Missing ISA Midwest

For the first time since 2009 when I was a second year graduate student at the University of Iowa, I am not attending the International Studies Association (ISA) Midwest meeting in Saint Louis. The meeting begins today - virtually because of the pandemic - but I am not participating. I chose not to participate this year because at the time when submissions were due, we were in the process of moving across the world. This was a complicated sequence of changed flights, cancelled flights, and even a solo drive across the US as our destination airport in the US was changed. The transport of our family dog, Yuki, across the world was made even more complex by the global COVID 19 pandemic.

Upon arriving in the US, we faced the task of finding a house in Texas - also while dealing with travel and other difficulties imposed by the pandemic - and moving our family and things from Utah to Texas and settling in to a new life. For as much as it was difficult to do, I knew that I would not have the bandwidth to prepare for the conference this fall. That realization was prescient. I love my new job at SFA. We love our new home and the life that we are making here in East Texas. However, this fall has been full of the work of settling in, of creating and teaching new courses, and of working on other research that I had fallen behind on.

Even though I think it was the right decision for me to miss ISA-MW this year, I am still sad at the thought of missing out. I have attended ISA-MW as a graduate student with half-baked ideas. I have also attended as an Assistant Professor with half-baked ideas and newly formed papers. I have helped out as staff as a graduate student as a new faculty member as friends and mentors like Cameron Thies and Sara Mitchell have chaired the conference. I have acted as a discussant and chair and generally learned the ins and outs of academic conferences in the confines of the Ball Park Hilton in downtown St. Louis.

I love the ISA-MW so much that I returned every year while I was an Assistant Professor at Nazarbayev University in Nur-Sultan Kazakhstan. Attending meant I would leave my apartment at 2:30 in the morning on Wednesday morning. I would fly out on the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt at 5:15 a.m. From Frankfurt I typically flew to Chicago (although I flew into Dulles and Houston a few times as well) and from there took another flight to St. Louis. If I hit all my connections, I would usually arrive in St. Louis at about 4:30 p.m. - or 25 hours after I had left my apartment. From there I would take the red line into downtown and check in.

Most years the conference started on Friday, meaning that I had Thursday free. Those days I would usually wake up early and ride the metro out to a shopping center where I could pick up things for the family from Wal-Mart. Often this was holiday baking items, some canned goods that were hard to come by, or other comforts from America that we missed in Kazakhstan. Participation in the conference itself was always interesting and useful. I have met many great friends at ISA-MW, including established scholars like Jim Scott and Ralph Carter from TCU. At ISA-MW I always see my grad school cohorts as well as the new students from great programs at Iowa, Missouri, Kansas State, and Illinois who always are well-represented. The distance and time difference usually meant that by the afternoon panels I was incoherent and tired. I often missed out on late dinners and socializing because I was just unfit to stay out. That didn’t matter, because I saw friends, socialized, discussed papers and projects, and was welcomed at lunches, the Saturday luncheon, and throughout the day.

And so today I am ending my decade-long streak of meeting in St. Louis. I wish my friends who are gathered digitally the best of conferences. And I pledge that I will start a new streak next November.