Impressions from FIGT 2009 - Thursday, March 5th

downtown-houston_It's been a week since the conference, and I know I'll continue to learn from the people I met, the sessions I participated in, the networking opportunities, and challenging discussions about how to make the best of global transition for years to come. Well, at least until FIGT 2010.

A true Texan would have driven the 300 miles from Plano to Houston, but I'm German, so I gave Southwest some business and took a plane on Wednesday afternoon. Including security checks and shuttle transfers it took about the same time, but what can I say - driving for four+ hours by my lonesome simply isn't in my nature. The Omni Hotel at Galleria was a pleasant setting with comfortably sized meeting rooms and ample space for exhibition tables and enjoying communal meals. Considering the hotel offered a car service to nearby shops, even a rental car was superfluous. I signed up for their preferred guest program to get free wireless internet access, and yes, the bed was comfy.

On Thursday morning, the FIGT registration team welcomed around 200 participants with open arms, handing out name tags indicating "first timer," "speaker," "sponsor," and "associate," the 43-page program, obligatory note-taking utensils, a list of everybody's contact information, and an overview of all the books and magazine titles on sale in the FIGT bookstore.

Pre-conference workshops were running from 9 to 12 a.m., the conference officially starting with lunch and a beautiful keynote address by Dr. Doug Ota (A Safe Harbour) at 1 p.m. He spoke about grief and dealing with transition, and basically shared his story, how the changes in his life helped him grow. He very effectively used slides, photographs, and music to convey his points, inviting everyone to participate in simple but touching exercises, and judging by how packed his subsequent concurrent session was, I venture a number of participants developed a bit of a presenter-crush. I hope I'm allowed a few quotes: "That which is most personal is most universal." "Grief: turning walls into ladders into higher order of coherence." "Grieve well to leave well."

A half-hour break allowed for mingling and checking out exhibition tables by all the presenters and participants whobtlyw_exhibit-table chose to display their causes and information material about their organizations. Here's what I had - next time I'll make sure to have proper brochures, but for a first attempt, I'm quite pleased with the response. Over 30 people signed up for the handbook I offered supporting my presentation on "Starting your own business - Building the Life You Want!" But I'm getting ahead of myself, I wasn't up until Saturday morning.

Thursday afternoon saw two timeslots with five competing concurrent sessions each. If ever there was a time for cloning, this was it. Topics ranged from "Expat Empty Nester" over "Mental Health Concerns of Foreign Students" to "Moving the Faith," "Boarding School Conundrum," and "TCKs and Tolerance," to name a few. I attended the foundational session "How to Live Your Best Life Abroad," presented by fellow German Dr. Heike Stengel and - if I'm not mistaken - Swiss countrywoman Jeanne Heinzer. They encouraged the use of the wheel of life coaching tool for expatriates and accompanying spouses to identify personal values, priorities, and areas for development to maximize a positive international experience. Time flew as we did a couple of exercises and the presenters answered audience questions.

How do I know Dr. Ota's concurrent session "Moving is an eraser" was packed? I was there. An hour to share more and re-writing those breaks in our stories that caused us grief and growth. If you feel like sharing one of your expatriate experiences, of "a time when you felt like many of your identities dissolved and you had to start over...," please send your story to Dr. Ota and the Expatriate Archive Centre EAC to be added to the archives or - with your permission - published in their upcoming book about developing school-based transitions programs.

With that, and a scrumptious speakers and sponsors welcome dinner and fabulous conversation round the table ended my first ever FIGT day. Come back next week for what happened on Friday in the "Knowledge Management" and "HR Managers" session. Even better, if you were there - what did you think? Leave a comment! :-)

Until then, happy expating everyone!

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