I’ve recently come back from a research trip in Europe (more on that later), part of which I spent at my first ever international conference in Belgium. Here’s a round up of my experience.
The Conference: “La Chanson dans les cinémas d’Europe et d’Amérique Latine, 1960-2010” (Songs in European and Latin American Cinema, 1960-2010), 28-30 April 2016, Belgium. The trilingual (French, Spanish, and English) conference was organised jointly by the Université Libre de Bruxelles, the Université Catholique de Louvain, the Universidad de Buenos Aires and the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique, and took place over three days at all three Belgian institutions.
The Challenges: The conference was, as I’ve said, the first international conference I have ever attended. It was tri-lingual, but with the majority of speakers giving presentations in French (which I speak), and Spanish (which I definitely do not), which obviously posed its own challenges. During the first and last days, there was an interpretation booth, but only to translate from French to Spanish and vice versa. As well as the obvious language barriers, there were some very well-established academics from across Europe attending, which was…intimidating.
My Paper: A lot of the papers at the conference were very serious, or at least they seemed serious to me, because my paper was about LOL, a very recent, very teen film (I talk a little bit about it in this post). The paper was adapted from a section of my thesis which, unlike my experience at the PGR Conference a few weeks earlier, meant that I felt like I knew what I was talking about (sort of). My paper discussed the use of pop music in LOL from two angles: firstly, the music is English-language, which means it appeals to (and even comes to represent) young people and youth listening practices; and secondly, the music is not actually that contemporary, which links these young people to older listeners, such as adult audience members or the parents represented on screen. The music elicits nostalgia, which reminds older listeners (both on and off screen) of their own adolescence, helping to create links between the two generations.
Responses: I had a lot of positive responses to my paper, which was both a relief and very nice, although some of the questions were difficult to answer. This was definitely not helped by the language differences (I gave my paper in English). I had some very nice responses though, especially over coffee afterwards, and someone even asked for a copy of my paper so that they could cite me.
What I Learned: That it is important to talk to people and make the effort to chat when you are in a big room full of people; that understanding Spanish is difficult and nearly impossible to follow; that listening to French and looking at Spanish slides is tiring and hard; and that three days is a long time, but also a good amount of time to discuss lots of different ideas.
Let me know your experiences of international conferences in the comments!