Esperanto Language Blog

How not to organize IJK Posted by on Jul 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

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Salutojn el Kievo, Ukrainio! (Greetings from Kiev, Ukraine!) I’m now at the Internacia Junulara Kongreso in Kiev where over 300 junuloj (young people) from around the world gather to speak Esperanto together. Note that junulo is typically up to 30 years old. During the day you’ll find lectures, the evenings are filled with concerts, and at night you can choose between dancing in the diskoteko (dance club), drinking in the trinkejo (bar), or drinking tea in the gufujo (literally: owl container).

IJK building

Of course, there is a lot to prepare, but when you have an organization (Tutmonda Esperantista Junulara Organizo) backing you with over 70 years of experience, you expect that at least the basics will be done right. Well, for those of you planning to organize IJK in the future, here is brief list of what not to do.

1. Make directions to IJK as difficult as possible and offer pickup, but then don’t come to the airport to meet participants. In the last informilo (informing brochure), we were told that the way from the airport to the location was so difficult, that we should just wait to be picked up. But I’ve heard from many people, that pickup was requested and then no one was there to meet them when they arrived. Also, the brochure stated that taxis would cost a minimum of US$70, but in the airport, it states a flat fee to the city of $31! Also, the only address listed was in latin letters, which taxi drivers typically can’t read, so you had to know enough Ukrainian or Russian to transliterate the address for your driver…

2. Don’t start offering registration and Internet access until the second day. After arriving at a conference, you expect to register, right? Well, please wait. Oh, here’s your key and towels. Somewhere. Hold on a moment. You can register tomorrow, we promise. Also, want to email your family and friends to let them know you arrived safely? We’ll have Internet set up tomorrow in another building that closes for the evening. To be fair, by the third day, they did have wireless access available in the registration room with people sitting all over the floor to get online.

3. Be sure to pick the most primitive lodging option as far away from the city center as possible to make sure as few locals as possible hear about Esperanto. So, going on vacation? Well, how would you like to be staying in a place with no warm water, no easy access to clean drinking water (of which there are also no warnings not to drink the local water), showers without stalls and squat toilets? Also, there was no soap in the bathroom to wash your hands on the first day. The place is infested, so hope you brought your bug repellent! Oh yes, you don’t need any electrical outlets in your room, do you? Want to visit the city center? That’ll just be 45 minutes away by bus!

IJK weekly program only in Ukrainian!

4. Don’t provide a weekly program in advance. If you do provide one, be sure to have it only available in the local language. Bonus points if that local language doesn’t use latin characters. Are you lecturing tomorrow morning? Well, there’s no way to know until midnight of the previous night (or 2am if they don’t get it up by midnight).

5. Agree to offer vegan food to participants, but then don’t explain what that means to the restaurant. Also, make sure everyone waits as long as possible for their food on the evening of arrival. So, you’ve just finished a long journey and it’s time to eat. You ordered vegan food months in advance? Well here, have some meat and cheese! Oh, you didn’t want meat? Ok, let me take it back to the kitchen and take the meat off it and return it to you. Here you go!

Of course, all this being said, there’s still a lot of fun to be had with friends from around the world speaking Esperanto together. To be fair, the main organizer of this conference had a heart attack two weeks before it started and is now lying in the hospital. Also, it is interesting to note that the average annual salary is US$3,500, so you shouldn’t be expecting first-class accommodations. You do, however, expect the location to be decent and the conference to be organized. In any case, don’t worry about the next Esperanto conference, because I’ve never seen one this poorly organized before, so you should be fine.

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About the Author: Chuck Smith

I was born in the US, but Esperanto has led me all over the world. I started teaching myself Esperanto on a whim in 2001, not knowing how it would change my life. The timing couldn’t have been better; around that same time I discovered Wikipedia in it’s very early stages and launched the Esperanto version. When I decided to backpack through Europe, I found Esperanto speakers to host me. These connections led me to the Esperanto Youth Organization in Rotterdam, where I worked for a year, using Esperanto as my primary language. Though in recent years I’ve moved on to other endeavors like iOS development, I remain deeply engrained in the Esperanto community, and love keeping you informed of the latest news. The best thing that came from learning Esperanto has been the opportunity to connect with fellow speakers around the globe, so feel free to join in the conversation with a comment! I am now the founder and CTO of the social app Amikumu.


