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by Lizzie Fotheringham

From international security to global education, International Study Programs is more diverse than simply sending BYU students to foreign countries across the globe. Encouraged to be involved with professional organizations, Lynn Elliott, ISP director as well as ISP coordinators Landes Holbrook and Aaron Rose all participate with NAFSA: Association of International Educators at state, regional, and national levels. Through their involvement with NAFSA, BYU has an increased ability to make a difference in the world of international education and has gained an international reputation for their academic programs abroad for students, offering traditional study abroad, international internships, field studies, or direct enrollment at foreign universities.

NAFSA is the largest American organization for international educators, and international education involves a huge spectrum of professions. With over ten thousand members, NAFSA is a major player as international education issues are lobbied. “Once you have that many people pushing an agenda, organizations and foreign governments tend to listen,” said Elliott. NAFSA’s reach covers far more than education abroad. “It’s not just education abroad. It’s immigration policies, visa issues, health and safety standards and other issues that come with education abroad,” said Holbrook, a member of the national leadership for NAFSA.

Personal benefits that come with NAFSA participation are professional development and the experience that develops over time. All NAFSA leaders are volunteers, and hardly anyone is a specialist at first. Individuals are called to committees based on unique skill sets and backgrounds, and they can eventually become trainers for NAFSA conferences and workshops. Holbrook has served on the Health and Safety committee for three years, with his main assignment being a trainer, and he has been recognized by NAFSA as an expert on issues of health and safety for study abroad students. He speaks at both regional and national conferences to help spread awareness about health, safety, and security issues.

Individuals involved with NASFA not only share their knowledge with others but also increase their knowledge the longer they serve. “You don’t have to have all the knowledge; you don’t have to have all the skill set, because you will learn them,” explained Rose, who was recently called to serve as the chair for NASFA’s Region II, which includes the Rocky Mountain states. “You will be forced to learn, and you will become an expert through experience.” That experience leads to greater opportunities in international education for the Kennedy Center and BYU as a whole.

Their annual international conference is the biggest example of how NAFSA connects educators from across the world, enabling them to learn and grow from one another. Each year eight to ten thousand NAFSA members gather for international training and to share ideas. Many use it as an opportunity to network with international partners. “It helps because I can go and potentially meet my business partners from France, Italy, Japan, and Germany all in one place, rather than having to actually go to them individually,” Rose said. “I can just do it all at NAFSA.”

Holbrook has an inside view as the dean over the health and safety workshop at the conference. He oversees the content that is presented, selects trainers in addition to himself, and submits proposals for what should be covered in the workshops. NAFSA also publishes books, articles, videos, and other works for international educators. Holbrook serves on the committee that helps to produce and review these materials to help educate students and teachers alike on how to deal problems that may arise with students abroad. “We’ve made movies about alcohol use—not that we need that sort of thing at BYU, but at other schools, it’s a real issue,” he said. “Others deal with emergency crises and safety issues students face while they’re abroad.”

Rose explained that often the professional connections within NAFSA develop into more informal relationships. “One of my colleagues from Georgia was bringing students to the U.S. from all over the Middle East. She brought them to Southern Utah, and she called to ask me if I would bring some of our Middle Eastern studies students to join them,” he said. “We all got together and it was great. What started as a professional connection expanded to more.” Because faculty and staff are better connected, students are given more opportunities to meet people from around the country. Without NAFSA, that connection may never have been forged, and the opportunity for U.S. and Middle Eastern students to meet in Utah would seem unlikely.

NAFSA’s aim is to help international educators to develop “good practices” and set high standards for the industry no matter what an individual’s expertise might be. The Kennedy Center and ISP encourage students to expand their world by leaving the cocoon of BYU’s campus for places, people, and cultures unknown. ISP and NAFSA’s missions relate in that they both aim to help students expand their horizons, increase their knowledge of the wider world, and by doing so, broaden education and career opportunities after their BYU experience comes to an end. NAFSA has a philosophy of helping everyone involved in their organization as much as they can. There are no “trade secrets.” Members brainstorm and develop new concepts and ideas together. “It’s all about partnership,” said Rose. “Especially as we are all working in education, it should be about teaching each other and learning from one another.”

Commenting on NAFSA’s impact on international education as a whole, Elliot said, “The primary goal of education is to force us to look at the world in new ways. By doing this, students develop skills and knowledge they can use to deal with the problems and challenges they face. Taking students out of their comfort zones and plopping them in a foreign country and culture is one way to make this happen.”

Sending students abroad gives them an irreplaceable life experience and teaches them lessons difficult to learn in other ways. “While in principle [sending students abroad] is no different than having a humanities student take biology 100, often the international experience is so intense and provokes such overwhelming learning experiences that students will have their lives changed—and they will notice this almost immediately,” Elliot reflected.

ISP makes an impact on students’ futures by presenting opportunities abroad that seem otherwise unobtainable. Expanding their vision beyond campus gives students a chance to open their eyes to the larger, international world. A distant, textbook view of the international world will inspire few students to make a difference; however, enabling them to live in a whole new world through academic experiences abroad will spark creativity and excitement. They will want to pursue careers, research, and lives in other countries. Opportunities multiply through firsthand experience, increased knowledge, and cooperation between multiple parties working toward a common goal, ISP facilitates all three of these aims.