The 2019 New Zealand International Education Conference (NZIEC) drew over 700 participants from across Aotearoa to the SkyCity Convention Center in Auckland this August. Embodying the theme of “navigating our changing world”, this year’s conference explored the unique qualities of Aotearoa that enable our nation to provide enriching experiences for international students.

Representatives of AFS attended as both speakers and exhibitors, sharing with other participants the unparalleled expertise that our organisation brings to the international education sector. This year AFS acted as one of 22 stallholders in the exhibition hall, educating attendees on topics such as global competence skills and intercultural awareness. Our mission to activate global citizens paired seamlessly with the conference motto, “he waka eke noa – a canoe which we are all in together”.

NZIEC’s mission is to lead international education thinking. Bringing together professionals and experts within the education sector, the conference creates a space for the free and active sharing of innovative ideas and new strategies. This year’s conference was made even more exciting as Education Minister Hon. Chris Hipkins reflected on the launch of Aotearoa’s new national education strategy as an introductory keynote speaker. Collaboration, adaptability and excellent educational offerings were identified as crucial to the continued growth of the New Zealand international education sector.

Included in this year’s excellent list of presenters was AFS Intercultural Programmes’ Communications Manager Andrea Kammerer, as well as Global Engagement and Programmes Manager Carla Rey Vasquez and Acting National Director of AFS Intercultural Programmes NZ Tim Mahren Brown. Andrea discussed the comprehensive data set collected by AFS International as part of an alumni survey conducted between December 2018 and March 2019. The study gathered more than 10,000 responses globally and analyses the ways in which study abroad programmes s have influenced the lives of our participants. The data indicated some wonderful findings, in particular that AFS returnees are likely to be extremely active in their communities and are also often high academic and professional achievers.

During Globalizing short-term programmes Carla presented on the research surrounding the benefits of short-term educational programs, emphasising that activating global citizens can be achieved in as little as 2-3 weeks! Discussing the concept of AFS Global Prep programmes was made even more exciting as Carla was able to draw on data and experiences collected during our pilot Global Prep program held in Wellington in July this year. Supported by research that examines the correlation between global competence and the length of an intercultural experience, Carla was able to take the audience on a journey towards better understanding the abilities of short-term programs to create extremely high-impact experiences for participants.

On Thursday afternoon, Carla and Tim facilitated an interactive workshop titled Globally competent? Check your own oxygen mask is on first aimed at exploring the ways in which cross-cultural competence manifests in interactions between all staff across the education sector. An AFS pilot study presented by the duo found that 78% of 450+ schools surveyed globally do not have the intercultural competence training that equips teachers and staff to adequately prepare students for an increasingly diverse future. Participants of the workshop were armed with data-driven research, real-life case studies and first-hand experience with intercultural competency that will further strengthen the impact of a New Zealand education for both domestic and international students.

NZIEC was once again a market-place for the latest grand ideas surrounding how to improve Aotearoa’s international education sector. Keynote speaker Lisa Coleman, New York University Senior Vice President for global inclusion, spoke on global inclusion as an imperative, “just like technology”. Closing keynote speaker Chris Gallavin, Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor at Massey University Manawatu, discussed the importance of adapting how we in New Zealand understand ourselves and see ourselves in the world.

It is clear now more than ever that AFS’mission to activate global citizens and encourage intercultural learning will enable individuals across the world to think globally and act locally.