  1. Torben:

    Hilarious, I laughed a bit. Thanks

  2. Igor Lankin:

    Hey Chuck,

    haha, thx for the article. You seem to be very upset about all that. Here is one for you:

    1. Don’t have too high expecations when going to russia/ukrain/.


    Keept it up, Chuck. I like your blog! 🙂



  3. Sinjoro Eng:

    Well, it is good time to learn about the culture and economy of a country. If Chuck is going to be in South East Asia, I think he would be having another good ‘fun’ time as most of the SEA people don’t use hot water and the sitting toilets.

    I think go to Rome do as the Romans do is a part of Esperanto or maybe more accurate the humans should be ready to do.

  4. Judith:

    This accommodation is ridiculous even by local standards. Ukrainians don’t usually use squat toilets, and they are used to having warm water. Even the Eastern European participants were shocked.

    The biggest issue is that nobody had the chance to prepare for this – looking at the pictures on the IJK official website, the place looks really luxurious. And there’s no reason it shouldn’t be, after all, a little money can purchase so much over here; as the Czech IJK showed. I feel misled. If the page had been clear about the conditions, people could have either prepared for it or looked for other accommodation or resigned about this event (if they needed a vacation). It’s not okay to throw people into jungle camp, just as it wouldn’t be okay to suddenly start having the IJK at a four-star hotel. People are used to a certain level of conditions from previous IJKs and expect something similar here; if that’s not possible, then there ought to be a warning.

  5. Marteno:

    Hi Chuck,

    Unfortunately I didn’t make it to the IJK in Kyiv; from what you and Judith are writing it seems that really some things were really messed up (like the programme not translated into Esperanto), and I understand you were annoyed.

    However, I think the detail about the average annual salary expressed in US dollars is not “interesting” at all.

    It bears no absolutely relevance in this context (it would e.g. if you were asking how much to charge Ukrainians arriving to an event in the US) — as if this figure (which does not say anything about the welfare of the inhabitants in the country itself) could express the capability of the locals to offer a good service.

    I myself have been for holidays to Ukraine and was always happy with the service.

    Trying to judge all the nation with one figure (to illustrate failures of just one particular organising team) is exactly the type of monodimensional and schematic thinking we all should be trying to get rid of.

  6. Benny Lewis:

    Haha, great post Chuck 😀 Kind of makes me happy I missed this one 😛

  7. Kristin:

    Hi Chuck,
    hope you got back safely – I’m another one who asked to be met at the airport and gave flight details well in advance but was “stood up”: fortunately I was not alone and the Russian speakers were able to organise a taxi for the group of esperanto-speaking waifs and strays. You have to admit that the organisation of the taxis back to the airport on Thursday was brilliant (oh, yes, I remember, that was mine and Oleg’s doing -although all credit to Roman who made the phone calls.)
    Another gripe – I booked AND PAID FOR a four-bed room back in April. Yup, I paid the whole total (congress fees, food and accomodation) upfront – but nobody bothered to work out who was going to stay in which room and by the time we got there on Day 1 there were only 5 bed rooms left- it may sound like a minor difference, but the four bed rooms were actually far more luxuriously furnished with not just more space but much better furniture. And they were on the “cool” “calm” side of the building – not over the entrance which was incredibly noisy long after dark. Fortunately I got in a room with four girls – simply because we presented ourselves as a group of five), but I was also rather shocked to find that folk were being putting in rooms regardless of sex – I really wouldn’t have felt comfortable in a room with men I didn’t know.
    Yeah, I too had a mosquito repellant gadget to plug in – no good when there’s no socket!



  8. Tim Owen:

    I can corroborate Chuck’s summary that this was disastrous.

