What is the current exchange rate?

It’s a statement I hear fairly often, especially when traveling to another country. After all, it’s nearly impossible to calculate the cost of such a trip in a way I can understand, if I don’t know the relationship between the destination country’s currency, and my own.

As I was at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC) this past weekend, it was a question that came up more than a few times.

First of course was booking the conference and the hotel and such. I needed to know what the USD looked like compared to the CAD, and how that would affect the financial cost of the conference. Then once the trip got closer, I needed to know about the conversion of Celsius to Fahrenheit so I knew what sort of clothes to pack. Upon arrival following our drive up there, I needed to perform a trickier combination conversion/exchange to convert liters to gallons, and CAD to USD, to determine the cost of filling our car with gas.

Thankfully as I fell in love with, and married a Canadian many years ago, these sorts of conversions or exchanges are familiar ones. I’ve long since learned enough to understand these formula and other mysterious terms such as toque, chesterfield, bunny hug, and Musical Ride. (I’ll pause here for any non-Canadians who are now Googling).

Back now? Okay, cool.

So those sort of exchanges took place before, during, and after the trip as we crossed from one country to the next and back. But they didn’t stop there.

When I return from any conference, I always ponder the experience, the travel, the conversations with friends and colleagues, and the knowledge gained in classes. I think about what I brought home with me and what I got out of the experience. In a purely cold logical way, it is its own sort of exchange rate. Time and money exchanged for connections, experiences, and knowledge. And really, as money is generally what you receive for time applied at your job, it comes down to: time exchanged for experiences.

This is an interesting enough idea, and I considered it for a bit, the concept of time exchange, but really, this has been done before, and there is a larger problem. As I said above this is a pretty cold formula and it in no way aligns with, or comes close to, encompassing my experience at SiWC. Not by a mile (or a kilometer).

My every experience at SiWC is warm and engaging and stimulating in a way that this kind of exchange rate would never properly account for. It’s simply not applicable.

And yet, the question stayed with me, what is the exchange rate?

I mulled it over, wondering why I couldn’t let it go, until a day later, the question flipped itself around and I had my answer.

What is the current exchange rate? Why, it’s very high of course.

But like Jeopardy, or those poor folks trying to figure out what 42 means, I suppose I need to explain the question. Or perhaps restate it.

Instead of asking for the exchange rate, what if I asked for the rate of exchange? Meaning not how many of X could I get for Y, but how fast X could be exchange for Y? Now that is a different question entirely.

Once I thought of the question in this way, it fit my experience very closely, because the question was not how much time had I exchanged for ideas, or how much money had I traded for the weekend, but how many ideas had I exchange for new ones in the course of three days?

I’ve been to a fair amount of conferences, and I can honestly say, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a higher rate of exchange than at SiWC. I don’t know if it’s because of the people who attend, the quality of the instructors, or the wide mix of attendees from a variety of backgrounds, cultures and genres, (probably all three) but for me the exchanges were constant, enlightening, and impactful. Looking back now I see them in every conversation, every class, and every discussion. I took so much away from each person with whom I interacted. It was like a constant improvement process from old idea to new, from limited view point to broader perspective, from shallow understanding to deeper knowledge.

Now you might be thinking, that sounds like dramatic hyperbole, and perhaps on paper it does. But in person, with a group of people so open and honest, it was nothing like that it all. It was just a few hundred writers, hanging out, making connections, enjoying reading and writing, and sharing what they know. With a group like that, all those exchanges, and upgrades, were just an amazing natural benefit that made a great weekend even more valuable.

So, what is the current exchange rate? I’m happy to say it’s very high, and I hope to keep it that way for as long as can.


For those who are interested, SiWC is held in Surrey, BC, Canada, each October. If you are looking for a wonderful writing experience, I highly recommend attending. From top to bottom the staff is wonderful, the instructors are top notch, and the writers are all friendly and happy to engage. It’s hard to beat it.