Where do I fit in?
Last week I attended the 2022 NAFSA Annual Conference in Denver! Not only was this my first time in Colorado, but this was my first NAFSA after being introduced to international education as an industry just two years ago. For those who aren’t familiar, NAFSA is the world’s largest and most diverse nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange, working to advance policies and practices that ensure a more interconnected, peaceful world. NAFSA comes from the original name of the association, “National Association of Foreign Student Advisers,” which has since evolved and become NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
Despite NAFSA’s global presence and commitment to community and diplomacy, I found my spirit and voice consistently echoing the following question:
Where do I fit in?
This year’s conference brought together 6,000 people from 90 different countries around the world to Downtown Denver. As one of 10 NAFSA RISE Fellows, I almost felt like a VIP. My name, headshot, and university affiliation decorated one of the main hallways in the Colorado Convention Center. Colleagues and faculty I met during online classes stopped me after sessions to say hello and ask how my #FutureDrTFB journey was going. Yet still – I felt lost asking myself, where do I fit in and where are all the Black people?!
We’ve all heard the phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see,” and I could count on 12 fingers the number of Black men at NAFSA Annual. I know because I counted…more than once. Out of the 6,000 attendees, there were maybe 40 at the inaugural Black and Multicultural Professionals in International Educators (BMcPie) Special Interest Group social. I know Black people are a minority population but damn! There is a clearly an issue that not only cannot be ignored but immediately needs to be addressed.
Disheartened by the sheer number of Black professionals in NAFSA, I turned to my research to save the day and identify professionals who may similar interest to support international college athletes in U.S. higher education.
Out of the 200+ sessions and 40 pre-conference workshops presented during the 2022 NAFSA Annual Conference, NOT ONE SESSION explicitly addressed athletics, sports, or athletes at the collegiate level. Surprising? No. Shocking? Yes. Why? Because while new international student recruitment fluctuating and even decreased over the last several years, new international college athlete enrollment continues to increase – a trend in recruitment, mobility, and enrollment that could’ve been unearthed in Denver. My research is not one-track minded, so of course I went to several sessions on internationalization. And you guessed it – conversations and hot takes about diversity, alumni engagement, and employability with no regard for how college athletics can be used a medium for campus internationalization.
To keep it 100, by day 2 – I was ready to come home. But then something special happened. I remembered a lyric from The Greatest Artist to have ever lived who once said…
Don’t ever forget the moment you began to doubt
Transitioning from fitting in to standing out.
I went to a global conference wanting to “fit in” and belong, when God brought me to Denver through NAFSA to drive home the fact that my purpose is really like that. My purpose is inimitable and shows up through my research and practice.
The moments when I was frustrated explaining to attendees what the “NCAA” was, were moments to educate and build alliances. When people looked at me like I had 10 heads after I explained what international athlete career development meant, I should’ve pivoted and explained how what Maryland Made is doing is should be a model for all colleges and universities in U.S. higher education. When I noticed that were ZERO sessions focused on the intersection of international education and college athletics, I should’ve googled “NAFSA Annual Conference program proposal” and spoke with this year’s presenters to garner insight on how to build a competitive proposal for NAFSA 2023 in DC.
Hindsight is 20/20, so is the future when you are walking in purpose.
So, I am walking.
At times, NAFSA was uncomfortable but those were opportunities for evolution and growth. College athletics conferences are also frustrating when I have to explain to colleagues the guidelines and restrictions of an F-1 visa. Don’t get me started on career development. Reluctance to support international students navigating CPT/OPT and couldn’t tell you the difference between club sports, intramural sports, and intercollegiate athletics.
For the last seven years, I have tried to find an association that would serve as my professional home. I’ve been to NASPA, ACPA, ASCA, NAFSA, N4A, Black Student-Athlete Summit and none of these experiences left me fulfilled without asking for more. NAFSA was a glaring reminder that I do not belong to an association, but rather my purpose. And to identify and attach myself to one (or two) functional areas would be disrespectful to the gifts and stories God asked me to share with this world.
So I remind myself and this globe who I am.
I am Tim Bryson, son of God.
I am a Black millennial educator who is confident my Blackness, millennial identity, and belief that education can change the world guides my mission statement to help all people identify their passion, inspire vision, and walk in purpose.
Put me in any room. Take me to any conference. Give me any challenge.
I’m gon always win because purpose is undefeated.
Thank you, NAFSA. Thank you, Denver.
I am back.
Encourage somebody to be great today!
Future Dr. TFB