As most conference-goers know, our suitcases are generally much heavier when we travel home even if we had originally arrived at our destinations with gifts for friends and colleagues which we distributed while we were there. But somehow a number of books, magazines, brochures, business cards, souvenirs, etc. seem to gather, causing us to have to squash in our clothes and tug at zippers or sit on our suitcases to get them closed. But that is certainly not all we bring home with us.
As I am on sabbatical this semester from the university, I was able to go to conferences that I normally can’t attend. The first conference of 2015 was IATEFL Slovenia, http://www.iatefl.si/en/ which I have been to before; the big advantage this time, however, was that I could stay for the whole event. As usual, I found it to be an inspiring conference with an incredibly enthusiastic group of teachers and student helpers and a first-time experience of a plenary in the pool and a fantastic networking event in which delegates brought food from their home countries. With a wide range of nationalities represented at the conference, we had our pick and could sample food from around the globe. What I especially brought home from this conference, however, was the knowledge of a network of Teaching Associations (TAs) which partner with each other to send representatives to each others’ conferences. It was wonderful getting to know teachers not only from Slovenia but also from Croatia, the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Hungary, Poland and Greece.
Speaking of Greece, the next stop on the conference tour was Athens where I delighted to have the chance to experience the TESOL Greece convention. http://tesolgreece.org/ It was a superbly organized event and the range of speakers and topics was impressive. The fantastic hospitality that I have always encountered in Greece was out in full force as the speakers were welcomed with a private tour of the Acropolis Museum and dinner on the night before it all began and an evening party for all attendees on Saturday evening. It was really a treat to have the chance to meet people I had only known through Facebook. There were some great ideas that I took home from this conference including a new way to hold a raffle and a moderated discussion among the plenary speakers which I thought was brilliant. One lasting impression was the wonderful performance on the NO Project which is an award-winning global anti-slavery educational campaign that specifically targets youth awareness of human trafficking through music, art, dance, theatre, film, animation, sport, creative writing, journalism and social media. http://www.thenoproject.org/english/
Then it was off to Thessaloniki to the TESOL Macedonia-Thrace Northern Greece Convention. http://www.tesolmacedoniathrace.org/ The warmth we were met with here was incredible. The event also ran smoothly, my Facebook friends were a major part of the conference and I felt totally at home. This conference flew by quickly and afforded my first chance to try a Pecha Kucha which turned out to be less scary than I had envisioned. As my plenary at the conference dealt with the topic of getting unstuck and trying something new, I was happy for the chance to practice what I preach and the knowledge that I was able to take on this new challenge came come with me along with a slew of new friendships and ideas on teaching and learning.
What can I say about the Annual IATEFL Conference? http://www.iatefl.org/ This year in Manchester was of course very special for me as I was voted in at the AGM as the IATEFL President. As I spent most of it in meetings, I didn’t get to many presentations but was glad to have the chance to see friends and colleagues and to catch up over coffee or dinner. Again, meeting people for the first time who were Facebook friends made this a very special event. It was great to see the increased support, however, for initiatives like The Fair List http://thefairlist.org/ and the Disabled Access Friendly Campaign http://www.disabled-accessfriendly.com/as well as the wide range of plenary speakers who covered topics I had little experience with. What I took home from Manchester was the feeling that IATEFL is like a family – many people commented on how welcoming they felt the conference was and this is something I hope we can continue to build on in years to come.
A conference I had long heard about was the BELTA Day and this spring I was really glad to be able to go. http://www.beltabelgium.com/ Again, meeting online friends in person is a real treat and at this conference I was even able to reconnect with a teacher whose class I had visited over ten years ago when I was in Brugges on an Erasmus mobility exchange program. What I took home from Brussels, were new ideas from the talks and a wonderful swap shop at the end of the conference.
This past weekend was the last conference of the summer semester 2015 and afforded several new experiences. For one thing, it was in Budapest, a city I had last visited in 1975, so forty years ago. I was delighted to see parts of the city I had never seen before such as the castle district. It was also the first joint IATEFL BESIG http://www.besig.org/- IATEFL Hungary http://www.iatefl.hu/ conference and seeing how an IATEFL SIG (Special Interest Group) and a TA (Teaching Association) can work together on an event was a valuable experience. Presenters came from all far and wide including Hong Kong and Australia as well as neighboring counties in Europe. As the conference was on ESP (English for Specific Purposes) in Business English, I got to attend presentations on topics I usually do not deal with in my every day routines. Having the chance to extend my knowledge was valuable and I once again realized that it is simply not possible to stop learning. The speed networking held at the end of the conference was something I had never seen and is one of the ideas that is on its way home with me as well as the sheer joy of having time to sit and chat with other ELT professionals over a meal or a drink.
In conclusion, I think that we as ELT professionals are lucky that there are so many opportunities to attend conferences to share knowledge, meet up with colleagues, make connections and feel part of a wider community of support and friendship as well as experiencing different cities and cultures. I am very much looking forward to the next conference and hope to find new things to put into my suitcase.