As an early Christmas present last year, I was appointed by NAFSA as a consular affairs liaison to the Italian consulate in Houston, Texas. At the time, I had an idea of what my responsibilities would be, but I knew I still had a lot to learn. This proved to be true earlier this year when I attended NAFSA's consular affairs liaison (CAL) training in Washington D.C, along with the 40 other members of the CAL Subcommittee.
You might be wondering what exactly CALs do. To put it briefly, we try to help. CALs belong to country groups (France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the "World-at-Large";) and represent the education abroad (EA) community to one of the consulates of those countries in the United States. We gather as much information as possible from our consulate and share it with the EA community, primarily through the Visas for Education Abroad section of www.nafsa.org.
But that's not all—there is a tool called EA Visa Help, also on the NAFSA website, through which advisors can submit inquiries or cases related to visa applications for U.S. students going abroad. CALs are assigned to these cases and provide feedback to help solve the problem or answer the question. Sometimes we will refer to previous cases to answer the query, while at other times we will liaise with the consulate and then get back to the institution or advisor.
I cannot express how much I learned at the CAL training, from both my colleagues and the consulate visits. I had the opportunity to visit the French consulate in D.C., and attend a session presented by the United Kingdom Visas and Immigration Agency. I also learned from my colleagues' visits to the German, Costa Rican, and Spanish consulates. We had the chance to interact and work together as country teams to coordinate and prepare updates, and plan for Collegial Conversations that will be taking place in the months to come.
From the visits to the consulates, from my conversations with other CALs, and from exploring the EA Visa Help tool, I am amazed at how much has been accomplished to build a bridge between our institutions and the consulates, and at how much can still be done. My fellow CALs and I are looking forward to the NAFSA 2015 Annual Conference & Expo in Boston, Massachuestts, not only to share our insights, but to hear from the EA community and what they have to say on visa-related topics.
I am extremely happy to be part of the CAL Subcommittee. There is so much that we as NAFSAns can give back to the EA community. We all learn, we all know something, and by volunteering with NAFSA, we can share it and make an impact, not only on the EA community, but also on a student's life.
María José Angel Mex is Director of University Relations at Instituto Lorenzo de' Medici, and Consular Affairs Liaison to the Consulate General of Italy in Houston.