I’ve received a few emails this week asking what IECHE (International Exhibition and Conference for Higher Education) is all about. Oddly enough, I has asking the very same question minutes before the gates opened and literally thousands of people started flowing into the convention center. As the name implies, IECHE is both an exhibition and conference. There are many distinguished and recognized guest speakers from around the world giving presentation and participating in panel discussions related to the present and future of higher ed. This year’s theme centered on the 21st Century College and University and what role technology should play in it.
Canada, with amazing assistance from our Canadian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Tom MacDonald, and his equally remarkable embassy staff, was well represented. We had 25 universities and colleges in Riyadh this year. IECHE is held annually at the Riyadh International Convention & Exhibition Center and, MAN, is this place BIG! If I remember correctly, there were over 40 countries, and close to 500 colleges and universities there this year.
We got to meet, face-to-face, with students from all over the Middle East who want to experience the quality education we so expertly provide in Canada generally and Niagara College in particular. It’s actually a lot of fun speaking with both young men and women who are looking for the best way to achieve the career goals.
The conference also gives us the opportunity to network and meet with people and companies that we can mutaually benefit from. His Excellency, Ambassador MacDonald and his staff were constantly bringing poeple over to our booth to offer up introductions. As a result, we made quite a few new contacts and have so companies coming to visit us in Taif.
However, in my very humble opinion, Ambassador MacDonald’s greatest contribution to the conference was securing Tim Horton’s to be at the Embassy booth! I cannot begin to describe the pure, unadulterated joy I felt when biting into my first TimBit in months. In short order, Tim Horton cups were springing up in all the Canadian booths. NO one in the Canadian pavillion missed out on the chance to savour Timmy’s offerings. Thank you, your Excellency!
I know you don’t want to hear me whining but…just to prove that I actually do work over here…the exhibition was open from 9am to 9pm Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and from 4:30pm to 10pm on Friday. Let me tell you, my fat, little body isn’t meant for standing up 12 hours at a time!!! I do need to thank my boss, Sean, for giving me the day of on Friday. It was a short day and he knew I had a paper to finish for that Sunday so he told me to stay at the hotel and get some personal work done. I was extremely grateful!
Our team, which is still in the early stages of development, is quite small. We didn’t have the bodies needed to comfortably handle our two booths at the conference and we needed key people to remain at the Taif Campus for our annual Institutional Review (which, in a cruel twist of fate, was postponed to next month at the last minute). So we put together a happy crew of five people for Riyadh. Two from the Taif Campus and three from Canada. Once in Riyadh, life happened! Last minute work popped up that needed to be completed in the next 3 days. As a result, our happy crew of five was split in two with Mohamed Damati and myself manning our two booths and the other three staying back at the hotel to work on submissions and attend last minute meetings. Neither group had easy! We called in reinforcements from Taif and Shady joined us at the conference. Mohamed even enlisted the help of his cousing who, just for fun, had the exact same name as Mohamed Damati. We simply refered to them as the M&M Twins. Our Mohamed is one of the young locals who work for us at the Taif Campus. He has exceptional skills in desgin and has been busy with helping to create the look of our campus.
We now had a crew of three at the conference (which really needed six) and we had a crew of three writing, editing and presenting a major proposal in three days (which really needed 2 weeks). This is what I like so much about our team here in Saudi Arabia. We get things done! No matter the challenge. No matter the deadline. No matter the amount of work. We all jump in, roll up our sleeves and get it done. Long hours. Little sleep. But TONS of fun. We would always get together for supper…at 10:30pm…and brief each other on our day’s activities. No complaining anywhere, just great laughs. Supper over, we would head back the hotel and some of us went to bed for the early wake up the next morning and others to put in another 3 – 4 hours of work before getting some sleep.
It’s such a great feeling when you work your ass off but immediately see the results. I’ve been in Saudi Arabia for about eight months now and I am continuously amazed by what our team has accomplished. We’ve taken many the months of ground work by tireless advance team and turned it all into a thriving and growing college. We continue to enjoy increasing enrollments, great retention rates and widespread recognition for your great work. And that’s just the beginning! There’s more coming just over the horizon. Niagara College is being acknowledged as a global leader in higher education and, as a result, other opportunities will no doubt follow.
I’m so thrilled to be a part of it.