Our lovely international coordinator, Nina, attended NAFSA conference in Los Angeles in the beginning of June. Here are some of her thoughts from “The Place” in the field of international education.
Greetings from the City of Angels!
I just returned back to Finland from Los Angeles, where I had a chance to take part in the world’s largest conference in international education and exchange. NAFSA – Association of International Educators – organizes the conference annually in the United States, and it has become ”The Place” to find out the latest trends in the field of education and to meet like-minded professionals all around the world. This is why we at Asia Exchange attend the conference regularly!
Months, weeks and days before the conference are always hectic and exciting. The participant list of the conference is announced few weeks before the conference, and participants are browsing through it enthusiastically; ”Will they be in the conference? Would we have a chance to meet with them, since it seems that we might have synergies? Is she/he going to participate; could we continue where we were left last year? Maybe we could meet with them and have a glass of sparkling wine together for our successful partnership?”. Emails and social media channels are nearly stuck because of the meeting requests, calendars fill up quickly due to the meetings and days pass by when browsing through different partner proposals. Assistants try to keep up with the speed of the changes. All the people are thriving to meet old and new partners!
During the conference days participants are divided roughly into two groups; those who mainly attend the sessions, and those who spend their days in the meetings. Sessions are built around latest, specific themes from the field, and meetings, on the other hand, have been organized by participants themselves. Never minding the group, people usually lack the time for proper lunch and dinner breaks and run according to minute schedules – and at some point, it should be possible to visit the expo booths, too, where organizations of the field present their services. Meeting places have been agreed in beforehand without seeing the conference hall, and usually it causes misunderstandings and needs for double checks. Sessions are organized in different halls, and it takes time to move from one to another, since there is always something to discuss with the person next to you after the session. Getting to know the area map, wearing comfortable shoes and remembering to drink enough water are basic and practical rules for every conference attendant.
As the day is over and your feet scream for getting out of the shoes and head is full of names of the new people you have met, it is not time to rest, as one might think. To get everything out of the conference hours, there are several receptions every evening. Reception usually means nice evening venue with a glass of wine and a lot of people and noisy talk. Partners invite each other for the receptions and when the reception is over, people continue networking – sometimes until very late hours. And naturally, next morning everything begins from the scratch again – only with few hours less of sleep and in most cases, with jet lag, too.
It may seem like a burden to participate in a conference knowing everything above. The sweetest thing is still, that after being bit by a ”conference fly”, already on your flight home you start to wait for the next conference. Meeting people from all around the world, hearing their views of the field and life in general, setting up the questions and solving problems together, getting a break from everyday routine will make you feel energized and excited. With new partners, it is always exciting to know how things evolve, and after nice discussion at the conference it is natural and interesting to continue working together from a distance. Old partnerships will be strengthened too, and some innovative ideas may be brought up thanks to the sessions or other meetings. Pockets full of business cards, fingers waiting for the moment to be ably to type messages to the partners.
NAFSA is about the excitement of internationalization, networking, updates and busy schedules! As someone mentioned during the conference, if you are not in NAFSA, you do not exist. Maybe we will meet in Philadelphia in 2018?