SIETAR Europa held its biannual congress May 27th to June 2nd in the historic city of Leuven, Belgium. I attended this well-organized event and saw many similarities and some differences between the conferences of our two organizations. Their theme this year—somewhat similar to the SIETAR USA theme—addressed diversity and inclusion: Building Dialogs on Diversity—Towards a Future of Hope. Joyce Jenkins, President prior to the congress wrote in their program: “This theme is timely, given the problems and polarisations we see around the world today. It is also dear to the hearts of those involved in intercultural education, training and research, who approach diversity in a spirit of positivity. The congress continues our endeavor to promote and design dialogues which help us explore differences and derive lessons from them, building common ground towards a future of hope.”
Some similarities and differences between the two conference structures: SIETAR Europa had 5 tracks, SIETAR USA also uses a track system as a way to recruit and group similar sessions. Their tracks were Business and Organizational Challenges; Socio-political Concerns; Migration: Education and Intercultural Professions; and a 5th Academic Research track. They have 3 days of pre-congress workshops and post congress workshops as well whereas SIETAR USA has just one day of Master Workshops. The SIETAR EU schedule resembles the one SIETAR USA uses but we offer sessions of 60, 75 and 90 minutes. The structure of their program is all 90-minute presentations (except for the TED-style talks which were 30-minute sessions grouped into sets of 3 presentations plus discussion). They begin each day with two keynote addresses and go to the end of the day on Saturday (we usually end early so Saturday is a half day for us).
One significant difference was that SIETAR Europa has had a Film Festival since their conference in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2007. They screen documentaries which have the added value in reaching people in a different more emotional way. According to their program: “Documentaries can be very useful as teaching and learning tools in education. During this congress, SIETAR, again, offers opportunities on how to use films or film fragments for intercultural, virtual teaching, training and coaching.” Each film was followed by discussion of the content and each track was represented by two documentaries. I went to 3 of them and was most impressed with their selection. I was most moved by a film called “Nice People” that dealt with a small town in the backlands of Sweden that was attempting to accommodate 3,000 Somalis. A local journalist had the idea of letting sport unite the people so men who had never known temperatures below freezing or ice skating, were taught Bandy ice hockey. The film follows the intense, heartbreaking, comical struggle to get the team (the first national Bandy Ice Hockey Team of Somalia) ready for the championship tournament in Siberia. I have to admit to both laughing and crying.
The venue for the congress was Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven campus located at the edge of town and reached by bus. Participants stayed in hotels and B&Bs all over town. Some of us bought our lunches on the way to the bus since you could register and pay for a box lunch but we didn’t all choose that option. By having our USA conferences in hotels, lunch is provided as part of registration. Probably the biggest overall difference between the two conferences is the venue.
Whova played an important role in creating a sense of community. We will have Whova available at the SIETAR USA conference too. We will let you know when you can sign up for Whova. It’s fun and informative.
A culminating event was the gala banquet on Friday evening. The new President of SIETAR Europa was “crowned” and she is an American Expat currently living in Ireland: Tamara Cherie Thorpe. Tamara was the head of the SIETAR USA scholarship committee for many years and has served in other governance capacities. She is also our June webinar speaker.I know it is difficult to get a picture of an event that you didn’t attend. I hope it is interesting for you to see that we share some ways of organizing our conferences as well as some differences. The bottom line is that the people make the conference. I was so proud of the large number of American participants and especially the American presenters. They were the best! But I must say that the Europeans (and international presenters) did a fine job as well.
According to current plans, SIETAR USA will get on an every other year schedule such that the year that SIETAR Europa has its congress, we will not have a conference in the United States. To do that, SIETAR USA will hold a conference next year (2020 which is our 20th anniversary) and then not again until 2022. That makes it quite possible to attend the conference in Europe one year and in the United States the following year. I hope that brings many more Europeans to our conferences and vice versa—many more Americans attending their congresses. European and American collaboration has long been a hallmark of SIETAR. I look forward to a close relationship between SIETAR Europa and SIETAR USA in the coming years.
Sandra M. Fowler
President, SIETAR USA