NAFSA 2013: GoAbroad Love, Running in Circles, Rock Stars, and More!

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Well, we're well into July, so seems about time for a NAFSA 2013 recap. Hey, I'm nothing if not consistent with my late posts. It's how I roll.

But before I dive into my St. Louis adventure, I want to share a quick update about my "other" life. As many of you know, I've embarked on a whole new kind of adventure (starting my own company!) and so that's been consuming my days, nights, weekends, dreams…you get the idea. As a result, I have a LOT of InsideSA emails stacking up in my inbox. I hope I can get to it all by the end of the month, but I really can't make any promises. Soon I'll be announcing something that will hopefully help me with this issue, so stay tuned for that! 

Okay, let's get this NAFSA party started! (Grab a hot tea/coffee/martini…this is a long one.) Once upon a time, my alarm went off waaaay too early and I took a shuttle to Denver International Airport for my flight to The Lou (does anyone actually call it that? They should.)

This is the bitter Brooke face. Early mornings are not my jam. 

Luckily I had a couple of good friends making the journey with me. If you don't know Chris Churma and Cynthia Scarpa (both from Colorado State University), you should. Connect with them on LinkedIn. They are good people. 

Get excited! We're headed to The Lou for #nafsa13!

When I travel and visit a place for the first time, at home or abroad, I like to use public transportation as much as possible. Taxis are great (if you have money!), but public transport gives you a view into the normal life and, often the gritty underbelly of a place. (I might just be thinking of the years I spent commuting on the Green Line in Boston.) After getting over the initial wall of humidity that greeted us like a punch to the face, we made the 30 minute trek to our hotel in downtown St. Louis. Four bucks later, we had arrived! What can I say? I'm cheap frugal. However, none of this took place before I shamelessly took dorky "I really must love NAFSA" photos at the airport. #studyabroaddorkforlife

Crazy Midwest Thunderstorms and the Harlem Shake

On my first day at NAFSA, without fail, I'm like a little kid going back to summer camp, eager to see all the friends I made last year and the people I've known for what seems like forever. This year was no different. Hence why I took all these cheesy pics of NAFSA 'stuff.' Seriously? My name is Brooke and I'm addicted to study abroad.

As I posted about a billion times on Facebook and Twitter, I was organizing a little Harlem Shake reprisal, study abroad style, and had planned to gather a critical mass of people in front of the Arch just before the KC networking receptions. It wasn't until Mark Lenhart, texted me and said "Are we really still doing this?" did I realize we were dealing with a torrential downpour situation. For those of you who missed it, here's a video displaying similar conditions

You get the idea. So I raced across town in a taxi (thank you CISabroad team for letting me squeeze in with you!). As I arrived at the hotel meeting place, I worried that HUNDREDS of people would be there waiting to dance. #wink Luckily, most people had figured out the dancing was canceled…yuh know…due to the crazy amounts of rain, thunder, and lightening. People are smart. So my initial plans for a Study Abroad Shake filming had been thwarted. Would we reschedule? Would I, in fact, be able to amass hundreds of NAFSAns to shake a tail feather for all the world to see? You'll have to stay tuned to find out….duhn, duhn, duhn…. #cliffhanger

But as fate would have it, as I stood waiting in the lobby for any unknowing Study Abroad Shake stranglers, who do I see? The one and only Troy Peden - my mentor, friend, and former boss.

To put this in perspective, Troy and I hadn't actually seen each other since about a month before I resigned. With our travel schedules and such, all of our work together had been via email, phone, and Skype. It was the first time I'd been able to hug the old guy for months. So cue the collective awwww. And Troy said those magic words that he says so well, "Let's get a drink." Done and done. It was a great little reunion where we discussed ideas, brainstormed new projects, and talked about what's ahead for GoAbroad and for me. Just like old times. It's a really great feeling to make connections with people where you can just pick up after months, or even years, like no time has passed at all.

Reunions Abound

Like I said, one of the best parts of going to NAFSA (or really any international ed conference) is seeing a lot of people I really enjoy and respect. Here's just a little mashup of a few of the peeps I was lucky enough to snap a photo with during the conference. Sadly, I missed the Terra Dotta reception and my chance to reprise my rendition of "Redneck Woman." Don't you worry. I'll be back. Some day…

Me with Jeff Palm, Executive Director CISabroad

Me with Jenn Engel, Director of Study Abroad at

The University of South Carolina (and fellow BGSU alum)

Enjoying the AIFS reception with Julie Leitman (API), Jason Kinnear (Mizzou), and Chris Churma (CSU)

Want to see more from my adventures at #nafsa13? Check out more photos on the InsideSA facebook page

Just A Little Run...Just for Fun and My Phone

For the first time this year, I signed up for the annual Education Abroad Network (TEAN) un-reception. Instead of a traditional reception, they host a 5k run for charity. Pretty cool, right? Because I've been on a bit of a fitness kick since February, I figured with a busy conference schedule, not so stellar food consumption, adult beverages, and the lovely combo of early mornings and late nights, it was probably a good idea to squeeze in some form of physical activity. So there I was standing under the Arch with about 50 other crazy people, the humidity pouring over us. But it was all worth it when they announced how much we'd raised for a great cause. And hey, I got a free t-shirt out of it too. Win. Win. 

