If you have applied for a study abroad job at a university, you probably already know there are hundreds of applicants for each position. You might wonder why you are not advancing, when clearly you are a stellar candidate. (We believe you.) The truth is, sometimes it is not you. Sometimes it is simply the process that allows candidates to filter up or down.
I've come to the stage in my career where I am asked to serve on international education search committees. This has been an illuminating experience, to say the least. On the outside you imagine it being a simplified process-- resumes come in, there is a short-list, and the best candidate is chosen from the pool. Once in the inner circle, you realize it is a complex and multi-phase process, guided by HR protocol and the deeper psychology of elimination. And what seemed like the top candidate can miss the mark anywhere along the way.
During my most recent search committee experiences, I tried to make note of what went on from start to finish so I could share it with all of you. I hope these observations help you to consider how each phase presents its own challenges and opportunities for you as a candidate.
PHASE 1: Resume Review
1) Meet all minimum requirements.
2) Meet as many preferred requirements as possible.
In a way, the resume review is all about the checklist-- you want to hit all of the marks. HR usually has a checklist that follows the posted job description. Don't leave anything to assumption. If it says "fluency in a foreign language", list it -- even if you were a Spanish major.
Search Committee Mindset:
Looking for reasons to eliminate
A spelling error or cliche can get you in the "nope" pile. The same goes for overly long (or short) resumes/cover letters and bad formatting.
Pique their curiousity.
What makes you stand out? They may put you in the "yes" pile just because they want to hear more. Do you have an interesting hobby that demonstrates an allied skill set? Include it on your resume. You might not think your weekly Star Wars podcast is of interest, but it shows you have skills in marketing, writing, communication, and technology. And they will remember you as the "Star Wars Guy/Gal".
Be authentic in your cover letter when describing why you want this job in this organization. Have you been trying to break in for a while? Say so. Describe your efforts (ex. informational interviews, pursuing continuing education, conferences attended, etc.) to demonstrate you are serious about the profession long-term. Show them why you are a good investment.
PHASE 2: Phone/Skype Interview
Tell a compelling story of who you are and what you can do.
Everyone will get the same exact questions during this phase. For this reason, answers will tend to have some similarity among candidates. Your job is to not only answer the questions, but use your response to highlight your unique strengths. You want the committee to have confidence that you are worth the $$$$ price tag for a campus invite.
Search Committee Mindset:
Comparing and ranking candidates
In this phase, resume credentials tend to take a back-burner to soft skills. How well you communicate, and how well you think on your feet, can make the difference in if you secure the on-campus interview. They will be comparing your strengths to all of the other candidates'. Interview order can be important psychologically. Earlier candidates might be less memorable, while later candidates will be sized up to those who come before.
Find ways to share real-life examples of work you've done, inspiring them to think of what ideas/attitude you will bring to the team. Read up on the PAR method before you start your interview.
PHASE 3: On-Campus Interview
Keep your game face at all times.
It is common for an on-campus interview to last all day, through at least one meal, and include both group and individual interviews with multiple stakeholders. It is tiring. Don't let your guard down, even during "casual" times like a campus tour. Don't speak ill of anyone-- especially former employers or anyone involved in the delivery of your study abroad experience.
Search Committee Mindset:
Comparing candidates' weaknesses
In the phone/Skype interview phase, the committee tends to rank candidates based on their strengths, but during the on-campus phase things are higher stakes. Not to scare you, but they are now more sensitive to your flaws. Not that they are looking for you to mess up or trying to break you down, but if something negative stands out in the way you respond or communicate, it will likely be discussed in post-interview deliberation.
After all interviews are complete, each committee member will be asked to rank on-campus candidates in order. Then a discussion ensues where each member tries to persuade the others their top candidate is "the one". In some circumstances, this can come down to pointing out candidates' (real or perceived) weaknesses.
Hopefully, this piece gives you some food for thought as you craft your resume and cover letter or as you pre are for your next phone/on-campus interview. I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments below-- whether it comes from your perspective as a job candidate or as a person who has served on a university search committee.
First question: How do you feel about intern (or peer advisor) training? For most of us, it comes at a time when we are already super-busy gearing up for the start of a new semester/year, and while student staff turnover can bring fresh ideas and energy to the office, the reality for advisors is that student training can be time-consuming and repetitive. When you have explained office protocol for the 9th, 22nd, and 44th time, you probably aren’t doing so with the same enthusiasm as the first time, and it’s likely that your new students notice.
Second question: Throughout the semester, do you find yourself wondering if students remember anything from the initial training? Do you shake your head at their inability to perform basic office skills? (Okay, that was three questions.) If you answered no, I’m jealous, and you’re lucky. As I touched on in a previous post, it can difficult to strike the balance between a “tough love” attitude and viewing a failure to meet expectations as a learning opportunity.
The solution that my colleague Korbin Dimmick and I developed? Battle of the Interns, or BOI! Don’t worry – we aren’t pitting our students against each other in a fight-to-the-death match where the winner earns the favor of the advisors that week. What we are doing is employing a bit of friendly competition to re-enforce the policies covered on the first day as well as enhance certain professional skills that will help the students transition to their first full-time position after graduation. Plus, it shakes things up and adds some harmless entertainment for the advisors.
We knew we were on to something when one of our former students told us that one of our challenges was something similar to what she was asked to do in a Teach for America interview and that she performed better because of the prior preparation. (She was later awarded a position.)
Korbin and I recently presented a session on this topic at the NAFSA Region VII Conference, and you can check out the full details here. In short, the “battle” takes place throughout the semester, with challenges being completed every other week during our weekly intern meetings. To pump up the excitement, we play a snip of our chosen BOI theme song before each challenge and occasionally bring in small prizes.
