Lessons for the 2019 NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo - from a first-timer attendee

By Sallie Ly posted 07-30-2018 02:55 PM


Guest Blogger Hannah Morris


International Enrollment Management does not happen in a silo; it is our responsibility to our institutions to collaborate and learn from our colleagues across campuses, fields, and regions. Attending my first NAFSA Annual Conference in Philadelphia this year, I was impressed with the quality of International Enrollment Management educational and networking opportunities, such as the IEM KC Networking Reception, IEM Knowledge Community Update, and IEM focused sessions. I was also delighted to see our colleagues from International Student Services and Intercultural Teaching and Learning within our mix. Conversations flowed easily from admissions resources to on-campus programming, identifying new regions to recruit to ensuring student success and retention. Each idea represented a different role and office, adding to the chorus of voices supporting international students from first point of contact to celebrating their accomplishments as alumni.

Submitting a proposal to present a session at NAFSA, a conference that attracts almost 10,000 attendees, felt daunting at first but I was encouraged by a long-time attendee to focus on the learning outcomes for myself and those attending the session. By focusing on what participants (including me and my co-facilitator) would learn, the connections to be made, and the future conversations to develop, we submitted our work and crossed our fingers for acceptance and interest.

Presenting a session at the conference allowed me to further engage across fields within our community. I presented on globally mobile students (or “Third Culture Kids”), we discussed the importance of supporting students who have crossed cultures in their youth as they transition to university. This mission requires collaboration on all sides: high school counselors, international admissions and enrollment professionals, faculty interested in promoting campus internationalization, and researchers focused on supporting student transition. Bringing together professionals from across these fields helped participants see the student transition model - from leaving their high school to “repatriating” to their “home” country for university - as a process; not just the duration they work within a single department.

As the week progressed and conversations flowed, I realized my reason to attend NAFSA - to help support students who may not be considered an “International Student” nor receive international student support services, meant I needed to learn from and listen to professionals and researchers from different roles on campuses across the world. If I only focused on “Enrollment Management” conferences and sessions, I would never learn from these new perspectives, highlighting challenges and opportunities as we continue to support our students. For example, attending “First-Generation Latinx Students Abroad: Recognizing Their Community Cultural Wealth,” a presentation by Drs. Tasha Willis and David Wick, highlighted the importance of facilitating students’ recognition of their experiences as important aspects of cultural wealth - a topic we often highlight about our globally mobile students.


For first-timers, NAFSA can seem overwhelming but I recommend the following tips to help you enjoy your NAFSA experience:

  1. Engage with NAFSA members before the conference! introduce yourself to members who share interest with you - try starting with a Member Interest Group (MIG). Finding seasoned NAFSA conference attendees who can mentor you will help you with conference tips, tricks, and a growing network.
  2. Get involved! Reach out to a colleague to submit a presentation or poster proposal and contact one (or more!) knowledge community to learn about conference events that you can network, collaborate, and learn at. By actively engaging with the conference, you will ensure you are part of the action. The deadline for 2019 session proposals is August 29th and poster proposals, January 9th!
  3. Expand your horizons! Don’t limit yourself to the knowledge community you work in. Stop into that interesting session, attend a fun reception, and make sure to explore the expo booth. New connections and interesting collaborations are around every corner.
  4. Drink a lot of water and prepare for breaks! NAFSA is a lot - there are always about 2 dozen things you can be doing. Make sure to take time out for yourself to recharge, this is a marathon, not a sprint.


Planning ahead for NAFSA 2019 in Washington, D.C. I look forward to continuing the conversations from Philadelphia. I now realize that the magic of NAFSA is the diversity, that we each are an integral part in supporting our mission to advance international education across the globe. And I encourage you to join me in reaching outside of our silos to collaborate and celebrate with others from different fields and backgrounds, either as a first-timer or a seasoned attendee, we each have something to learn from each other.

Hannah Marie Morris, Ph.D. is a higher education researcher and facilitator currently focusing on supporting international and globally mobile student transition programs to university through her work with the non-profit, Intercultural Transitions.

Don't forget to submit your session and poster proposals! The deadline for 2019 session proposals is August 29th and poster proposals, January 9th!