NAFSA Region VII Annual Conference – Orlando, 2019: A Reflection

When the world is asked to stay home and socially distance from others, it is easy to yearn for a simpler time when we didn’t stare at the same four walls day in and day out.  But, as we creep into another month of social distancing, mask wearing, extensive hand sanitizer, and increasing cases, we reflect back on the good times. Those times when we could celebrate, interact, network, share a laugh and a meal with others outside of our house.  Today, I reflect back on the NAFSA Region VII Conference held last November at the Hilton Orlando, Lake Buena Vista. 

Conference attendees during the Plenary Session

NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and is comprised of eleven regions throughout the United States that offer conferences each year.  The Region VII conference brings together international education professionals from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  This conference was especially impactful for me as I had the honor of representing our home town of Orlando/Central Florida as the Local Arrangements Chair. 

My role in the Leadership Team started back in November 2018 on the last day of the regional conference held in Memphis.  We met as a team and discussed what worked and improvements we could implement during the Orlando conference.   March 2019, the entire team joined together again, but this time in Orlando at the host hotel.  Over the span of three days we strategized on workshops, layouts, sponsorships, exhibitors, plenary speakers, and more for the 2019 Orlando conference. 

My team worked diligently to select a phenomenal plenary speaker that would highlight Orlando perfectly.  We selected the Orlando Fringe to showcase how the longest-running Fringe Festival in the United States can bring over 75,000 people to a 14-day theater and arts festival each year.  The festival prides itself on bringing together artists from all over the world for a truly inclusive, accessible, and uncensored cultural event. 

The Orlando Fringe received the Community Volunteer Award in recognition of their longstanding commitment to globalization and empowerment through the free exchange of artistic expression.

Conference attendees were not only treated to a lively speech from the executive director on the history of the Fringe and their message of equity and inclusion, but also performances from two remarkable artists.  Lindsay Taylor presented a monologue from the theater production, The Lightweight and Tymisha Harris brought down the house to roars and a standing ovation after performing two incredible songs from her one-woman burlesque cabaret, Josephine.  The regional leadership team said that it was the first time a majority of conference attendees stayed until the very end of the plenary event instead of heading to the session rooms early. Walking the halls of the conference hotel, you could hear people buzzing about how fantastic the plenary event and that the performances gave them goosebumps. 

Epcot Forever Fireworks

The biggest decision during the March planning meeting was where would we host the All-Conference Event.  It is the main networking event of the conference and a time for the host city to really shine. The previous year it was held in a blues café in Memphis and included a full meal, drinks, and three levels of different live entertainment including an incredible Blues singer.  Orlando needed to top that in a big way for no other reason than to showcase our Orlando pride!  The decision was an easy one to make.  By unanimous decision, they agreed to my proposal of busing the entire conference attendees to Disney’s Epcot for an unforgettable evening of drinks, desserts, and most importantly, fireworks.  The bonus, and what probably sealed the deal for everyone, Disney would allow our guests 2 additional hours in the theme park after the fireworks to eat, shop, and enjoy all the attractions. How could we refuse? 

Thanks to my fantastic Local Arrangements team, we successfully bussed 550 conference attendees to the backstage area of Epcot before being escorted to our private event area at the World Showcase.  Our attendees were so excited to see a little of the backstage Disney magic and to be treated to a prime location to party, network, and watch the new firework show. 

Conference attendees enjoying delicious sweets before the fireworks.

Attendees loved the opportunity to explore the theme park after hours and ride the attractions with little to no lines (unthinkable at Disney World).  Throughout the night and the next morning, the conference was abuzz sharing stories of the remarkable night they had at Epcot.  Many said it was a night they will never forget and cannot believe that any future conference could ever top this experience.  Attendees from other NAFSA Regions as well as staff from the NAFSA National organization said it was by far one of these best conferences they have ever attended.  I am so bless to have been a part of such a remarkable event and grateful for the hardworking team that supported all our events.

