From November 14 – 22, France and Switzerland were my entire being. During my travels there, a great number of language teachers I’ve known for several years met face to face for the first time at TESOL France Colloquium. We had lurked and commented on each other’s blogs, interacted through Twitter chats and retweets, attended each other’s online workshops (e.g. Virtual Roundtable) and most recently, commented on each other’s statuses in various Facebook groups (e.g. 4C, TESOL France, Nightshift, IATEFL, #EAPchat).
Our first face to face meeting was at a birthday party for Leo Selivan (@leoselivan) at a local pub near our hotel in Place d’Italie (Paris): La Folie en Tete. Packed, the bar gave Paris nightlife a local flair, reminiscent of small joints in Toronto, where the camaraderie of conversation outweighs its deafening volume. A short step outside refreshes and gives a chance for a smaller group of people to bond. It was here that I finally realised the meeting of Brad Patterson (@brad5patterson), Fiona Mauchline (@fionamau), Willy Cardoso (@willycard), Sue Lyon Jones (@esolcourses), Eduardo Santos (@eltbakery), Bethany Cagnol (@bethcagnol) and of course, Leo. When I arrived ‘fashionably late’, most of the PLN was already there and mingling. The first I saw was Brad’s warm and welcoming eyes. So great to finally touch, move beyond the online, see the real guy. Then one by one, we all found our way into conversation, sometimes in, sometimes outside La Folie. Though I knew it was the first tangible time we’d hung out, there was no concern of awkward silence. It was like we’d spent our daily lives together: in fact, we had.
I knew this feeling before; making the leap from online to offline is not a new experience for me.
At the early stages of the internet–mid 90s–where we all used 14,4K dialup modems; video and even photos strained the connections; lag was often a barrier to synchronous chatting; and virtually not social networking site existed, my first online interaction occured. During university, I used on a text-based chat community, a little like IRC, called ‘Forest’. I’d log on with a series of numbers and DOS-like command prompts. We’d exist in a text-based room, with a description loading as soon as you logged in. All users would participate in a central stream of conversation, which moved quickly up the screen: a challenge to decipher if not used to it (not so dissimilar to today’s Twitter, actually). DMs would come in bold within this stream, though only you and they could see it. There were clans you’d join with a group of friends around you, and with more hours logged, you’d gain privileges that allowed for different interactions. It was here I met several friends from around the world, whom I would eventually talk to on the phone (the first step in progressing offline) and eventually meet in person (though only with those local enough–starving student and all). We moved online to offline in a fairly seamless transition.
My second, back in the heyday of online forums–mid 00s–was as a part of an online Madonna fan community. I’d log on to the forum on a daily basis, starting and participating in threads discussing her music, games about her songs, even engaging in off-topic discussions. Drama often ensued. Over the four or five years we met there, a group of ~20 grew into a community with its ups and downs, the same characters interacting with one another fueled by a shared interest. I even created and moderated one of these forums for a while. And one day, many of us met at a couple of her concerts, in Toronto and in Chicago. Our report was like we’d known each other offline too. Now I no longer go to these forums, but many have reconvened in a Facebook group, like old times, and truly are good friends.
And so I like to share here that there is enormous value in the powerful connections that can be made from fostering a network of people you share interests with online. Sure, we can all look around our lives and think that the friends and colleagues we have in our daily lives are enough, but why limit oneself when there is a world of like-minded people around the world, that we can get to know, exchange cultural experiences with, share professional passion with and learn from?
So I leave you with just a quick slice of my first meeting with some PLN and ask what your experiences like this have been like.
Some of the PLN reminiscing about last year’s TESOL France Colloquium, which inspired me to make the trip to experience it first hand this year!