As in the 1978 Peaches and Herb song, delegates at the NAFSA Region XI conference in Manchester, New Hampshire were formally “Reunited” as a region for the first time since before the pandemic.
“I found it very hard to stay away, as we reminisce on precious moments like this,” the song goes.
Many recalled affirming interactions from past conferences, while others were part of a record number of first timers – 90 – at the event.
“Reunited and it feels so good” was the tagline for the conference, which took place on October 18, 19, 20and was incorporated into social media posts and hashtags. Moreover, these themes of connectedness and joy resonated throughout the three days of activities and was evident in session strands, speeches, and social events.
Region XI chair Christy Fry told The PIE News: “It’s been amazing to see our region come together. We are celebrating this moment as it is and embracing it.” Fry noted the many veterans in the field at the conference and asserted that they were just as excited as the newcomers, saying they were overjoyed to be “re-experiencing what we’ve all been missing.”
“It’s been amazing to see our region come together”
Likewise, past chair May Arthur shared similar sentiments with The PIE, indicating that the feedback she received was also extremely positive. “Virtual sessions provided a stopgap and a way for us to connect during the pandemic. But now that we can come back in person, it is so important to be fully engaged. You learn so much from your colleagues in person in a way that is so different than remote.”
As well, many presenters also considered the state of the sector whilst emerging post-pandemic and navigating a new era in the field. Thus, some session topics addressed maintaining the joy in the field and finding a healthy work/life balance.
Lauren Alexander, associate vice president at IES Abroad, discussed the inspiration for her session on reclaiming the joy in the profession. “Moving into 2023, we need to acknowledge what has happened [during the pandemic] and what’s happening next. We need to be cognisant of the experiences we have all just been through. So, there’s a need and a hunger in the field to figure out some practical strategies for us to get through our own day and help our colleagues get through theirs,” she told The PIE.
Similarly, Alexander’s co-presenter, Kelly Holland, vice president of institutional partnerships at AIFS Abroad, addressed the staffing issues in the field.
“We have to take care of folks who have the institutional knowledge in the field”
“In addition to trying to onboard new staff, we have to take care of folks who have the institutional knowledge in the field, and this is where that happens – at conferences. And it’s also important that we do it outside of conferences, outside of our own offices, and outside of our peer-to-peer relationships where we’re in an echo chamber,” Holland added.
Other relevant and timely sessions that addressed post-pandemic trends focused on athletes, day traders, and social media stars and the beneficial role they can play in the marketing and recruitment realm. And one group of presenters highlighted the legal and tax implications for international students that often accompanies rising fame and fortune.
In addition to providing thought-provoking sessions on topics such as visas, universal design for learning, and student wellness, Region XI offered numerous opportunities for delegates to connect informally through song, trivia, yoga, running, and hiking.
At the closing lunch, Fry asked delegates to consider why they were drawn to and remain in international education. Further, she encouraged them to hold on to those fond recollections and to “keep putting joy first in the work.”