It is the middle of a teaching term. My work as Associate Dean is plentiful. Scholarship season is upon us. Graduate student recruitment is upon us. And at the Faculty we are working on new programming, strategic enrolment planning, and student experiential learning opportunities. Blah diddy blah. It is mid-October and busy!
Nevertheless, I took six days out of the term to attend a conference in Europe. Where, you ask? In Zagreb. Why, you ask? Because it was a Canadian studies conference sponsored by the Central European Association for Canadian Studies, and I like to support the study of Canada by scholars working overseas. But mainly I went because the conference was organized by my dear friend and colleague V. When Arlequino and I were in Zagreb while on sabbatical this past spring, I told V that I could not travel all this way for a conference in mid-October. Nevertheless, I did.
And I am SO. VERY. GLAD. I. DID.
V organized this conference almost single-handedly and she did a brilliant job. I am not the only one who applauded her efforts. The topic was “Beyond the 49th Parallel: Canada and the North.” It attracted scholars from various disciplines (History, Literature, Sociology, Languages, Geology, etc.) and from at least 10 different countries, maybe more. There were Canadians there—quite a few of us—and the papers were generally (and much more than usually) rich and provocative.
Here is how you can tell when a conference is good.
People commit to it. There were about a hundred delegates and three keynote speakers. People came out to sessions and speeches and readings. People stayed at the university and participated. Okay, it was raining, so perhaps the wet weather kept people inside, but usually at a conference in a big, interesting city academics will skip out of sessions to do other things. I have been guilty of that myself—many times. But at this conference the sessions were full, even the early morning and late afternoon/early evening ones. Everyone attended the opening ceremonies. Everyone ALSO attended the closing ceremonies and the conference dinner. People were just there, having a good time. Catching up with old friends, making new ones, continuing conversations that had started in sessions.
The keynote speakers did not disappear either. They attended sessions. They chaired sessions. They talked to young scholars. I was proud of my Canadian colleagues on that score. The only other conference where that routinely happens is at the IABA conferences: life writing scholars are really, really nice people who care about mentoring the next generation. I felt that here too.
Presenters stuck to the 20-minute time limit. Wow! That’s a biggie. People hate it when presenters drone on and take up too much time. Here I heard excellent papers, efficiently delivered, often even talked rather than read. And there was PLENTY of time for discussion.
The food was excellent. I remember many years ago when I was part of a team organizing a conference and we noted that people talk about two things after the fact—did people go over time and how good or bad was the food. We academics care about our stomachs, but it also takes energy to spend a whole day listening, concentrating, talking, thinking. Paying attention. We need fuel. Coffee is crucial too, and it was good.
Oh, and I got to have dinner with the Canadian Ambassador to Croatia too.
Attending conferences in beautiful locations is one of the perks of our jobs as professors. But to be able to travel back to one of my favourite places in the world and to talk seriously with colleagues both Canadian and European was a special treat. More projects will follow from this conference. Research networks spreading across the oceans. Plans for collaboration are afoot.