Like 10,000 of my closest IE friends, I will be attending the NAFSA Annual Conference in Washington, DC, next week. I have the honor of presenting a session on Thursday, June 1, titled “Women’s Leadership in International Education: New Paradigms for Future Practice” with Anne D’Angelo, Assistant Dean of Global Initiatives, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, and Anna Kelly, Youth Programs Leader, World Learning, and doctoral student in Global Education at SIT Graduate Institute. I hope you will consider joining us for discussion, reflection, and learning. In anticipation of that session, here is a preview of what we’ll be exploring and asking attendees to reflect on.
Although women IE professionals are now achieving senior levels of leadership, many share that their paths have been challenging. We often are forced to separate out the various parts of ourselves which then stifles our ability to draw on all parts of ourselves in order to be and do our best. In this session, attendees will learn about three leadership theories that engage the whole individual (coaching principles, mindful leadership, somatic leadership) and how they can be applied by women (or any) leaders in international education. We will strategize how to ameliorate the changing realities of our work that affect professionals’ mental and physical health so that we can take care of ourselves as well as of others and our work, and we will identify concrete steps to take so that you can further develop your leadership potential and skills.
Reflecting on my own experience, several years ago, I started to research the degree to which women international educators are achieving senior leadership roles within our field. (See previous columns for more about that project.) As I’ve continued this work, I realized that I also needed to look inward at my own strengths, challenges, and practices, and last year, I participated in a year-long program called Guts & Grace, founded by LeeAnn Mallorie, to facilitate my learning and awareness. LeeAnn is a coach who helps women leaders to be their best selves using mindfulness and embodiment tools. She has two master’s degrees in psychology. She worked abroad in China. She has taught English as a foreign language and most of her time now is spent coaching women who work in senior leadership positions in both the corporate and non-profit sectors. The program asked me to take a hard look at myself from many perspectives to discern my habits and roadblocks, my joys, my goals, my possible paths forward. My journey continues and I’m honored to be able to share some of what I’m learning here and at NAFSA next week.
Upon joining Guts & Grace, I realized that I needed to better understand what is meant by the term “somatic leadership” and how it could be helpful, both to myself and to other women IE leaders. Here are some understandings:
The Embody Lab, a training and coaching institute based in California, talks about the value of using the body as a vehicle for knowing, “the intelligence/language/nonverbal language of the body [as] its own information base” that allows us to discover not just solutions from the thinking mind but solutions, intentions, and purpose from the feeling body.
Similarly, George Mason University’s Somatic Leadership Institute notes that somatic leadership involves participants interacting “with one another and practice[ing] leadership instead of intellectualizing about leadership. Considering the whole person as a vehicle for change can produce effective and sustainable change for individuals and organizations. Embodied learning is experiential in nature, using all of ourselves in the process (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual). With this approach, people gain new skills and abilities, not just good ideas.” In my mind, this definition fits well with how we practice our field, which is so grounded in experiential education.
Lastly, LeeAnn recently described embodiment as “who I am being at work, how I show up, how I stand in my mission, my energy and presence, my invisible and early survival skills.” This description now forms the foundation of new kinds of practice for me as I think more about my physical presence in a given space. LeeAnn also talks about somatic leadership from a social justice lens, noting that “the body is accessible across lines of class, race, and religion. It is 100% open source.” Each of our bodies provides our own internal space for leadership. We just need to learn to move the blocks and unlock some keys (which for me, at least, is harder than it may seem).
Over the past few years, I’ve become aware of how much there is learn about this and that it will take time. So this is what I’m working on, and I’m hopeful that perhaps some of what I’m learning might be helpful to you too. I will write more about this in my next column. More immediately, I look forward to connecting about this and other areas of interest with IE leaders and rising professionals, both women and men, next week at NAFSA, which brings me to . . .
. . . my TOP TEN TIPS for attending a large conference!
- Many people are overwhelmed by the size of NAFSA’s Annual Conference, but truthfully, much of what is going on won’t apply to you. With this in mind, it might be helpful to think of NAFSA as several conferences that are co-located in one place. Focus on what is important and of interest to you and don’t worry about the rest. (Hint: The web site’s various search functions are great tools for reviewing the program by theme.)
- Think of attending a conference like planning for a trip. Do your advance reading, sketch out a plan for yourself, and then, be ready to change it at a moment’s notice when something even better presents itself!
- Dress to make a good impression (however you understand that, and especially if you are looking for a job) but still . . . wear comfortable shoes!
- Read the entire conference program beforehand and have it handy as you create your schedule. Fabulous content is presented in special programs as well as in “regular” sessions and often, similar content is presented more than once. This is helpful to know in case there are several sessions in a given time slot that are of interest to you.
- Attend the plenaries, for two reasons. First, opening comments often provide valuable insights into the larger trends and issues in the field, and secondly, the speakers are usually very inspiring!
- Build in time to peruse the Expo Hall. While folks at booths may not show interest in talking with you if you are not interested in their program or product, they will if you ask a question about it (even if you are not interested in purchasing insurance or signing an agreement). Visit during a quieter time and ask the folks behind the table some specific questions about their career paths, e.g., about what they love (and don’t) about their work, about the top three skills they use in their work, and my favorite question of all, about what they know now about working in international education that they wish they knew when they were starting out.
- Attend a session that has a topic that is completely new to you, about which you know nothing, and go for it! Conferences are the best way to understand the breadth of our amazing field.
- Attend a session in which the speaker is someone whose work you’ve read, who has an amazing reputation, is someone who intrigues you for some reason. In other words, choose a session to hear someone fabulous, even if the content is not related to what you do.
- Attend a session that is about what you might want to do in the future, not just about what you do now. Set your path for what comes next!
- Drink a lot of water.
- OK, I lied. I have more than 10 ideas. ☺ Each evening, write a note on the back of business cards that you collected that day about that person and why you are interested in them. In less than one week, you will forget about the person behind the card and you will regret not having made such notes. (Yes, I speak from experience.)
- Job seekers: Have business cards and resumes ready to hand out in case someone asks for one. You never know who you will meet over your turkey sandwich at the lunch table in the back of the Expo Hall.
- Job seekers: If you are meeting someone for an interview, wear a watch so that you can monitor the time without having to check your phone. Oh, right. And put your phone away during that interview. It may seem old-school but the more focused you are on the interviewer, the better.
- Consider volunteering if you haven’t yet signed up to do so. If you volunteer a minimum of 20 hours, you can save BIG bucks!
- Have fun! This is a gathering of people who understand your answer when they ask “What do you do or want to do?” (unlike my mom’s friends who all thought international education was only about teaching English or working in an embassy). Keep an open mind. Ask questions. Push yourself to experience something new. Take time to reflect. And oh yeah, drink a lot of water.
I will be at SIT’s table in the Expo Hall at various times throughout the conference. If you see this column, please come by to say hello, as I’d love to meet you in person! And as always, please feel free to contact me with your ideas, questions, or thoughts at Sora.Friedman@sit.edu so that together, we can continue our practice.
George Mason University. (n.d.) Leadership Education and Development. Accessed at https://lead.gmu.edu/somatic/.
Guts and Grace. (2020). Accessed at https://www.gutsandgrace.com/.
The Embody Lab. (2023). Accessed at https://www.theembodylab.com/.