In early November, I had the opportunity to attend my first student affairs conference — NASPA Region IV-W. I spent the week in the beautiful resort village of Beaver Creek, CO. I have attended a number of conferences in the past, primarily related to my sorority membership, but this was different than anything I experienced before. I realize that the conference’s sub-theme of “Blue Jeans in Beaver Creek” made it unlike even other student affairs conferences. This conference was truly meant as a time for attendees to relax and rejuvenate leading into the final stretch of the semester. As a first time attendee, I learned a few lessons that I think are important to keep in mind.
1. Be prepared.
I found that I felt much more prepared for the conference by downloading the conference app before arriving in Colorado. I was able to take plenty of time to read through the session descriptions and choose the ones I was most interested in attending. As a graduate student, I was also able to find time to work in some homework while at the conference and knew when that would happen.
2. Conferences are exhausting.
I did not expect this to be true. With educational sessions, keynotes, and after-hours meetups, there was so much going on. Adding graduate schoolwork on top of that made for an exhausting week. I kept telling myself that it was only a short few days, and I could just power through all of the sessions and additional events. Then I remembered that after returning home from the conference, I would be going straight into my old routine of classes and work. If I kept pushing myself through the conference, I would burn out with no time to recuperate.
3. Take care of yourself.
We tell our students and colleagues this all the time, but we have a difficult time taking our own advice. Conferences are exhausting no matter what personality type you have, but especially for those who identify as introverts. One thing that was difficult for me to grasp is that it is okay to take a session off or not go to one of the socials at night. Once I finally took time to myself, I realized how much better I felt about the rest of the sessions that day and for the rest of the conference. As much as we want to be able to do everything, sometimes we just need to take some time to re-energize.
4. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
This was made much easier at NASPA IV-W given the blue jeans theme, but it is important to always be comfortable. We are more confident when we feel good in what we are wearing. You don’t want to be thinking about the blisters on your heels from those new shoes or your blazer that is just a little too small while networking rather than the conversation you are having.
5. Step outside your comfort zone.
This is something that is difficult for everyone, but I found especially challenging as an introvert. Go to sessions or socials you might not normally attend. Sit with other people at meals rather than the group you came with. Network, network, network. Try to make genuine connections with others you meet at a conference and remember to connect with them after as well. You will learn so much more by connecting with others.
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