A few weeks ago I received an email invitation to attend an education conference with all expenses paid. This is done to get the conferences noticed in the education community. It is an expense and a necessary element of Public relations. Depending on the quality of the conference, sometimes it pays off, but sometimes it exposes flaws of a conference to the world of connected educators. This is not an uncommon practice, and as a connected educator, I look upon it as an opportunity with each occurrence. I have been afforded a number of such opportunities since becoming an education Blogger.
What really struck me about this invitation however is that it came from an organization called WISE and it took place in the organization’s home city of Doha, Qatar. I consider myself an educated person, but like many Americans, I am only familiar with maps of vacation destinations, and war locations. With the advent, and exception of the GPS those are the only real maps I ever look at. Sad commentary, I know. My ignorance of the geography of Qatar was complicated further by personal prejudices stemming from it being, in my mind, a country of the Middle East. I am not consciously prejudiced against, or do I hold responsible, the Muslim religion for the events of 911. I am however, a New York educator who was personally and profoundly affected by the events of 911. I did have to overcome some personal hesitation, as well as family concerns in order to accept the invitation. The world is a much more dangerous place. All of that being said, I am very glad that I accepted the invitation, and flew to Qatar for the International Conference of the World Innovation Summit for Education, WISE 2012.
Of course the icing on the cake was that my close personal friend, connected educator, and fellow education Blogger, Steve Anderson, @web20classroom, was also invited, and accepted the invitation. I did need to prompt him a little, but I did not need a cattle prod to do it. I am sure that Steve had many of the same reservations, so travelling together helped ease those trepidations for both of us. We were even able to schedule our 13 hour flight with adjoining seats. Life is good.
Qatar Airlines was very impressive, but it was the organization of the logistics team of Wise that was really impressive. Our sole contact was a young woman named Nandita, who was a delight. Her team was able to invite and move and collect educators from all over the world, while jumping through every international hoop placed before them to complete their task. They were also able to accommodate the individual needs and desires of the educators as well. It was a daunting task, well accomplished.
My next question was how does a plane with over 400 passengers get off the ground? My second question was how does it stay in the air for 13 hours? Answers to both questions were stated to my satisfaction through the accomplishment of both. The Airline was incredible, and the meals, snacks and beverages were all included and expertly delivered on the flight. The crew of over 20 people was wonderful. The passengers were a truly international representation with Americans in the minority. Since the flight left at 9:30 PM New York time, most of the 13 hours involved us trying to sleep. That was not an easy assignment.
At one point I managed to get about an hour into a really great snooze when I was half awakened by a beep. This was followed by a male flight attendant tapping me on the shoulder saying, “ Sit Lower”! Of course even in my twilight sleep, I wanted to immediately comply with each command, so as not to appear to be The Ugly American, so I attempted to sit lower. I had no idea what that meant. My seat was all the way back, and I was as scrunched down as low as I could get, but I tried to scrunch down further. I only hoped my attendant would be pleased with my best attempt to comply with his command to “sit lower”. As he came back down the aisle I could not contain myself any longer. “What did you mean by “Sit Lower?” I asked.
He answered, “I am sorry sir, I said, ‘Seat Belts On’, as the seatbelt light went on.” I was very grateful the lights were out and most everyone continued sleeping, including Steve seated next to me. I really felt dumb at that point and not at all like an international education blogger.
Upon arrival we were herded to school buses which would rival most upscale buses in America. They were air-conditioned with comfortable seats, seatbelts and an information display at the front of the bus. The bus ride took us through a city that was lit up to show some of the most interesting architecture I have ever seen. Although we had just eaten breakfast on the plane three hours earlier, it was now 8:30 PM and we were at an alcohol-free cocktail party with incredibly delicious finger foods. That would be the eating with fingers, as opposed to the eating of fingers.
At this mingling event we got to talk to educators from around the world. They were interested in what Steve and I had to say about what we did as connected educators who Tweet and Blog and present at education conferences. We were interested in how WISE provides money for innovative education programs and recognizes educators. This WISE 2012 conference will hopefully prove to be a most productive event. It again underscores the fact that in today’s world everything global is local and everything local is global. I look forward to Tweeting and Blogging more on this as the week progresses. Watch for the Hashtag #WISE2012!