It's the end of May, which means around the world international educators are packing their bags and heading to Denver for the 2016 NAFSA national conference. You've read about the NAFSA conference on this blog and maybe even wondered if you should attend.
Let's face it, not everyone can be there. But I have some super exciting news for you. Next week Study Abroad Careers will be posting video updates from #NAFSA16, providing an insider view of the conference. You'll get to see the NAFSA career center, learn about conference volunteer opportunities, and perhaps "meet" a few people to hear their perspectives on breaking in to study abroad.
UPDATE: Missed our Facebook Live event? No problem.
Check out the videos below.
This year's Forum on Education Abroad conference in Atlanta felt like it was over almost as soon as it started. Abbie and I arrived a day early to take advantage of a pre-conference workshop on digital storytelling in education abroad. The session ran from 8 to 5 and was intense. Time flew by, as it does when you are engrossed in meaningful work.
The session was team-taught by IE pros Doug Reilly and Thomas D'Agostino from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Joe Lambert from StoryCenter. Joe was a founder in the digital storytelling movement. It was wonderful to have all of them in the room, coaching us in our endeavor.
Before we arrived in Atlanta, the team sent us all an email with our homework-- find a compelling story we wanted to tell, location images to go with the story, and draft a 200-word script. This prep work, while not exactly what you want to do right before you scoot out of the office for a trip, was what made it possible to cram the 3-day workshop into a 1-day session. I started with an article I wrote for this blog. Abbie found a poem she wrote during her re-entry from study abroad in Spain.
The workshop started out with an intensive on digital storytelling principles and a few samples of the art form. We then moved to the story circle phase, where we pitched our script ideas and gave constructive feedback to one another. I cannot say enough about the value of this step. Sometimes we have the kernel of an idea but we don't feel confident about direction or the message we convey until we let others tell us what they are hearing. Having a safe space to do this, and reflecting on the elements of a good story, was a valuable and fun exercise.
As a professional, I write all the time, but rarely (if ever) do I write about deeply personal topics in an emotionally expressive way. Digital storytelling demands this. Somehow limiting our stories to 200 words is a magical formula. It's like poetry. This restriction taught us to be efficient and intentional in our art. You have to find ways to convey a message through thoughtful imagery, words, and tone when all you've got is 200 words. You learn where to cut and where to linger.
The software we used was called WeVideo. It's available free online if you want to try it in the basic version. I found it far more intuitive than iMovie or Moviemaker, but that is just me. It's an easy drag and drop system. You can layer sound and images as well as add in all the fancy effects like other video editing systems.
In the end the technology really takes a back seat to the story. I came into the workshop thinking we'd get a lot of technical training-- and we did learn new things like how different fade effects signal transition or conclusion and ways to layer music. Most of what I learned was how to dig inside myself to find a good story and work hard to shape it into something that draws others in.
At the end of our day we did a little screening party and it was so moving to not only see other people's personal stories, but to acknowledge how far they'd come when just a few hours ago we were in a circle hearing the initial pitches and giving feedback.
On Friday, Tom, Doug, and Joe had a Forum conference session that incorporated our work. They gave an overview of the process to a packed room. They showed a few of our films (Abbie and I made the cut), invited us to speak about how we see ourselves implementing the pedagogy on our campuses, and let us share how it felt to participate in the process. They even added our names to the slide-- so I guess it was not just a workshop but a backdoor to a Forum conference presentation.
It was a strange but rewarding feeling to be able to look around the room and see the response of people watching my story...to see their smiles or hear their gasps and side comments. It is unlike anything I have experienced. Normally when I am presenting my work I am standing in front of a room, too focused on delivery and nerves to really soak up more than a few faces in the crowd. This felt so much less threatening. I can't wait to try digital storytelling with my re-entry students and let them experience the same.
We only had a day so our end products were rough. I'm still a little embarrassed by mine and have so many tweaks I want to make to the images. And I'd love to add a music track. Abbie also feels that hers is just a start so I promised I'd share a disclaimer. She plans to add in more images after a trip to Spain this summer.
But you can at least get the idea of what is possible in a few hours if you let go of perfectionism and allow yourself to reflect on life's lessons:
Abbie's Digital Story
Kelly's Digital Story (adapted from this post)
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.
