Dare to Be Brave: Congress 2019

July 22, 2019

Photo by Joyce McCown (https://unsplash.com/@moonshadowpress)

by Veronica Sudesh, MA Student

It is not easy for anyone to step out of their comfort zone. But oh boy, everyone should do it! The rewards of pushing yourself out of that safe cocoon and into a new world are so huge and satisfying. Making the decision to take that plunge will give you feelings of fear but you know what? Do not let that fear get to you, do not get crippled by the thoughts of inadequacy or mediocrity and try your best to move past those feelings. I say this because some of my most rewarding moments have come after I decided to be brave and jumped into the unknown, only to be immersed in marvelous new experiences. ‘Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2019 – Circles of Conversation’ was one such brave plunge for me.

I remember my graduate chair and professor, Dr Helen Leung, informing our class in Fall 2018 about the Congress being one of the most prestigious and largest North American conferences and what a lucky coincidence that it was being held in Vancouver! Before that moment, I had never heard of the Congress and was completely unaware of its significance, but since that day I became dreamy-eyed about presenting my paper there.

Presenting your paper at any conference can be quite an intimidating task for anyone, especially so for students. But this is where I made up my mind to be gutsy and experience things outside of my comfort zone. I like to push myself out of my comfort zone – deciding to come to a new country without having any friend or relative whom I knew; that itself was a big step. I have tried to be brave in the things I do since coming to Canada and thus I participated in as many new and diverse experiences as I could here. I had two amazing opportunities to present my paper before the significant Congress moment happened: the Graduate Spring Colloquium held by the department and the Canadian South Asian Youths Conference organized by professor Dr Habiba Zaman.

The paper I got the chance to present at the Congress was titled, ‘Tales of Violence, Tears of Grief: Understanding Crimes of Violence Against Second-Generation Coconuts’. It was a term paper that got developed out of one of the courses I took in my first semester, Immigration, Women and Transnational Migration, with Dr Habiba Zaman. The paper was about understanding the intersecting layers of racism, sexism and violence that second generation ‘coconuts’ (meaning South Asian youth, and they use this term to describe themselves) experience in living their life in Canada. Dr Zaman told me about the Canadian South Asian Youth’s conference that she was going to organize and that I should try to participate in it. I of course jumped at the opportunity! So, we worked together to arrive at a topic which would be related to my research interest and fit well with the theme of the conference as well. Similarly, she helped me out with my Congress by suggesting I look for a suitable cluster/group within the Canadian Sociological Association (one of the associations that was a part of the Congress) as that might be one place where the theme of my paper could fit. This was a big help in narrowing down the multitude of associations within the Congress; otherwise, it can become quite overwhelming to find the correct fit for your paper’s topic. I even took suggestions from the Canadian Sociological Association’s person of contact about which session they think would best fit the topic of my paper, and they were extremely helpful too.

Going into ‘THE DAY’, I was very excited due to several reasons – first to see the University of British Columbia because I had heard so much about it and had yet not got the chance to visit it. The university was beautiful and of course I saw what people kept talking about in terms of it being mammoth in size. The volunteers appointed at various spots were extremely helpful in guiding and giving directions around the place. However, I could enjoy the lush green beauty of UBC only after my presentation was over because I was so nervous. The whole experience of the presentation itself was nothing short of a dream come true. The people at my association including the Chair, my co-presenters and the audience members were so warm, encouraging and kind-hearted even though everyone had many more years of experience; for example, one of my co-presenters was a professor in the States and were at a much higher stature than me – just a newbie, first year master’s student, first time Congress presenter. I also remember being worried about the fact that I was going into a sociological association but was neither from that background nor did my research paper cater to that, little did I know that I had nothing to worry about because everyone was so welcoming and warm. I received such positive feedback from everyone, got showered with words of encouragement and praise. People came up to me inquiring about my topic and the research I did, which was the most astounding aspect to me, that I was able to arouse interest in the audience members about my topic.

The best take-away from Congress was that it was so true to its name - circles of conversation - as I delved into this amazing world of conversations and discussions with all the new people I met there. These conversations circled around academia, our research work and in general about life. It was great to see how the gap in our backgrounds, knowledges and lives was easily bridged through our sharing of ideas and how I got the opportunity to interact with such a diverse group of people and make friends. It’s so wonderful to see how you find so many connections and points of deep, meaningful conversations with a completely new person. I realized that with one of my co-presenters who had also lived for a while in New Delhi, India (where I grew up) for some research work, and we instantly started talking about politics, women and societal norms, and very importantly – food!

There were two things, however, that I wish had happened – and it is something to think about for the future Congress sessions. I hoped that there would be some route through the Congress for publishing your paper, like at least in the association’s conference proceeding, because we all know how difficult and exhaustive the whole publishing process is, and there should be some way to make further use of this opportunity. I also wished that the registration fees for Congress had been lower, keeping in mind that many students would like to attend it. I would have really loved it if my friends could have come there to support me; however, due to the registration cost, it was not possible to do that. I myself would not have been able to afford the registration fees if my department’s student caucus had not helped me with funds to cover costs.

All in all, Congress 2019 was truly a remarkable experience for me in all aspects, and I am so grateful for it. It was a very proud moment for me, and thus I would urge all my fellow classmates to be brave, bold and step into the unknown because the rewards, like I said, will be nothing short of heartwarming.