A recent blog post by Rachel Yates about her fear of attending an Families in Global Transition Conference got me thinking about the first one I went to in 2010. Like Rachel I was daunted by my fellow FIGTers. They all seemed so well qualified and successful and there was I, recently repatriated, unemployed and feeling pretty useless. I’d never attended a professional conference before and had no idea what to expect. So I have every sympathy for Rachel’s nerves and would like to share what I’ve learned since then.
It’s far friendlier than you’d expect. At the last conference, Anne Copeland conducted an informal poll to determine our expatriate and intercultural experiences. Everyone in the room stood up for something and one thing was clear, we all knew what it means to feel you don’t belong. David Pollock described FIGT as the “biggest reunion of strangers” and no matter who I sat next to, striking up a conversation was easy. One tip, if you arrive the night before the conference begins, the early arrivals get together for dinner in the hotel restaurant. Join us, it’s fun and by the time the conference starts you’ll already know a few people.
What the hell are Kitchen Table Conversations? They’re a nod to the genesis of FIGT around the kitchen table of Ruth Van Reken. For two one-hour periods a couple of rooms are set up with large round tables seating 8-12 people. Each one is labelled with a topic and led by a presenter. You pick one, and for 15 minutes listen to a short presentation and discuss the topic. It’s then time to move to another table (and another topic) for the next 15 minutes. Allowing time for all the moving around, you attend 3 Kitchen Table conversations in an hour. They are fast, noisy and not everyone likes them for these reasons, but they’re a great way to get a quick overview of a topic, meet and hear a lot of presenters. For those who’d rather not, there are Kitchen Table Alternatives – 2 one hour sessions – usually something creative and/or hands-on.
Dine-Around happens on the Friday night. This is a free evening, not included in the conference program, but if you don’t know anyone well and don’t want to eat alone, sign up early in the day at the registration area. There will be a selection of restaurants to choose from and at the appointed time each group with gather at the hotel and leave together, often on foot. If the restaurant is willing, we ask for separate checks.
Early Bird Sessions are informal conversations over breakfast. As you come downstairs in search of coffee you’ll see that the breakfast tables are labelled by topic. The food is buffet style, so grab a plate, take a seat and join the discussion. There is no formal presentation, but each table is moderated by a volunteer to ensure everyone stays on topic and gets a chance to speak. There’s no need to stay at one table, so feel free to dip your toes into several conversations if you wish.
By now you’ve probably realized the schedule is VERY intense. I’m usually flagging by the afternoon of the second day and by the end of the conference I’m exhausted. It’s my own fault because I can’t bear to miss anything, but if you’re someone who needs quiet time to reflect, take some time out to be on your own and don’t feel you have to attend everything. Browse the bookstore, take a walk or collapse in your room.
This year, I’m presenting for the first time – just a Kitchen Table conversation – so nothing too scary but already I’ve got butterflies. It’s amazing to realize how far I’ve come in just two years, thanks in large part to support and knowledge I’ve gained by attending this unique conference. And all because I replied to a tweet …