With Russ Alexander and Nancy Clark, the TEAN team! 

My other running experience during the conference was not at all planned. We'll call that portion of the week "The Amazing Race…for my iPhone." It's a long story…so I may just post that tale separately in another post. But to keep it brief: I lost my phone (or was it stolen?), I ran around the convention center chasing my phone, and finally, SPOILER ALERT, got my phone back. Special thanks to Marty and Mitch for their displays of brilliance and athleticism. My heroes. 

Team GoAbroad Rocks It!

One of the amazing things about this year's NAFSA was seeing the GoAbroad team in action…as a spectator. At GoAbroad, we start planning for the innovation awards and overall participation in the conference during the fall. So, as you can imagine, I had been involved in a considerable amount of planning prior to my departure in April. I felt really lucky to see all that planning and handwork come to fruition - at the booth, during the reception, and the general GoAbroad showing at the conference. Basically, I was proud. 

One last "team" photo with my GoAbroad Family

If you weren't able to attend the Innovation Awards Reception this year, here are a few highlights:

ISA took home the People's Choice Award, the University of South Carolina won Innovative New Study Abroad Program, SIT won Innovation in Access and Equity…you can read all about the winners here. It's really an impressive display of the incredible things people are developing in international education. Make sure you get your nominations in next year

Me and Churma on the GoAbroad red carpet. Sassy! 

Team huddle...GooooooooAbroad! 

Speaking of Rock Stars

[We're almost to the end. You can do it!] The last big moment for me at NAFSA was presenting my "How to be a Rock Star" session. 

#NerdAlert - Yep. I posed with the sign outside my session room. 

This wasn't my first national conference presentation (I presented with a group at CIEE in fall 2012), but it WAS my first solo presentation at a national conference. I guess you could say I was nervous. Despite having presented this topic at a couple of regional conferences last fall, I had refined the presentation a bit since then and had pulled together a compilation video of interviews I'd done with leaders in the field. I wanted to share my thoughts on what it means to be a rock star, to be exceptional, but I know my ideas and opinions aren't always enough. So I wanted to share the perspectives and thoughts of other leaders/friends in the field. And with my session being scheduled for Thursday morning…at 8 AM…the morning after the notorious Rainbow SIG reception/party, I was very worried that no one would show up. I didn't sleep much the night before even with having skipped Rainbow SIG for the first time ever. And I was up early editing and rehearsing until I was freaking myself out. Sigh. This is how I roll.

I arrived to the session room at 7.15 AM ready to set up all my technology (I was working with PowerPoint, video, audio/speakers, a remote control all with my general jitters). One of my mottos in life is "fake it until you make it" so despite my overall terror that morning, I donned some black skinny jeans, a electric teal blue top, and a leather jacket with big dangly earrings. If I was going to fumble through this presentation about Rock Stars, I'd at least look like one! ;) I started off a little shaky…but eventually got into my groove. If you'd like to listen to the entire presentation, you can do that here. (It's free if you attended the conference.) Can I just say that listening to myself speak is probably one of the most painful things to sit thru. Ugh. All I can think about is how I'd do it differently next time. All in all, I'm pretty proud of the presentation. It was a packed house, I played some classic Michael Jackson songs, and got some great feedback in the end. Eventually (in the next couple of months), I'll figure out a way to post my slides with my audio on a blog post for everyone. To save you a bit of suspense, I've posted the compilation video I made for the presentation below. Enjoy!  

Stay tuned for more Rock Star commentary in the coming months. 

That's A Wrap

All right folks. That's a wrap. Thanks for hanging with me to the end. I want to give a very warm and special thanks to Troy and GoAbroad for sponsoring me to be at NAFSA this year. He's been extremely supportive as I launch my own company, Yoga Travel Tree. I really couldn't have taken this leap without him. 

And a BIG THANKS to you, my readers, for hanging with me for so long (even through all the lag time between posts) and encouraging Inside Study Abroad. It's been a great ride and I'll be back occasionally with more fun from inside the field.