It was a busy week, one that sparked so many thoughts that my sleep has been limited if not absent. The start of the National Child and Youth care conference was brilliant. A local member of the legislative assembly (MLA) provided opening remarks that were less than traditional. As he began to speak to a room full of new and experienced child and youth care workers, he started by saying that giving a speech was hard for him. A few stunned looks, he’s an MLA after all and public speaking should be a comfort area, he captured most if not all hearts in the room by sharing his story of being left at a mall with his siblings at the young age of five and growing up as a youth in care. Ending with acknowledging the work of child and youth workers and openly stating his love for child and youth practitioners was inspiring, motivating, validating and rewarding. We needed nothing more.
Unfortunately his wonderful speech was followed by a motivational speaker who lacked an understanding of who and what child and youth care workers are and do. Thirty seconds into her keynote my supervisor and I glanced at each other with frustration. Another thirty seconds later she asked us to put our thumbs in the air, this marked my departure from the room. I’ve learned that attending conferences is an art. Selectively picking which sessions to attend, when to engage in self-care, and ensuring you leave plenty of time to network is a balance that yields to a great conference. So instead of listening to a keynote that disinterested me, I ventured on a history walk through downtown Halifax with my supervisor.
History is a new subject in my life but one that seems to be coming at me rapidly. Learning about the pier in which individuals landed on when immigrating to Canada, about the scandalous transference of goods between Halifax and Boston, about the history of Canada’s war brides, the Aboriginal displacement on the East Coast, and about the 1917 boat explosion that destroyed much of Halifax was more capturing then giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to something (I did not stay long enough to understand the activity of the keynote but later learnt I did not miss anything). Our stroll through downtown was followed by a session at the conference I will hold onto for a long time. A fellow instructor at the University of Victoria, who I had yet to meet, talked about “solution creators”. The idea struck a chord with me. The concept that we constantly are creating solutions to live resonanented with my personality and professional practice. When we need help, or have a “problem”, it is because our solutions are no longer working for us, thus it is time to get creative and find new solutions. There is much more to say but that is the gist.
My afternoon was more then expected. After a check in with my supervisor to ensure we were ready to go for our presentation on the following day, I went for a walk along the harbour to process my morning learnings, get some alone time in, and get some “fresh” air. The air was less then fresh with the fumes of industry at the edge of Halifax’s harbour but it was better then stagnant hotel air, in my opinion. While on what I intended to be a thirty minute walk so I could return and catch the Grant MacEwan students presentation, I found myself detouring. Turning left at the end of the boardwalk I could see Citadel Hill, one of Canada’s National Historic Sites, a place many mentioned and something I wanted to visit. The walk did not look too far so I ventured up the steep slope that crafts downtown Halifax, climbed some stairs, passed a watch tower, and made my way into Fort George, a star shaped fort that was once a guardhouse.
As I walked around Fort George my mind wandered to the regime each of the soldiers (re-enactment actors) adhered too. It just so happened that while I was there some were training to launch a canon and others learning to march. I thought about the rigid lifestyle, the strict expectations, and the multitude of rules these youth and young adults follow and what the difference between such a community is from a religious community. Clearly my walk did not take the nerd out of me nor did it leave my mind cleansed and processed. I returned to the hotel with more thoughts the clarity yet excited for what was to come.
The next day was presentation day. Dressed in my conference best, blazer and all, I headed down to the keynote address ready to tackle the day. The keynote was done by a local Vancouver Island scholar who spoke about travel journeys, the challenges Aboriginal children and youth face, and the programs implemented at her institution to support the Aboriginal community. It was a little scattered and my attention faltered but if I did not know the history of which she spoke about, I think I would have been more engaged. I cannot remember what my morning after the keynote looked like but the afternoon was filled with a lively discussion I was thrilled to co-lead.
Walking into the presentation room with my supervisor was exciting. We have done a fair bit of work together but never presented simultaneously. It was a first and I wanted it to be a memory I could forever hold onto to. It did not take long for this to come true. As individuals introduced themselves to the group, one individual mentioned that our session was her primary reason for attending the conference. I was floored, stunned, and honoured to share space with my supervisor. Our session was full of rich dialogue, great struggles, and an openness to the conversation of religion and spirituality in child and youth care practice I was simply not expecting. I was prepared to have a back and forth conversation with my supervisor in front of a crowd to witness. More came out of the conversation then I can write about here but I can tell you I was exhausted by the end and needed nearly four hours to write and process everything that occurred in the three hour session. It was just the motivation I needed to return to my own research and studies.
Finally the last day of the conference arrived. The keynote was somewhat limited, shed light on a lot of negatives in the field, and had I been a first or second year child and youth care undergraduate student I may have thought about changing fields of study and practice. But, it did stir some great conversations and got people talking. I went to a final session on Cultural Humility after the keynote and I could not turn my brain off. Language and scholars I have been searching for were now right in front of me and being spoken by an individual I was able to connect with, meaning I have fairly easy access to this information now. I also had a new book to add to my wish list! You’ll have to read my dissertation to learn more about my learnings (hopefully coming to you in 2017).
I was excited, ready to catch a plane, start up my computer, and begin writing! But I had one day left and a few things I still wanted to see. That afternoon my supervisor and the presenter of the last session, a new friend, and I went for a walk through town. We strolled the streets, ventured through Dalhousie University, and made our way back to the hotel with just enough time to take a nap before we headed out for dinner.
I had not laughed so much all week nor found a place to make academic jokes with others in a long time. It was refreshing. A few beer flights later, my time in Halifax was coming to an end and I was back in my hotel room packing my bag and preparing for a days worth of travelling to return to the West Coast. I left with an appreciation for the East Coast and a conference under my belt!