    I would like to commend, however, those individuals who did what they could to make the event work. My fiancée and I were met by at the train station by a very friendly girl (Oksana) from the organising team and her non-Esperanto-speaking boyfriend (Sergij, with apologies about the spelling which I have no doubt mangled). They took good care of us, leading us to the metro and then accompanying us on a bus, paying for everything and refusing reimbursement.

    We were assisted to book in by a young chap called Andreo. Although it was a ridiculous decision by the organisers to have someone who could barely speak Esperanto (he excused himself as a beginner when he introduced himself and then switched to English) in the role of translating between arrivals and the hostel staff, this young man dealt with a very stressful situation as well as he could. And indeed it was stressful: People had booked four-bed rooms prior to the event, only to be told upon arrival that they were now five-bed rooms and that no-one was allowed to book in until they were in a group of five! So people had to organise themselves into groups there and then. Unfortunately, all chat between Esperantists who had been let down and the organisers had to take place in English, which I found unfortunate given the premise of the event. Poor old Andreo was left stranded to deal with problems because the organising team vanished en masse to the opening ceremony and then returned two hours later than timetabled, whilst the foyer filled with angry people wanting to know why they weren’t allowed the rooms they had been pledged prior to the event.

    And it truly was a shambles. Our room was facing the sun for the majority of the day, the end wall comprised totally of glass. This made the whole thing act as a greenhouse, and our room hit 40°C. We weren’t able to open the windows to ventilate it in the evenings because of the proliferation of mosquitoes, leading to uncomfortable, sleep-deprived nights. I’d have bought a fan but there were no electicity points in the room.

    The bathrooms were atrocious; the toilets fly-infested holes in the ground. The showers were awful; after the first day the hot water was cut. This was apparently common knowledge, since someone from the area wrote elsewhere (I think Lernu) prior to the event to advise people to stay away precisely because the hot water was scheduled to be cut.

    I appreciate that not all members of the organising team would have been in a position to know about the bathroom situation and do anything about it, but there was room for pragmatism in other respects which wasn’t taken up. For example, the bathrooms nearest to our room had no indication of whether they were for one sex or another. There was an instance when a girl and I were going to shower at the same time and simply looked at each other uncomfortably before both deciding to back off. I asked one of the organisers on the second day whether the bathrooms were mixed. “Of course not.” “Well, how are we supposed to know then if there aren’t indicators?” The girl rolled her eyes at me and made out that I was an idiot, saying that there were indicators and acting as though I were a fool: “Don’t you understand the letter ‘ĵ’?!” I pointed out that I had not seen the letter anywhere and that I hadn’t a clue what it stood for. It turns out that it represents the Russian word for ‘women’. When I pointed out that a) I hadn’t seen any indicator, and b) that the common language is supposed to be Esperanto and certainly isn’t Russian for those of us from outside their region and so it was stupid anyway I got the roll-eyes treatment again, and she frog-marched me off to a bathroom to show me how stupid I was for saying there was no indicator … only for her to see that there wasn’t one and then frog-march me off to another. Rather than show a little humility for her earlier slip-up that proved my point she instead pointed out the Russian letter ‘ж’ on this second bathroom. That, by the way, is the ‘ĵ’ that I’m apparently an idiot for not knowing. Her attitude sucked.

    I’m sure there are many more instances that others could write. Those are just my impressions from the first day.

    However, I think it’s only fair to acknowledge that it wasn’t unanimously bad and that, for example, the people that I mentioned above did the best that they could, and that I was grateful for their assistance. I feel sorry for them that they might be considered guilty by association because they deserve better. Similarly certain people deserve commendations (Agnieszka Mozer and especially Manuela Ronca) for realising that things were so disastrous and intervening themselves to try to assist.

  9. Marta:

    Ha ha! Okay, nevermind.

  10. rolf:

    I knew there was a good reason I no longer go to Esperanto events. It’s actually noy a difficult thing to organise if you get the basics right…