick, principal of Torhout Art Academy.

100% passion for the job

Leen: "I am principal at the Art Academy for five years and by now I am starting to know the ropes. I’m now trying to refine my management style now and am constantly looking for new ways to communicate, to keep my team together. But at the same time, I also have to keep an eye on my own energy level, because I want to be able to keep up my job."

"Precisely because I want to monitor that balance, I was so triggered by the LIFE call at the end of 2023. The focus on self-care and self-development immediately appealed to me, as well as the fact that the call was aimed at school employees of different educational levels and ideologies. That mix makes a group all the more interesting. So I was overjoyed when I was selected!"

Help, no wifi!

"The first retreat with the group took place at La ferme du Bois-le-Comte in Orval in Belgium, from Sunday to Tuesday. The beginning of the week is always the busiest period for our Art Academy, so I left the Academy thinking I would get some work done in Orval in between. But on arrival, it turned out there was no wifi. Panic! What about all those tasks that still needed to be done? The stress peaked for a while and so I didn't sleep very well that first night."

"Fortunately, facilitators An and Anniek provided sublime guidance! With their approach and working methods, they immediately excited us with the idea and spirit of the journey."

"We worked with two central questions during that first retreat: 'Who do I feel responsible for?' and 'How do I act?' Two big themes, yet as a group we managed to have very meaningful and enriching conversations around them. Anniek’s rituals helped us too. From the fire ceremony to the symbolic resourcing: the rituals made us get to the essence of the question much faster."

"After the first retreat, we were given reading material: in-depth texts from the Bible or the Koran, but also equally inspiring graphic novels or a text by Belgian author Bart Moeyaert."

Toiling over texts

"After that first retreat, we were given homework: inspirational texts to discuss with another participant. Among them were some graphic novels, and a text by Bart Moeyaert. But equally, we read texts from the Bible and the Koran or works of Confucius. Not an obvious task for me, as not every text is super accessible. Fortunately, Friedel, the participant with whom I formed a duo, is a philosopher by education. She approached the texts in a different way from me and was thus able to shed new, bright light on them."

"Reading and discussing the texts does require a commitment from me - a bit like the weekly running tour I sometimes struggle to start. But once you get into it, the texts help you to rise above your personal story and approach life's questions from a helicopter view. And that is enriching."

"The LIFE project made me realise that you can effectively feel a connection with everyone on your team. As long as you keep communicating."

Energy between people

"During the process, we sometimes have very intense conversations. And that didn't seem obvious to me at first, because the group consists of 11 different personalities. Some of them I would probably not meet in 'real' life, either because of the distance or because at first glance there is no clear link between us. And yet during our journey I have felt a connection with every single one of them, for example because I admire them in something or because they have imparted wisdom to me.

"That is a lesson I want to take back to my job. I manage a team of 70 employees and I find it important to be as neutral as possible with them. But that is not a given, as you click with some people faster than others. The LIFE project made me realise that you can feel a connection with everyone, that you can really set the energy between people in motion. As long as you keep communicating."

Looking forward to the international retreat

"Meanwhile, the second retreat is also behind us. Here we worked around two new questions: 'What do I do when I fail?' and 'What place does suffering have in a good life?'. Because of the positive experiences in the first retreat, I started the second retreat a lot more relaxed. And even though we worked around two relatively heavy topics, I did not experience the weekend itself as heavy. On the contrary: I just felt that - by working around those themes - I was able to shake off some stubborn thoughts. That felt really liberating!"

"It is now several months until the third retreat. Then we will gather in 'de Hoge Rielen' in Belgium together with the participants from Bulgaria, Greece, Iceland and Italy. In the meantime, we do keep in touch with the other participants through a Whatsapp group. There we share news or give each other tips. And in June we plan a hike in 'de Hoge Rielen', to explore the domain in advance. I'm curious!"

Project Number: KA220-SCH-39808481

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.