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Belinda Viljoen, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

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I attended the NACADA Summer Institute in August 2010 in Philadelphia. If you haven’t attended a NACADA institute, do it!  It is a phenomenal opportunity to learn about academic advising and to connect with people from colleges and universities from across the globe.

My trip to the U.S. started in cold and icy South Africa (in August) and was filled with many “firsts” for me.  It was my first trip overseas and, of course, my first in the U.S.; it was filled with magical moments as I traveled from New York to Philadelphia and finally to Manhattan, Kansas (which I learned is known as “the Little Apple”).

I embarked on my journey with nerves of steel and lots of prayers; I was overwhelmed with expectations and scared that I would lose my luggage. My first destination was New York City; after an 18-hour flight (yes, 18 hours in an uncomfortable seat without sleep), I arrived in a wet and rainy New York City. I got into a yellow cab (another first as I had never ridden in a taxi) and found that it would take an hour to get to my hotel on 29th Street in Manhattan. I did not waste even one minute to rest; I was on a mission, determined to see as much as possible.  I spent the next two days exploring the streets of New York City, watching Broadway productions, and drinking lots of Starbucks© coffee.

Two days later, I left for Summer Institute in downtown Philadelphia. When I arrived, I felt the blazing heat but thought that the humidity was better. I checked into the hotel and immediately went out to explore the town. That was when I realized that the humidity was still high, but I loved it. Although most shops were closed, I found a Starbucks (one shop that quickly became a favourite) and went back to the hotel.  Later that day, I witnessed newlyweds taking pictures on the hotel sidewalk with its background view of City Hall. I took the rest of the day to rest after my two and half days of New York magic.

On the Institute’s opening day, I was the first participant to register and collect my Institute materials – I was the typical “first-timer”!  The opening session covered the history of academic advising and was presented by NACADA President Jayne Drake. We found our Small Groups, and my group facilitator was Karen Boston from the University of Arkansas. We referred to our group as the “diverse international group,” since we were comprised of four people from the U.S., a few from Canada, a lady from the Netherlands, and me, all the way from South Africa. During the week, we learned a lot from each other; even though our institutions and countries were different, we realized that our challenges and issues are almost identical! We shared ideas and strategies for what works on our campuses. This process turned us into “experts for a moment” and helped motivate us to go back to our respective universities and promote new strategies to enhance the academic advising process.

The week was filled with foundation sessions, workshops, topical, and at least one Small Group discussion daily. I wish there was more time to attend all the sessions; each session was interesting or informative. I learned so much!

After the close of the Institute, I was privileged to visit Kansas State University and spend time with NACADA staff.  I want to live there! The people are so friendly and willing to share their expertise. The campus is beautiful, and seeing students drive their own “branded” Mustangs was truly amazing. Of course, I couldn’t say no to the lovely Mexican food.

 Belinda Viljoen and NACADA staff.jpg

Looking back at my experiences I would say that Summer Institute is a must!  I gained so much knowledge and confidence; when I returned to my home campus I was able to present my Action Plan and the strategies I learned. This was especially helpful because I am new to the systems approach and my small group members worked with it every day. I met so many new “colleagues” and am still in contact with them; they support me and give great input as we move forward on our campuses.

Looking back at my experiences I would say that Summer Institute is a must!  I gained so much knowledge and confidence; when I returned to my home campus I was able to present my Action Plan and the strategies I learned. This was especially helpful because I am new to the systems approach and my small group members worked with it every day. I met so many new “colleagues” and am still in contact with them; they support me and give great input as we move forward on our campuses.

A quote from Mark Twain sums up my total experience in the U.S. and what is still to come: ”Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Belinda Viljoen
Chief Officer: Academic Advising
Student Development and Success
Directorate for Institutional Research and Academic Planning
University of the Free State
Bloemfontein, 9301 (South Africa)
ViljoenB@ufs.ac.za

Cite this article using APA style as: Viljeon, B. (2011, March). Ad advisor's journey: To summer institute and back again. Academic Advising Today, 34(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]
Posted in: 2011 March 34:1

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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.

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