Why Experience an Esperanto Event
I'm giddy with anticipation. Soon I shall see lots of my international friends again, the ones that I write to all the time but whom I only meet in person once or twice a year. I'm looking forward to the JES, the Junulara E-Semajno, a 7-day Esperanto event for 200-300 young people. It takes place in Germany from December 28th to January 4th. Now is a good time to remind my friends, make sure they have vacation time left over and start looking for a cheap flight or train or bus.
Why are Esperanto events like this the highlight of my year?
The events are incredibly fun. The atmosphere is amazing. Since the opportunity only comes around once or twice a year for many, everybody is trying to pack a year's worth of memories into 7 days. Make every minute count with the dear friends from whom you'll soon be separated again. Get to know new people now, make new experiences now, it's a unique chance. Party like there's no tomorrow.
They're international. The several hundred participants come from 25 or 30 countries. Some will come all the way from other continents, because the reputation of these events has spread so far. The international climate is particularly visible during the Internacia Kulinara Festivalo, when participants offer specialties from their country/region for everyone to try. New Year's Eve is also notable because waves of people will go around wishing everyone a happy new year - all in their own time zone, typically ranging from local 5pm (Japan) to 9am (American West Coast).
They're geeky. At events for young people, the participants make the program. There's a large board where anyone can pin their session. Some will be known before the event, but a lot of people also have spontaneous ideas. Get an introduction to a new language, learn dancing or capoeira or juggling, discuss open source or politics or sexuality, anything goes. There are several tracks all the time, so you can choose whatever interests you or none, play board games instead or simply hang out with old and new friends.
They're liberating. The majority of Esperanto speakers are not what one might call mainstream. All kinds of minorities (polyglots, vegetarians, programmers, nerds, LGBT people...) are still minorities in Esperantio, but larger. In my experience, at least 10% of participants are hardcore language geeks, the kind who'd pick up some phrases of Swahili just for fun. The rest are not, but they are tolerant and encouraging and they probably speak more than two languages anyway. It's liberating to be in an environment where the default response to "I'm learning Swahili" is not "What do you do that for?!" but "Awesome. I'm still struggling with Russian." or something along those lines. The same goes for any minority. LGBT people can be affectionate in public, vegetarians and vegans each have their own meal options during the event, and if nerds prefer a late-night discussion of relativity instead of dancing, nobody will make snide remarks. Be yourself, no matter what that means for you.
They're inspirational. It seems that most young Esperanto speakers are working on interesting projects or have great insights to share. After a week at an event, I come back brimming with new ideas, new projects and people to realize them with.
So, how can I imagine a large Esperanto event for young people?
The event typically takes place at a youth hostel, so most people eat, sleep and party in the same place. Some people will sleep on air mattresses in the amasloĝejo, typically a gym hall, as a low-cost alternative to the hostel. The event provides breakfast, lunch and dinner, accomodating meat eaters and vegetarians, usually also vegans. It is also possible for people to not book a meal option and eat out or prepare their own food.
The event also provides for some set program items, such as concerts by known Esperanto bands, movie showings, "international evening" (where participants can show sketches or other performances), excursions to nearby sights and so on. Sometimes the organizers invite a famous person, for example the participants of the JES 2011 got to talk about Europe's future with Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Polish president Lech Walesa. They may also organize Esperanto courses for newbies or intermediate students, and Esperanto examinations, where you can get an official CEFR certificate. Apart from that, the program is left up to the participants, who can suggest lectures, workshops and discussion rounds on any topic imaginable. These will take place in the late morning or in the afternoon.
For some participants, these sessions are a critical part of the event, a great place to discuss or learn a new skill. Others manage to miss the sessions entirely, owing to partying until dawn every day and then sleeping until dinner. Since there are several hundred participants, there are many different ways to pass the event. Also in the evening there are different venues, e. g. a bar, a dance floor, a concert, a quiet candlelit room ("gufujo"), a place to play board games or Werwolf/Mafia, and any number of places where you can spend time with friends. Since these are all in the same youth hostel, people easily move between places even in the same night.
You may want to read a Canadian language geek's impressions of his first big Esperanto event.
And here's an American's impressions of the event the following year.
Actually, why don't you try it yourself? Meet me at the JES!