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18 Nov 2014

AFS meeting report – It’s been over a week now since I returned home from the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society, and I have been meaning to write about my experience, but life has conspired against me. I am finally sitting down just now to put my thoughts to (digital) paper.

“The AFS annual meeting was everything I hope it would be and more.”

I’ve only been a member of the American Folklore Society for just over a year now, and this was my first annual meeting. It was held in Santa Fe, which is a beautiful city that I really enjoyed spending time in. I did take a whole bunch of pictures during the trip, as I spent some time in Fort Worth and Santa Fe before the meeting began, but I’ll come back to those later. Today I want to focus on the meeting itself.

While the meeting didn’t officially begin until the evening of Wednesday the 5th, I had signed up for the “High Road Tour,” which took us out of Santa Fe and along the High Road to Taos (although not actually all the way to Taos), starting on Wednesday morning. The trip was a lot of fun, but more importantly I got to meet some of the other scholars who would be taking part in the meeting. As luck would have it, I ended up sitting next to a well-known scholar whose interests intersect with mine; he works with both folklore and translation as well. (I’m not going to be dropping any names, by the way, partly because it feels weird, and partly because it’s unlikely that anyone reading this will know who these people are anyway.) We got the chance to share our various thoughts on these subjects, and he has since sent me a chapter on folklore and translation pedagogy that frankly blew my mind.

That evening I went to the opening ceremonies, and I must admit that the positive emotions I had felt during the High Road tour evaporated very quickly. For starters, it’s a very large gathering: during the opening ceremonies, it was announced that over eight hundred people had registered for the meeting. I had never been to a conference with anywhere near that kind of attendance before, so I suddenly felt very small. There were a lot of people who spoke and who were mentioned during the opening ceremonies, and everyone seemed to know these people but me. In short, I was feeling like the odd man out. I remember sitting there and thinking to myself, “Why did I come?”

After the opening ceremonies there was a speaker giving a talk, but it was getting late by then and I was tired, and I wanted to get back to my hotel to relax a bit before heading to bed in anticipation of an early morning. I was feeling rather glum as I walked back to my hotel, but a hot bath and then a book by the fireplace helped (yeah, I had a fireplace in my room—so I had that going for me, which was nice).

The meeting began in earnest on Thursday, and I dutifully began attending sessions. There were a lot of sessions—for most of the time slots there were eighteen sessions running concurrently. Choosing which sessions to attend was like picking a single plateful of food from a massive buffet and not being able to go back for seconds. I am pleased to say, though, that I didn’t find a single disappointing session. Even in sessions that I attended primarily to hear a single, specific paper, I found the other papers interesting as well. In fact, it was some of the papers that I had not originally been interested in that turned out to be the most pleasant surprises.

And I quickly began meeting and getting to know people, too. On Thursday evening there was an open house on “Museum Hill” (so called because a number of museums are located there), and I ended up hitching a ride with some new-found friends who turned the evening into quite an enjoyable outing. I managed to meet up with all but one of my fellow presenters before our session on Friday, and they all turned out to be very nice people (as did the presenter I couldn’t meet up with beforehand).

Our session was on Friday afternoon, and I arrived a little early to make sure everything was set up and working properly (as session chair, that was one of my responsibilities). We didn’t end up having a terribly large audience, probably because our session overlapped with some big-name sessions, but I was fine with the more intimate atmosphere. Despite all my worrying and fussing, the session went fine, and I think everyone, both presenters and audience members, enjoyed themselves.

That evening, at the suggestion of one of my many new friends, I attended the Indiana University reception. Again, it was late and I was tired, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet people. Although at first I once again felt like an outsider, I soon discovered a familiar face and had someone to talk to. I ended up meeting a lot of people over the course of the evening, and even though I was planning on waking up very early the next day, I didn’t end up leaving until around eleven o’clock.

And then, before I knew it, it was Saturday, the last day of the conference. Due to the scheduling of my flight I had to miss the afternoon session, but I was able to make the morning sessions. Then it was over, and I was on a shuttle from the hotel back to the miniscule Santa Fe Municipal Airport for a flight to Dallas/Fort Worth. But even then I was meeting new people, and I spent the wait at the airport and the entire flight to Dallas chatting with some new friends.

Although I initially felt very out of place on that first evening, I quickly began meeting people, and soon enough I felt like I actually belonged there. I suppose my primary goal in attending the meeting was to present my research to American folklorists and connect with people who might share my interests, but I got far more out of the meeting than I expected to. It all boils down to the people, of course. I met a lot of really interesting people, some with interests very similar to mine and some with interests that varied greatly from mine. Over the course of three days I also met a number of well-known scholars in the field, and I have to admit that this was something of a highlight. I started my study of folklore in Korea, and all my research has been done in Korea, so even though I knew of these scholars, they were just names attached to books and papers. To see them in the flesh and realize that they were real people—and very nice people at that, all very willing to spend time talking with me—came as something of a shock, to be honest.

In addition to the people I met, the ideas that I heard presented gave me a lot to think about. I don’t want to go into too much detail at the moment (mainly because I would likely bore you all to death), but I was exposed to a lot of different perspectives and got a lot of ideas for research that I might conduct in the future. All in all, it was a very exciting experience.

So, in a nutshell, the AFS annual meeting was everything I hope it would be and more, and already I am looking forward to next year’s conference, where hopefully I will be able to present another paper and reconnect with the people I met this time. Until then, I will be trying to put what I’ve learned into practice in both my research and my teaching.

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