On Thursday, February 8, it was my privilege to attend Global Wake Forest’s 10th Annual WISE Conference held at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Winston Salem. There were 275 attendees from 26 states and 6 countries.

The purpose of this conference was to help faculty leaders, program coordinators, and administrators develop the knowledge and skills needed to help students advance their intercultural skills and awareness during their abroad experiences. The first time I attended this conference was two years ago and the plenary speaker and the sessions I attended were focused on study abroad programs with the emphasis on preparing students to study abroad and then reorienting them on their return. I went because I was asked to attend as an Arrive@Wake board member and I was curious about the conference. To be honest, I thought it was interesting but I did not find it very relevant to my work in ZSR.

This year, the keynote speaker was Farzani Nayani and she was one of the best speakers I have ever heard! Most of what she said, we heard from our own Shayla Herndon-Edmunds at our Diversity and Inclusion staff retreat in January. She reminded us of Verna Myers’ quote that “Diversity is being invite to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance.” She said the quote is flawed and that “Engagement is being able to pick the playlist.” She said that inclusion with engagement is success and in order for this to happen, our administrators, faculty, staff, and students must be on board. She said that we need to watch the video 1-800-273-8255 by Logic which tells the story of a gay black man and his heart-breaking experiences with isolation and exclusion. She said that small dedicated change can create a new organizational structure. I am glad that our Library is taking steps to acknowledge the unconscious bias that surrounds us and I hope that we will continue our efforts to become a place of inclusion where diversity is ingrained in who we are.

This year, each break out session had one option that focused on improving the intercultural skills of students studying outside of their home country. In keeping with the focus of this conference, all of the sessions were program focused. Since I am currently participating in the WFU Global Laureates Academy, I was particularly interested in preparing for next year when our cohort will be tasked with proposing and implementing a capstone project that will impact and benefit our global campus community. All three of the sessions I attended (each lasted one hour and 15 minutes) clearly stated that in order for international students to have a sense of belonging at an institution, they must have meaningful friendships with students from the host country. They also want friendships with not just what is perceived as the fringe students, but with what is perceived as the “core” group of students. Not surprisingly, 40% of international students have no close American friends; 25% of Chinese students attending Ivy League universities end up dropping out. The last session I attended was led by Nelson Brunsting, Wendy Wu and Frank Fang. Wendy was in our 2015 Arrive@Wake program and Frank was in this year’s Connect@Wake: Campus program. They are doing research on belonging and well-being among international students and their preliminary research confirmed the importance of American friends, but also found that faculty were important in helping to foster belonging and well-being for international students.

All-in-all it was a wonderful day and I came away with several ideas that I believe we can implement next year to help foster relationships between American and international students. I’m glad I took time out of this busy time of the semester to attend this conference!