Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Down Under in Australia/NZ - Entry #25

I have been very fortunate over the past five years to be able to attend the past three biennial Australian New Zealand Student Services (ANZSSA) Conferences.   I love to travel and in December 2007 I stumbled upon this two-year gathering.  Through happenstance I was able to become one of the official National Association of Student Personnel Association (NASPA) delegates.  Their partial funding cut down on travel costs and bestowed upon me the designation as “one of the Americans.”  It wasn’t hard to pick me out as someone from the States since there are never more then a handful of conference goers from outside the region.  There are a number of reasons why.  First, not many student affairs types even know of the ANZSSA Conference’s existence.  As a group, we are more stateside-centric when seeking professional development opportunities.  I would dare say that most people in the field don’t know there are many international conferences held each year around the globe.  Second, Americans do not travel outside the United States in great numbers.  According to a CNN Travel story (http://bit.ly/TViEap) only 30% of Americans had passports in 2011 as compared to 60% of Canadians and 75% of those in the United Kingdom.  That figure is dramatically higher then just a few years ago only because passports are now necessary for entry into Canada and Mexico where 50% of all international trips by U.S. citizens were taken.  Third, the cost to fly to the other side of the world is not cheap.  Factor in food, lodging and transportation within the countries and that’s a lot of Australian or New Zealand dollars.  Lastly, is the distance.  It is a long plane ride no matter where you depart from in the States.  When I left for the 2011 Conference from Connecticut it took me 28 hours.  That included a flight to Washington, D.C. (with layover), second leg to LAX (with layover), flight to Auckland, New Zealand, and then finally Australia.  The actual flight from Los Angeles to Auckland was only 11 hours and it was at night so one could “sleep.”  Taken as a whole the trip was rather lengthy, but if you judged it as separate segments the journey was not too bad.  Anyway, it was an adventure (HINT:  If you can afford it book a Premium Economy seat.  The difference between that level and coach is night and day).

The ANZSSA Conference is quite small which, over the years, has enabled me to meet and talk with many of the participants.  During my excursions to these two countries I have also made it a point to visit as many universities as I could. Everyone I have ever met has been collegial and accommodating. As a NASPA delegate visitations are part of the post-conference itinerary but, in addition, I have mapped out trips to many more schools.  I am always interested in the differences and similarities of administrative practices.  For example, in Australia student activities revolve around the student union and the sports association (or union). These bodies, composed entirely of current students, receive most, if not all, of the student union and sports association fees collected each year. They would then allocate the funds to the various groups, clubs, and services under their jurisdiction. The unions are an entity unto themselves with almost no administrative oversight from the university.

When I first started making my travel arrangements for the 2007 Auckland session I was clueless on how many people were involved in the conference.  My reference point is a NASPA National, which can number 7,000 to 8,000 delegates.  I’ll never forget my reaction when I read one of the emails from the conference organizer about the proceeding’s size:  “Since this year’s ANZSSA is in New Zealand we are hoping for 175 people.”  “What,” I thought?  “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I sputtered.  Even my regional conference (Region I of NASPA comprises New England and Canadian Maritime Provinces) is 400+ participants.  I was, literally, momentarily stunned.  But, stepping back, it made sense.  There are only a fraction of the number of institutions of higher education in those two countries as compared to the United States.  Residential life, huge in the States, is very small there due to a lack of housing stock and the proclivity of students to commute to their local universities.  In Australia and New Zealand there is not the mass migration of students around the country as in the U.S.  Student activities is predominately run by…the students, which further cuts down on their number of professional staff. 

However, due to the small numbers, over the past three gatherings I have gotten to know a number of Australian and New Zealand student affairs professionals.  We would chat before sessions but, primarily, at either morning or afternoon teas.  How civil.  How scrumptious.  Little sandwiches.  Cakes.  Fresh fruit.  Tea or coffee.  Too bad conferences in the U.S. are too big to offer these type of breaks.  But I digress.  ANZSSA members I have met over the years were the recipients of my cards these past ten days.  I usually started off writing about the weather, whining about the cold Connecticut mornings in contrast to the very warm December climate over there.  Brisbane, for example, where the 2009 Conference was held, could be in the 90’s this time of year.  For some I reminisced about excursions we took together.  One memorable day trip was to the Wairarapa wine district outside of Wellington, New Zealand to sample their superb Rieslings.  For a colleague at the University of Southern Queensland I reminded her about the vegemite on toast she “forced” me to consume.  In my notes I also touched upon academics and their upcoming summer break as well as Christmas holiday.

The main thrust of my correspondence to the ANZSSA members was simply to keep in touch.  This viewpoint--staying connected with someone halfway around the world--is one of the nice residuals of The Writing Project.

No comments:

Post a Comment