I’ve always had difficulty pinning down my favorite things. My favorite book? Depends on when you ask me. (Fiction or nonfiction? At what time of my life? One book or a series of related books? What are the criteria, anyway?) It’s the same with my favorite movie. (I have a lot of those.) I guess I could say J. S. Bach is my favorite composer, but I could never narrow his work down to one favorite piece. I have a lot of favorite songs, foods, places, authors, etc. I have traveled a good bit in my life, both in the United States and in Western Europe; I have been to China and visited the former Soviet Union. Not surprisingly, I can’t identify one trip I have taken that I could say was the best one—so I will write instead about a memorable trip I took in March, 2007 to Seattle, Washington.
I teach English to speakers of other languages at the University of Maryland, which is located in College Park, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. For many years, I have been a member of an international organization called TESOL: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Every spring, TESOLers gather for their annual convention. TESOL conventions are usually held in the United States (because the organization got its start here), but even so, they are expensive affairs (plane fare, hotel, conference fees, meals) and often require arranging for a substitute teacher to take my classes, so I have not attended many conventions. In 2007, however, I was given the opportunity to attend the TESOL Convention because my school, the Maryland English Institute, paid for everything except meals. I jumped at the chance to go.
I was especially excited about attending the 2007 convention because in 2006, I had become involved in a fantastic online Community of Practice, the Webheads in Action, and many Webheads were planning to attend that convention. Being there would give me the opportunity to meet many of my online friends face to face for the first time.
On Tuesday, March 21, I got up at 3:15 in the morning. My “Super Shuttle” (a van which transports people to and from the three Washington area airports) picked me up at 4:00 and took me to the airport, where I flew in the smallest jet I had ever seen (only three seats across the entire plane) to Saint Louis, where I caught a normal-sized jet to Seattle. I arrived in Seattle at 2:10 Eastern Standard Time, but as the west coast of the United States is three hours behind the east coast, it was only 11:10 Pacific Standard Time. It then took me three hours to get to my hotel! Most of that was spent standing in a very long line to buy my bus ticket.
I had no specific meetings planned with any of my Webhead friends, and I did not encounter any of them that day, so I wandered down to the famous Pike Street Market, where I took some pictures and bought a present for my daughter: a tiny owl figurine that looks like Harry Potter’s owl Hedwig as a baby.
In the evening, I attended a Pre-Convention Institute on program planning and evaluation with my colleague from MEI.
The next day, I went directly to the Electronic Village, which is the special part of the Convention dedicated to Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). I volunteered as a “greeter”—the person who stands at the door and directs people to where they want to go. That is where I began to meet the Webheads! It was so much fun finally meeting the people I had been studying with, chatting with, and learning from for over a year. That evening and the following two evenings as well, I went to dinner with Webheads from the United States, Brazil, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Portugal, France, Australia, Argentina, Taiwan, Japan, and Tajikistan! We had so much fun. You can see this in our faces.
After dinner, we would all congregate at The Elephant and Castle, a friendly bar located in my hotel until the wee hours of the morning. I astonished myself, because normally I get sleepy very early, and I am usually in bed by 10 or 11 at home, but in Seattle I somehow managed to stay wide awake until 1:00 or 2:00 every night! In between these joyous Webhead dinners, we were all attending sessions all day at the Convention. Somehow, I did not feel tired.
People began leaving Seattle Friday night and Saturday morning. My colleague and I had to attend an all-day workshop on program accreditation, and by the time it was over at 3 p.m., almost everyone was gone. But I still had another social obligation to fulfill. A former colleague who had opened her own language school (and then hired me to teach there part-time) had moved to Washington State with her family about a year before, and I went to visit her and have dinner at her lovely home near Microsoft headquarters, where her husband now works. It was a lovely ending to a wonderful week. When they drove me back to my hotel that evening, I finally got to see (from a distance) Seattle’s famous Space Needle, and I realized that it had been very near the Convention Center all along! I had just been too busy to go and visit it.
The next day, I was up very early again (4 a.m.) for my flight back home. This time my colleague and I flew together. We changed planes in Dallas, where there was a delay, and I did not get home until 9:30 at night. As you can imagine, I was really tired—but I had to get up at 6:00 the next morning to go to work!
My trip to Seattle was truly a special one for me—not because of the city itself or even because of the TESOL Convention, but because of the precious time I spent with my far-flung Webhead friends.