The foundation of each challenge is the acquisition or enhancement of a certain skill, such as written and oral communication, event planning, teamwork, and problem-solving. The challenges can be individual or collaborative, vary in length (usually 5-15 minutes), and result in ideas to benefit or enhance the office. We make an effort to balance the number of administrative-type challenges with the ones that are more fun, and we strategically choose challenges to play to the strengths and weaknesses of all of our interns so that the “star” doesn’t always win and the “needs improvement” student doesn’t feel targeted.
At the end of the semester, we oversee the final challenge: an obstacle course of tasks, which include answering a couple of reflection questions to provide feedback on BOI and the internship in general. We adjust challenges every semester based on this feedback and on each intern’s specific need for improvement.
You may be thinking, “What’s the point, though? That sounds like a lot of work, and you should know education abroad advisors don’t have enough time as it is to finish all of their ‘to-do’ items. How can I justify devoting time to something that doesn’t seem to directly benefit the office and/or support the office mission?” In response, I say great questions, but we’ve seen a number of benefits for the office:
As for the time issue, I say touché, but we’ve developed the program over a few years, a little at a time, and are firm believers that sharing is caring. If you’re interested, we’d be happy to share some of our materials, and you can adjust them to work for your office.
After checking out the challenges we’ve used in the past (in the presentation linked above), are there any you think would work well for your team? Do you have suggestions for new challenges?
How do I find out about International Education Week activities in my area?
There is a website you can visit to search for events by country, state, or even virtual events HERE. You can also follow #IEW2015 on social media to check out the buzz.
How is Study Abroad Careers planning to recognize IEW?
We will be sharing reasons why we love our jobs as education abroad professionals using #abroadpro and #IEW2015 on Twitter.
Feel free to join in with your own reasons for pursuing your study abroad passion!
“I know the deadline has passed, but I’ve just been so busy. Can I submit my application late?”
Which of the following responses would you give?
A) “I’m sorry, it’s a firm deadline. We encourage you to submit an application for the following semester.”
B) “Sure, it’s only one day late. Let me make a note.”
C) “Late applications can only be accepted if you include a 500-word essay on why you missed the deadline and why you must study abroad next term (as opposed to a future term).”
D) “Well, it depends on XYZ. Answer these questions…”
Most offices have a policy on late applications, and you would likely respond according to that policy. But you probably also have a preference based on a personal advising philosophy. In my opinion, each option presents its own set of pros and cons in regards to student development.
“A” is big on the tough love, which preps students for the “real world” and challenges them to get it right next time. The problem with this tactic is that it may leave the student with a negative opinion of you, your office, and/or study abroad in general, which may affect the decision to resubmit the application. This in turn leads to one less person you can count in the ever-important tally of study abroad participation rates.
With “B,” you are securing the participation (assuming the student does not withdraw before departure), and the student leaves happy with you. However, what does the student learn about deadlines? That they do not matter, and there are no consequences for missing them. (Read: Lost student development opportunity.)
“C” may seem like the middle-of-the-road answer – you accept the application, the student learns there are consequences for missing deadlines, and everyone walks away satisfied, right? Maybe, but this option creates more paperwork and an additional check for you when you are already have a zillion things to do.
Lastly, “D” promotes a policy of preference. “Yes, you can submit late if your reason is good enough.” Of course, extenuating circumstances do occasionally surface, and in these cases, showing understanding in a difficult situation can also be a learning experience for the student.
Personally, I have always been a strong believer in the “tough love” strategy (with exceptions for special situations), but studying student development theories in graduate school swayed me toward the “learn from this experience” approach. But situations don’t always play out exactly like any of the options above, so I sometimes wrestle with how to effectively advise these students.
This back-and-forth struggle to find an advising balance also applies to working with our interns (peer advisors). We have been lucky with the caliber of the students that have worked in our office, so I’ve grown to put a lot of trust in them. I expect them to do good work and submit it in a timely manner (as any employer does), but because they are still students, they will at times fail to meet my expectations in one way or another.
When this happens, I struggle to place my disappointment. Should I be upset with the student because they failed to complete a task, or does the fault lie with me since it is my job to help them identify and overcome any associated weaknesses? Does the answer change if the behavior or work is consistently below average? It can sometimes be a tough balancing act, and I have to remind myself frequently that their position in my office is supposed to be a learning experience.
With this in mind, my colleague and I created “Battle of the Interns” to infuse professional development opportunities into the internship and help the students determine their strengths and weaknesses in an office environment (check back later for a post on this!). We’ve received great positive feedback thus far, and for us, this was the answer to at least some of the challenges we were facing with our students.
Do you have any unique advising situations to share or any advice on how to develop an effective advising strategy?
Let’s be real. Odds are, if you’re reading a blog about working in education abroad, you love to travel and are hoping for a position that allows you to do so. In my current role, I have been able to conduct international site visits at exchange partners in France, Germany, and Switzerland and have served as the on-site coordinator for three programs in Belize and the Virgin Islands. Pretty sweet, right? But what most people forget is that when my employer sends me to these amazing places, I do spend most of my time working, so it isn’t the same as traveling for leisure. (No really, that’s the truth.)
For my first trip to France, I wasn’t sure to what to expect, and that’s tough for a girl who likes to always have her ducks in a row. Since this was my first international business trip, I was anxious about getting it “right”: asking all the right questions in meetings with international colleagues, documenting everything from conversations to campus tours to reimbursable expenses, and successfully navigating a culture and language unfamiliar to me.
