FIGT stands for Families In Global Transition, and it is a volunteer-led organisation that resources the globally mobile community. One of the big impacts of FIGT comes through its annual conference.
I first attended FIGT in 2017 and I had an incredible experience. The 2019 FIGT conference in Bangkok was my second – and it was both a very different and very familiar experience! It’s hard to adequately explain to someone who has never been quite exactly how and why this conference is so special. But I’m going to try – because if you’re reading my blog, chances are you are in some way connected to international life. Perhaps you live overseas, or used to, or people you care about do. Whatever your connection, FIGT is a community worth connecting with and investing in.
I used that word deliberately, because this is one of the big things that makes FIGT stand out. It isn’t just a conference; it is a gathering of people who form a community. This community is scattered across the world most of the year, but when you get them together – wow! It is special. FIGT conferences are often described as a “reunion of strangers”. You can be in a group of people you’ve never met and yet feel so at home. You all already share a certain understanding and experience of life – even if you don’t know how to articulate it.
FIGT President Dawn Bryan said that being a “welcoming community” is one of the top priorities of the conference – and I love that. I love that this is a conference that knows it is different, and embraces that relational connection as a vital and central part of its character.
A natural result of a conference with a community focus is that you end up spending a lot of time in conversation. I loved having meaningful conversations with all sorts of people, from all sorts of backgrounds. I doubt there were more than twenty people I’d met in person before, perhaps four or five I’d seen in the past year. So while I did have some lovely conversations with people I’d talked to before, most of my conversations were first conversations.
There were so many people I felt like I knew – I had been in online meetings with them, read their books/blogs, or interacted with them on social media. There were people I met for the first time, but felt like I was catching up with an old friend. (Jerry Jones was a great example of this feeling!) There were also people who, when we met, shared greetings sent to me from mutual friends.
There were also conversations with perfect strangers – people I’d never met, and had no other connection to. Conversations that were interesting and intellectually stimulating and often emotionally powerful as well. I don’t think I can overstate the quality of people at this conference. Drawn from so many different places, sectors, and experiences – and all of them wonderful! It is literally inspiring – giving me new ideas, clarifying my vision, and re-energising my motivation.
FIGT is known for having tonnes of amazing content. There are always difficult choices to make because you can only go to one of the amazing concurrent sessions in each time slot! I was involved in managing the event logistics for this year’s conference, which meant a very different experience of the conference content. I didn’t make it to many sessions. I presented twice, and was at least physically present for most of the plenary sessions on the final day, but my exposure to the amazing content was somewhat sporadic. And yet!
I think what surprised me most was how much I felt I walked away with, simply from my first two points alone – community and conversation. This was really interesting to me, and I think quite important to note. The content is brilliant. So much research, so many different sectors represented, opportunities to engage with your own niche field or be exposed to lots of new ideas. So much creativity, authenticity, and excellent material. And yet – this amazing content isn’t where the magic comes. The magic comes from the people with whom you share and experience the content. There’s something about being together that makes it all the more powerful.
That said, I’m extremely glad that as an FIGT member I have access to lots of content from the conference, especially for amazing sessions I couldn’t attend! Lots of notes and presentations, and even some videos, will be made available to all members – not just those who attended the conference! I honestly think it’s worth considering joining as an FIGT member for access to resources like this alone. (I believe an individual membership is about $65, which is really quite reasonable, and there are student discounts.)
Being in my field
Something truly wonderful for me about FIGT is that it is a place where I can exist in a shared professional space in REAL LIFE, not just virtually. There are a number of people around the world working with and advocating for TCKs – writing, speaking, consulting with international schools and organisations – in short, doing what I do. But we’re spread out all across the world. FIGT is one of the only opportunities I’ve ever had to spend time with a group of people who are working in similar and parallel fields to me.
It’s also an opportunity to spend time with people who are aware of and value the work that I’m doing, whether my field generally, or my own work in particular. Reflecting on how deeply this impacted me, I struggled to discern if my joy was due to ego-stroking. Did it please my pride to be told that someone loved my book, used (and cited) my work in their own presentation, praised my work in glowing terms, described herself as a “fangirl”…? Possibly. If I was arrogant about these things it definitely would. But really, as I reflected on my feelings, I realised what all this did for me was give me a sense of validation.
I spend a lot of time alone at a computer. I do public seminars and visits to schools, but it is generally me dropping into an existing group and then leaving again. I’m a special guest, rather than part of their community. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love what I do! I know I’m doing important research. I know my work is valuable, and appreciated. But I rarely get to hear it. And I very rarely get to spend time with people who know my field, and can have deeper-level conversations about topics we engage with. It felt a little like stretching my intellectual muscles, doing some heavier lifting. It reminds me I really do love what I do, and I want to do more of it!