The National NAFSA Conference is a big networking party!
Attending a NAFSA conference is more than your typical 9 to 5 job. It’s an almost 24-hour circuit of business mixed with a bit of pleasure. Having attended conferences before, I knew I had to mentally and physically prepare for the long, yet stimulating week. Here’s how:
Plan Well In Advance
Surviving NAFSA 2016 started way before I even landed in Denver. It took weeks of preparation. I expected to: (1) Present a poster; (2) Volunteer; and (3) Leave a great first impression in the field as a newbie.
I started planning, designing, and finalizing my poster in April. Too, I began scheduling my volunteer shifts and a few key sessions I wanted to attend.
I booked my flight in advance so I could reconnect with old friends from GoAbroad. And, of course, get their feedback on how to best navigate my first NAFSA.
I, however, didn’t plan for the physical component of my trip nor the altitude. I didn’t realize the altitude and its effect until the morning of my 2nd day in Denver.
Several IE vets and I had begun our morning sitting around a table at Fado Irish Pub. GoAbroad prepared to host its pre-conference welcome event followed by a baseball game at nearby Coors Field.
Exhaustion overcame me and my lips began to crack. Throughout the game, I daydreamed of sleep and a cold beer (shocking if you know me).
Lesson learned: hydrate and remember where you are going. Prepare to adjust to any climate in any destination.
Cheers to the Volunteers!
I’m a certified introvert with expertise in timidity, stuttering, and avoiding small talk. I’m easily intimidated by networking.
Yet, I found a trick that brought me out of my comfort zone and social awkwardness, at least a bit.
Volunteering forced me to speak to others, share my story, and seek guidance on my job-hunt. The conference was less daunting once I started opening up and expressing my true passion for IE.
Besides meeting seasoned professionals, I met some amazing volunteers job-hunting like me. We bonded over our desire to break into the field and our hopes of landing the dream career right then and there.
I felt empowered as a volunteer. Thanks to built-in networking opportunities and providing hands-on and logistical support to the NAFSA staff members.
I didn’t feel forced to network during every face-to-face encounter in the elevator, restroom, restaurant, sessions, and events. Balance became the tool of the week and volunteering certainly helped that.
Nothing Like Good Ol’ Support
Attending NAFSA as a first-timer is comparable to starting the first day at a new school. Anxiety builds when entering a new environment with unfamiliar faces.
Luckily, I knew several faces, even some veterans in the field.
There is nothing like having support throughout the conference with people to depend on when NAFSA becomes overwhelming.
The GoAbroad team welcomed me with open arms when I returned to Colorado. I survived NAFSA simply by the generosity and care from Troy and his team.
As an intern with GoAbroad, I met some amazing people during my stint in Fort Collins. And, of course returning in 2016 was no different.
Network building begins with at least one friend. I started out with a dozen.
Preparation is Key
Snacks and water were necessary items. Sustaining my health during the conference was imperative.
Already a fitness freak, I ate every three to four hours. I carried everything from cashews, protein bars and chips, fruit, and some candy to satisfy my sweet tooth.
It’s easy to overlook the obvious when running between sessions, speaking with attendees, and visiting the exhibit hall. But, feeding and hydrating my body were some of my top priorities.
Juice got me through the day too. Not orange, apple, or fruit punch. My phone charger and extra battery ensured I could tune into the day’s events via social media.
What better way to stay in the know? Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, that’s how!
Take it Day-by-Day
I had lofty goals to achieve in one week. It included volunteering, presenting my poster, networking, getting job prospects, and scoping out opportunities in IE.
As soon as I touched down in Denver, I was on a nonstop train of events, activities, and networking.
The Monday preceding the opening of NAFSA 2016, I literally walked around the convention center and the streets of Denver like a zombie.
Although I didn’t crave human flesh, I yearned for a blanket and pillow and a nice space to sleep. Jet lag, lack of sleep, in tandem with the altitude sickness swarmed over me all at once.
But, remembering from previous conferences that taking time for myself isn’t such a bad thing. It’s ok to take an hour or two to decompress and take a break from everything.
Some tender, self-love and care made my week. I overcame stress and anxiety through naps, quiet moments, and living in the moment.
The hustle and bustle of navigating NAFSA wouldn’t have been as rewarding if I hadn’t taken time away from the conference.
Simply, taking it day-by-day helped me see the bigger picture. I wasn’t just there to get a job, present, volunteer, but also to make positive contributions. And, that begins with a healthy mind and body.
Since the conference, I’ve considered myself a survivor of NAFSA 2016. NAFSA 2017, here I come.
How did you survive your first conference? Comment below with some tips and advice!