A little while ago, I visited my first academic conference, the Colloquium vir Afrikaans in Gent. The university of Gent does quite a lot with Afrikaans literature and linguistics and every year they organise a conference. As it is free for students, I thought I would give it a try.
As Gent is a few miles over the Dutch border I could even say my first conference was a foreign one (they still speak a kind of Dutch in Belgium, so I have to admit it didn’t really feel that foreign). The first lectures on Friday would start early so I arrived Thursday evening at the apartment I booked, did some studying and tried to get an early night.
The conference was separated into two parts: linguistics and literature. I mostly visited the literary lectures and I loved it a lot. Contrary to what I expected, they weren’t that long: I thought each lecture would be one, maybe one and a half hours, but they all took only 20 minutes. They were more a kind of pitches about the research, inviting to discuss it later if you really wanted to know more. To me, this seemed like a great format because it allowed me to hear about a lot more different subjects.
What I also thought was great, was the huge variety of speakers. There were a few big names present, like Louise Viljoen and Wannie Cartens (famous professors in Afrikaans literature and linguistics), but there were also presentations by students about their MA thesis or by people who weren’t “official” academics but did some cool research on their own. As next year’s colloquium will be focussing on the poet Breyten Breytenbach – one of the poets I study – I hope this format will allow me to send in an abstract as well and maybe even become one of the speakers for the next edition.
Even though only a few lectures touched upon my own research, I made great progress with it as well. As I was sitting there, surrounded by all these inspiring academics, I just got in the perfect mood for my own thesis. During one of the lectures (it was a subject that didn’t even bother me that much) I just got so inspired by the environment that I was able to make my own first rough draft of the structure of my thesis in my notebook.
Apart from being surrounded by academics, it was also really nice to finally be surrounded by Afrikaans speaking people again, for the first time since my trip last summer. Officially the conference was bilingual, as Afrikaans and Dutch people can understand each other mutually, but as I am still learning the language I took the chance to practise a bit more and had some lovely talks with a few of the other students attending, some of whom were South-African exchange students.
I was nervous to attend my first real conference, thinking I might not fit in, wondering if I already knew enough about the subject. Going to Gent really gave me a lot more confidence as I found out I was perfectly able to participate in discussion and critically reflect on the lectures. It was also nice to get to know the community if striving to be a part of a bit more. Now, I just have to work towards that PhD so next year, I’ll be attending as a real academic.