When I finished my master’s program and began working in my first education abroad gig, I was exhausted. I had studied, volunteered, interned, worked, and interviewed my way through two degrees and into that coveted entry-level position. I’d achieved what I’d been working toward since I was five, and I wanted to savor my success for a hot minute. But people kept asking, “What’s next? What’s your 5-10 year plan?” Couldn’t a girl catch a break? I wanted to soak up as much as I could in my new position and take a break from the “extracurriculars.” But if you’re a career-driven and goal-oriented gal (or gent), those “extracurriculars” (better known as professional development opportunities) are vital in helping you move up. Check out my 5 easy ways to stay on track professionally:
#1: Conferences and Workshops
Okay, this one’s pretty obvious. Attending professional conferences allows you to network with and bounce ideas off of people in your field, learn about best practices from other institutions, complete workshops on focused topics of interest to you and/or your office, and present sessions yourself (which gets your name and bio in front of hundreds of other folks in the profession).The big ones for EA, of course, are NAFSA and Forum on Education Abroad, and while both offer fantastic opportunities for growth, they aren’t always realistic options for some people. Small office budgets or tiny graduate school budgets can be a major roadblock (although lower registration fees for full-time students and travel grants can subsidize costs – always check for those!). Other conference possibilities are NAFSA regionals, state international education associations, Lessons From Abroad (LFA) for recent study abroad alums, software companies, and other specialty areas in higher education that somehow connect to the work you do in EA. All of these are great ways to slowly get your feet wet if the national conferences are out of budget or just too overwhelming. For example, LFA offers one-day, regional conferences with registration fees as low as $15, and those looking to enter the field could volunteer to help with conference coordination and present a session for the students.
#2: Human Resources Courses
Employees (and sometimes graduate assistants) at universities can take advantage of courses offered by the Department of Human Resources to enhance current skills or learn new ones. They may be offered free of charge or for a lower rate than what you would pay elsewhere. Possible examples include Introduction to Microsoft Excel, How to Supervise, Using Myers-Briggs to Improve Team Dynamics, SafeZone (trains university personnel on how to create safe environments for the LGBTQQA community), Active Shooter Response, and C-CERT (Campus-Community Emergency Response Team).
As you can see, some courses are geared toward general skills applicable to many situations while others focus on the acquisition of precise skills or knowledge. All of these contribute to continued development as a professional and may help you explore a new area or build on previous training. For example, for my current role, I had to be trained specifically on managing international travel crises, but Active Shooter Response builds on that training by allowing me to view crises response from a different perspective.
#3: Tuition Benefits / Auditing Campus Courses
Many institutions offer their employees the opportunity to take courses on campus for free or reduced rates. Even if you’ve already completed one, two, or three-plus degrees, you can add another area of specialty to your knowledgebase by earning a graduate certificate. Another option would be to audit a class related to your current position, which means you wouldn’t take the class for credit but could attend to learn about the subject. Would some aspects of your position be easier for you if you had a basic understanding of writing computer code? Take a class in IT. Need to produce new marketing materials for programs? Brush up on your graphic design skills with Intro to Graphic Design. Would you like to write a grant for the office but not sure how to start? Take a class on grant-writing. The possibilities are numerous.
#4: Campus-Wide Committees
This option was a bit of a surprise to me. I came into my role thinking I’d work in a specialty, so to speak, that would collaborate with other specialties (offices and departments) on campus when the need arose (co-sponsoring events, inviting guest speakers, etc.). But there are other offices on campus whose responsibilities include implementing campus-wide initiatives, which requires coordination with multiple offices in a variety of disciplines / specialties / locations. Actively seek out these types of opportunities because their benefits are many: network with people across campus that you wouldn’t have met otherwise, expand your knowledgebase with the addition of unique skills that may grab the attention of a future search committee, and learn about what different offices and departments value and how you may be able to collaborate with them on a project in the future. Examples of campus-wide committees on which I currently serve are the ePortfolio Project, housed in the Office of University Writing, and the Green Dot Bystander Intervention Program Committee, run out of Health Promotion and Wellness Services.
#5: Create Your Own Adventure
Once you’ve explored all of the options listed above and are ready for a new challenge (or didn’t find what you needed in those suggestions), get creative. This one is sometimes a struggle for me because I’m more detail-oriented and less think-outside-the-box. But you know you – what your interests are and where you’d like to end up (if only vaguely). Do you see a future where you’d be asked for teaching experience? See if your campus allows administrative staff or graduate students teach a freshman-level success strategies or study tips course. Want to learn more about the day-to-day workings of another office? Ask to shadow someone in that office for a day or for an hour a week. Feel closed off in your workspace and need a brainstorm session with your office team? Propose an office retreat where you and your team can get away from the same four walls you see every day. A change of scenery does wonders for productivity and team morale. And this doesn’t have to be a big production – it can be as small as taking an extended lunch off-site.
