A first-timers' guide to ...

The World Esperanto Congress (Universala Kongreso)

Hundreds of Esperanto events take place throughout the world each year; ad-hoc informal gatherings; music and arts festivals; residential courses; package holiday tours; formal congresses and symposia. Events in Britain are listed on EAB's events page, and those world-wide are listed on the international eventoj.hu calendar site. Young esperantists (those aged under 25) can apply for travel grants to attend Esperanto events; see the NoJEF website for more details.

The largest of these international events is the Universala Kongreso (World Esperanto Congress) each July, which attracts hundreds or even thousands of Esperanto-speaking participants from around the world. It is organised by the Universala Esperanto-Asocio (UEA) (World Esperanto Association) together with the local Esperantists in whichever city is hosting the event that year.

Esperantists at the Universala Kongreso in Valencia, Spain The programme for the Universala Kongreso is packed and varied, with lectures and presentations on a variety of topics, discussions, excursions and guided tours, concerts, plays and sketches, talks by authors, opportunities to buy Esperanto books and other goods, and plenty of opportunities to socialise and meet other Esperantists.

The host city is chosen several years in advance. About ten months before the event (e.g. November), you can ask UEA or your national Esperanto association (e.g. EAB) for la unua bulteno (the first bulletin) which includes a registration form (aliĝilo). Paid-up EAB members usually receive a copy amongst their regular mailings from Esperanto House, or you can go to kongresoj page of the UEA website to find a copy. Payment can be made directly to UEA (in Euros), or EAB members can pay via the EAB office (in British Pound Sterling). Note that UEA members in the "MJ" and "MA" categories enjoy a significant discount on the congress fee and so joining UEA in one of these categories can actually save you money! (But do be aware that the cheapest "MG" membership category doesn't give you any congress discount.) And yes, EAB members can pay the UEA membership subscription via the EAB office, in British Pound Sterling, too.

Travelling abroad usually requires a passport, so you need to make sure that you will have a current passport for the dates of the congress. If you need a visa to enter the host country then (provided you’ve already paid the registration fee) UEA can arrange a formal letter of invitation, but you must plan well ahead because the issuing of visas can take many months.

With about six months to go, you’ll receive the outline programme la dua bulteno (the second bulletin), including details of the (optional) excursions, accommodation choices, and a booking form for these. Don't be tempted to book a place on every excursion, because you will want to have some free time to attend the talks and lectures, or just to catch up on lost sleep! Again, payment for these is required in advance, and can be made directly to UEA or via the EAB office. These are optional - some people like the convenience of having UEA take care of hotel bookings and arranging excursions, others prefer to "do their own thing" and make their own arrangements.

Sometimes the organisers also arrange optional antaŭ-kongresa (before-congress) and/or post-kongresa (after-congress) excursions, lasting several days, away from the host city (but joining up with the main Universala Kongreso); these are for people who want to see more of the host country, in the company of other Esperantists, and they are also described in la dua bulteno.

The up-front payments for the congress and for any accommodation and/or excursions booked via UEA are non-refundable, so it's a good idea to arrange holiday insurance as well as medical insurance for yourself. You'll also need to make your own travel arrangements, although the congress organisers do often arrange for someone (armed with an Esperanto flag or sign) to be present at the local airport or railway station, to help guide you on the final leg of your journey.

When you arrive at the kongresejo (conference hall), you receive the kongreslibro (congress book), with full details of the events, speakers, and participants. Throughout the week of the conference, la Kongresa Kuriero (daily news-sheet) has details of last-minute changes and additions to the programme.

The working language used throughout the event is, of course, Esperanto. For this reason, the Universala Kongreso is not suitable for absolute beginners. But once you've learnt enough of the language to understand simple written and spoken announcements, you'll find that a week's total immersion in an international Esperanto environment will boost your fluency and confidence no end.

Here is a typical announcement that you might hear or read:

For many Esperantists, attending their first international event, where they communicate with many people from different countries all though the medium of the international language, is an adventure and a happy memory that they will treasure for a long time.

(Adapted from: "Elementary,..!" Esperanto course lesson 12.)

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