Q&A with Missy Gluckmann, Founder of the Swarm on Culture, Identity and Perspective


A few weeks ago, I asked folks to share their burning questions about the Melibee Global Swarm and promised to address them publicly. Here we go!

Q: Why isn’t this conference on a weekend?

A:  In my opinion, weekends are not meant for work. They are meant for family and other passions!  Also, other major conferences – including NAFSA – take place during the week.  We have scheduled the first day to begin at 3 pm so people have time to travel.  Day two ends at 6 pm, so you still have time to return to work on Wednesday (if you do work).

Q: This sounds a bit esoteric/touchy-feely for a conference in a professional field; how do you reconcile this? 

A:  Interesting question. For me, an experiential gathering is incredibly appealing. We can read and study culture from an academic perspective all we want – and we can attend countless conferences that focus on this. However, we all know that 19 year olds who are going abroad on a faculty led program don’t care too much about the academic lens on this subject. However, they do care about practical, pragmatic interaction that will help them engage more successfully abroad. We also know that faculty leaders who have a deeper understanding of culture are able to lead a course abroad more successfully.  In my mind, this type of gathering is long overdue!  If someone can’t envismelibee_swarm_200x200

ion what it will be like, I simply ask that they be willing to try it out.  I’d also remind them that I built this concept after nearly 20 years working in study abroad/international student advising in higher education, so I have a pretty strong sense of what our field already has and what has been lacking.  Additionally, all activities at the Swarm are the attendee’s choice. If you prefer to observe, that is completely fine!  We all have different learning styles – so this is one way to learn and perhaps a way that will yield a different outcome and action steps than other conferences.

Q:  Why the Swarm? What makes this different than a conference or workshop? What do you hope people get from the Swarm?

A: My work at Melibee has always been very rooted in creating the events and tools that I wish I had access to when I was working full time at a university.  I attended many conferences and did not find them particularly stimulating or creative enough for me.  That is not to say that there aren’t good conferences out there, but for me it often felt like information was being recycled from event to event and the same players were always doing the presenting.  These conferences were also expensive! I am very passionate about the topics of culture, identity and perspective – especially when we think about our role in sending (and receiving) educators and students across borders. There is so much potential there to make a difference in how we and others see our world, yet we often find those soujourning spending time with people who are like them because it is safe or they simply don’t know HOW to approach and understand others in a meaningful way. This Swarm is designed to help us all think through how we can better understand culture to consider our goals at work and in our personal lives. So, what makes this conference different? The key difference is that instead of me and our speakers defining culture and telling you what to do with it, we are going to explore culture through more creative exercises and presentations/workshops that will allow each of us to find our own “a-ha” moments that you can bring back to your work and life. Each session will be a different length of time based on what is needed for the activity – not your standard 75 minutes with built in Q&A because of some logistical issue. We intend to have a range of experiences and interactions – some being 20 minutes, others being 2 hours. Instead of rushing from meeting room to meeting room, we’re going to experience these exercises and activities as one smaller group in one space that isn’t an uninspiring room in a generic conference center with floral wallpaper. We’re building in reflection time and opportunities to engage with each other on a much more personal level so that we create a community that we can continue to convene with, whether it be in person when we travel, at other conferences or virtually. What do I want participants to get? New ideas, inspiration, encouragement, creativity, ‘steam’ to help them through their work ahead, deeper relationships with colleagues, expanded viewpoints on a popular subject, more self awareness, tools for life and work…and so much more.

Q: What does the Asheville location bring to the SWARM? Why did you select the speakers you did?

A:  Asheville is a magical place.  It inspires me daily because it is a creative city. There are few “jobs” here so the city attracts entrepreneurs, countless people who are dedicated to birthing something new and engaging at a much deeper level.  It is also one of the most beautiful and accepting places in the US.  As for the speakers, I selected them because they are culture addicts who have dedicated their life’s work to the subject.  They aren’t researchers, but they are people who educate about culture through their own stories and experiences, providing a logical progression for synthesizing this event by the end of day two.  I’ve worked with each of them directly for several years and know the power of their work and how inspirational they are.  There is a method to my madness in that the sequence of speakers will make a lot more sense by the time we wrap up with Will McInerney’s spoken word workshop.  We’ll move from experiential exercises on day one to help us wet our feet, gain instruction and tools for the power of photography across cultures, experience examples of this through the work of Bassam Tariq from the 30 mosques project and do our own writing with Will’s guidance (all on day two).  It is a logical and empowering progression of activity!

Q:  What would you say the mission or vision statement is for the SWARM?

A:  In true Melibee fashion, I don’t have a cookie cutter answer to this question! What I can say is that I hope it will be an experimental environment that leaves participants feeling more capable, more authentic, more ready to invite discussion about culture into their daily lives – at work and at home, more committed to empowering others to embrace culture…


Q: What is culture? Identity? Perspective? What does each one of those mean? What do they mean together?

A:  As mentioned before, the Swarm won’t be defining these things for you.  We’ll be experimenting and exploring these subjects through experiential activities and then discussing/reflecting upon them.  I think, however, that we all can agree that identity and perspective are closely related to culture and why we “are” the way we “are.”

Q: What’s in it for me, my department, or the people around me? What do you mean by <un>conference? What are the values associated with this swarm? Will the learning outcome be transferable to my work?

A:  The Swarm website offers thoughts on learning outcomes.  I’ve been using the term <un>conference because what we’re offering isn’t quite a conference – it is a Swarm (a group of people coming together to seek new information).  However, in academia, most people relate to the term “conference” so we are keeping that language in to help it all make more sense.  But adding <un> to the word conference let’s you know that is isn’t your standard conference – it is something we will flex on based on the needs and desires of the participants.

Q: This sounds a bit touchy-feely or primarily for introverts–how can extroverts shine at this event?

A: Great question!  I think most of us are a combination of extrovert and introvert – and that our style shifts in one direction or another we grow.  Extroverts will love sharing their spoken word writing while introverts will greatly appreciate the reflection periods.  There is something for everyone and we will honor and respect each learning style by inviting people to participate or observe as THEY are comfortable.

Q:  Why is it so inexpensive? How can I spread the word about the Swarm?

A:  I priced it so that you will come – it is that simple!  I understand that budgets are unbearable right now, so what is the point of making it as unaffordable as most conferences out there?  I also want to encourage folks who are unemployed to join us (they can use the coupon code “unemployeedbee” for a 60% discount off the regular rate!) If you can share the Swarm website, it will be a great help.  Inbox colleagues  and friends directly who may be interested! Tweet about it using #melibeeswarm14 too!

THANK YOU for all of the wonderful questions!  Feel free to learn more about the Swarm here – and remember that early bee registration ends on August 15th!