Regardless of what you need / want, the key to getting your supervisor on board is to figure out a way to connect your participation with benefits for the office. While professional development opportunities allow individuals to grow and gain increased knowledge of their field, the assumption is that the individual will bring that knowledge back to the office with the hope of improving services and sharing ideas with the team.
What other professional opportunities would you add to my list? Anything from those who may not work in a university setting?
The first time at a national NAFSA conference can be exhilarating and overwhelming. There are many different activities going on, all at the same time. It is unlikely you will find time to make it to everything. Prioritize! Plan ahead, creating a tentative schedule for each day. Decide on a few can't miss events. Determine your goals in advance of attendance. Are you trying to network for a new job? In search of program partnerships? Trying to find new approaches to an issue you are experiencing in the office? Figure out what you want to get out of the conference.
Here is an overview what typically occupies my time while at NAFSA:
Before the conference officially begins, NAFSA offers a series of 1-2 day workshops on a variety of topics (ex. advising, risk management, orientation, etc.). These are a great way to gain competency in a subject and an even better way to network. They involve lots of group work and roundtable discussions. Downside: they can be expensive, adding another $275-$400 to your conference fees.
If the workshops are the appetizer, sessions are the main course. Usually an hour in length, sessions highlight a hot topic, new research, or best practice. Because there are so many, they are organized by Knowledge Community. While you're most likely to find sessions under the Education Abroad theme, make sure to check the others. You might find good sessions elsewhere. If you have a time clash, don't be afraid to contact the presenter(s) after the conference via email to ask for more information. NAFSA now posts slides and handouts online afterwards.
Thanks the the attendance, NAFSA has money to invite big name plenary speakers from around the world. This year included author Malcolm Gladwell. Need I say more? They have one each day, usually around 4 pm. The plenary speakers give a talk on an issue related to international education. Try to attend at least one. They are usually very inspiring.
The Expo Hall keeps getting bigger and bigger. It's like a farmer's market for international education. Study abroad providers, agents, language schools, testing agencies, software companies... you name it-- they are advertising their services in the Expo Hall. While some attendees feel overwhelmed, or put off by the commercialism, I personally love the Expo. I say hello to existing vendors and try to branch out and speak to new people. Sometimes I use the Expo as a way to scope out companies I might want to work for one day. And, of course, they all give out swag like pens, bags, water bottles, etc. Don't go too overboard on those-- you have to find a way to drag it all home.
Ask a mid-career professional about NAFSA and you might hear a groan and complaint about meetings. While we have every intention of spending our days in sessions, what tends to happen is our days are filled with meetings. NAFSA is an international conference. Educators come from around the world. This provides the opportunity to pursue new exchange agreements, hash out any program issues, shop for a new study abroad partner, and just maintain existing relationships in a face-to-face setting. Most of the people we work with we never meet face-to-face because of the distance. NAFSA gives us the chance to see who is taking care of our students while they are abroad.
Let's be honest, my favorite part of NAFSA would have to be the receptions. Yummy appetizers, good beer/wine/cocktails (open bar, folks), and honest conversation with friends -- new and old. Receptions are sponsored by different countries (universities pool their resources to host exchange partners), study abroad providers, and international education organizations. This is where real relationship-building takes place. You will need to be invited. Some are notoriously difficult to score an invite. Others have a reputation for great venues, entertainment, or late night dance parties (Brazil!). My all-time favorite was the Australian Universities reception (2005), held in the Seattle Space Needle, complete with Aussie wines and live didgeridoo. Networking in a circular room is so much more fun.
Word of caution on receptions: While there will be lots of alcohol and a few tipsy colleagues, it is 100% critical that you don't let down your guard too much or act unprofessional. The field is small and your behavior can burn you. So learn how to hold that glass of wine, plate of cheese, and exchange a business card properly.
I just returned from a jam-packed week in Boston and another NAFSA national conference is in the books. Equal parts networking, continuing education, and socializing (yes, parties), this international education conference has ballooned in size. This past week over 11,000 international educators convened from around the world.
You definitely can't do it all, so it's important to know what to expect.
Investing in attendance at a national conference can help you:
My first NAFSA national conference was in Baltimore (2004). It was intimidating at first. No one knew me. There was a sea of thousands who looked like they knew what they were doing. Although NAFSA holds a newcomers reception, my 2-day pre-conference workshop on study abroad advising turned out to be the perfect venue for meeting others in the field. By the end of the week I'd collected dozens of business cards, learned about best practices, and heard about all of the hot topics. I felt energized about my new study abroad career.
Now when I attend NAFSA it is so much more... reconnecting with old friends, pushing myself to explore new areas, going outside of my comfort zone socially, and trying to score hard-to-get reception invites (Ireland, anyone?).