By Tabitha Fleming, Mt. Hood Community College

From November 6th – 8th, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the NAFSA Region I Conference. As a first-time attendee, I was both excited and nervous. In the end, I found my anxiety was unfounded but my excitement was not. My first clue was how difficult it was to choose a presentation to go to – there were so many good topics to choose from! Each presentation I was able to attend left me with notes, knowledge, and ideas. Each person I met filled me with excitement for the field.

There were simply too many presentations to reflect on them all, but here are a few of my highlights.

In “Factors that Support International Student Retention Beyond Orientation,” presenters Andrew Brewick ( University of Idaho Global Student Success Program) & Sharla Reid (Fraser International College - Navitas) shared their two different approaches to orientation. This included a mandatory one credit class for new students. While such a program would be difficult at my institution, the presentation sparked ideas in me for other ways we can improve our orientation.

Although it was the third in a series, “Teamwork 103: Culture and Teamwork,” presented by Machelle Allman (Terra Dotta), Nitivia Jones (Washington State University International Programs), and Brian Ridge (Washington State University) was perfectly understandable as a stand-alone presentation. In it, we learned about the different cultural values, primarily associated with countries, and brainstormed how teammates from different cultural would work together. What would their strengths and weaknesses be? Finally, we were asked to reflect on how these cultural matrixes influence our own teams. Even in my all-American workspace, this was a good reminder that we do not all hold the same values.

The last presentation I attended, “How to Train Your Spreadsheet: It’s Easier Than You Think” by Paco Hadley (Chemeketa Community College) provided me with literal tools to track students, work assignments, and nearly anything. Having recently taken an Excel course which taught the numbers side of Excel functions, this was a very useful presentation on how to use the program in the unconventional way that our work often needs.

I learned a lot from my fellow conference-goers, too. Chatting over delicious food and drink, people shared their programs’ successes and struggles, both past and present. It was enlivening to see how many international educators are passionate about the work they do. Moreover, with how many fields are secretive, I was surprised and joyful that these professionals’ passion extends so far as to help other programs. My business card collection nearly doubled due to this event alone, many of which I do intend to use, if I haven’t already. I was also surprised that, despite my short time in the higher education arena of international education, the people I met were just as interested in hearing about my experience.

It’s clear that the NAFSA Region I conference is a place to exchange ideas both old and new. The addition of “extra curriculars,” such as interest groups and the incredibly helpful resume review, provided a nice break to the regular schedule of most conferences while allowing me direct access to international educators in similar situations or with similar visions. I am extremely grateful to the NAFSA Region I Leadership Team for the time and effort they took crafting this event and to all the presenters and conference-goers from whom I learned so much.