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A scientifically and personally valuable experience at ISER University of Essex

Brief description of the visit

My longstanding credo in life has always been „Omnia mea mecum porto“ (Bias of Priene). Having had my childhood marked by war and years of exile, similar to Bias of Priene, I grew up realising knowledge is all one can truly own. Now, as a Full Professor from the University of Osijek, Croatia, and coming from a regionally specific scientific discipline, Social Pedagogy, I was aware my further professional development needed an additional international research perspective. This was the motive for the COORDINATE Transnational Access Visit application. I wanted to learn more about longitudinal social research data in the UK and collaborate with experienced professionals in the field of social research focusing on children and adolescents. Thankfully, I was awarded the opportunity for new experiences at the International Social and Economic Research Institute (ISER) at the University of Essex in Colchester for 10 days during late September and early October 2023.

The project’s topic

During my research visit, I worked on a project design aiming to investigate and compare the importance of leisure in the onset of antisocial child and adolescent developmental trajectories. I had a special interest in comparing longitudinal study designs and results in the UK with more traditional continental research approaches, especially Croatian experiences. My aim was to investigate previous studies on the relevance of structured and non-structured leisure activities in child and adolescent development between the UK and Croatia, using the UK Data Service database and results from projects such as Active Lives (AL), Time Use Survey (TUS) and Taking Part: The National Survey of Culture, Leisure and Sport- Adult and Child Data. So, during the 10 days, I focused on UK study results, working with sets from the Active Lives and Taking Part databases. Both are very comprehensive datasets that include information on children's personal characteristics, educational achievements, well-being, and family or other social-related factors.

Because both studies contained a large number of important factors, they provided a great opportunity to examine the relationship between structured and non-structured leisure activities with prosocial behaviour from a comparative perspective. Moreover, by collecting similar variables and information on children and adolescents from different birth cohorts, such longitudinal analysis provided for excellent comparative insights on the subtle changes in leisure activities and interests over time. Consequently, the research visit was aimed at collecting as much information and relevant databases possible, so as to help develop strategies in applying similar methodological approaches with the Croatian sample. I had great help in gaining access to some special requirements datasets from ISER staff, especially Dr Cara Booker, who was a wonderful host and offered creative and organisational insight. Our daily meetings and correspondence enhanced our academic collaboration and engagement in further academic activities, such as international visits, guest lectures and potential project cooperation.

Throughout the visit, my host Dr Cara Booker and one of the research assistants at ISER, Kristijan Garic, provided many opportunities for research-related discussions and exchanges on the data. In addition to the opportunity of working with the data and great guidance from Dr Booker in getting started, my TAV research exchange also allowed me to interact with other researchers at ISER. I appreciated Prof Peter Lynn’s guidance during the department meetings and Prof Annette Jäckle's suggestions and comments on the questionnaire design to measure changes in longitudinal surveys. I also greatly valued the inspiring conversation with Dr Cara Booker about her insights into the British research approaches to leisure, her knowledge of changes in British and American society, and the challenges of scientific research in this field. It was a nice learning opportunity to present the work in progress and share ideas in our daily department meetings during fruitful discussions about the project with several members at ISER. In addition to these formal meetings and discussions about my research and the projects of the members of the ISER department, I was also able to interact with ISER colleagues in more informal settings. Our visit to the Three Wise Monkeys, a wonderful and vibrant Colchester pub, offered several opportunities to get to know the colleagues a bit more privately and share thoughts on the differences in our research cultures.

Sightseeing in Colchester

Colchester is at the same time the oldest and youngest city in England, having achieved this status only recently by Decree of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It is a place shaped by the influence of ancient Roman culture, proud English tradition and a modern variety of different nations inhabiting its walls. It offers soothing British countryside calmness with a touch of historical importance, just outside of east London.Still,theUniversity of Essex brings a vibrant international and academic atmosphere making Colchester an exciting place to live. There are a number of alternative lifestyles, a variety of exotic cuisine and restaurants, with a diverse urban scenery inviting one to explore the local culture and tradition. I did spend my mornings taking a 45-minute walk from the hotel to the campus, which enabled me with a glimpse of everyday English work and leisure activities, thus creating an original case-study research insight in itself. My afternoons were usually spent strolling around its wonderful Castle Park, observing families and locals enjoying the lovely architectural scenery and many outdoor activities, investigating ancient Roman remnants, or discovering the campus grounds which are a sight to behold themselves. In good weather, it is worth walking around the narrow Colchester streets with local artisans, bars, pubs, antique shops and fairs scattered around town. Bookworms and those with a fascination for venerable historic buildings will find plenty to enjoy at the Colchester's High Street with posh shops, fast-food restaurants, libraries and old-fashioned pubs. Those with a keen eye for fancy stuff are sure to find something in Fenwick designer department store or other small luxurious shops on High Street the likes of Rolex. But, the highlights would definitely be those labyrinth-shaped small and narrow streets intertwining around the city-hall, listening to church tower bells chiming and seagulls squawking, while observing local residents going about their day. Pubs are everywhere and restaurants are plentiful with food from all four corners of the world. The nightlife scene is dynamic, too, so expect to see a lot of things happening after hours.

Concluding thoughts

It would be difficult to summarize everything experienced, but I had a wonderful time at ISER and in Colchester. The people were lovely, polite and kind. I learned a lot, exchanged thoughts and ideas with fellow researchers and hopefully commenced what is to be the next chapter of my scientific career. I would recommend a visit to the University of Essex in Colchester. Not only for early career researchers, but even more established ones, a visit will provide access to valuable longitudinal data and the know-how of experienced professionals who are committed to facilitating access to UK research datasets. For seasoned researchers, ISER offers several opportunities for networking with experts from a variety of disciplines and collaboration with individuals from different research fields.

Dr Goran Livazović, Full Professor

Faculty of Humanities and Social Science

University of Osijek, Croatia


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