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October 2023 - Year 25 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

To Go or Not To Go, That Is The Question,

Danny Singh, born and raised in London, but now based in Rome and Canterbury,
gives creative English language lessons and teacher training courses all over Europe.
He also offers stimulating monthly presentations on language related issues at
Rome’s biggest international bookshop and has his own YouTube channel which
contains a series of interactive English video lessons. He is author of two books, “I
was a happy man...then one day I came across Laughter Yoga” and “Learning
English through the mind and the body” and is currently working on his third book,
“Life is full of surprises”. He regularly attended Pilgrims TT summer courses as a
Guest Speaker. Email:



This article was previously published in the Summer 2021 issue of IN mag (the
Slovenian IATEFL mag).

The IATEFL Slovenia conference in Topolšica back in 2013 was where it had all
begun, my first presentation at an international teaching conference, a one-off
experience I had assumed. Little did I know that I’d be back the next year and almost
every other year, plus have attended several other conferences in the meantime, as I
entered this endless spiral of travelling to conferences, month after month.
2020 had begun with a couple of TESOL conferences in Greece, Thessaloniki in
northern Greece which was a regular for me, six consecutive years and Athens which
was a novelty for me. The Thessaloniki conference took place in the third weekend of
February. The Coronavirus was already causing damage in the north of Italy, but in
the rest of Italy and in the rest of Europe, we looked on and held our breath. By the
time, the Athens conference came around at the beginning of March, there were
strong rumours of Italy closing its borders with the rest of Europe. I was petrified
about missing out on my one and maybe only chance of getting to the conference in
Greece, they had rejected previous proposals from me three times already, but I
insisted in my own stubborn way of submitting proposals, until they were finally
forced to either accept me or call the police!

I made it to Athens and discovered a really interesting city. The conference itself was
full of cancellations. For every two workshops which went ahead, three were
cancelled. Nonetheless, those who did attend, including several from abroad enjoyed
themselves immensely. As the diffusion of this virus had increased dramatically, the
flights were half-empty which suited me, as I had more space to make myself
comfortable, stretch my legs and get up to go to the toilet whenever I felt like it. The
University location had made provisions, as there was hand gel on every corner and
signs up reminding everyone to wash their hands regularly, however, there was no
physical distancing or mask wearing as yet. As I watched the Italian news in the
evenings, the situation was getting worse, they might close the borders immediately,
leaving me stranded in Greece! How would I then get to Slovenia the week after for
their 2020 conference? They had confirmed that they had no intention of cancelling
the conference despite all the pressure to do so, other conferences taking place later in
the year had already been postponed. I must get back to Rome, empty my case then
repack and eventually make my way to Slovenia.

As it was, I made it back to Rome and roughly an hour after getting home, heard the
Italian Prime Minister declare that from midnight, Italy was going to close its borders
and we were not to go out or travel anywhere, unless it was absolutely necessary. It
was 9 March and I had to figure out a way of getting to Slovenia for the conference, I
would not be denied that easily. As I sat there planning my journey and what to say if
stopped and questioned, the news came through from Slovenia that the conference
had been postponed as gatherings of large groups were now not permitted. I slumped
back in my chair, eyes closed, head in my hands, this had to be a nightmare. It was a
living nightmare, as day by day, countries all over the world began to close their
borders and a new way of life began, physical distancing and mask wearing became
the norm, touching, kissing and hugging were considered a crime and teaching was
all about scheduling meetings, muting participants and screen sharing.

As 2020 progressed in what seemed to be the longest year ever, conferences left,
right and centre were being either cancelled or transferred online. This had some
advantages of course. You could attend two or more conferences at the same time
without suffering jetlag, click in and out of workshops without offending anyone,
make yourself a coffee and switch off your camera, so no one could see how awful
you looked. As we approached the long-awaited summer, most of the world slowly
began to reopen, though with caution, distancing, masks and quarantines.
The Slovenia conference now due to take place in October still hadn’t been cancelled.
In September, the decision came through that there would be no international
conference as originally planned, however, in its place there would now be two
national conferences, each with a maximum of 50 participants in this new location
that had been proposed. It would be risky, I was in the UK at the time, I’d have to fly
to Trieste, then travel by car for about four or five hours from the West to the East of
Slovenia finally arriving not far from the Hungarian border. The situation in Europe
was beginning to get worse again, as the threat of a second wave approached. The
conference might end up being transferred online at the last minute, then I’d be stuck
in Slovenia with no conference, the borders might shut again, there were an array of
infinite possibilities that something could go wrong. The first conference was
directed towards primary teachers, the second towards secondary. I chose the first,
not because my work is aimed more at primary teachers, but simply because it was
the first one and with the benefit of hindsight, what a fantastic choice it turned out to

I realised that this was the only physical-presence conference I was likely to grace in
the near future, having not been to one since early March, so decided it was worth the
risk. It was one hell of a journey, as I left the UK early in the morning and arrived
late in the evening at the new location, the Hotel Vivat. After a good night’s sleep
and a hearty buffet breakfast, healthy fresh fruit, cereal and yoghurt, followed by
some slightly less healthy sausages, eggs and other pleasures that I won’t mention, I
staggered along to the green room, where things were beginning to unravel. Instead
of the usual four workshops going on at the same time, there were only two, or in
some cases only one, which made the choice a whole lot easier.

I attended some great workshops on different online learning tools which I knew little
about, but seemed potentially useful, some sessions on using our senses and
mindfulness and of course, my favourite ones where I had the chance to stand up,
move, dance, run around and cause trouble. My session which I had been giving
online at several other conferences went quite well and there was a feeling of liberty,
as I was able to stand in front of an audience (albeit at a distance) without a mask in
front of my face and communicate both verbally and non-verbally jumping around
like an excited rabbit. Interspersed with these great sessions were real coffee breaks
with coffee and an assortment of cakes provided and real people that I could look at
and talk to, exchanging ideas and opinions, able to observe their wide range of
hairstyles, the colours of their clothes, their shoes, but most of all, the expressions on
their faces. That made it all worth it, it almost brought tears to my eyes, as real
human contact was brought back to reality, at least for those two days, before the
nightmare of 2020 returned and even mask-wearing outdoors became the norm.

I may have been almost the only man, certainly the only non-Slovenian present, but
none of that mattered, neither did the absence of my favourite social activity, the
international evening, where I generally get to sample culinary delicacies from all
over the world, combined with an array of home-made alcoholic beverages, while
taking my linguistic skills to another level. As usual, I popped into Trojane for a
doughnut, then on to Ljubljana for a one-night stay before heading towards the coast
of Slovenia, where I could reflect on what had been yet another amazing IATEFL
Slovenia experience before I headed home to Rome. When the news came through
that the second conference only a week later was to be transferred online, I breathed a
sigh of relief, as I realised how lucky I had been and how right my decision had been
to be there at all costs, as I wait patiently for the next “physical presence” conference,
whenever and wherever that might be.

Tagged  Voices 
  • To Go or Not To Go, That Is The Question,
    Danny Singh, Italy