When a country plays host to the AEHT Annual Conference, it takes pleasure in presenting a carefully chosen performance at the opening ceremony. And so it was in Kuressaare on this October 15th 2008, though again with a relaxed restraint which seems to be the hallmark of Estonia, where the harsher living conditions, more severe than in more southerly countries, probably make for a certain type of sobriety.
The 700-odd participants had taken their seats in the Kuressaare Sports Centre, and were joined by a number of important local figures. Two characters, Suur Töll (Lennart Pihl) and his wife Piret (Carmen Rannula) – mythical Saaremaa giants – took on the role of masters of ceremonies for the morning, announcing with great conviction, in English and French, the various phases of the ceremony. They called forward each delegation in turn, headed by its national flag. This is always an emotional moment of the Annual Conference, which somehow enables the students to become involved in the extended family that is the AEHT.
|a view of the participants
seated in the sports hall
|Suur Töll and Piret|
The privilege of making a short welcome speech fell to Mr Toomas Kasemaa, the Governor of Saaremaa County: after mentioning the island’s many attractions, he went on to emphasise the islanders’ sense of pride, saying that ‘it is no surprise that with such people Saaremaa’s Ametikool is one of Estonia’s finest professional schools’. He concluded his address by wishing the participants every success for the conference.
Mrs Urve Tiidus, the mayor of Kuressaare, wished us all an excellent stay in Kuressaare. She spoke of her town’s long history, which she illustrated by showing us a film. She spoke of climate change, and sang the praises of the quality of training provided by the Ametikool. She expressed the hope that the participants would find a way of mixing business with pleasure in her beautiful town; and she added that in ten years time there would be a six-kilometre bridge linking the island to the mainland ’because bridges build bonds between peoples’. She went on to say ‘If this Annual Conference is an exceptional event for each and every one of you, you should realise that it is an even more important event for a town such as Kuressaare’.
AEHT President Louis Robert took the floor to note that thanks to the Internet it was now easier to find Kuressaare on the map, and to express his pleasure that some participants had travelled a long way to be with us: thus our friends from the Azores had travelled 3,500 kms while the non-European delegation, from Colombia, had undertaken a journey of 10,000 kms! He praised this enthusiasm, the best form of reward for Neeme Rand, since his efforts had attracted 130 schools from 32 countries, bringing together 331 students and 334 teachers, directors, accompanying partners and professional partners. Today the whole of Europe had invaded Kuressaare in order to strengthen the links between hotel and tourism schools, and on their return home to play the role of ambassadors for this small but beautiful country. ‘Many thanks, Neeme, to you, to your school, to your students, to your teachers, and to your administrative and technical staff; and thanks to all those who have contributed to the organisation of the 21st AEHT Annual Conference, which I have the pleasure of declaring open …
We were then treated to a historical retrospective, played out gracefully and convincingly by students dressed in costumes representing clothing and fashion from prehistoric times to the present day, inevitably including the soviet period which is evidently still present in everyone’s mind. This ceremony was brilliantly rounded off with a display of modern dance spiritedly performed by another group of students. It was now 11.05am, and Neeme Rand, the key figure in this 21st Annual Conference, spoke briefly to the audience to urge them to make use of the opportunity to get to know each other until midday, at which time the lunch buffet would be served in the room next door; and this networking session went ahead with accordion music in the background.