12 May 2017 | by Anniken Slyngenborg Jensen
Please give a warm welcome to Anniken Slyngenborg Jensen, who here provides us with some insight into her recent trip to Azerbaijan for the 31st annual EFPSA congress.
On the afternoon of 23rd April I arrived at Heydar Aliyev International Airport and less than an hour later - after a relativdely quick and pain-free passage through passport control (and a ride in a “taxi” of questionable legitimacy) - I found myself in the heart of Baku, Azerbaijan.
Here I met up with a group of European psychology students, and we all got on a bus together, which then took us on a 6-hour drive across the country, into the beautiful region of Qakh, before dropping us off at hotel El Resort, where we found ourselves surrounded by green hills and snow-covered mountains.
We had arrived for the 31st annual EFPSA congress!
EFPSA (the European Federation of Psychology Students’ Association) is a voluntary organisation, run by and for students, which represents psychology students from 33 countries in Europe, and works to provide a variety of services, resources, and events.
The biggest event of the year is the association's annual congress, where around 350 students gather for a week of learning, teaching, networking, and fun. The congress also marks EFPSA’s mandate turnover - the new Board of Management is elected here by the representatives from the member organisations.
This year, I was there as the BPS’ student committee’s EFPSA representative, to vote on behalf of the UK’s psychology students in the General Assemblies.
As the General Assemblies were only held on 2 of the 6 days of the congress, I still had plenty of time to attend lectures and workshops, and to socialise with my fellow students.
This year, the congress’ theme was “Humanity Today”, and students and professionals alike contributed with talks about terrorism, non-violent communication, culture, PTSD, and more, including BPS’ own Jamie Hacker Hughes, who gave the lecture “A modern day malady or as old as the hills? Post-traumatic stress disorder revisited”.
I honestly found myself a little overwhelmed not only by the knowledge of the speakers, but by the enthusiasm and positive energy exhibited by everyone participating. It truly was a fantastic environment for learning, and I personally left the congress with newfound inspiration and motivation for my own studies.
Perhaps of equal importance to the scientific programme was the social programme, and the cultural exchanges that took place throughout the week.
On the second night, the legendary cultural evening took us through the entire European continent, when all participants presented food, drinks, and traditions from their own countries. In one room, there was everything from Dutch liquorice and Norwegian brown cheese to Georgian wine and Croatian “Rakia”, with more than enough for everyone.
On the third night, we got to know Azerbaijani culture better, with a concert programme filled with song and dance, and later in the week there was a shisha and henna party. Every day during coffee breaks we had çay and baklava (Azerbaijani tea and cake), and at dinner we got better acquainted with Azerbaijani food, while at night we could have pomegranate wine for only €1 a glass (which I liked so much that I purchased a bottle to take home).
As a mid-week break, the organising committee had organised a day-long excursion that took us to various mosques and churches around the area, as well as to a little town nearby, and to the Palace of Shaki Khans.
If you are ever in Azerbaijan, I would highly recommend you visit this palace which, although surprisingly small, still took 10 years to complete – 8 of which were dedicated to decorating! Of course once inside, you can see why, as each room is covered in intricate paintings from floor to ceiling, and the windows consist of thousands of small pieces of stained-glass and wood. It truly is a beautiful place.
As I am writing this, I have been home for a few days, and have just about recovered from the 13-hour journey back to Liverpool, so the whole experience has finally started to sink in. I feel very lucky to have been a participant at the congress, and honoured to have represented the BPS student committee, and British psychology students in general, at this event.
It was a learning experience unlike any other, and I hope that any psychology student reading this will consider applying for next year’s congress in Malta – I highly recommend that you do.