Yes, I can say going to an EFL conference changed my course of events. When I first went to one of such encounters I didn’t really grasp their magnitude. To me, it was an opportunity to listen to those people who wrote the books I used and check how different from the cover photograph they looked. Also, I made friends, had a break from home, had a few drinks – why not – learned a thing or two and came home with a few ideas to share with the colleagues who’d decided to stay home.
Over the years my perception of EFL encounters has changed dramatically. Well, I admit I still have the occasional drink, make friends and have a chance to see again the friends I’ve made along the way. However, I can hardly wait to put my little hands on the conference programme and search for my favourite lecturers or a novelty speaker bringing up a spicy topic. Conferences offer the EFL/ESL professional a wealth of windows of growth, but the choice to open them is totally yours. Going to a congress does not mean immediate development. Your attitude towards it will determine how much you will learn; your contributions are equally important, because being in the audience is almost as important as being on stage. A wise question asked to a savvy lecturer makes a seemingly innocent talk become a beam of light.
I have attended quite a few conferences so far, and each time get as eager as if it was my first.
Learning is forever magical, and learning about something you love is super duper. You see common people who eat and pray and cry and laugh and just live like you become superstars on the stage and reveal their secrets of the trade to you as if they were the crown jewels. And you love it all. You watch people speak about the latest trends, about what used to be ‘in’ and now is tops again, about what is in the pipeline. You watch a nobody become somebody after an awesome talk. The cherry on the cake is to get to see – and hug perhaps – those ethereal creatures whose faces you recognize from your study books… they become flesh and bone right before your eyes. Such a revelation! You’ve shared so many moments of your life with them over a book … and know you see them face to face. Wow!
This year I had my IATEFL debut. What is that? Over 2.500 EFL professionals under the same roof discussing the magic of learning and teaching. It’s contagious, poetical, romantic, totally inspiring. Noone can be impervious to that atmosphere of sharing. Once you’re there, your life changes. You are not the same again. My head was still spinning when I returned home. I had so much to talk about, to share, to offer to colleagues, to advise, to ask and to answer, to take in. So much I wanted to do. And see. And teach. And learn. And grow.
Despite being an experienced EFL teacher, I’d never been a presenter before, don’t ask me why. Probably sheer laziness. I was a first-timer at LABCI Paraguay, last July. Now I’ve discovered a whole new world! The feedback and the experience change once again and give way to yet a new vision: sharing what you know at a conference is the ultimate learning experience. The adrenalin, the anticipation and the thrill of “being on stage” fuel you up and it all feels extremely gratifying in the end.
I am totally in favour of going to EFL/ESL events. It’s addictive in a healthy way, because once you go to one it’s unstoppable – you just can’t get enough. What amazes me is that not everyone can see all the potential contained in themselves. A handful of people I’ve worked with would be great lecturers, but they seem to sabotage themselves and get convinced they have other fish to fry. Why not, I ask? We all can teach something to someone. You don’t have to be a gifted speaker to be a good lecturer.
What I can say is that now I’m a different person. I enjoy conferences like a child at Christmas. And I guess my enthusiasm has spread somehow, because since I’ve started to feel that way some colleagues have started to look at EFL events with different eyes and more friends have gone to great lengths to attend ABCIs and LABCIs. One way or another, there’s much more to us EFL/ESL professionals at conferences than simply meeting friends – we become better educators, we develop, we stimulate our brains and our hearts to work towards growth.
By the way, when’s the next event?