- Feye Andal
Embarking on my first State of the Map US (SoTMUS) experience in Richmond, Virginia, was a dream come true. This year, with financial support through a travel grant, I eagerly delved into the realm of open mapping communities from the US. Here, I recount the highlights and unforgettable moments that made this conference a special experience.
Last year, I missed out on attending SoTMUS due to financial constraints. But this year, the conference organizers, OpenStreetMap US, granted me a travel grant, which covered the transportation expenses, and provided free accommodation and conference tickets. Realizing I could engage with the open mapping communities and enthusiasts in person was thrilling.
In the lead-up to the conference, I anticipated meeting my fellow co-travel grant scholars from YouthMappers. We had bonded in-person last year at State of the Map in Firenze, Italy, and earlier this year during the YouthMappers Leadership Summit in Montego Bay, Jamaica. I was looking forward to finally connecting again with them in person. However, some could not join us at SoTMUS due to travel constraints such as visa issues. While their absence was felt, we remained connected through digital channels. Though disappointed, I still cherished the opportunity to represent our collective efforts at the conference.
As the global State of the Map was postponed this year, SoTMUS felt like the closest substitute. The conference attracted participants from all over the world, making it an international gathering of open mapping enthusiasts. It was a pleasure to meet familiar faces from the OSM community and a great opportunity to make new connections within the open mapping community.
To my delight, I learned that several Filipinos were attending the conference, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. The presence of my fellow Filipinos made me feel at ease and gave me a sense of belonging in an unfamiliar landscape. A special shout-out goes to my best friend, Arnalie, who was also present, providing an extra layer of comfort and support throughout the conference.
As a travel grant scholar, an extraordinary opportunity came my way as I was granted a lightning talk slot to showcase the impactful work of YouthMappers during earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last February 2023. It was an honor to present our collective efforts at such a renowned conference, especially as a first-time attendee. The YouthMappers funding organization, USAID, also approached me to feature this project in their newsletter/blog, enabling us to share our work with a broader audience. Also, I was invited to participate in the Birds of a Feather Session, led by Marcela Zeballos and Adele Birkenes, about how to successfully launch a YouthMappers chapter based on my experiences in establishing local chapters in the Philippines.
Also, I volunteered at the registration desk to contribute to the conference's success. This role allowed me to be the first point of contact for participants, greeting them with warmth and enthusiasm on the opening day. Welcoming and interacting with attendees from diverse backgrounds was an enriching experience that added a personal touch to the event.
Reconnecting with the amazing team of YouthMappers at the conference was a highlight of my experience. Engaging in meaningful conversations and exchanging inspiring stories reaffirmed the positive impact of YouthMappers on the global OSM community. Their dedication and passion truly shine through in the conference, as many individuals and organizations become more interested in the work of YouthMappers.
Additionally, one aspect of SoTM that made it truly memorable and engaging was the inclusion of a social event in the form of a Scavenger Hunt. This interactive activity not only added a fun element to the conference but also provided an opportunity to explore the city of Richmond in a unique way. I eagerly participated, teaming up with my fellow YouthMappers, navigated through the streets, and uncovered hidden gems of the city. The experience not only strengthened our bond as a team but also allowed us to immerse ourselves in the local culture and create new memories together. The scavenger hunt was a brilliant idea that brought a sense of camaraderie and adventure to the SoTMUS experience, making it all the more enjoyable and unforgettable. Btw, we won the Scavenger Hunt!
Attending my first State of the Map US in Richmond, Virginia, was a life-changing experience as I got to experience a regional SOTM outside Asia. Thank you, OpenStreetMap US, for providing this opportunity!