Having never been to France, I researched cultural business practices, common language phrases, and information on the French education system. Much of this research should be done before jetting off on any international trip, but I was trying to fit this research in with the busy end-of-semester rush. I knew, of course, that I would be fine, but a work assignment of this magnitude can be a little stressful (or a lot stressful, as was the case when my second site visit to Germany and Switzerland was affected by a spontaneous week-long train strike).
Once on site, I’m busy confirming meeting times and locations, actually finding the meeting locations, touring the campus and surrounding area, and speaking with faculty, international office staff, past and future exchange students, and other relevant personnel. Afterwards, it’s on to the next location, so a large chunk of time is also spent traveling between institutions.
Serving as an on-site coordinator for a program brings a completely new set of challenges. Yes, I participate in all of the fun activities with the students. Yes, I have been to paradise for work. But… I’m also the “fix-it” person 24/7 for a week. A student missed the connecting flight? Make arrangements to go back to the airport to pick the student up later. The cafeteria doesn’t have the correct information for your group? Supply them with a detailed list of contracted meals, program participants, and any dietary requirements. The lights don’t work in the accommodation? A student is locked out of his/her room? Call Housing and/or Campus Security after hours. A student needs to visit a health clinic? Set up a case with your insurance provider, locate a clinic, and accompany student to the appointment. The faculty director wants to add an activity to your packed itinerary? Call to see if the transportation vendor can adjust at the last minute. Water activities are voluntary, and a student chooses not to participate? You also do not participate and must find another comparable activity for the student during that time (bummer, right?). Trying to fit in a quick lunch between activities? Expect to be interrupted seven times by students, the housing contact, and the dining contact. Additionally, you are on-call 24/7 in case of emergencies. It’s stressful, y’all. Your job is literally to absorb any problem that arises in order to ensure the students (and on-site faculty, to an extent) experience a seamless program.
I wouldn’t change a thing, though. Travel is my passion, and I have always been interested in education, so I’m lucky to have found a job that combines both of these areas. Plus, these experiences are invaluable opportunities that will benefit me as I work to advance in the profession, and I am able to connect with students, faculty, and colleagues I may not have met otherwise. Besides, even though I’ve done my best in this post to prove that I really do work while abroad, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t manage to sneak in some time to explore on my own!
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?
Today I got an unexpected phone call. It was a reference check for a former employee who is now a finalist for a position at a top-ranked state university. At first the call went as expected-- questions regarding strengths, weaknesses, collegiality, and if I'd rehire. The last question made me uncomfortable, but it was not a entirely a surprise.
They asked me if I would be willing to provide a "deep reference" for the candidate.
The term "deep reference" refers to someone identified by a primary reference rather than the job candidate. The way it works is that the person listed as a reference is asked to identify an additional reference for the candidate, without the candidate's knowledge. The employer then cold-calls this person to ask questions about the candidate. In research, we call it "snowball sampling", using an informant to refer additional informants. In hiring it goes by a few other names, such as "backdoor reference", "unauthorized reference", etc.
As job applicants, we obviously list references who will say glowing things about us. The intent of a deep reference is to dig deeper, perhaps uncovering something additional (maybe even negative) and to confirm the validity of the information provided on the resume or in the original reference check.
I can understand why an institution would choose to go beyond the names provided. No one wants skeletons in the closet. Hiring someone is a big deal, not easily undone. However, as a reference, I am very uncomfortable being asked to furnish a name and phone number for someone on the candidate's behalf.
That being said, it happens.
So...as a candidate, what can you do about it?
When you develop a list of potential references you will need to have a conversation about your search process. Always have a conversation with your reference, to ensure they agree to serve in this capacity. Do not EVER list a reference without asking, even if you know they'd be fine with it.
You need to formally ask them to serve, brief them on the position, and communicate WHY you want that job. It really does work best if you have a phone conversation. It also helps if you give them an updated resume and a few talking points. For example, it is easy for me to forget what years someone worked for me and exactly what all they did. I remember their work ethic and key projects, but I don't want to overlook anything and appreciate the refresher, especially if it has been a while.
During this conversation you might want to discuss the potential for a "deep reference" check. Discuss alternate individuals who might be able to comment on your work style within that same work setting. Maybe it is someone who worked alongside you on big projects, but wasn't your supervisor. Or it could be a person who was your supervisor, but they left the field since then and your current reference is still in touch. Have this frank conversation with your reference and agree on how to handle the question, should it come up.
It is also possible your reference is uncomfortable providing a deep reference. Talk about it and find out how they plan to respond to the request.
After having this experience, I'm curious...
Current professionals: Have you ever been asked to provide a deep reference? Have you been a part of a search where your hiring manager utilized this tactic?
Job seekers: Are you familiar with the practice of contacting deep references? Do you suspect (or know) unauthorized references were contacted during your candidacy?
Comment below to share your experiences.
Every campus has a different approach to study abroad marketing. But one thing you will find everywhere is some version of a study abroad advisor, at a table, talking to students, answering questions, and handing out print marketing. Websites are great, but we all still revert to the tried and true, low tech, human-to-human interaction because it works.
You might find yourself at the study abroad fair, a table in the student center, or invited to a larger event where study abroad is represented alongside co-curricular opportunities. Whatever the scenario, if you have a study abroad career, you will at some point work a study abroad outreach event.
While you are busy worrying that you don't know the portfolio of programs well enough, there are a few OTHER things you should know before standing behind a skirted table for the first time...
