We are proud to have had two of our AIFS Alumni Ambassadors in attendance with other members of our team at the 2018 NAFSA Advocacy Day, a time for international education professionals to head to Capitol Hill in Washington to advocate for students, scholars, and policies! Through meetings with members of Congress, attendees had the opportunity to provide feedback on how international education impacts their designated state and district, and why global education is crucial to a more welcoming nation. Below are Nadia and Greta’s reactions to this impactful and meaningful experience.
Nadia Hucko (University of Vermont | AIFS in Prague, Czech Republic)
Upon arriving to Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., I felt nervous. Nervous but excited to have my voice be heard by my congressional leaders on Capitol Hill. Advocacy Day kicked off with a full day of training on what the issues are with international education and how it is becoming increasing difficult to have international students come and join us in the US. Additionally, they educated us on the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act. This bill is meant to increasing funding in order to allow students to have the opportunity to go abroad.
Being from Massachusetts, my table consisted of an interesting mix of young professionals just starting out in the workforce and extremely intelligent, higher education professionals. They came from schools such as MIT, Brandeis, and University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Being a student, I felt vastly out of place and worried that my voice wouldn’t be heard. Once it was time to rebuttal as a group, I ended up being the only one advocating about studying abroad! My group asked me to present on the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act. Initially, I was ecstatic; but then I realized I would have to speak to the Senators’ staffers who are very knowledgeable in this topic and would be asking many questions. The nerves kicked back in.
After a restless night of sleep, the day finally came to meet the individuals who represent our wonderful state of Massachusetts. Senator Ed Markey, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and my district’s congressman, Congressman Seth Moulton, were all the people I was scheduled to meet with. Our first meeting with Senator Ed Markey was by far our most successful meeting. After all of the higher education professionals spoke in my group, I took a deep breath and began my speech on the Study Abroad Act. Surprisingly, I knew more than expected! Once I began speaking about a topic that means so much to me personally, since I was able to go abroad myself; the speech was a breeze. It turned out that one of the Senator’s staffers also studied abroad in Prague and that made me feel even more confident.
Next, we headed to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office. One thing no one teaches you in training is that sometimes these meetings can happen in a hallway and you just have to be able to go with it. That was exactly what happened in our second meeting. We met Senator Warren’s staffer outside in the hallway with hundreds of people just causally walking by carrying their lunches. Again, our group pulled together, and successful spoke about international education and the Study Abroad Act. For my final meeting, it was myself and one other person, so I felt the nerves rise up again making sure that I knew all the information since I was doing the introductions and explaining both of our asks.
All in all, NAFSA Advocacy Day was exciting, informative, and fun. I was able to learn so much about international education that I didn’t know about before and met wonderful people. Being able to go to Capitol Hill and speak about something I am so deeply passionate about was a chance of a lifetime.
Greta Banks (University of Alabama | AIFS in Barcelona, Spain)
When I first submitted my application to study abroad, I never saw myself ending up in D.C. or in meetings with congressional staffers because of it. AIFS has continually provided me with opportunities to further engage with and learn from my study abroad experience. Prior to attending NAFSA Advocacy Day, I had no experience with lobbying — I hadn’t even been to D.C. before. However, I had learned from my time abroad to dive into new experiences head first, and at NAFSA, I was again rewarded!
During the first day, we were thoroughly prepped for our meetings with issue briefs, key messages, statistics, story examples, and everything else I could need. Day two was spent on The Hill, in meetings with staffers for my Senators and Representative. In each meeting, I was able to share the many ways in which study abroad has benefitted me personally, and inform my legislators of the state and national benefits to supporting international education.
Among other things, being abroad really inspired me to be more politically active, and NAFSA Advocacy Day provided me with an unparalleled opportunity to participate in my own government, while learning even more ways to articulate the value of my international education experience.
Do you believe international education and study abroad are important to our nation? Tell us why in the comments below — and be sure to be an advocate!