If you have a passion for your work, advocacy becomes second nature. My wife likes to tell the story of my “Cracker Barrel presentation.” We were on vacation sitting next to a large family group of about 12 people having breakfast. In the course of their meal, a conversation started regarding study abroad and Semester at Sea. I went out to my car, grabbed some materials and handed them out to the group and answered their questions. You can’t pass up those opportunities.
On the final day of our Region XI Conference in Manchester, New Hampshire last month, I was at our registration table when one of our team members informed us he had just met Newt Gingrich in the hotel lobby. Curious, I headed down the hallway and found the Gingrich party had set up in one of the rooms we had used for the conference.
I was met at the doorway by his New Hampshire campaign manager. He explained it was a private event but if I wanted to meet Newt and his wife, Callista, I was welcome to come in. He was very gracious as most of the Region XI team members had followed suit and we were all welcomed. I hadn’t planned on advocating but as I was getting my picture taken, I was asked about my conference badge with its many ribbons. I mentioned my work and then spoke about NAFSA and our concerns with visa issues and the importance of study abroad.
After the meet and greet, Newt spoke and then opened the floor to questions, and we were able to ask him his views on immigration and study abroad. He acknowledged that our current visa system is "broke" and needs to be fixed. He feels we need to do a better job of allowing students and entrepreneurs who want to come into the United States the ability to learn and establish businesses. It was a unique opportunity. I don’t think anyone in the room would have imagined the meteoric rise in the polls that Mr. Gingrich would have over the ensuing weeks.
I am not a public policy expert. All I learned, I found at www.connectingourworld.org. The Connecting Our World Web site has all the information needed to keep you informed and inform others. I don’t know if I’ll run into any other candidates this year, but I plan to stay informed just in case.
Vincent C. Schaff is a NAFSA member, chair of NAFSA Region XI, and director of university outreach at Institute for Shipboard Education and Semester At Sea. He blogged about his experience at NAFSA’s 2011 Advocacy Day in the post, “Teaching an Old Dog, New Tricks – Connecting our World through Armchair Advocacy.”