#6 You'll lose your voice talking to students
Bring a huge bottle of water....HUGE, I tell you. Talking nonstop to throngs of eager students and competing with the roar of conversation at nearby tables majorly wears on your vocal cords. If you know me personally, you know I am "a talker". But even my motor mouth gets sore if I do study abroad outreach. When I work an information table I am smiling-- a lot-- and talking-- a lot. Being "on" for several hours can be draining when you are used to office work. No one prepared me for how physically draining it can be. Protip: Consider lip balm and mints along with your bottle of water.
#5 Carrying brochures is a crossfit workout
Rain or shine, snow or heatwave, you will find yourself schlepping surprisingly heavy marketing materials across campus. I consider myself to be a reasonably strong, moderately fit person, with "mom arms" that can carry heaps of stuff simultaneously. But I have pulled muscles hoisting boxes of catalogs and setting up tables for information sessions. Take care of yourself. Don't be afraid to ask for help from coworkers. The rolling suitcase isn't just for site visits. It's your new best friend.
#4 The term "trip" will make you cringe
Every profession has their buzzwords. Study abroad is no different. But we also have words that make us uncomfortable. Maybe it is a silly insecurity, but non-academic terms for study abroad will start to grate on you the way "dorm" makes the residence life folks twitchy.
#3 You'll get way too excited about new Marketing
#2 Program sign-in sheets are never legible
Never. At study abroad fairs or info tables lots of us still tend to go low tech. This means the dreaded "Sign Up for More Information" sheets and a ballpoint pen. If you are lucky you will have some help in the form of a student worker who types up the lists of names and emails the next day. But we all know how handwriting is these days. Prepare for squinting, wild guesses, and deflating bounce backs. Maybe one day study abroad will catch up to the 21st century.
#1 Student enthusiasm is contagious
No matter how tired I am at the onset, I never work an outreach event without leaving on cloud nine. Talking to students about their dreams of study abroad, sharing my own overseas experiences, and seeing those eyes light up -- especially in a first generation college student or person who never thought they'd leave the country-- is the reason why I do the work I do. Let's be honest. Sitting in an office all day, answering emails, shuffling paper, and putting out fires is my daily reality. But the few opportunities I have to directly promote global education on campus helps renew my enthusiasm and reminds me how blessed I am to work in international education.
If you are interested in an education abroad (EA) advisor position, odds are you have heard that each day brings different challenges and that ours roles require us to wear many hats. I love this aspect of my job, but when my mentors told me these things prior to my job search, I didn’t quite understand how each day could be so varied – you’re an advisor, so you advise students every day, right? However, having now been in my first position for three years, I finally appreciate the unpredictability of day-to-day work of an EA advisor and thought I’d offer a peek inside a typical week for those who want to know what it’s really like behind the scenes.
· Respond to emails that came in over the weekend (or that I didn’t get to on Friday).
·Check Microsoft Outlook calendar to get an idea of the week ahead. Make To-Do List, separating out priorities from routine tasks.
·Meet with co-coordinator to finalize Marketing Your Study Abroad workshop and handouts.
·Meet with office intern in charge of activities and agenda for evening event of the Global Tigers, our SGA organization for study abroad alumni. Estimate attendance and order catering.
·Respond to emails.
·Prepare for and conduct weekly intern meeting: miscellaneous office notes, individual project updates, Battle of the Interns challenge, ePortfolio assignments.
·Oversee Global Tigers event.
· Respond to emails.
· Weekly staff meeting with director. Assigned priority statistics project for provost, so shift tasks to accommodate new deadline.
· Meet with co-coordinator to discuss updates to general study abroad presentation and handout. Assign tasks for each to complete before first Study Abroad 101 session on Thursday afternoon.
· Co-present Marketing Your Study Abroad Experience workshop.
· Respond to emails.
· Respond to emails.
· Meet with office intern regarding questions on ePortfolio assignment.
· Appointment with outgoing student regarding application next steps.
· Study Abroad Fair preparation: Request quotes for Study Abroad Fair print marketing from three university-approved vendors per new policy, submit Campus Event Request form for approval, order tables and chairs, receive and document registration forms and payments for campus and non-campus vendors.
· Field walk-in inquiries from incoming exchange students regarding billing, health insurance, course registration, dining fee, access to campus resources.
· Working lunch with ePortfolio Project cohort members regarding planning for the semester.
· Appointment with outgoing student regarding assistance with program selection.
· Respond to emails.
· Conference call with Lessons From Abroad (LFA) Georgia Conference Committee to confirm final marketing push, registration details, schedule of sessions.
· Update Meet the Staff board with new interns.
· Monthly Advisors Caucus meeting (academic advisors, career counselors, study abroad coordinators, Registrar’s Office, learning communities coordinator, etc.).
· Respond to emails.
· Respond to emails.
· As LFA Georgia School Liaison for Alabama, send final reminder to contacts at Alabama institutions regarding marketing and registration.
· Attend sub-committee meeting of Green Dot Bystander Intervention team to plan for campus-wide launch event in October.
· Prepare for Outgoing/Incoming Exchange Workshop for faculty advisors, department administrators, and academic advisors.
· Two appointments with outgoing student.
· Respond to emails.
· Co-facilitate Outgoing/Incoming Exchange Workshop.
· Field walk-in incoming exchange student inquiry.
· Respond to emails.
· Appointment with outgoing student.
· Answer questions from office business manager regarding purchases for Study Abroad Fair.
· Project for director: Update materials on office website for faculty, department administrators, academic advisors, etc. regarding incoming exchange procedures.
· Continue work on exchange website materials. Send draft to director for approval.
· Respond to emails.
· Fight the mad rush to leave for the weekend.
