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NAFSA Celebrates 75th Anniversary in Washington, D.C.

Updated: May 20

NAFSA 75th anniversary logo

To put it delicately, it's been an interesting few years for international students in the U.S. From “travel bans” and ongoing visa troubles for some countries, who is advocating for international students to lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and other government leaders?

A major player in the field of international education is NAFSA: The Association of International Educators. Established in 1948, it is the largest non-profit organization representing not only international students in the U.S., but also international education as a whole.

And earlier this week, it kicked off its annual conference, the flagship event of the year, in Washington, D.C. There are more than 10,000 international educators, exhibitors, business partners, public officers, and many more from around the world in attendance.

Why Should International Students Care About NAFSA?

NAFSA advocates for international students in the U.S. and provides training and resources for international advisors and other professionals working at U.S. universities.

From international student advisors, international student recruiters, and study abroad advisors, everyone knows NAFSA, and most attend trainings, events, and conferences. For example, new international student advisors receive training from NAFSA when it comes to advising students on immigration-related matters.

Additionally, many international students work with agents in their home countries to learn about universities and colleges in the U.S. Many of these agents attend NAFSA to stay current on U.S. trends and meet with U.S. university partners.

The world of international education is also a big business. From insurance providers to tax preparation, if a business is focused on the international or study abroad market or at least wants to break into this market, they are at NAFSA.

And lastly, many public officials from the U.S. Department of State and USCIS also attend this conference to provide updates related to visa and immigration-related matters. NAFSA leaders also hosted several congressional leaders during the conference to discuss international education topics, such as creating a nation-wide international education strategy.

Simply put, this conference hosts anyone with anything related to international students studying in the U.S. or American students studying abroad.

International Student Voice at NAFSA 2023: 3 Key Takeaways

As the CEO of International Student Voice, I usually attend the NAFSA conference every year to connect with universities and organizations to see how we can collaborate to provide resources for international students.

I also attend to keep a pulse on the NAFSA organization because this is the largest group representing international students to lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

From walking through the expo hall, attending sessions, and interviewing colleagues, I can walk away with three key takeaways from this conference.

1. NAFSA's finances are cautiously regaining strength

Financial management is critical, especially after COVID. When international education literally came to a stop during the pandemic, as a non-profit organization, NAFSA suffered greatly. The organization actually had to cut 1/3 of the staff.

The future is positive, but leaders are still cautious. Attendees seem very pleased with Fanta Aw as the new Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA because of the direction she provides and the values she shares as a former international student.

2. Creating cultural exchanges is a business

Not only is creating cultural exchanges a powerful experience for students to discover the world and themselves, but it's also important as a business. At the end of the day, universities worldwide need to create partnerships with each other that not only help educate their students but also help keep their doors open.

The financial aspect of international education cannot be understated. Universities invest in recruiting international students because they bring diverse perspectives and contribute significantly to the campus economy. These students often pay full tuition, which helps subsidize costs for other students and supports various programs. Moreover, partnerships between universities can lead to research collaborations, faculty exchanges, and dual-degree programs, which enhance the institution's reputation and appeal.

Attending NAFSA provides an excellent opportunity for universities and businesses to form and strengthen these partnerships. Businesses focused on the international or study abroad market, from insurance providers to tax preparation services, are keen to break into or expand their presence in this lucrative sector. By fostering these relationships, institutions can ensure a steady flow of resources and opportunities for their students, making international education a sustainable enterprise.

3. Storytelling is powerful

One of the most compelling themes at NAFSA 2023 was the power of storytelling. As educators and advocates, we often rely on data and statistics to make our case for the importance of international education. However, personal stories resonate in ways that numbers cannot.

Storytelling humanizes the experience of studying abroad. It allows students to share their journeys, challenges, and triumphs, making the abstract concept of international education tangible and relatable. These stories can bridge cultural gaps, foster empathy, and build connections that transcend borders. That is one of the foundational principles of International Student Voice!

While data is crucial, storytelling is indispensable. It not only drives home the importance of international education but also fosters a sense of global community and understanding. As we move forward, leveraging the power of personal narratives will be key to advocating for and expanding international education opportunities.

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