A short reflection: A queer trans woman attending an international education conference

I also posted a version of this article on Linkedin.

I came back today after a week of traveling in Switzerland. I was in the privileged position to visit three partner universities, but also to attend the EAIE conference. It was a great experience.

Entrance to Train Station in Zurich, Late at Night
Entrance to Train Station in Zurich, Late at Night

I am busy writing a reflection/report, but here is a short reflection of things that I realized (again) during the week as an international education practitioner:

1.      The conference and interactions with colleagues just highlighted the transformative experience of international experiences at home, and/or abroad for students and staff. The diversity of international experiences also mean that the transformative experiences are potentially diverse and far reaching. We can’t discount any one of these.

Posters at Lausanne
Posters at Lausanne

2.      We all face challenges that we only really can understand and deal with in a collaborative manner and evaluate though an intersectional lens. I think the Global South have many innovative answers, and should not only be discussed, but also listened to. (This is an ethical imperative.) Also, we must recognize and engage our privileges, whether it is, for example, our whiteness, or our heteronormativity.

Trees outside the old Toblerone factory
Trees outside the old Toblerone factory

3.      This was the second EAIE conference I attended and I was happy to meet more of my queer and LGBT+ siblings. As a queer trans woman this is very important for me. I have also learned that visibility is only one side of the answer: understanding also needs to be nurtured through engagement. With the latter I am not just referring to long discussions, but small gestures. They can go a long way. Here are two suggestions:

a.      Include pronouns in name tags. This is a simple act, but it will force people to think about their perceptions.

b.      Not all people have dealt directly with trans or non-binary people within a work environment (at least that they aware of). As a trans person this therefore means that the responsibility lies with me to calm the person – to break the “awkwardness” when they meet me. We do this in different ways, for me humor has always been a good way to bridge the experience (This is an important lesson I learned from my director). This being said, is this really only my responsibility? I don’t think so. Although it is a meaningful experience, it is extremely tiring. The organization arranging the conference has also a role to play. (Remember, trans and non-binary people face various challenges in terms of traveling abroad to attend an international conference. Make sure the space is welcoming.)

A street named after Anna Tumarkin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Tumarkin
A street named after Anna Tumarkin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Tumarkin

4.      Life will go on after the conference, the challenges will not stop, but I know I have colleagues that share in those experiences – and that we are willing to support one another.


Music Director
The show must go on…

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