As you can see, EA advisors do much more than simply advise students. No two days are ever the same. Sometimes, my job requires that I re-prioritize and regroup to keep up. But it is the variety that makes the job so energizing.
So, I'd love to hear from you. Was there anything in my week that surprised you?
The first day at any new job is rough. It doesn't matter if it is your first job or you are fifteen years into your career. It is always awkward to find yourself in a new place, with new colleagues and a new office culture to navigate. No matter how well you know your stuff, it can feel scary.
A higher ed colleague recently posted a question on LinkedIn that got me thinking. He wrote...
"Two new staff members started in our office today. What's your best advice for them to be successful?"
The post elicited a great response from his network. And it caused me to think about my own experiences. Since it's the beginning of a new school year, with lots of professionals (and student employees) starting their study abroad careers, here are my tips for how to start off on the right foot:
How rock it
Ask questions - From little things like refrigerator protocol to bigger things, like institutional philosophy, don't be afraid to ask someone who works there. Your coworkers and supervisor are resources. Don't be shy.
Observe - Don't underestimate the importance of "learning through osmosis". Every office has its own subculture. There is really only one way to learn how to fit in-- observation. Are people very social in their work style? Do they keep to themselves? Do certain colleagues have more institutional knowledge? What work habits are valued in the organization? What gets rewarded (or reprimanded)?
Refrain from judgement - Not to make you nervous, but everyone will be watching you closely to get a feel for how you fit into the team. Think positive when it comes to your new role. It is normal to notice differences. But just like the culture shock stage in study abroad, keep an open mind and refrain from making negative statements about these differences.
Get to know people- Both inside your immediate office, and within the larger organization, start to make note of people from whom you might learn. Over time, try to schedule lunch or coffee to expand your network.
How to wreck it
Suggest changes too soon- Day one (or week one -- maybe even month one) is not the time to start suggesting changes. This is especially true if you are constantly referring to what you did at your previous institution. What you currently see as an inefficiency might be viewed differently once you know the lay of the land. Make note of these opportunities and bring them up when the time is right.
Hyper-focus on problems- No organization is perfect. There are always things to improve. Just because things need attention doesn't mean no one sees the problem. Funding limitations, staffing limitations, and institutional politics might complicate progress. When you point out what is wrong too soon, it can come across as a judgement on the work-product of your coworkers. Give it some time and tread carefully.
Launch projects without consultation- While everyone loves a self-starter, you were hired for a specific job. You will have certain tasks to accomplish as a part of a team. Those tasks will have an order of precedence. Don't ignore them in favor of creating your own projects. When you start a new job it can seem slow. People might be taking it easy on you and holding back on assigning important projects until you settle in. If you have an idea, great. But ask your supervisor first to ensure you really have the extra time to devote to a new initiative.
These are just a few tips from my own work experiences. You may or may not agree. It can be a precarious balance between making an early contribution and making sure you understand the organizational culture.
I like to think of the first day at a new job like being in a new country for the first time. Take it slow. Learn as much as you can. And be patient with yourself. Before long it will feel like home.
It's back to school time. College students are flooding onto campuses across the country. My inbox is once again filled with eager messages from freshly-returned sophomores and juniors who want to squeeze in a study abroad meeting with me before classes begin. International student orientation is underway. Things are bustling everywhere. I can hear the marching band practice through my office window. RAs are gearing up for move-in weekend.
Outside the student center a digital sign is programmed with a special welcome for the incoming freshman class. It reads...
"Welcome Class of 2019!"
Excuse me?!? How on earth is this the class of 2019? That's impossible. You really mean I'm 19 years older than my students. Not buying it... I'm closer in age to the parents than the students? There must be a mistake. I was the one moving a futon up an apartment staircase just a few years back. (Question: Do students still buy futons?)
One of the things about working on a college campus is that you get caught in a strange time warp. Even though you are growing older and moving on with life's milestones, your students remain the same age. You realize your perception of yourself can be very different from the reality. Working on a college campus highlights how far removed we have become from the current generation. You might be familiar with this concept from reading the Beloit College Mindset List in past years.
Let me share a few examples of what I mean:
* My advice on cell phones abroad, writing checks, or Facebook (which apparently students don't use for socializing anymore) is laughably out of date
* I make references to TV shows or musicians and get blank stares
* A student in my office has never seen a typewriter and gets excited to hear one
* A student comments on a black leather finger-less glove and denim vest by calling it "So 90's" and I have to refrain from correcting his inaccurate recollection of fashion history
* I find myself thinking, "What is wrong with kids these days?" or "When I was that age..." then die a little inside when I realize I sound old and bitter.
Recognizing that I might have traded in some of my youthful enthusiasm for a heightened awareness of risk management, I appreciate the role of our peer advising team. We employ 2-3 study abroad alumni as "peer advisors". They handle the exploratory advising and outreach presentations. Our peer advisors do a great job and help their peers see the experience as attainable. It's easy to forget how scary and overwhelming it can be at the beginning. Students like speaking with someone their own age.
While I do feel prematurely "old" at times, I have to admit there is something energizing about working with college students. During this time in their life they are experiencing unprecedented freedom. They are forging what will likely be lifelong friendships. They grow and change so much in these 4 years. I get to be a part of the institution that helps provide the foundation for all of the growth. I am inspired by their creativity (and silliness) and it has a magical way of helping me to feel young too.
I was there to clean out a closet.
