SPB3We’ve established that I managed to get myself to St Pete Beach and back on my own, but what was I doing there?

For the past 4 years or so I’ve visited some genuinely lovely towns and some even lovelier university campuses on the conference circuit.  All very much UK based though – I don’t work in a role that offers any international travel, and I’m ok with that.

However, one of the yearly conferences I attend (the incredibly valuable SROC) offers two bursaries to attend the American SACRAO, which in 2017 would be held in Florida.  As a recent Florida convert, I thought I’d try my luck again with the bursary and what do you know – I won!

From the start, I was under no illusion that this was a holiday.  The conference schedule was pretty full on – Pivot table training on Sunday afternoon, 8 am starts, and over 100 seminars to choose from on a huge variety of topics.  Just figuring out what I wanted to attend was pretty much a full time job – I had project management software set up just to manage my schedule to start with (fortunately, SACRAO uses the Guidebook App which is dream).  All this plus a presidential reception (special treatment for us Brits) and a beach party.

Admittedly, I may have just undermined my “this was hard work” by mentioning the beach party.SPB4There were three of us from the UK, and we bonded really quickly.  We all work for different institutions and in different areas, so whilst there were a couple of sessions that we all went to, most of the time we chose different things and compared notes afterwards.

One fun thing about being one of three British people was that as soon as we started chatting, Americans would flock to us.  We.  Were.  Popular.  I don’t mean to boast, but everyone wanted to talk to us, find out about how things work in our sector, where we lived, our TV shows.  I even offered to job swap with a hilarious guy from Georgia (still thinking about taking him up on that for reals).  We felt like the centre of attention, and to be honest, it’s going to be really hard to attend our next conference just as ‘normal’ attendees.

And I loved the Americans just as much as they loved us.  Every person I spoke to was friendly, every presenter was amazing.  I came out of each seminar wanting to work in their sector because it was all so inspiring, including:

  • A Wonder Woman themed open discussion on how to be more confident at work (WONDER WOMAN!)
  • An LGBTQ student panel which made me want to hug everyone that spoke. What an astonishing group of students.
  • A seminar on communication styles where we all did a quiz and I apparently am very similar to Einstein.  I’ll accept that
  • Many other nerdy things that I LOVED because I am a nerd

Although the US University system is different to ours, there was still lots to learn, and plenty to take back to my job.  I always love finding a new way to manage or a new way to process, and there were so many opportunities to do this.  Comparing notes with my American counterparts was fascinating, and I like to think some of them learnt a lot about our system from me as well.

We visited exhibitors who graciously spoke to us (and gave us free stuff) even though they knew we wouldn’t be able to buy their products.  We attended the SACRAO town hall meeting where we found out about the huge level of organisation that goes into running the conference each year.

And yes, there was a beach party but how could there not be.  The sun set as we networked, and I had one of my favourite moments of the event.  Earlier in the day, I was scrolling through Facebook  when I noticed a friend who I haven’t seen for 10 years had posted a photo of his Mother receiving an award.  An award which I had witnessed in person a couple of hours beforehand.  Of all the places I could meet a friend’s Mum, I would never imagined it would be at an American work conference.  It was so lovely to meet her, and a really fun coincidence!

I’ve only been back at work a couple of weeks, but it feels like SACRAO has had such a positive impact on me already.  I wish I could do this every year – 2018 is in Nashville and I want to go so badly!  I’ve already told people that I want to retire and just do the conference circuit.  Sadly, I think I’m many years away from that.

It’s one of those experiences which I don’t think I’ll forget any time soon.  Plus I fulfilled a lifelong ambition – my very first S’more!  And it was absolutely delicious.  SPB5

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