Wendy Viggiano and Kim Priebe presenting on International Faculty Development Programs

On top of organizing all the local events for the conference, I also had the honor of presenting two conference sessions with fantastic colleagues from the region.  I partnered with Kim Priebe, Director of NC State Study Abroad, on the session Engaging Faculty through International Faculty Development Programming.  The session room was at capacity with conference attendees as we discussed the various professional development opportunities our schools offer for faculty to encourage international programming and intercultural competency.  

The second session, Retaining International Students through Student Programming and Events, was a lively discussion with Charlotte Bingham (Florida Gulf Coast University) and Maria Elena Gaborov Jones (UNC Wilmington) as co-presenters.  We focused the presentation on the various robust initiatives and best practices our three institutions implement that aid in the retention and engagement of our international student populations.  Both sessions were very well attended as well as received incredible feedback from conference session evaluations. 

As that conference is well in the books, and the 2020 Region VII conference kicks off this week virtually, I reflect back on our All-Conference event and the closing line of the Epcot Forever firework display.  It is as relevant today as much as it was a year ago: “May peace go with you forever and ever as you celebrate the future hand in hand.” 

F-1 Students – Options for Study

Hello international students,
Since receiving the new regulations from SEVP, WORLD has been working to develop options for our students who are abroad and cannot or are afraid to return to the US. We know this is a stressful time for our international students – you all are managing travel bans, quarantines, and restrictive visa rules, not to mention a global pandemic. We have so much admiration for how you are handling the difficult situation you have been handed. At Stetson, we are bound by U.S. laws, but we want to help you as much as we can within these regulations. We are trying to think creatively for ways to help you. If you cannot return to Stetson this fall and want to continue taking classes, you have a few options:

1. You could take Stetson classes entirely online from home if:  you are a  returning college student continuing your degree program.  First time in college students MUST take at least half their credits face to face or hybrid to remain in good standing so they must come to Stetson and be actively attending classes.
2. First time in college students who have not yet gotten a visa can defer their start date for Stetson and register for classes online.    Since you are not officially an international student until you are issued a visa you can choose to stay home and take the first semester of your degree online.  you MUST contact the world office to have your I-20 start date deferred until spring.  However, remember if you do have a visa you must come to campus and you must be in face to face or Hybrid classes if you want to study this fall.
3. If you have EU or UK citizenship and you are unable to return to Stetson this fall due to the travel bans in place on your country, you can study online from home. Athletes, you should talk to your coaches about this to be sure your athletic scholarships will remain available to you.

Another option you can choose is to spend two weeks in a third country quarantining there before proceeding onto the USA.  We strongly suggest you keep all your receipts and travel documents if that is your choice to validate the time in the third country.   Remember you will be required to quarantine again in the US upon your entry.

Either scenario, you should be in touch with Financial Aid to see if/how any of these options would impact your financial aid and scholarships. Athletes should be in touch with their coaches to see if/how this would impact their athletic scholarships.

July 6 ICE Statement Concerning F-1 Study

Updated Federal Regulations for International Students with F1 Visas

Hello International Students,

We are so impressed with the high levels of maturity you are all applying as you navigate the barriers to international education which are in place due to the pandemic.  We are happy that we are able to support you and will continue to provide the most accurate information that we can.

On July 6, 2020, the U.S. Federal Government issued new regulations that pertain to international students’ access to classes during Fall 2020 term.  This new guidance supersedes all other regulations for the Fall 2020 term only as it is currently set to expire in December 2020. The guidelines were counter to expectation and have created major upset within the international learning community.  We are currently organizing by signing petitions to the White House, talking with government officials through our professional organizations, and advocating for change with our local SEVP and state representatives.  It is possible that some of the guidance will be updated in the coming days and weeks based on the pushback the government is receiving from international educators, students, and the higher education field at large; however, we cannot rely on a change in policy.

The new guidelines state that every international student who wishes to cross borders into the United States will need to show an I-20 form certifying that Stetson University is offering face-to-face classes and that you are properly enrolled in 12 credits or more.  Please ensure that you are registered for at least 12 credits by July 15, 2020.  Thereafter, we will add the required registration note to each individual I-20. This may require that we post the document to you via regular mail. To ensure that we have your correct information, please submit at this link by July 15, 2020.