You read that right. I flew all the way to Australia to inventory, sell, destroy, and ship stuff contained in an approximately 10' x 8' closet located in a tiny coastal town.
the problem with leftovers
In study abroad we talk a lot about program development and creating new ways to immerse our students in the local culture. There are tons of resources on how to build a new study abroad program. We almost never talk about the flip side. What about when we create programs that, for one reason or another, don't work out? I'm referring to programs that need to be dissolved because they are no longer meeting enrollment, financially solvent, or satisfying the needs of our students. What then?
The program in Lennox Head was one of these programs. I won't get into the complexities of why, but the program my institution operated there for over 10 years was closed down. Over that decade equipment was purchased, student belongings were left in storage for the subsequent participants, and there were physical remains left behind.
You might be thinking, why not chuck it in a bin or leave it for someone else, but universities, particularly state universities, have strict protocol for how these sorts of things are handled. For example, you can't donate items to charity if they were owned by the state because it might be seen as favoring one charity over another. And electronics that could contain data need to be wiped and destroyed by a certified tech. It is not so easy as walking away. Last summer it was my role to ensure that every rule was followed and all materials were properly inventoried and handled.
local impact from our global programs
There was another thing I realized when I prepared to say farewell to little Lennox Head. Our programs don't operate in a bubble. It's not just about my university. I had to explain to the locals why we were closing up shop. They asked things like, what could they do to help bring the program back or if it was something they'd done (that one broke my heart).
Our study abroad program had grown to be a part of their community-- our students chatting with locals at the lawn bowling club, shopping in the markets (spending $$$ on surfboards they could barely get up on), and volunteering for beach cleanups. Yes, sometimes it wasn't the best impression we made (mostly loud students coming home from a night at the pub). But the people in town loved sharing their Aussie culture, comforting homesick Midwestern students, and talking about the local history, plants & animals. The town became an unofficial sister-city to our campus.
I suppose I am sentimental about this program because it was where I worked for my first residential study abroad job in 2006. Or maybe it is just because the town is so small, the people so friendly, and the landscape so breathtaking. Regardless of the reason, last summer inspired me to think about program sustainability in a new way.
It's great when some of those items (hairdryers, bath towels, guide books) can be left for the next group. But what if there isn't a next group? Has anyone thought about the impact on the local community? Does your office have an "exit" plan? Are there partnerships with local agencies in place so that students can donate their unwanted personal items on the last day? What measures will the institution take to sell or repatriate equipment purchased with program funds? Are you prepared to incur the cost of sending staff to dismantle the program? Are you familiar with the regulations and laws governing property disposal?
These are important questions for international educators and just as critical as "Where should we build a program next?"
NOTE: If you are an education abroad professional who has experienced the "death" of a program and would like to present on this topic at an international education conference in the future, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
I love movies. I especially love watching movies about people who are experiencing a new culture for the first time and consequently going through the roller coaster of emotions associated with culture shock, adjustment, and re-entry.
If I had my way, I'd design an entire college course around culture shock in film. (Let me know if anyone knows of a class like this!) It would be amazing to use these movies to frame the study abroad journey with my students.
Here are my top 3 picks to watch through a "post-study abroad" lens:
L'Auberge Espagnole ~ The Spanish Apartment (2002)
The Spanish Apartment is a French film set in Barcelona, Spain, following the story of ERASMUS exchange students from England, Denmark, Italy, Belgium, Germany, and Spain. They are all living together in an apartment while they go to university. How is that for international...
Why watch: This movie is a must-see for anyone who participated in an exchange program. You will have flashbacks to all of the cultural negotiation and awkwardness. It kind of has an Amelie vibe (for obvious reasons).
When to watch: On a lazy day. It's drama -- a slow version of a reality show. Watch when you want to snuggle in blankets or if you are feeling nostalgic about your European exchange program.
Where to find it: Currently streaming on Netflix
LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003)
Lost in Translation takes place in Japan. A washed-up film actor from the U.S. (played by Bill Murray) and a lonely wife (played by Scarlett Johansson) develop an unlikely bond during their mutual cultural disorientation as newbies in Tokyo.
Why watch: This film does a great job of capturing the experience of being in a new city abroad and feeling culturally lost. Just like study abroad students band together to survive the initial culture shock stage, Bob and Charlotte form a strong bond born out of their fear, loneliness, and confusion.
When to watch: Late on a friday night. The film is artsy but has a good vibe. Make a fun cocktail and get lost in the amazing visuals.
Where to find it: Amazon Rental, Netflix DVD
Outsourced (you might be familiar with the TV show of the same name) is a culture-clash flick. The main character, Todd, is a call center manager who gets sent to overseas to train staff at his company's branch in India. As you can imagine, his Indian colleagues have very different ways of approaching work, friendship, and love. The film also showcases the ways in which a global economy impacts national and personal identity.
Why watch: Outsourced is funny because like many Americans who've never traveled abroad, Todd has zero awareness of his own American culture. It highlights that culture shock is not just about "them" but "us". The movie does a good job of showing how we can all adapt.
When to watch: When you need a good laugh. This movie is an upbeat romantic comedy.
Where to find it: Currently streaming on Netflix
You might have already watched one, or all, of these. However, since they are a bit older you should check them out again with fresh eyes-- post-study abroad eyes. And if you have never heard of them, be sure to track them down.
Have other films you recommend? Be sure to share them in the comments section.
When your job is to send students abroad day after day, it's virtually impossible to avoid periodic fits of wanderlust. I'll admit sometimes I spend a lunch hour on ITA Software pointlessly planning trips I can't afford to take. (I know I can't be alone here.)
