Berlin Reconstructed: Musings on the 1999
The XIIIth Congress in Berlin marked a special date: 25 years—that’s a quarter of a century—of international congresses. Appointing myself official PCP historian for the month of August, I am inspired to list some interesting facts and figures. The first international congress took place at Lincoln, Nebraska in 1975. From there, the following congresses took place at: Oxford, England (1977); Breukelen, Holland (1979); St. Catharines, Ontario (1981); Boston, Massachusetts (1983); Cambridge, England (1985); Memphis, Tennessee (1987); Assisi, Italy (1989); Albany, New York (1991); Townsville, Australia (1993); Barcelona, Spain (1995); and Seattle, Washington (1997).
This year’s congress attracted, by my count, almost 100 delegates from over a dozen countries, far and wide. These include: Australia, Belarus, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA. The congress program included topics such as “Personal Construct Theory and the Constructivist Family”, “Do We Need Grids and Stats?”, “The Person, Society, and Culture”, “Constructivist Psychotherapy”, as well as closing sessions on “(How) Will PCP Survive After Y2K?”.
My experience in Berlin was a rich one. The ever cash-strapped Research Services Department at the University of Calgary, recognising this congress to be a turning point in my career, awarded me the maximum amount of travel grant money available to students. I am sure they were counting on me to return a revitalized and all-the-more sentient individual. Indeed, this is the case, although perhaps not in the way the department was expecting. My experience included crash courses in German and Spanish, a working understanding of the Deutsche Bahn, an appreciation for fruhstuck, five nights in a boathouse on Wanssee, an opportunity to put faces to many of the names on the mailbase, an all-nighter ending up in Potsdam, a gala boat cruise, a bus tour, extensive sampling of the local beer, and a trip to the zoo. The weather was excellent. I should also mention that I did deliver my paper, got some feedback on it, and made some important contacts in light of it. These contacts will, no doubt, help me further on down the road.
The Research Services Department delivers two thirds of one’s award prior to conference-going, and the remainder on return. This provides some incentive in case you like the congress site so much you decided to stay. In order to receive the remaining third, you are required to compose a write-up on your experience. I will be sure to mention that the congress was duly enriching, if not educational.
Being an international congress, of course there were many languages cris-crossing throughout the conference centre. Knowing only English however, I felt at times as if I was imposing my language on the other delegates. They would gracefully tune their conversations to English for my benefit. For this, I was extremely grateful. Still there was the odd misunderstanding and misperception between cultures at times. For example, I had to politely inform some of the Italians that “No, Canadians do not have to add antifreeze to their wine to keep it from freezing”. These little misunderstandings aside, what really struck me was how much we all had in common.
A couple of years ago, I took a course in multicultural counselling. One of the assignments was to interview a recent immigrant of a culture or ethnicity diverse to one’s own, and record their experience of immigration. I made contact with an Ethiopian man who had been in Canada only a few months and spoke with a robust accent. As my tape recorder reeled on and espresso was served, this man’s story came to light. What was supposed to be a half-hour interview stretched past two hours. I suppose I was expecting the interview to reveal many differences one would find between an Ethiopian and a Canadian. Instead, we ended up exchanging very similar views on family, life philosophy, travel, and friendships. I left thinking I had more in common with this stranger than some of my very own family members.
A similar phenomenon took place in Berlin many times over. As conversations unfolded, the differences I expected to find between various delegates and myself were certainly present. But what struck me the most were the incredible similarities between all of us. Seasoned conference-goers may have come to expect this. But it caught me by surprise again and again.
Whether from Italy, Spain, Australia,
or Canada, we all had similar motives for attending the congress. We
held similar theoretical outlooks, struggled with the same issues in
practice, sought similar experiences out of life. I was pleasantly
surprised to find that my newfound friends shared some of my very own
dearly held constructs.
I sincerely hope I can maintain contact with my new friends. Not because I want to impress the folks here with all my international contacts, but because I know I can count on these new colleagues to challenge my thinking, present me with new and useful constructs, and to share my ideas. The best way to do this is to stay in touch.
Berlin conference goers enjoying the day trip to Potsdam