I love airports. Recycled air, labyrinthine gate and security arrangements, Duty Free stores that make it seem as though buying perfume, expensive watches, liquor and chocolate all in one go is routine, those last-call announcements that are more embarrassing than being called down to the Principal’s office in middle school…. Yes, all of that included: I love airports.
Airports, for me, almost always signify one of two things: the transition from the familiar to the unknown, namely an adventure; or the transition from the unknown back to the familiar, e.g., coming back home. In both scenarios, there is something to which I can look forward with excitement and anticipation.
Where was I off to this time? Oxford University to present a paper on a new concept of citizenship that would empower communities to protect their local ecosystems, co-written with my former professor at McGill University, Dr. Peter Gilbert Brown. While this conference was the result of a commitment from before I started my Fellowship with Insight Collaborative, the experience itself allowed me to form strategic relationships and gain knowledge that could prove valuable for my Fellowship goals.
Oh, and I added a weekend stop in London, and a full day tour of Bath, Windsor Castle and Stonehenge for good measure.
The conference I was attending at Oxford University was the 12th Environmental Justice and Global Citizenship conference, organized by the non-profit, Inter-Disciplinary.net. It was a small gathering of innovative thinkers in the fields of environmental ethics, governance, political science and philosophy, all of whom had backgrounds in community organizing, public education or grassroots leadership.
To say that sharing ideas with these amazing people was an incredibly satisfying experience would only relate a fraction of the true joy I felt while listening to each presentation. Topics ranged from using community town hall meetings as breeding grounds for environmental policy reform ideas to tracking the number of deaths caused by the purchase of electronics made from minerals mined in conflict zones, to critically evaluating how the language of law in Australia inherently limits the power of environmental regulations.
In the presence of such diverse expertise and enthusiasm, but facing the obstacle of being a stranger and foreigner, I found myself with two options: I could have waited until the next day of the conference to break the ice, introduce myself, have an insightful and productive conversation; or, instead of saying ‘maybe tomorrow’, I could dive into all the common social obstacles and see what exciting opportunities to connect and collaborate lay on the other side.
Part of what the Insight Collaborative Fellowship has taught me is to develop the ability to seek out meaningful connections even when it seems awkward or too daring. Taking the latter option to heart, I found that everyone in the room had the same frame of mind, only many were reluctant to engage in creative discussions so early in the conference for fear of ‘coming on too strong’, or appearing friendlier than what was the social norm for strangers.
Suffice it to say that the best part of the symposium was the desire of the participants to continue the discussions and debates well into the evening. We explored Oxford together, taking strolls on Broad Street and getting lost in the quaintness, only to find ourselves at a pub constructed in the 15th century.
Before I had left Oxford, I had connected with inspiring individuals from the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Syria and, as fate would have it, a great deal of researchers from my home country of Canada.
One highlight I’d love to re-visit over and over? Sitting on the lawns in front of Mansfield College, enjoying the warm British sun and hugging all the trees in the courtyard!
I Want A Breeze and An Open Mind
Having left Oxford with memories of great people, strong connections that brought both enjoyment and professional value, as well as wonderful antiquity and scenery, I was in no mood to put an end to the experience. I managed to reconnect with two good friends of mine who were studying for their Master’s degrees at King’s College, University of London.
On Saturday July 13, a day before my flight to Boston, I hopped on a tour bus to visit Windsor Castle, the beautiful town of Bath, and finally, the monument of 7000 years of anthropologic history, Stonehenge.
I thought long and hard about how to put into words the effect this experience had on me—even the thoughts fell short of the mark. But I will leave you with three statements on each of these sites, and for the full effect I implore you to visit them yourselves, and only then will you understand why words fail me now.
Windsor Castle: If anyone has ever used the expression “no expense has been spared” with you, it most likely will not compare with the extravagance of this castle.
Bath: This is the only town that, in the span of two hours, moved me to poetry while listening rapt to live acoustic guitarists in the city courtyard and rendered me a ball of nerves as I frenetically searched seemingly identical street corners for the tour bus.
Stonehenge: It is as yet unclear whether this structure was indeed an ancient Neolithic prayer site, and while I am not partial to histrionics, whether Stonehenge is hallowed ground or not, it surely brought me to my knees.
If you do stumble across the United Kingdom on one of your travels, or if you make a purposeful move to visit, you might find yourself compelled to stay longer than planned, echoing a familiar sentiment of mine while there: maybe tomorrow, I’ll find my way home.