Here are 3 ways study abroad advisors can deal with a dusty passport:
Ask for professional development
You never know if you don't ask. Approach your boss about a site visit, international conference, or opportunity to serve as a program assistant on a faculty-led program. Be reasonable (and patient). You might have to wait until the next fiscal year. And you should be prepared to communicate how the experience is an investment in your training as an advisor.
While a conference is nice, try to visit a program. There is something to be said for periodic travel abroad with students -- it is an important reminder of not only why we engage in our work, but how scary it can be for them that first time. Working in an office we quickly forget what parts can be confusing. This spring break I got the chance to travel as a program assistant for a new leadership program in Ireland. It completely rejuvenated me in ways I didn't think were possible.
Apply for a Fulbright Grant
If you are familiar with the Fulbright program this one might confuse you-- how can you get a year off of work? Don't worry. Fulbright has a special grant program for international education administrators. You can read all about it here.
The Fulbright IEA program is like a study abroad experience for study abroad pros. You get to spend 2-3 weeks learning about the education system and hot topics in a targeted country abroad. I was fortunate enough to participate in a Fulbright IEA program to the United Kingdom in 2013.
It was, hands down, the best professional development experience of my career. In addition to great learning abroad, I made important contacts with other higher education administrators in the US. I still remain in contact with my cohort. You can read more about my Fulbright experiences here.
Find local opportunity for cultural engagement. No matter where you live, chances are, there are small ways you can step outside of your comfort zone. Find a conversation partner and learn a new language, volunteer to help organize a cultural festival, get involved in international student orientation on campus, see if any organizations have opportunities for home hospitality dinners, etc. You can even do touristy things in your hometown to see it with new eyes. Better yet -- take your international friends with you.
Just know that wanderlust happens to the best of us. It's one of the occupational hazards. If none of the above satisfy your craving, save up those vacation days and keep on Googling.
From time to time I get asked this question. While there are a few positions out there with 9-month contracts, the rest of us work year-round. At my institution, nearly 75% of our student mobility takes place during the summer. Yes, my student advising load dwindles, but the summer months remain full. It's just a different kind of busy.
So then what goes on in a study abroad office during the summer?
One very important task I take on in the summer is reporting. I am the one who does this for our office. I happen to love doing it. I guess it's because I am an Excel nerd. Or maybe it is because Terra Dotta's TDS for Study Abroad software (formerly called StudioAbroad) makes it so but easier to pull and manipulate reports. The annual report gives me the chance to see the results of the hard work throughout the year and get our final enrollment number. I also like to see trends in destination, major, and duration of study. I also enjoy the graphic design part, because your data has to look pretty.
The other report I create is IIE Open Doors. Technically, this report is due in the spring, but I always ask for an extension into the end of May. The kind folks at IIE always grant it. I know this is makes me a bit of a slacker, but we have a 3-person office and our spring focus must be on getting our students ready to depart. Gotta have priorities! The data can wait.
If you haven't already, you really need to familiarize yourself with Open Doors. It's a treasure trove of data related to mobility. If you ever wondered, "How many students study abroad?" or "What are the top 10 study abroad destinations?", Open Doors has your answers.
We actually do a lot less program development than you'd think. But what we do work on, happens primarily in the summer. By "program development" I mean adding and subtracting programs from our approved list. Program development takes a number of forms. It could mean:
Program development also involves things like budgeting, getting quotes from program providers, or developing marketing materials.
I no longer have direct responsibility for the "dog and pony show" part of freshman orientation, but I do consult on the development of the presentation and the overall message we want to send out to new students. Each summer nearly 3,000 newly admitted freshman come to campus for a 2-day orientation program. They come in groups of 50, 4 times a day, over several weeks.
During this intense and action-packed campus visit, the students get 10 minutes in our office where we pitch study abroad to them. They are tired, overloaded with information, and (of course) trying to act cool in front of one another. Nevertheless, we try to get across the message that study abroad needs to be on their college bucket list. We have returned students give a little talk and show them a video to get them inspired.
With hundreds of students abroad in the summer, it means we might need to tend to emergencies that arise on programs. These could be any number of things, from transportation, to illness, to lost/stolen passports, or even disciplinary issues. Each time the phone rings or email dings we need to be ready to spring into action and support our students and faculty. We need to ensure the students get what they need and we properly document and communicate each incident. These calls happen around the year, but the summer months (particularly May) can be busy. And they don't just happen during office hours. We are there to support everyone 24/7.
I saved the best for last. If I am lucky, I do sometimes get to travel. This year I went to NAFSA in Boston. Last year I went to Melbourne and Lennox Head, Australia. It doesn't always work out the way I'd like, but since summer is a slower time of the year, it makes the most sense for any site visits to take place during the these months. For the same reason, I try to take most of my vacation time in the summer.
I'd love to hear about what other education abroad pros are doing this summer. Let's hear what you are up to! Leave me a message in the comments section to remind me what I missed.
You've probably heard that the first person to mention a dollar amount in a salary negotiation loses, right? Suggest something too high, and they write you off. Throw out a figure too low and you get shortchanged. Or worse ... they assume you are inexperienced.
Before you get into negotiation, you really need to have a guess on pay range. I'd argue you should do this research before you even apply. Putting together a solid cover letter and resume is hard work. If you are doing it right, you're devoting significant time to matching your skills to the job description. You don't want to spend valuable time applying for something only to later decline because it is not a feasible career move.
Some employers will come right out and post salary. I love it when this happens. But it's way more common for them to list salary as "commensurate with experience", "negotiable", or even not mention it at all.
Here are a few tricks I've learned to sleuth on salary:
1. State Salary Databases
If applying for a job at a public university you are in luck. Salary information is a matter of public record. Chances are that a few Google searches can yield valuable intel on what a particular position pays.
