Monthly Archives: February 2015

Ô Canada!

International Conference

Every year, a joint effort between interpretive associations and host countries produces an event not like any other: the International Conference on Interpretation. This year, Interpret Canada and the National Association for Interpretation work together to give us a great opportunity to journey north (or possibly west…maybe east, probably not south) to the great city of Montréal in the province of Quebec for this year’s theme of “Changing Boundaries, Changing Times”. 


Also a great opportunity to refresh your geography skills.

Every NAI workshop or conference has its own flavor. The regionals are like a combination block party and family reunion, where you meet new friends and figure out how you’re all related to each other.  If you’re nervous about presenting for the first time, or you have a presentation idea that’s a little more esoteric or specific to your site, try it out at a regional.They’re warm and casual, building helpful new ties to the regional community along with a few crazy stories. At some point someone ends up playing a guitar while the rest of us belt out folk songs and pass around a bottle or two.

National workshops are more akin to the juggernaut of a big family wedding: the need to keep almost a thousand people on schedule requires more structure and formality, but the joy and camaraderie is abundantly present and infectious. People dress a little more formally, the speeches are behind larger podiums, and it’s easier to get lost finding a presentation room. By the last day we’re little footsore and sniffling with an incipient cold, but the professional development was beyond inspiring and prizes from the scholarship auction are born away in triumph. At some point someone ends up playing a guitar while the rest of us belt out folk songs and pass around a bottle or two.

But the international conferences…ah, the international conferences! I’ve been to two so far and this is how I end up feeling every time:THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

It’s as though someone blended the coolest field trip you went on as a kid in school, the best debate you had with your friends at 2am on a Thursday night, and a festival celebrating a holiday you didn’t even know existed. You’re among friendly folks, but you never really know what’s going to happen. That creates a feeling similar to the regional workshops, but with its own heady mix of uncertainty and adventure. Concepts and practices you never had reason to question are challenged or even absent entirely, replaced by concepts and practices based on other societal and cultural perspectives. “Of course you’re supposed to make direct eye contact and smile at your visitors! It’s welcoming and friendly! Everybody knows tha…oh…in your country smiling is reserved for friends only, and is totally inappropriate for strangers? And direct eye contact is a sign of arrogance and disrespect? Huh.”

Canada pride

I really hope this representation isn’t disrespectful to Canadians, because it’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen.

Even going out for a quick meal creates challenges where you depend on each other to figure out what what you’re doing, and how to not inadvertently say “bathroom” when you meant “thank you”. Being thrown together creates moments of trust and humility, and your sense of gratitude for the interpreters native to the host country grows exponentially as they help you navigate natural and cultural sites, cuisine, modern locales, and forms of communication. They share not only the best of their country but also the difficulties it faces, and invite your thoughts and insights on both. They take you behind the scenes and give you everything they know that an interpreter would hope for, because they share the same passion that got you hooked into this world. You debate, and argue, and laugh, and take lots and lots of notes. At some point someone ends up playing a guitar while the rest of us belt out folk songs and pass around a bottle or two.

One of the greatest challenges to attending the international conference is the difficulty inherent in actually getting to another country, which is why this year’s is such a wonderful opportunity for a greater number of people from the United States to attend. Canada is a wondrously beautiful country that happens to be one of our most accessible neighbors, and will hopefully not be buried under nine feet (three meters?) of snow by May. If you’ve got the time, you can even drive there from 49 of our states (unless someone from Hawaii is really dedicated). The offerings for off-site trips include the Montréal’s Science Center’s exploration of sound and learning, the Space for Life Biodome and Planetarium, the Museum of Archaeology and History, and several national and historical parks and sites. The chance to participate in professional quality sessions with interpreters from all over the world, while exploring one of Canada’s most diverse and culturally influential cities, is one not to be missed. Come join us! We’ll have a guitar and a bottle or two waiting for you.

Granted, it may be a bottle of maple syrup.


Not that I don’t know several interpreters who would totally drink a wine bottle full of pure maple syrup. We love you, Canada!

International Conference on Interpretation

Montréal, Québec, Canada

May 3-7, 2015

Hotel Omni Mont Royal

Early Bird Rate: $350 (until March 16)

Regular Rate: $425

Check out the International Conference page at

Categories: General, Interpretation tools, Jobs / Professional Development | Leave a comment

Coconuts for Puerto Rico!

