Tuesday, June 7, 2011

NAFSA 2011: What Dreams Are Made Of

The Expo Hall in Vancouver
Thanks to repeated viewings of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio as a child, I used to believe that wishing on a star could make all dreams come true. I may be older now, but a shooting star still has the power to make me catch my breath. The only difference is that I know I can't leave all the hard work to the stars.

Over the course of the last year I've learned a lot of lessons, taken a few knocks and met some amazing people along the way. It's been a roller coaster ride of experiences, where fulfilling my dreams has required dedicated effort, patience and a strong belief in self. I never could have imagined, though, how striving towards the future would fulfill one particular dream long held: attending the Annual NAFSA Conference. And to think I was worried about the Blue Fairy never showing up with her magic wand--it turns out she wasn't needed after all.

For those of you who might be unaware, working in international education is a career I aspire to jump into. Whether it's study abroad-related, intern abroad, volunteer abroad or language learning programs, all facets of the industry appeal to me. Now more than ever, the world is operating on a global scale and is dependent on flourishing cross-cultural relationships. What better way to prepare students and up-and-coming professionals for this reality than with international education? It provides a foundation for understanding and teaches the skills necessary to be a more active, global citizen.

As others who are also passionate about the field will tell you, attending a NAFSA conference is a fantastic way to network and discuss emerging trends and issues with thousands of others from around the world. To say that I've been dying to go is an understatement. As fate would have it, though, I had the honor of being invited up to the conference for a day (held in Vancouver, B.C. this year) by the innovative and remarkable people at GoAbroad.com - a leading resource for international education and meaningful travel. I still have a hard expressing how grateful I am to them for gifting me with this amazing opportunity.

The day itself plays out like a whirlwind in my mind. I literally flew out from San Francisco to Vancouver in the early morning and flew back later that same night. The moments in between are packed full of memories I won't soon forget. Of course there are also the moments I would rather forget. 

Seeing old friends & meeting new ones at NAFSA
Upon first arriving in Vancouver, I was making my way off the train to the convention center and made the mistake of not watching where I was walking. As my head turned one way and my feet moved in the other, I suddenly came up against an obstacle--the bags of a person in front of me. I wish I could say I look good tripping and falling while people laugh, but that would just be a lie. Why is that movies make you think otherwise? If I needed a reason to reinforce why wearing high heels is always a bad idea for me, this experience was it.

Fortunately, this was overshadowed by the joy of finally being at NAFSA, surrounded by people who were just as passionate about international education. Whether it was finally getting to meet friends in person that I'd only connected with online, the awe of standing in the Expo Hall and seeing 400+ booths or simply holding a conversation about my love for travel, I knew this was where I was supposed to be. This thought even held true when I unknowingly asked Gustavo Artaza, CEO of ISA "So, do you work for ISA?" A girl just has to laugh at herself in those situations. That, or grow red in the face. I may have done both...

As far as I'm concerned, these kinds of experiences are what dreams are made of. Working hard will take you far, but there is more to it than that. Don't be afraid to laugh at yourself; to realize that you will fall at times, but can always get back up; and most importantly, don't ever give up on yourself. Everything happens for a reason and while it can be hard to be patient at times, things have a way of working out when you least expect them to. In the meantime, there's nothing wrong with wishing on a star--it may not have all the answers, but it's as good a place as any to start. I think Jiminy Cricket would agree :)