If you are new to international education you might be confused by the acronyms or the difference between NAFSA and The Forum on Education Abroad. You might wonder which conference you should attend, if you need to go to both NAFSA and Forum, if regional NAFSA is better, and so forth. Don't sweat it. There is no right answer. Everyone's situation is different. In order to decide what is best for you, start by learning how the two conferences are unique. In that vein, today's post is all about the Forum on Education Abroad annual conference.
[Psst: If you want to learn what it's like to attend NAFSA national conference, be sure to check out last year's posts on Why You Should Attend a NAFSA National Conference and The Anatomy of a NAFSA Conference ]
As I gear up for another Forum Conference in just two weeks (yikes!), I thought I might take some time to share what makes Forum different from NAFSA. Both national conferences have their own vibe. I love each one for different reasons. In my current job, I get to attend one or the other, but not both.
It can be hard to describe, so here are a few ways the two professional development events are different:
The NAFSA national conference covers all of international and global education. The Forum on Education Abroad is solely focused on study abroad. Forum is a chance to be engaged with other professionals who work with non-degree seeking study abroad students (primarily US-based). This means that all of the sessions will be on some aspect of study abroad and exchange. At a Forum conference you don't have to hunt for the study abroad sessions. They are ALL study abroad sessions. NAFSA tends to have more best practices/"how-to" sessions and Forum tends to be more academic/research-driven. But you will find both kinds of sessions at both conferences.
The NAFSA national conference is a huge and high energy event. My last NAFSA national had over 11,000 attendees. Forum conference attendance in 2015 was around 1,200. This makes a big difference in the feel and energy. Forum is more intimate and less overwhelming for the first-timer. I love that the entire Forum conference takes place in the conference hotel, meaning less of your time is spent scuttling to and fro.
NAFSA is a week-long endeavor, with optional pre-conference workshops on Sunday and Monday and sessions taking place from Tuesday to Friday. By the end of the week you are wiped out, having just done 12-16 hour days for 4-6 days. The Forum conference also offers optional pre-conference workshops on Wednesday but the conference is just 2 days: Thursday and Friday. So Forum is about half the duration of NAFSA national and is more comparable to a Regional NAFSA conference.
Whereas NAFSA is jam packed with outside partner meetings to the point where sometimes finding time to attend the sessions you want is a challenge, The Forum strongly discourages these meetings and builds 45-minute breaks between sessions to create time and space for this express purpose. You can attend a Forum conference, have all of your meetings and attend every session. No need to feel conflicted. This is my favorite part.
Your cost of attendance will vary depending on your membership status, number of days you attend, travel distance, and if you opt for pre-conference workshops. Here is a breakdown of the 2016 registration fees (more detail can be found on the respective organization websites).
NAFSA 2016 cost:
Early bird registration: Non-member $925 (FT student $315)/ $555 for 1-day pass
What's included: Access to the Expo hall, all sessions, meetings, plenary sessions, coffee breaks, networking events, career center, poster fair, and the opening reception (includes appetizers and 1 drink ticket)
Not included: Hotel, meals, and any pre-conference workshops you select
*It's worth noting that NAFSA provides discounts if you volunteer over 20 hours in one of several volunteer positions. Not only is this great for saving money, you get to know professionals while working the event. So if your main goal is to break in to the field, this can really pay off in more ways than one. More on how and what you can save here.
Forum 2016 cost:
Early bird registration: Non-member $600 (FT grad student $275) / $300 for 1-day pass
What's included: Access to a small expo hall, roundtable/interactive sessions, continental breakfast/town hall breakfast, coffee breaks, lunch plenary, closing toast.
Not included: Hotel, dinners, and any pre-conference workshops you select
Here is where I feel like NAFSA wins. The Forum timing changes, but is held in either March or April. This happens to be one of the busiest times of the year for education abroad professionals as we prepare most of of our study abroad participants to leave campus. We are right in the middle of things like orientation, registration, paperwork deadlines, etc. Leaving the office during peak time is hard. By contrast, NAFSA takes place at the end of May. By the time NAFSA national rolls around I feel as if I survived the school year and I am ready to reflect and recharge. NAFSA national helps me to remember all the reasons I love my job.
Writing cover letters is hard work. If you are going about it the right way, you are tailoring each one to the specific job. At a certain point it all starts to seem a bit fluffy, doesn't it? When you have cover letter writing fatigue you are more prone to start stuffing in words without thinking about their meaning or how they might be perceived.
Words have different connotations to different people, so there is bound to be a range of responses to what you write in the cover letter. However, here are 4 words I frequently see and explanations of why I suggest you ban them from your cover letter now (including what to put in their place):
I am listing this one first because I am guilty of using the word in my own cover letters. I've described my "passion for advising students" before. It wasn't until I read this great article on the problems with passion talk that I began to question how describing my emotions about study abroad work had anything to do with my ability to meet the expectations of my employer. Do you have a passion for study abroad? Wonderful! That is a prerequisite. But enjoying your own study abroad experience and enjoying the work of administering the programs are two different animals. If you choose to use the word passion, be sure you use it to describe the features of the job itself.
In your cover letter you want to signal you are "in the know" and familiar with the language used by industry professionals. The term trip is generally frowned upon when used to refer to a study abroad program. Instead, use the term program. A trip sounds like a vacation and de-emphasises the academic and programmatic nature of study abroad. Whether you agree with this or not, you will score points by using the common terminology (and might lose credibility for calling your program a trip).
In the case of the word travel, it is not so much the word you should ban, it's what normally follows. Including a summary of all of the places you have travelled is a waste of cover letter real estate. Instead of providing a laundry list of your Eurail whistle stops, only describe meaningful learning experiences abroad. If you have been to lots of places, great. But the important part is to tell the employer why that makes you suited to this job. What did you accomplish during your travels (ex. experiences working alongside different cultures, honing your language skills, fundraising for a charity) and how has that life experience prepared you for this specific job and its duties. Learning how to navigate public transportation and backpack is an accomplishment, but not one that directly relates to most study abroad office jobs.
There are two problems I have with the word immersed. The first is simply that it gets overused. In nearly all scholarship applications, study abroad essays, and cover letters I read, someone drops this word to emphasize the overseas experience as truly foreign. This takes away from its power and starts to generate a little eye-roll after reading it so many times. The second problem is that it comes across as a bit dramatic. Just being abroad, in another country, you are surrounded by difference. Is this how you are using the term immersed? What are you really trying to say? If you mean you lived with a host family in a small town where you did not speak any English for 6 months, and only interacted with host-nationals, describe that instead. And, like travel, tell us how it changed you. How did this immersion impact your worldview, skills, and attitude.
So what do you think? Agree with me? Disagree? Are there others that should be included on this list? Let me know what you think in the comments below.