Nearly everyone has been to an airport. Many people have ridden on airplanes. And a good part of the United States population has been to Washington, D.C. But how many people have literally bumped into their Congressman while in line to board a plane together to D.C? Not only that, but the next day receive an opportunity to petition international education and study abroad experiences on Capitol Hill? Two other Clark students (Bridget Healy and Volha Hrytskevich), Patty Doherty (Assistant Director of Office of Intercultural Affairs) and Connie Whitehead-Hanks (Assistant Director of Study Abroad), and I were the lucky individuals who bumped into Jim McGovern while boarding our flight to D.C. for NAFSA’s annual Advocacy Day. When we told the congressman that we were on our way to D.C. to meet with him, he took out his cell phone and confirmed, “Yes, you are on my calendar for 10:00 AM on Wednesday in my office – see you then.”
NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, hosts Advocacy Day to promote international education, study abroad, and the Paul Simon Study Abroad Act. Representatives from high schools and universities converge for this two day conference. Bridget, Volha, and I were some of the only students in attendance at the conference, and as such felt an extra sense of urgency and responsibility.
The first day we underwent a series of trainings to prepare us for speaking with our state representatives and senators. This included the importance of telling a story to elicit emotions and shared experiences. We practiced our stories with other Advocacy Day attendees, in the process making connections and learning from others. We also heard different speakers present on the importance of the Paul Simon Study Abroad Act from a legislative standpoint. We stood in D.C. at a time where our impact was sorely needed.
The following day we broke up into groups according to our state and headed to Capitol Hill. The thrill and excitement was apparent as we arrived at our first appointment. We had the incredible opportunity to meet with Senator Elizabeth Warren’s staffer and share the importance of this act. We were also granted the opportunity to meet with Warren herself who posed in a picture with our group. She was very much in support of our petitions and promised to try her best to secure our interests. Then we met with Congressman Jim McGovern in his office. We spoke one-on-one with him about our experiences studying abroad or being international students. We took the knowledge gained from the NAFSA training and applied it in a real world setting. He was moved and in support of our requests. It was incredible to feel as though we were part of a change in Capitol Hill.
After our long days, we debriefed with other Advocacy Day attendees from different states. Not all had as positive experiences as we did, but many felt a similar sense of accomplishment and relief. We hope to continue this effort and involve more students in Advocacy Day over the years, and very much look forward to hearing more stories in the future!