Ash with coconut ash in el yunque

I had the privilege of attending the Region 3 NAI Conference a couple of weeks ago in Puerto Rico! What a great place to go for my first NAI Conference ever! It was definitely a crazy experience from meeting Perky the rat to drinking “agua coco” (coconut water) straight from a coconut! What really stood out to me though was the passion and like-mindedness of every individual at the conference. Meeting people that were as passionate (a.k.a. nerdy) about nature as me was a wonderful thing. I think I now know that there are many benefits to attending an NAI conference.
Between networking, learning how to speak Spanish, and attending talks, I got to enjoy the culture of Puerto Rico. This was a huge benefit because it got me out of my normal bubble at the South Carolina Aquarium and into a brand new culture and way of life. I have always loved travelling because of the new perspective it gives you. It’s hard to remember how big the world is sometimes and how different other people may do things. Being able to see how someone does something similar to you in a different way really opens your eyes to the endless possibilities of creative thinking.
One of my favorite days in Puerto Rico was spent at the Humacao Nature Reserve. It was a full day filled with hiking, kayaking, and biking in a beautiful, scenic area full of wildlife that I wouldn’t normally see. Despite my sunburn and blisters, this day taught me so much. I ended up spending most of it with the locals that were speaking Spanish in circles around me. They were so kind to me though, and taught me how to open a coconut, why the river was pink, and why seeing a black necked stilt was just not another bird, but SUPER cool! When the day was all done, the local artisan handed me a gift.. a bracelet with a Coqui weaved into it. Even though the lady and I could not speak to each other because of a language barrier, I saw the warmth and kind heart that she was offering me. That day, I not only was introduced to the beautiful wildlife and scenery, but also the kindness and helpfulness of the locals.
I found the NAI conference to be very helpful for my professional growth. There were many benefits, as mentioned above, from meeting great new friends from all over the Sunny Southeast to tasting Coconut water. I think the overall theme of the conference was connecting interpretation to the community. In Puerto Rico, the sense of community is very important. They all work very hard to welcome the community (even outsiders from South Carolina) and educate the public about what their various interpretive sites are doing. This is what really stood out to me and something that I will definitely bring back with me to the South Carolina Aquarium. Overall, it was a very beneficial conference that I will never forget!!! 

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Puerto Rico recap coming soon

The workshop in Puerto Rico was a big success! Thank you to everyone for being a part of it. Watch for a full recap soon. In the meantime, enjoy a few photos and click here for a link to the Facebook photo album by the Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (more than 90 photos!)

Please save the date for our next Regional Interpreter’s Workshop: February 3-6, 2016, Stone Mountain Park, Stone Mountain, GA. Details to follow!

Categories: Regional Workshop | Leave a comment

A Match of Minds, Medium and Messages

Synchronicity is surprising. Last week in my electronic files I happened upon a pdf of El Yunque National Forest’s 2009 Interpretive and Conservation Education Master Plan. It is a very impressive document that enhanced my desire to update the interpretive plan for my site. Since my heart is with my Sunny Southeast tribe of interpreters in Puerto Rico, I checked out the El Yunque National Forest (EYNF) public website ( and stumbled upon another excellent document called Tradewinds Talk. This e-newsletter, targeting outfitters and guides permitted to operate on the EYNF, is an example of an effort to implement the plan.  What awesome interpretive thinkers the El Yunque has!

The Forest’s Visitor Services and Enjoyment Management Team wrote and published Tradewinds Talk. What a wonderful name for a recreation oriented work group! The team created the newsletter to strengthen two-way communication between the Forest Service and its commercial recreation partners. It is a platform to communicate Forest happenings and news and for sharing within the outfitter-guide community. The attractive design includes lovely photographs and inspiring quotes. The content conveys interpretive messages identified in the Interpretive and Conservation Education Master Plan.

Written and released in 2014, the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, it includes an article by a frontline interpreter and CIT about Wilderness in general and the unique and diverse El Toro Wilderness on the El Yunque. A law enforcement officer provides safety tips. The association that manages gift shops on the Forest and a food service concessionaire wrote about new items the outfitter-guide companies’ clients may be interested in. Leave-No-Trace is emphasized. The companies are encouraged to attend public meetings on the EYNF’s forest land management plan revision. There is even a section on recommended reading resources for interpretation, fitting for a Forest that values CIG certification and recognizes that commercial tour leaders are potential extensions of their small interpretive staff.

I look forward to learning how Tradewinds Talk was received and if there will be future issues. The newsletter is in perfect sync with needs and goals identified in the interpretive plan with the desired outcomes of enjoyment, appreciation and stewardship of the amazing El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. I trust that the Forest will not mind me providing the link: Maybe this team-oriented outreach effort will synchronize with yours.


Categories: General, Interpretation tools | Leave a comment

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