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The People You Meet on Trade Shows

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Entering the Times Education Expo in New Delhi, I can’t help but to feel like a student. I am surrounded by thousands of university representatives and potential candidates asking all sorts of questions about courses and possibilities. There are high-school graduates looking for some last-minute options, current university students searching for fun exchange programs and I even spot a few famous professors among the young crowd. Naturally, this is a wonderful feeling and I can only imagine how fun it would be, had I actually been a potential student. But I remind myself that I am there to network, report and fish for all the interesting bits, so I polish my camera and take out a small sound recorder. International trade shows are not my thing at all in fact, but considering my new job at Education Review, a magazine specializing in presenting different student opportunities, this leading expo was a must!

Walking through hundreds of stands, I begin to realise that the show is far more than just university and college representatives – there are prestigious language schools, short-courses institutions and companies speaking about internship opportunities. I take a few snapshots of interesting decorations and collect almost every catalogue and business card handed my way, soon realising that my bag is overflowing with crunched up papers. But after roaming around and taking photographs of nervously inquiring students and top-university representatives, I see something that immediately gets my attention.

"Excuse me," I say to the smart-looking lady behind the fancy stand of Villanova University, "Does that sign really say The Vatican Internship Experience?"
She smiles, as if used to the question by now.
"Yes, of course," she replies in a perfect American accent (I expected Italian!), "We offer our students many interesting internships – that’s just one of them!"
"Well I must say that’s quite unusual and quite fascinating!" I exclaim.
"Most people seem to think so. At Villanova, this internship is reserved for students majoring in Communications. In other words, it’s for those interested in journalism, marketing and PR. Naturally, this is only for the very ambitious ones and a whole series of conditions must be fulfilled."
"And what exactly do you do as part of that internship?"
"There is a whole range of opportunities! Students can, for example, work on the Vatican’s website by updating the news sections and writing different pieces of information. They can also report for the Catholic News Service and assist with different catholic events preparations. There’s a lot of work awaiting the lucky few that get in and they get free Italian lessons as a bonus. That draws in quite a few candidates."
"Interesting… Thank you very much." I take a brochure and decide that would have been a really cool opportunity when I studied journalism. Who would’ve known the Vatican was open for interns...

A degree offer in Turfgrass Science from Penn State University briefly catches my eye too and I make a mental note to include that in the "Alternative" section of the magazine (could learning about athletic field maintenance be someone’s dream?!).

I make my way to the workshop area because the mere idea of a "Coulinary Arts: Goumet cooking" workshop sounds like something I’d enjoy. There are also the "Jewellery Designing", "Health & Fitness Career Opportunities" or "Scriptwriting" and, honestly, I admit I did not expect such a long list of interactive attractions at a trade show.

But before I can get down to any cooking or fashion designing, I catch a snippet of a conversation nearby.

"When does the speech start?" a woman asks a man standing next to her.
"Should be about 15mins," he replies,
"Let’s get going then."
"I can’t believe he’ll be speaking here! How exciting!"

My journalistic mind immediately demands to know who the speaker is but I’ve lost my program somewhere in the massive pack of brochures and papers I’ve managed to collect from all these different stands. Who is that woman so excited about? I follow the couple to find out for myself.

I enter a huge auditorium and realise that quite a crowd is waiting for this mysterious someone to appear and for this mysterious speech to begin. I take a seat and wait with them. Luckily for me and my espresso-craving body, it all takes only about 5 minutes to begin. To my slight surprise, a teenage-looking boy, maybe about fifteen or sixteen, comes on stage and walks up to the nicely set up microphone. I get a strange feeling that I should know who he is.

"Hello everybody," he begins, "My name is Ben, I am fifteen, and I am currently enrolled in a Master’s Physics Program at Harvard University."

Oh damn. What was I doing when I was fifteen?

"My story is rather different because I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. My parents thought I would never speak again – and indeed, I was an unusual child because I’d get so overwhelmed with all the colours, sounds and textures around me. I couldn’t really function normally because of this diagnosis but, as you can see, a diagnosis isn’t everything!"

Indeed, he spoke with the kind of confidence I wouldn’t really expect from an autistic kid. I managed to get a nice, clear shot just as he paused.

"I attended plenty of therapy sessions as a child but, most of all, my parents supported me to realise that my perception of the world is not necessarily wrong. For as long as I remember, I had all these different ideas about colours, shapes, numbers – and especially particles, or the way our universe is constructed to be precise. Most things I did or said were very different from other kids because I was able to, for example, understand mathematical equations that are, as I see, considered difficult at the age of 3. I understood the world in my own creative way and there were things I just somehow knew: almost like an inner physics-creativity of some kind."

"I started university at the age of 11 which, I know, can be a bit shocking. At the moment, I’m studying PT symmetrical lattices: a kind of quantum system."

He then proceeds to give a lecture on his latest findings related to quantum mechanics and I, unfortunately, fail to understand about 50% of what he is saying. I wonder how many physics professors are sitting in the audience and actually following every word.

Although I am still shocked at the mere idea of a 15 year old autistic teenager being that intelligent, I realise I have a networking event scheduled in an hour and so I slip out of the auditorium as silently as I can. Leaving the expo centre, I catch a glimpse of someone dressed up as Elvis giving a presentation on a music degree in Scotland – I take a few quick shots of the funny dance routine he’s performing and decide I have quite a bit of material for the Expochart.com's upcoming article. Trade shows can be full of insightful surprises...