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Connecting Across Countries and Cultures
by Thuy Do, PhD Student
Presenting at international conferences is always a great experience for graduate students. It is an opportunity to practice public speaking in a multicultural setting and also a chance to network and exchange knowledge with participants from different parts of the world. In addition, participants have a chance to meet people who share the same interests and concerns and to foster connections that may eventually lead to friendship. Thanks to financial support from the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies (GSWS), the GSWS Graduate Caucus, the David Lam Centre, and the Graduate Student Society (GSS) at Simon Fraser University, I was able to present my papers at two international conferences this summer.
My friendship on the first day with Hoiz Haokip, YK College, Manipur University, India
Talking in public is not new to me since I have been teaching for several years, but presenting at large international conferences in front of many academic scholars and researchers was a new experience. I was excited and nervous as well. I was worried whether my English was good enough to present, whether I’d be able to answer the questions people asked, and whether I would be able to express my ideas clearly in the amount of time I had. However, after preparing my slide presentations and with the supportive comments and encouragement I received from my supervisor, I became more confident and was ready to go. I was still nervous about presenting well and wondered how I would feel with no other friends or acquaintances there.
The first conference I attended was The 5th World Conference on Women’s Studies held in Bangkok, Thailand, where academic professionals and graduate students gathered to share their research on women, gender, and sexuality. The four intensive days of the conference were valuable and meaningful. We all had opportunities to network, share our knowledge, and talk about our experiences. In every session participants enjoyed learning about a variety of research conducted in different areas by academics and NGOs. I enjoyed all the sessions that I attended and I was most impressed by the session on prostitution and human trafficking where the chair of the session showed a video on LGBTQ+ issues. While the video and the topic were typical content for our GSWS classrooms at SFU, the session attracted a diverse audience including participants who may not have ordinarily dealt with such material. Everyone watched the video with interest and the discussion about it was an active one. There were many conflicting perspectives presented, some of which I had never thought about before. This made me think that graduate students in Western countries should have more opportunities to attend international conferences such as this one to see how gender, sexuality, and women’s issues are looked at in different contexts and from different points of view.
Another surprise at the conference was the interest participants had in my presentation! Before I presented, I was worried that nobody would be interested in the topic of my paper. However, when I stood up at the front of the room to present my paper on “the Representation of Vietnamese Women in Western cultures” I was excited to see that the conference room was full. I saw many people in the audience nodding their heads in agreement whenever I talked about how Vietnamese women are being represented and represent themselves in Vietnam and in Western countries. The conference also gave me a chance to make new friends and to create new connections that will help me build my academic networks. The intensity of the conference created a space for us to spend a lot of time together because we were onsite for breakfast, lunch, and dinner including a gala dinner during which everyone wore their traditional dress and enjoyed traditional Thai music.
The second conference I presented at this summer was the 39th International Conference on Critical Thinking held at KU Leuven in Flanders, Belgium. I had attended this conference four years ago when I was a lecturer in Vietnam so I was familiar with the benefits that the conference would offer me. This is also a four-day intensive conference with a variety of informative sessions presented by the organizers who are experts in critical thinking and by participants who are mostly educators or education managers.
At KU Leuven, there were nine clusters of roundtable discussions in all and I was participating in a roundtable discussion for the first time. This added to my nervousness although my supervisor had shared tips and advice with me before I left Vancouver. The roundtable I participated in included two professors, one from the United States of America and one from Japan. Our topic of discussion was “Critical Thinking, Identity, Cultural Norms, and Gender Issues” and the title of my presentation was “How Critical Thinking Education Can Lead Students to Question Traditional Views on Women: Research from Hoa Sen University in Vietnam”. It was gratifying to see that participants were very interested in listening to us and to discussing various issues, especially the gender norms and cultural norms that I and the professor from Japan talked about. Although the time for the roundtable discussions was just one hour, I think we were able to make the connection between critical thinking and the issues of identity, cultural norms, and gender. To me, the most important learning outcome from this conference was to understand that critical thinking connects individuals and helps people become closer because critical thinking destroys the rigid boundaries between us.
In Belgium, as in Thailand, I made a lot of friends at the conference and was able to network with many people. The experiences I had and the connections I gained from presenting at these two international conferences were significantly different from my experiences presenting in Canada. I feel that this global exposure is significant and that it will be beneficial to my current studies and to my future academic career. After two years in my PhD program, the opportunity to present at these international conferences allowed me to reflect on what I have learned so far and to build upon my research interests. It also inspired me to work harder – and smarter – in my research.