The SEFI conference was one of the most fun conferences I’ve ever attended. They claim to be a family and it certainly felt that way. This was my first conference with engineers. I suspect this special feeling of belonging may be specific to the European Society of Engineering Educators (SEFI). It also helped in making me feel welcome that the whole Irish delegation claimed me as their own!
The Irish group included the Dean of our college at the DIT (Mike Murphy), a recent PhD who teaches at the institute of technology at Tallah (Eileen Goold), a lecturer from Trinity College (Kevin Kelley), and a scholar (Bill Williams) who has been working in Portugal for 18 years but hails from Cork (in Southern Ireland, near where my great grandmother set sail for Ellis Island). Also at the conference were Gavin Duffy and myself.
Part of the reason I had so much fun at SEFI was that I knew a lot of people — or got to know them quickly. That’s because the Irish friendliness is contagious. I couldn’t be the wall-flower I am at most conferences. Moreover, our Dean is really a great leader. He knows everyone and he also know show to make people feel welcome. The last night, after the conference dinner at the Hyatt, we all went for a beer in a quaint part of town. A contingent of Finnish students came along with us.We sat outside in a gorgeous little plaza. When I say that Mike is a great leader, this evening provides an illustration. Mike wanted to sing Irish pub songs and he managed to convince us all to sing despite our initial reluctance.
The Finns shared their songs and we found a few tunes everyone knew (What Can You Do With a Drunken Sailor and the ever-popular Bring Me Home Country Roadwhich is of course, about West Virginia, the state one half hour’s drive from my hometown).
We sang until the pub closed at 2 PM. I’m quite sure the neighboring residents were glad to hear The singing stop. On this particular evening, few of us could carry a tune. This level of zest is something I would never have endorsed in an American group… but when with the Irish, do as the Irish do!
At SEFI, I met a load (as the Irish would say) of interesting folks. I even spent an entire lunch hour talking one-on-one with the current president of SEFI, Prof. Dr. Wim Van Petegem. What an honor!
Perhaps I’ll be able to coordinate visits to universities in Belgium, Portugal, and Spain where I’ve made new connections. All of them have Fulbright offices that may be able to help.