Start by Googling "State Salary Database" and the name of the state where the job is located. You might find a database published by a newspaper or government website. It can take some digging. You'll need to know the title of the position. You might also need to know the division, name of the person last in that position, or other details typically found on the university's website or directory.
When looking at dollar amounts, keep the following in mind:
2. Ask around
This may seem intuitive, but don't forget to ask current study abroad pros what they think. They might have inside connections and the ability to get a legitimate pay range for you or know something regarding what the last person was paid. It is not that big of a field. And people talk. Current professionals are typically aware of the going rate for different kinds of jobs as a part of their own career planning efforts.
If you can't get public information on a job because the position is with a 3rd party provider or private university, you might need to make an educated guess based on other factors. I like to use LinkedIn to follow the career trajectory of people in the same, or similar, positions. This is not black and white like a state salary database search, but is worth the research.
Here is how it works... go to LinkedIn and in the search box type the title of the targeted job. This will pull up a list of people with the same job title. Check to see if any of them work for the organization listing the job. You may just find the person who left, and where they went. Their next career move can tell you a lot, especially if a Google search uncovers salary range for their new position. You might also see what career path others have taken within that company.
TIP: Remember that people will be able to see if you are creeping on their LinkedIn pages unless you follow these instructions.
If you have other tips or tricks regarding this topic feel free to share in the comments section below. Or, if you have used any of these techniques successfully, we'd love to hear about it!
My own "breaking in" story is one I don't share very often. Or at least I don't share the full story. I routinely chart my career trajectory, but I tend to edit out the disappointing parts. I guess that is natural. But the more involved I get with Study Abroad Careers, the more I realize failure is an important part of my personal narrative. Without frustration I might not have uncovered my passion. And for this reason I have decided to share that story in today's post.
a bad case of reverse shock
It was April 2001. I returned from my semester abroad, completely down in the dumps. I spent an hour alone at the Indianapolis airport, sitting on the curb by the taxis, reading Bridget Jones’ Diary. I was in no rush to return home. I wanted to remain anonymous, to get right back on that airplane and return to life in London.
As the days passed, I found myself feeling uncomfortable with my own culture in new and curious ways. My inner dialogue was increasingly judgmental:
By the end of the summer I was still jobless and still holding out hope for something international. My parents politely told me I needed to find something fast or leave. I responded by holing up in my room and reading the newly released book, Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in your Twenties. I thought I was was experiencing depression or some kind of existential crisis. I now realize it was just a bad case of reverse culture shock with inopportune timing.
I eventually got a paying job in retail and came out of my bedroom. Yet I still had this feeling that I needed to do something more meaningful. I asked myself the question you are supposed to in times of professional uncertainty,
The answer was clear and instant. I would go back to working my student receptionist job in international programs. I wanted to “rid the world of the ugly American” (ha!). And I thought orientation could, and should, be so much more.
As luck would have it, a university in my hometown was hiring a secretary for their London program. It seemed perfect. During the academic year I’d live in town and summers would be spent abroad, on-site with students. This was a dream job. I applied, and to my surprise, I landed an on-campus interview right away. They were concerned about my age and how I might be perceived by students, faculty, and parents. I left the interview hopeful.
a different perspective
A few weeks later, on September 11, 2001, I returned home from work early for reasons that are now historical. At a time when seemingly everyone in my country was in shock, asking “How could this happen to us?” I remained detached. I had no disillusionment about the way our country was viewed in the world. I had been out there and saw things through the lens of “other”. But I couldn’t express any of it. I felt like a traitor to think in this way. I still do.
I found the commercialism of the time disgusting. Superstores all moved everything red, white, and blue to the end-caps because they were selling fast. Flip flops, ribbons, flags, paper plates. It was surreal. Amidst the confusion and endless TV reports, the uncertainty and numb feeling, I had an answering machine message blinking back at me. (Yes, we used those back then.) I didn’t get the job.
Something happened in that instant and it flipped a kind of switch. When I listened to the message I just knew this is what I was called to do. I didn’t even feel disappointment just I vowed to try harder next time, to figure out what it was that was missing, and find a way to gain those skills and experiences. I took the timing as some strange cruel signal.
I don’t even remember when, but sometime that autumn I returned to my university and set up an appointment with the study abroad coordinator. I told her I wanted to get a job like hers and asked what I could do to work toward that goal. She explained I needed to keep studying Spanish, to get a master’s degree, and most importantly, to gain experience. She offered me the chance to be her graduate assistant the following two years if I was really serious about my desire to learn.
I also found a way to get back to London in the spring and arranged an informational interview with someone working on-site as a resident director for a US university. I asked her some of the same questions as the study abroad coordinator,
The big break
A year into my assistantship I got a phone call from my supervisor late at night. She was burned out and had just given two-weeks notice to the university. No one knew but me. She suggested I get my resume together just in case, knowing how badly I wanted to work in the field. I was excited but completely overwhelmed. I wasn’t finished with my master's degree and I only had one year of experience. But I knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime and school would still be there. I applied and got the job. I was in the right time, at the right place, with the right experience. Suddenly I wasn’t just working in a job like hers. I was in her job.
paying it forward
So many people I meet have similar stories regarding how they broke in to the field of international education. It can feel frustrating for it to all seem so serendipitous. I suppose that is one of the reasons I founded Study Abroad Careers -- to provide support and resources to individuals as they question whether this is their path. There is no formula or secret to getting a job in study abroad. But there are themes -- networking, apprenticeship, and open-mindedness to name a few. Hopefully that shines through in the stories you find here.
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?).