Just a week after arriving in Semarang, I had the pleasure of giving a keynote at the 8th International Conference on English Language Teaching, Literature, and Translation organized by the English department at UNNES. This is a big event for this department, drawing presenters from around the region, including from Malaysia, Bangladesh, Australia, India, and all over Indonesia. In this talk, I got the opportunity to share research that Judy Van Alstyne and I conducted a few years ago with the audience, and it was really well received, leading to invitations to spend time at a university in Malaysia in December and the possibility of a collaboration with two researchers from India who are doing interesting work trying to leverage online spaces to preserve vernacular languages.
Then, yesterday, Puji, other UNNES colleagues, and I attended the Qualitative Research on Language Education in Contemporary Asia: New Perspectives, Directions and Innovations” in Solo, about an hour south of Semarang. At this conference, I was just a participant. Given the conference focus, the proposal I described the Affinity Space Ethnography methodology that I’ve been working with my long-time collaborators, Jen Scott Curwood and Alecia Magnifico, on developing, implementing, and tweaking for some time now. I talked about the opportunities for utilizing this methodology to study language learning in fan-based online spaces – connecting to the K-pop boy band BTS, who are wildly popular among Indonesians.
Here are some of my noticings after these first two education research conferences in Indonesia:
1. Openings are Ceremonial Events
First of all, there seems to be a standard practice of opening ceremonies that include performances of a variety of sorts. At ELTLT19, there was both the dance performance by two students – who did a very traditional dance, and then had some fun with it as they donned sunglasses and played with the dance – and a very haunting performative reading of Robert Frost’s Mending Wall that was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
2. Signatures and Documentation Matter
My other noticing about Indonesian academic conferences is that there’s a LOT of signing to do, whether you’re an attendee, presenter, or a plenary speaker – they ask for your signature three times at registration and again after you present in your parallel session. There’s even more to sign – like a Memorandum of Agreement/Minutes – if you’re a keynote/plenary speaker. Each time I was asked to sign, I asked what the signatures represented. I’m told that all of these signed documents become part of records turned into the government by institutions (who document the events they host) and by lecturers who document their scholarly activities in annual reports.
Presenters and attendees get certificates, in much the same way that U.S. teacher professional development or continuing education events provide such documentation. At the Qualitative conference, these certificates for presenters were quite grand/large, and given to us at the completion of our presentations.
3. An Academic Conference is an Academic Conference, No Matter Where in the World You Are!
Here are a few ways that these conferences were just like any I’ve ever attended in the U.S. and abroad.
- Academic conferences are a chance to learn from researchers who share your interests, and an opportunity to stretch your thinking when you sit in a session that presents something new to you.
- Networking, networking, networking – You never know what sorts of collaborations might come from presenting with others at a conference, or synchronous connections you might make chatting during the coffee break.
- Unless you’re a keynote/plenary speaker (and sometimes even then), you’re never given enough time to present your work at an academic conference. I did well with the time I was given as a plenary speaker at ELTLT, but having only 10 minutes to talk about affinity space ethnography at the Qualitative conference was tough! Puji and Girinda did a masterful job with their 10 minutes though!
- Conferences often provide an excuse to travel and some time away from the grind at the university. You get to know your colleagues in a different way/context. ELTLT, even though it was in Semarang, gave me an opportunity to see Semarang city on a Saturday night with Puji and her friend from her Masters degree, Atti. The Qualitative conference involved a road trip (thanks for driving Girindra!), and great conversations over meals and a long early morning walk today.