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Would you cycle to an int’l ed conference?

On a plane or a train 120 kilometres or 170 kilometres might feel like nothing – perhaps a few hours at most.

Michelle Stewart after getting the ferry to the Netherlands. Photo: Michelle Stewart

Over 1,000 people travelled by train to Rotterdam

But for a few brave people who were slated to go to the EAIE 2023 conference in Rotterdam, it felt like a lot longer, in a good way, of course.

Over 1,000 people travelled to the event by train, Daniel Ponce Taylor, vice president for Europe of CANIE, told The PIE at the 2023 EAIE conference in Rotterdam. But another, even more sustainable method is gaining traction.

The PIE met three of the people who decided to cycle all the way to Rotterdam – one from Belgium, just over the border, one from London and another from Glasgow – the latter of whom has been promising to cycle to EAIE for quite some time.

“I was planning before the pandemic to cycle from Glasgow to [EAIE 2022] Barcelona, and that was because the current president announced it the closing plenary,” Michelle Stewart, past president of EAIE and head of recruitment and the international office at the University of Strathclyde, told The PIE.

“That was kind of where it started. Then last year I couldn’t do it so I said I’d do Rotterdam, and started planning it last September.

“The main thing with cycling is the actual experience of travelling. As you move through places you get to know a lot more about the people, how they live. It’s not about getting from A to B as fast as possible. That’s the thing I enjoyed most,” she explained.

Because of efforts from people like Stewart, as well as the 1,000 who went by train, Ponce Taylor confirmed that over 25 tonnes of carbon emissions had been saved.

“There are some people that want to do [the greener travel], and they say, ‘oh, you’ve got the time’, but I don’t have the time,” Ponce Taylor said.

“But when it comes to the train, I‘ve got the ability to work while on the train, you can get a coffee at the onboard cafe – the experience is still smooth,” he continued.

Another person who cycled to the conference that The PIE chatted to was Matthias Tips from KU Leuven, who actually felt rather underprepared at first.

Tips cycled with a delegation from Flemish universities. Photo: The PIE

“I turned up on the day, when we were leaving. Someone from the Flemish parliament was there, I saw everybody arriving with these fancy bikes, and I looked back at my normal bike. One said, ‘I went training in the south of Belgium’, another said, ‘I bike 100k every week!’”

“The main thing with cycling is the actual experience of travelling”

“I bike to my work which is like three kilometres every day. That’s my experience. Then I thought, ‘okay, this might be a little more difficult!’” Tips recalled.

He managed it though – a 120km, six hour cycle from Antwerp to Rotterdam – and said it was wonderful to reconnect with nature on the trip.

A slightly longer cycle was taken by Adam-Lucas Pettit, director of UK partnerships at AECC, who resolved to cycle from London to Harwich, take the ferry to Hook of Holland and cycle from the all the way to Rotterdam.

“I’ve never liked cycling!” Pettit told The PIE in the first instance.

“But I resolved to do it – I thought it would blow the cobwebs off after the PIEoneer Awards, and it would be a fun challenge.”

When he started, he realised he was in for a bit more than he bargained for – thinking his first stop of Chelmsford had already come, when he’d actually only gone as far as Romford – on the outskirts of London.

After getting off the ferry in Hook of Holland, he said he wasn’t in top shape, but continued on.

“Everything was bruised, and I got on the bike and the Netherlands was nice and flat, but by that point everything was hurting anyway. I think people that cycle for fun have a few more tricks, padded shorts and stuff like that.

Pettit cycled from London to be in Rotterdam. Photo: The PIE

“I was full of endorphins and really elated [when I arrived],” he recalled. Despite the challenge, he’s also cycled further on to Amsterdam for another conference.

“I was full of endorphins and really elated [when I arrived]”

“Everyone in international education is helping to meet many SDGs through our work, but they need to remain aware of the environmental impact of our travel.

“It’s great that groups like CANIE exist to encourage people in our sector to make little changes where possible to make student recruitment more sustainable,” he said. but make no mistake, he added, he did it for the challenge.

“It was a win-win,” Pettit declared.

Documenting his journey on the Relive app was Joe Avison from the Chronicle – three countries on the way to his conference, the video is titled.

“I’ve had such a bad year, with illness and injury I honestly didn’t think I could do it,” he said on LinkedIn.

“In the end I went for it and I’m very pleased to say I made it two hours ahead of my best case scenario. Maybe I should plan better,” he continued.

Stewart has already declared she’ll be cycling to Toulouse, next year’s conference. However, Ponce Taylor pointed out that location-wise, conferences need to be mindful of where they locate themselves each year to make being more sustainable, sustainable.

“We’re here to connect but it’s about making sure we pick somewhere good. Thinking about how we can get there? Is it a good hub for trains? Is it a place where there’s a high concentration of institutions?

“I think if we look at the objectives of the conference when we’re choosing locations, we’ll be able to get into more sustainable habits,” Ponce Taylor said.

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3 Responses to Would you cycle to an int’l ed conference?

  1. I love this!

    Over a thousand people took the train on top of the few hardy souls on their cycles!
    I’m invested in the work of CANIE broadly, but specifically, #travelwithCANIE is an incredible project for bringing our sector together.

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