-Emma Reid, JCI Edinburgh Local President

In June, I had the pleasure of travelling to Bruges, a beautiful historic town in Belgium, for the JCI European Conference. As this was my first time at a European Conference and a conference of this size, I have to admit I was a little apprehensive.  

There were going to be over 1,500 people there, in a new city, with so many cultures and personalities coming together at once – and as a bit of an introvert, it did seem a bit daunting. But as soon as we landed in Bruges, met up with JCI Scotland friends, and experienced the totally amazing opening ceremony, any worries I had were gone!  

The opening ceremony and after party as standalone events were truly once in a lifetime experiences. To be sat in the city’s largest auditorium with friends from all over Europe and beyond, watching the European National Presidents on stage, listening to a hilarious (but inspiring!) keynote speaker and hearing a traditional Belgian band was amazing. But to top it off, the stage was then transformed into a dancefloor with a live DJ set and plenty of Belgian beer. Certainly, a night to remember. 

Over the coming days I enjoyed and embraced many of the sessions the conference had to offer and had such an amazing time. It’s too hard to summarise my experience in one blog, so instead, I’ve decided to offer up my lessons as a first timer, which I hope serve as tips for fellow JCI members who are thinking of joining an international event next year: 

  1. Don’t shy away from anything, just because you’re a bit nervous. Embrace the welcoming nature of everyone within JCI. Go to sessions alone and meet new people, strike up conversation with people during party nights, and get stuck into activities you’ve never tried.  
  1. Meet as many people as you can, and stay connected! One of the best things about these conferences is the people you’ll meet, and the experiences you share together during the event. Get to know the people you’re sitting next to in a workshop or waiting in line for a drink with. Not only that – make sure you connect, whether that’s LinkedIn or Facebook – and if possible, use the opportunity to discuss potential collaborations. Some of the best project ideas can come around after a few drinks! 
  1. Absorb as much as you can. Although you’ll be tired (it’s a busy few days!), make sure you engage with the amazing workshops on offer. Ask questions, take notes, and think about how the topic/session can help you with your own development goals. 
  1. Take some time for yourself, and explore! It will be a super busy conference with so many sessions, that you’re spoiled for choice. But what helped me was ensuring I had a wee bit of time to myself each day, whether it was the walk to the conference centre in the morning, a quick coffee and a seat in the sun, some sightseeing, or a pre-dinner nap (they’re much needed). This time helped me reflect, re-charge and ensure I was ready for the rest of the day. 

I hope these lessons help someone else to take their first step into the international world of JCI – I can’t recommend it enough!