Thanks to the funding grant provided by the University of Edinburgh’s Principal’s Go Abroad Fund 2018, I was able to attend my first ESREA* conference in Opatija, Croatia. Running in 7th-10th June, the Between Global and Local Network event centred around the theme of Global Perspectives and Local Communities – Bridges or Gaps? Agendas, praxis and research. As an adult educator (ESOL**), support worker, and occasional guest lecturer in Community Education at UWS***, the organisation enabling the conference are of major significance to my professional practice.
Prior to the trip, I ensured I’d be able to convey basic courtesies in Croatian, however, I was still a little concerned over navigating public transport in the less densely populated areas such as Opatija. Generally though, there was little to worry about. I’d sourced a relatively cheap hostel in nearby Rijeka through the usual websites (e.g. HostelBookers), been advised on a local transport app, and for the most part, local people seemed to leave each other be. The future reimbursement of the flight was a little concerning, but managing my budget tightly made the trip feasible.
Reflecting on my ‘conference experience’, even accounting for daily participation in the sessions, it seems that much of the actual networking and cultural exchange occurred during the evening and extra day activities. When the main accommodation in Opatija was the conference host-venue who charged up to hundreds of pounds, the perceived benefits of such events (including more basic aspects such as socialising when travelling alone), still felt largely inaccessible to someone who has never previously had the means to engage in such activities. The buffet lunch was a great opportunity to integrate with others, though I noticed it was far from just myself dining either alone or with one other as the conference circuit regulars generally ate together as friends.
Since returning from Croatia, I’ve already sought to address these issues so that others in a similar situation do not experience the same isolation. When presenting at my second ESREA conference – this time on home-ground in Edinburgh – I attended several of the touristic events alongside those visiting the Scottish capital for the first time. This ensured an opportunity to mix, even with the conference regulars and groups travelling together from the same home university or institute. In addition, I have now created small business cards with my university, Third Sector work, and personal contact details to hand over in exchange when speakers and other guests engage in such networking activities.
Finally, though similar problems of accessibility to expensive areas are set to be faced again this coming October when I travel to Linköping, Sweden, to once again present at an ESREA conference. As between Rijeka and Opatija, I’ll be taking a forty minute bus both to and from the conference (my hostel set to be in Norrköping), however this time my pre-existing basic level of Swedish should offset some of the differences faced in travelling to the country’s seventh largest city.
* European Society for Research on the Education of Adults
** English Speakers of Other Languages
*** University of the West of Scotland