This last weekend I had the opportunity to fly to Italy and visit Milano (Milan) for WordCamp Italia. I left early on a Wednesday morning and arrived early on a Thursday morning. I hadn’t quite wrapped my head around how long it would take to get there, so when I got to my hotel they didn’t find my name on the list, because I was supposed to check in the day before! All was well in the end though, and I slept hard for my first few hours in Milan.
That first evening I was invited by the folks from Yoast to an impromptu dinner that also included most of the WordCamp organizers. We went to a very nice place, and our seating was in the basement, where the walls and ceilings were brick, and the ceilings were arched. It was filled with the sound of happy people talking in Italian and the smell of delicious food. I got my first Milano pizza.
A big reason I attended WordCamp Italia is that Stefano Cassone asked me to come sit at the contributor table for the WP Photos project. This wasn’t my first contributor day by a long shot, but it was the first one that felt like a Big contributor day at a WordCamp that wasn’t Europe or U.S.
I’m my experience contributor day attendance is about ⅕ that of WordCamp attendance, so small camps have very small contributor days. WordCamp Italia had about 100 contributors with 300-400 Camp attendees, which makes it somewhere more like ⅓, and it felt Big. There was a lot of hustle and bustle, every table had something going on, and there was an air of excitement.
The Photos project isn’t really one you can sit at a table all day and help, but people came by, learned what it was about, learned about Openverse, and excitement rose. A few people uploaded pictures on the spot, but most wanted to look through their libraries and find good ones.
That said, we moderated about 50 images that day, and came very close to hitting 5000 total images in the library. In fact, we DID hit 5000 the next day, Session day.
Session day was held at the University of Milan campus, and it was gorgeous.
Registration was at 9 am and the sponsor hall was filled with excited people.
I didn’t actually go to any sessions. There were only two in English, and one of those was my own. I did have a wonderful time in the hallway track though, meeting people, learning their stories, hearing about the Italian WordPress community etc.
There were two track rooms, and being in a university they were both large and well appointed. Here’s a picture of my presentation.
There was a small monitor on the desk in front of me, so I didn’t have to turn and look at the screen. I had a slide advancer in my hand with a laser, so I occasionally turned and pointed, but otherwise, it was very face forward.
It was also fully streamed, so people everywhere in the world could watch. When Corona hit, all talks went online, which was a huge boon to people who wanted that education but couldn’t travel. With in-person events happening, I’m encouraged that streaming has continued to happen.
Closing remarks were a heartwarming time. I didn’t understand most of it, but I could read the stats on the big screen, and when everyone started clapping and stood up and the lead organizer started crying I knew exactly what was going on. WordCamps are always a team effort, but the lead organizer is the conductor, and Giorgia Castro did a wonderful job.
As both a speaker and a sponsor, I was invited to the Speaker Sponsor party. We had an entire bar, with two floors. Each end had a very large spiral staircase. The food was charcuterie, very high quality, but not to everyone’s taste. The staff were very friendly and accommodating. The music was a little loud for conversation, but we managed. There was also an outdoor patio where the smokers hung out.
The afterparty was at the same location and surprisingly didn’t feel more crowded. Usually, the speaker sponsor party is much smaller, but the two felt the same.
The parties are a big deal for me, not because of the party aspect, or the food or the drinking, but the conversations. For me, this is where the very best networking happens. People tend to be more relaxed, open to talking, etc. It’s also easy to spot the people who feel like they don’t fit in, or don’t know anyone. They tend to stand quietly by themselves sipping a drink. I’m like a moth to their flame. I wish for them to discover the friendship and joy of the WordPress community, so I seek them out and draw them into conversation. I introduce them to other people, so I’m not their only friend. It’s deeply fulfilling to see someone open up in a safe place and enjoy themselves.
A Word About Language
I don’t speak any Italian whatsoever. Ok, I can say hello, good morning, good afternoon, and thank you. That’s pretty much it. I’ve been told that MOST Italians don’t speak English, but in my time here I found only one person who spoke none.
If the situation were reversed, and an Italian person came to a US WordCamp without any English at all, they would be completely lost. I’d be impressed if they could GET to WordCamp, since our service people don’t speak anything but English either.
And yet, the people I talked to apologized BOTH for their English and their use of Italian. They’re so much more knowledgeable than I am, and tremendously accommodating, and yet they’re the ones that apologize! Such graciousness.
I feel outrageously privileged to speak English and find it in so many places in the world. For a long time, I’ve known of the existence of the mental fatigue that comes from spending a great deal of time listening to a language you don’t know and trying to get meaning from it. At the end of the day, the person is exhausted. I was actually excited to experience this, to know what it feels like for people who come to my world.
It’s also very embarrassing to say to someone “I don’t understand you” when they’re doing their very best to speak your language. And they’re probably doing a perfect job technically, the accent is just making it hard to understand. I always feel terrible when I don’t understand someone working so hard to communicate with me.
So to the Italian WordPress community, and Milan and Italy in general. Thank you for your tolerance and graciousness.
In my experience, an international WordCamp is one of the safest and most enjoyable ways to experience a foreign country. The people are kind and gracious and want to help you have a good time. They’re excited to show off their world and help you experience the best of it. If you get the opportunity to do so, I highly recommend it.