In our world of education marketing and recruitment, the EAIE needs no introduction. Since 1989, this member-driven organization has striven to be the "European centre for expertise, networking and resources in the internationalization of higher education". But while we are all very likely familiar with the organization itself, how many of us have attended one of their annual conferences?
From the first conference in 1989, things have changed a lot, of course, but even in the last 5 years there has been a really noticeable maturing of this event into something significant and highly influential in the sector. As the first post-pandemic iteration, the 32nd Annual EAIE Conference and Exhibition in Barcelona 2022 was an event that confounded all expectations.
geNEOus (formerly NEO Academy)'s Alejandra Otero was there to deliver a talk on a very pressing topic: Metaverses, Discord, Slack and (still) WhatsApp: community building reinvented which we chose because it is so critical that our community prepare itself for the shift to a new way of building connection and engagement with a whole new generation. If we are still sending emails and brochures to a generation of content creators in the Metaverse, we have already begun our own decline. But there is still a little time to learn and adapt, and this felt like the perfect message to share with our peers.
You may by now have read reports of the conference's key focus on sustainability and the building of new relationships, but what was it really like on the ground? We asked for the honest perspective of EAIE "veteran" Alejandra and conference first-timer Sole from team geNEOus (formerly NEO Academy). Here's what they had to say.
"I really did not know what to expect on this one. The pandemic had really upended so many things, and I had attended some other international events earlier this year which proved to have been affected still. I wasn't sure whether people were still uncertain about large gatherings, or had perhaps shifted more to online and virtual networking and events, but I thought EAIE 2022 would be the same. When discussing with my colleagues in the EAIE M&R Steering Group I had thought that roughly 3000 people might attend.
I was wrong. At 6300 attendees, this was the biggest yet, and you could really feel it in the energy, which was quite simply joyful. I saw quite a few new faces who seemed to want to attend a few talks, schedule some meetings and then disappear, but for me, that's not what EAIE is about. It is about people, first and foremost, and the social is as important as the professional, though when you love what you do those lines can sometimes blur anyway!
We went all in. If I am honest, perhaps because I wasn't quite prepared for the scale of this event, I over committed myself. The same approach that had worked for me in previous years left me a bit overstretched on this one. With so many more people, I scheduled more meetings, and so didn't leave quite enough time for the wonderful people who just appear unexpectedly and want to connect. Add this to the fact that I was there with Sole, and as it was her first time, I was perhaps a bit over eager to show her everything! There were just more "things" than I was used to!
Between the talks, meetings, and late night karaoke, we left just a couple of hours per night to sleep. We found our limits right around there! I am still processing everything now, but what I can say is that I feel like we all got swept up in the energy of just being together again in person. Our community is so important to me, and to geNEOus (formerly NEO Academy). In fact, it is everything. The talks we gave and attended, the wonderful conversations I had, the jokes and smiles, the words of kindness and support, the connections and the laughter. Incredible.
Next time, I will find a balance. I will leave space open for more spontaneity, more time to connect without scheduling it, and maybe a couple more hours of sleep! That said, I think this event could not have been anything other than what it was, and I am so happy that I get to be a part of it all."
"Wow! I can hardly speak right now. Overall an amazing experience, and I am now working through the emotions and reflections which are now coming from such a condensed time.
This felt like the centre of everything in our community, and there were so many people I wanted to connect with. I was a bit overwhelmed at first by all the options, and felt that if I had not been there with Ale, I would have found it quite challenging to navigate.
As a first timer, I had asked my self so many questions: Where do I start? How should I interact depending on the person? Who is who? How would I be able to remember everyone? But then, after speaking with Alejandra, I realized that I wasn't alone, and as a matter of fact, she had been contacted by several first timers asking the same questions. By speaking with some other first timers, we were even brainstorming on a formalized buddy/mentor system where there is always a "veteran" to help the newbies. That would fit with the community feel, which I still felt strongly. Even with such a large scale event.
What stood out for me was that this reinforced the reason I do what I do. I felt like I was surrounded by special people who just reminded me that what I do matters, and that so many of us are trying to make things better in the world of education. If this is how you feel, if it is about people (and not just products, profits and processes), then this is the community for you. We shared, I learned, and there were moments that will stay with me forever.
Something I particularly remember was the Closing Plenary, where the outgoing President Michelle Stewart and the new President Piet Van Hove shared the stage. This was such a lovely moment, and you could see how there was such a shared sense of responsibility to the community as that role passed from one to another.
And then there was guest speaker Jimmy Nelson. I won't forget this talk, ever! Jimmy brought together so many of his diverse life experiences around the question of purpose. His point was that whatever we do and wherever we come from, our job is to share, to give and to contribute. To think about our roles within the context of our responsibility to the planet and to future generations, means that we will always have a clear sense of purpose.
Like Alejandra, I found my limits in trying to "ride the wave" of this event, but to be honest, I would not change it. I feel privileged to have been there, and wanted to just soak up every new experience I could, meet new people and just absorb it all. Well, I'm still processing it now."
Things are changing really quickly in our world, with Gen Alpha knocking on the doors and channels opening up in the rich and yet-developing Metaverse, to name but a few. There is a lot to unpack as we adapt to these changes, and trying to figure this out while our busy cycles of admission and recruitment spin around can be quite dizzying.
Taking these new developments in our stride is intimidating, with so much new technology and reframing of the rules we thought we understood. geNEOus (formerly NEO Academy) can help you adapt your current Marketing & Recruitment approach to meet and engage a new generation in a new digital space, and we can support you step by step. You should always feel free to reach out and just get the conversation started.
We know we just can't do it alone, and so geNEOus (formerly NEO Academy) is looking forward to connecting with you at EAIE Rotterdam 2023, when we get to work it all out together, as a community. Shall we see you there?