Don’t be nervous! Essential EAIE Conference insights for newcomers

Don’t be nervous! Essential EAIE Conference insights for newcomers

“Hoooola Mariiiiiia, Como estaaaas?” shrieked the tall blond in Spanish with an English accent. “I am fine, an ju?” replied Maria in her English with a hint of Spanish. Nearby someone in an Indian sari shouted “Wie gehts, Johannes?” and someone from across the street replied: “Ciao, Carolina” as she ran across and planted three Dutch kisses on her friend’s cheeks. A well dressed gentleman bowed with a “Konichi Wa” as he handed his business card, and a Frenchman responded with bow and “Bien! Merci beaucoup”.

A cacophony of laughter and expressions of ‘I missed you!’ from long-separated friends and colleagues in several dozen languages from across the planet greet you as you step into the conference centre. Hugs and kisses, two, three or four (depending on the country you are from) and squeals of delight follow as people are reconnected. You get pushed aside and around (and you might think how rude), and without an apology, people zero in on their favourite friends. And all of a sudden you feel: “Oh my! Everyone knows everyone, but I don’t know anyone!”

Welcome to the EAIE Conference! This annual pilgrimage for over 5000 people from over 90 countries to the largest international education gathering in Europe has grown over the last 25 years to become what it is today, a conference of epic proportions.

Insights from an EAIE veteran

I attended my first conference some twenty-plus years ago, in Montpellier, France. It was a rather small affair. Several hundred folks had come together to discuss and lay the framework of what would go on to be the conference that we see today. I was, like many of you, new: new to my job, to the profession, to the group, to the conference, and just about everything. But by the end of the conference I had developed relationships and friendships with people whom I still hold dear. Many have since retired and moved on, but that welcoming feeling has never gone away. And twenty-plus years later I still return ‘new’ to everything to relive the moments.

As you are initiated into the workings of the conference you will have a sense of being overwhelmed. Do not worry, this is only natural! Something new like this can be overwhelming. After all, it is not everyday, you have the opportunity to meet 5000 people in one day! But then look at it this way: they are all there to welcome you with open arms.

A welcoming atmosphere

And that is what is great about the conference. People are here to help and answer your questions. Every single one here has had (or is having) the same experience as you right now. People will introduce you to their own friends and networks. You will get invitations from people you have never met, and pieces of advice from unexpected sources. The EAIE Office and Leadership will always be accessible to you and ready to guide you to wherever you need to go in case you should need it. The one thing you should never hesitate to do is ask. For this is a very friendly group of people from all parts of the world who believe in and are passionate about international higher education just like you. And each one has a different story to tell as to how it all began. The one thing we all share is a common goal.

Networking opportunities galore

From the Newcomers’ session (1.02) and the Newcomers’ Welcome Reception, to the Expert Community sessions, the Opening Plenary and Opening Reception, you will soon be stepping into the throes of the conference. There are more than 170 sessions (all free!) to choose from and countless opportunities to meet new and exciting people just like you. The wonderful lunches, the various tea and coffee breaks and the numerous receptions in the evenings will allow you to network with several groups of people and come away with dozens upon dozens of business cards everyday. There will be debates and dialogues, roundtable discussions and poster sessions, multiple avenues for you to stay informed with what is going on in international higher education in various parts of the world. And then there is the Exhibition, a marketplace of countries and education systems, of universities and international higher education related enterprises, all eager to talk, share, educate and work with you. You will be like a kid in a candy store!

At the end of it all is the pièce de résistance: the EAIE Dinner and Dance, an evening of merry making and hanging out with all your new-found friends. And like all good things, it all comes to an end with the Closing Plenary and Closing Reception.

When the conference ends you will probably shed a tear, and realise that you too are giving two, three, or four kisses, and tight hugs and saying ‘adieu, adios, sayonara, dasvidanya, or just the classic ‘byyyyyye!’ And then it will suddenly dawn on you, that you have arrived! You are now part of the EAIE Conference, the EAIE family, and you have been able to make a difference to this mosaic that is the Annual EAIE Conference. And it will make you think back to that first day as you wonder and smile within and say: “Why was I so nervous? How silly of me!” And that smile will turn into a silly laugh as you begin your walk to the hotel to pick up your bags to head home. For you have just realised that you are ready and excited to get involved with this awesome organisation. And you start looking for the dates of the next conference and where it is going to be held (Glasgow, UK, 15-19 September!).

By Duleep Deosthale, Admission Table, USA