by Beth Goad, Assistant Director – Rondileau Campus Center
I had the opportunity to be part of the Irish Institute 2011 during the last week of May thanks to receiving the 2010 Donnchadh O’hAodha International Scholarship for Professional Development from Association of College Union’s International (ACUI) Region 1. The group I traveled with was comprised of eleven Americans; we visited six institutions and attended the Association of Student Union Administrator’s (ASUA) Conference in Galway for two days. Additionally, we got to see several of the nation’s landmarks including the Cliffs of Moher.
While in Ireland, I noticed a number of cultural differences, most of which were apparent during the ASUA Conference. The Irish were very accommodating and welcoming, allowing plenty of time for to mingle with colleagues, although it was never forced. Our meals were served in a small banquet room attached to building known as the College Bar. In fact, their Twitter handle is @CollegeBar. The space is used primarily for campus related events. The Students’ Union building is about a five minute walk from The College Bar.
The conference program was more laid back than any conference I had attended as a student affairs professional. There was no formal welcome, where someone stood behind a microphone to introduce the conference or speakers. We simply ate lunch and then found our way to the first education session of the afternoon. It was held in a meeting room, where almost all of the education sessions were. During dinner on the first night, there were no announcements made, but there was a live Irish band complete with an Irish hand drum, fiddle and singer. The only time a formal announcement was made was during the closing banquet when a keynote speaker, Michael D. Higgins, was introduced. He was quite impressive and serves as the President of the Irish Labour Party; he spoke about his experience while he was student and the importance of education.
This was quite different from anything I had attended previously, giving me a new appreciation for announcements and allowing people to find their own way. While there were signs directing the conference attendees to the meeting rooms for educational sessions, we were left to actually get to the room on our own. I felt free to wander and explore the campus during breaks, yet comfortable asking for directions since I was still able to communicate in English. I also found it freeing to be able to enjoy my meal and converse with the people I was seated with, rather than have to listen to a speaker or read a number of slides giving announcements. Since I my cell phone could not receive calls or emails (due to being out of the country), I felt an extra sense of freedom. With such minimal distractions, I could simply be present. I was grateful to engage with colleagues and hear about their work on their campuses.
I was most surprised at the pace of the conference and the fact that I did not feel like I had to be in multiple places at once. In talking with Irish colleagues, they mentioned wearing multiple hats and having varied responsibilities, but I did not get the feeling they were pulled in as many directions as their American counterparts. Having spent a week in Ireland, I believe it comes from the culture. They are much more relaxed about scheduling, as I witnessed during the conference and throughout our time in Ireland. I needed the reminder to slow down and focus on being present and hope I can model it, at least partially, at the next conference I attend.