As an academic with a nine-month appointment, there is sometimes a perception that I have the summer off. And while I do have more flexibility in my schedule during the summer and can work at a more relaxed pace, I’m usually working most of the time. It’s the nature of scholarship; it doesn’t stop just because it’s summer.
But summer does afford me the opportunity to take advantage of opportunities that might not fit within the confines of the academic year, particularly travel abroad. I’ve always enjoyed traveling abroad. I remember the excitement and awe on that first trip to France while in high school. So many things were new and different. As I’ve aged, formed a cadre of international colleagues and friends, and traveled more internationally, I now tend to focus more on the similarities across cultures rather than the differences. But I digress.
My calendar had had IFNC13 in Pamplona marked in June 2017 for two years since leaving IFNC12 in Odense, Denmark, which I’ve written about here. It was an event I, and many others, had been looking forward to for quite some time. After a pre-conference workshop proposal put forth by my IFNA Communications Committee colleagues and I was accepted, planning for the trip could begin in earnest. My goal was to engage in the conference, visit friends and colleagues in the UK, and have a day or two for something touristy.
First, I reached out to my colleague Siobhan O’Dwyer at the University of Exeter. She and I had already formed an ongoing research collaboration and I proposed stopping there either on my to or way back from Spain to connect and work. I knew that I wanted to visit friends in the UK who I had not seen in four years, so it would be feasible. Schedules and funding aligned and plans for a week as a visiting academic fellow were put into place. However, given the complexities of our schedules, there was a one-week gap between my time in Exeter and IFNC13. At first I thought I would spend that time vacationing. But then I casually mentioned these plans to my colleague Ingelin Testad at the University of Stavanger in Norway.
“Come to Norway!” she said. Her center was having its annual regional conference the very week that was empty on my calendar. I could present at the conference and participate in an international research collaborative meeting bringing together scholars from the UK and Norway and, now, the US. It all just fell into place in the most brilliant fashion.
There are worse things than to spend three weeks in Europe for work. Coming from the Appalachian mountains of Virginia and humble beginnings, I’m always cognizant of and grateful for the wonderful opportunities that my career affords me. In this instance, I was keenly aware of this. I recalled a career bucket list I had sketched out in 2012 after accepting my first faculty position at the University of Virginia. One of those items was to be an international visiting academic fellow, in the UK. Not only was that now happening, it was happening along with these other amazing opportunities. And the best part was that it was happening with fabulous colleagues and friends.
My time in Exeter was brilliant and bookended with weekends at my friends’ home in Bristol. This was my fourth trip to the UK and it is increasingly feeling like a satellite home base. Norway was a country on my personal travel bucket list and it did not disappoint. Spain, too, was on that travel list and was another amazing experience, with IFNC13 the impetus behind the whole journey.
What I like most about IFNA, having experienced the biennial conference now twice, is the level of genuine collegiality and respect for the work done by those in attendance. With roughly 30 countries represented from all corners of the globe, it truly lives up to its name. It was great to share the stage with my IFNA Communications Committee colleagues during our social media preconference workshop, as well as to be at the conference with my colleague Sue McLennon from the University of Tennessee. The conference was a fine close to a great scholarly adventure that expanded my work in the use of social media by persons with dementia and their families, as well as expanding my network of collaborators, colleagues, and friends. Additionally, the whole experience enriched my understanding of our world, filled my heart and mind with beautiful memories, and was just the “summer break” I needed.