The federal guidelines offer three possible scenarios for course delivery, each of which will impact you differently.

  • Scenario 1:  Stetson delivers all courses online.
    • This scenario would require all international students currently in the U.S. to either leave the country and take Stetson’s classes, or transfer to a university/college offering face-to-face courses. Students would be allowed to take online courses through Stetson as long as they are outside of the United States.
  • Scenario 2:  Stetson offers face-toface courses only
    • All international students are required to be physically present at Stetson to participate in their courses. The usual online learning rules would apply, namely, students can only take one online course during the semester; the remaining courses must be taken in-person.
    • New first-time-in-college international students have the choice to be physically present at Stetson to participate in their courses, or defer their start at Stetson until the spring 2021 term.
    • New international students transferring to Stetson have the choice to be physically present at Stetson to participate in their courses, or defer their start at Stetson until the spring 2021 term.
    • Returning international students have the choice to be physically present at Stetson to participate in their courses, or to take a leave of absence for one semester and take NO STETSON COURSES.
  • Scenario 3: Stetson offers hybrid courses (a mix of online and in-person classes)
    • All international students are required to be physically present at Stetson to participate in their courses. However, students are required enroll in face-to-face courses whenever possible to advance toward their degree. In the event that a student requires specific courses to graduate and the courses are offered as fully online courses only, the student is required seek approval from WORLD to ensure compliance with federal regulations. NOTE: Students cannot take more than one online course without permission from their DSO.
    • New first-time-in-college international students have the choice to be physically present at Stetson to participate in their courses, or defer their start at Stetson until the spring 2021 term.
    • New international students transferring to Stetson have the choice to be physically present at Stetson to participate in their courses, or defer their start at Stetson until the spring 2021 term.
    • Returning international students have the choice to be physically present at Stetson to participate in their courses, or to take a leave of absence for one semester and take NO STETSON COURSES.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve in the state of Florida, Stetson University’s administration is updating its decision-making to ensure your health and safety.  At this time WORLD highly recommends you make plans for returning to Stetson in time to quarantine for fourteen days before classes start on August 13, 2020.

Students currently participating in OPT or awaiting OPT approval will not be impacted by these changes.

If you have specific questions, please reach out to Roxanne at rlewis1@stetson.edu for assistance.  Please know we that we appreciate you and we look forward to our continued partnership in helping you complete a U.S. education.

Thank you,
Roxanne Lewis
International Student and Scholar Services Coordinator
Paula Hentz
Director of International Learning
WORLD: The David and Leighan Rinker Center for International Learning

Celebrating International Graduates 2020

New International Student Orientation group photo of students graduating in 2020. Taken in August 2016.

Four years ago these eager and new faces graced our campus for the first time. This week, our international seniors and WORLD Ambassador seniors will graduate and become alumni of Stetson University, but what would a beginning and ending be without the middle?  Four years ago we could not predict they would be such a pleasure to work with. nor could we predict that collectively they would win award after award in all areas of personal development. Some of their awarded development was for community engagement and service on and off campus, for outstanding grades and other academic measures, for leading their team to victory time and again, for leadership on campus and off, for outstanding performance in real world experiences locally, regionally . and nationally and for all other sorts of activities. We are so proud of everything they have accomplished and what they will continue to accomplish as alumni.  

While we are sad that we cannot have our normal celebrations to congratulate them on all of their achievements and to mark this milestone in their lives, we are looking forward to celebrating at commencement this December and we hope they can all return and take part in those events. We wish all of our graduates a safe and happy and successful future. Congrats Class of 2020! #hattergrad

Lunch & Learn: Plan Ahead: Easy Ways to Internationalize Your Fall 2019 Courses

Internationalized courses are the building blocks of an internationalized curriculum. Join faculty and staff experienced in internationalizing coursework to discussessential elements of an internationalized course such as level of activity, student learning outcomes, assessment, course content, and activities. Lunch is provided and limited seating is available.

By the end of this Lunch & Learn, participants will be able to:

  • Identify 2-3 strategies for internationalizing a course
  • Locate resources, including syllabi,  for internationalizing courses

Image reprinted from ACE Internationalization in Action