“Hè hè”! Impressions from my first SIETAR Europa Congress

“Hè hè” is a hearty Dutch expression of satisfaction after a job well done or a hard day. It was explained to us by Aminata Cairo during her passionate keynote speech at the SIETAR Europa Congress and it perfectly sums up my current state. Now is the time to pause, put up our swollen congress feet, reflect on our take-aways and enjoy the feeling of “post-congress satisfaction”, before we all take up our busy lives again.

The SIETAR Europa Congress was carried out in Leuven, Begium from 27 May to 2 June 2019 and since it was my first, I would like to share my impressions:

 

Let’s play!

Attending the pre-conference workshop “Gamification” by the well-known George Simons and his wonderfully talented and diverse team was the best way to start my SIETAR Congress experience. Although the group was quite big, we were interacting together for two days and were able to establish valuable new connections in a relaxed, playful way.

I am taking away so many games and inspiration to create new games, that I could never try them all in a lifetime! Just to name a few examples: We played the “Cross-cultural poker face” card game created by Maria Todosiychuk, became quite competitive playing against each other in an intercultural online game developed by Leopold Reif, consultant for SNTL Publishing, and gained some very interesting insights how the diversophy® Migrant Challenges game has been adapted to different countries and how it has made a very positive impact in the communities.

I was hoping for a little more input on online games or an outlook on how virtual reality could be integrated in a blended learning process. When I think of my sons and their way of interacting and learning in the virtual world, I know that this will play a major role in the future. It seems that there is still plenty of room for developing new online games which motivated me to keep developing the game I currently have in mind.

 

Lifelong learning

Participating in the SIETAR Congress has proven to be a very valuable element in my lifelong learning journey. Even though I had gone through the program weeks before the congress and done my homework, I had trouble deciding where to go first. The wide variety of congress tracks, topics, speakers, facilitators and formats was overwhelming.

You could choose from different tracks: Business & Organizational Challenges, Socio-political Concerns, Migration, Education and Intercultural Professions, Academic Track and the Film Festival. The different kinds of formats kept the sessions interesting and varied: There were keynote speeches, workshops, TED style talks, panel discussions, paper discussions, poster sessions, open space and campfire sessions.

I tried to take the stress out and let myself float through the congress and be open for spontaneous decisions as well. In total, I am very satisfied with the choices I made and have 20 pages of notes with take-aways, follow-ups, inspiration, tipps, links, quotes and insights which will keep me busy for quite a while!

 

Connecting with the SIETAR tribe

Piece of cake! According to the Whova app, which by the way was a great tool to organize and connect before, during and after the congress, we were a total of 556 attendees! This number is a bit high because some of the facilitators were featured twice, so I would estimate a little over 400 participants.

I started off knowing around 10 people personally and now it feels like I have networked with around a 100 more! The SIETAR tribe is wonderfully open, diverse, inclusive, curious and tolerant, which made it easy to network and meet new people. They truly practice what they preach!

I met so many amazing and kind people who shared their stories and projects. Standing in line for dinner I chatted with a professor from the Sorbonne about the shared Third Culture Kid experience. I explained the Syrian finger food at the welcome reception to a team of Japanese professors working on an intercultural program for the olympic games in Tokyo. I had coffee with a business coach specialized in equicoaching (combining coaching and horses). I was humbled by the courage of Aminata Cairo who shared her story of speaking up against racism. I was speechless when someone shared their travel and ayahuasca experiences. I was inspired by the opening speech of the Mayor of Leuven, Mohamed Ridouani, the first Belgian mayor ever with a migrant background. And so many more.

It was also an honor to meet some of the famous names in the intercultural field and learn from their wisdom in a campfire session: Marie Therese Claes, Milton J. Bennett, Richard D. Lewis, George Simons.

SIETAR is made up of dedicated researchers, brilliant minds, authors, business specialists, idealists, social workers, political influencers, third culture kids, lifelong learners and people from all continents, not only Europe. We worked, sang, laughed, cried, ate, drank and danced together. Everyone contributed with their unique personality and field of expertise, all united by their passion for interculturalism.

It would all not have been possible without the selfless dedication of all the SIETAR volunteers who spent countless hours organizing the event. A huge thank you to all of them! And thank you to everyone I met who has been so kind and welcoming to the SIETAR tribe.

 

Where are we going?

My hope for the future is that SIETAR will grow to have a deeper and broader impact on ecucation and politics to pave the way for more tolerant and peaceful societies than we have at the moment. The world is more interconnected than ever and we need to include the experience and knowledge of interculturalists to tackle the great sociopolitical challenges of today.

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