Silver Linings & Socialising
The last couple weeks had been tough. Dark clouds had been looming. I felt pretty low. My situation was bleak.
Wednesday to Friday of last week for the first time in-person, I attended the annual BAAL conference hosted by the Centre for Advanced Studies in Language and Education at the University of York. As I am currently based in York, this was the silver lining opportunity that allowed me to shrug off the dejection I'd be labouring under. It was the ideal opportunity to mix with colleagues in the British applied linguistics community. It was a wonderful few days of networking and knowledge building, socialising and sharing of ideas, something I have treasured over many years as an IATEFL BESIG member. To feel so quickly at home with a 'new-to-me' group of friendly, open academics was just the re-set I needed. (The conference theme, btw, was "Opening up Applied Linguistics"!)
This led me to thinking about the value of attending conferences. After all, they can be costly and time-consuming; arranging travel and accommodation can be frustrating, and often thwarted by external forces (there was a national train strike the day after BAAL ended, forcing people to race off Friday afternoon instead of leaving at a leisurely pace on Saturday). On balance, for me personally, being involved in and actively participating in events that bring together communities of practice are priceless. Within hours of the day 1 networking activities, I'd forgotten my trials and tribulations at work and was engaged with fellow delegates talking all things language and linguistics related, as well as how to leverage conference connections for one's ongoing professional and personal success.
This is not, sadly, something to be experienced by many people - probably the majority of teachers and researchers in our fields (business English and applied linguistics). I am acutely aware of the privilege I enjoy that enables me to attend conferences. Discrepancies between global North and global South are much under scrutiny - talks at the BAAL conference touched on this also; the opening plenary delivered by the amazing Alison Phipps, aimed to address issues around transparency and delcolonisation in language learning and use. These are huge conundrums that need innovative solutions; I for one feel utterly inadequate and under equipped to step up to make any big changes. But perhaps I can make small, local changes.
I can deepen my knowledge of the issues around fairness and equity in my fields; I can raise awareness of what others are faced with when trying to further their professional skills; I can become mindful of my thoughts, so imbibed with lifelong prejudices born of my privilege and community history; I can develop behaviours and actions of kindness and openness; and I can be gentle with myself when I fail with all or any of these aims.
I can't make it possible for all of those excluded through circumstances from experiencing the benefits and boosts that I have from attending conferences, but if I can facilitate attendance for one or two people through my actions or words, then that's what I shall do.