Category Archives: International

Joy (muted)

I love celebrating the back-to-back winter holidays! The celebrations make my cup of joy run over! I’m so happy and thankful for family, friends, life! Opening my eyes wide to take in the beauty of the many decorations, especially the lights everywhere on everything, is joy in all its splendor!

With my heart full of joy, I was stopped at a traffic signal. On the side of the street was a woman carrying a cardboard sign that read, “Please, we have no money for food.” On the ground behind her was a man half sitting and half lying down. A child about the size of a three-year-old was face down sprawled across the man’s lap.

My eyes welled up, my nose burned, my chest felt heavy, and I said out loud, “Have mercy.” Helpless to do something for this particular family, my joy is muted.

I was doing my exercise routine and the blood was warming me up. I felt the sheer joy of being alive. Then through my earphones I heard news about more civilian deaths in Ukraine, many needless deaths in Haiti due to the country’s implosion, increasing numbers of deaths worldwide because of a resurgence of COVID, and I said out loud, “Have mercy.” Helpless to do something to make it better, my joy is muted.

As I continued my exercise, I received a text from a friend telling me that Brittney Griner was coming home. It was just a few days before that I had told my friend that I was praying for Griner’s return. I was elated by the news that she was being released. Later I learned that Paul Whelan who has been detained since 2018 was not released. Helpless to do anything about it, my joy is muted.

Although it isn’t easy when joy intersects with the unfairness of life, I will continue to look for occasions to celebrate and feel joy even if it might be muted.

I wish you unmitigated joy, peace, prosperity, and love.

For the next couple of weeks, I will be busy seeking joy and will be taking a break from writing my blog.

Of Treadmills, Languages, and Feeling at Home in the World

I’m yet at another airport. As I reflect on this exciting year of travel, I’m also thinking about my regrets. I have few regrets about anything, but a couple of regrets that surface today are that I do not know a second language, and I wish I had programmed my treadmill to “Incline.” Walking up and down the hills is a great incentive to put more rigor into my workouts.

In regard to my language regret, in much of my travel, I connect with colleagues in colleges and universities, and because of that, I have been lulled into thinking that much of the rest of the world speaks English as well as at least two other languages. In the real world of visiting another country, most of the people do not speak English, and if you’re lost, you remain lost for a long time.

I took Latin in high school and Spanish and French in college. Also, I was in Mexico for ten weeks about seven years ago where I attended an intensive language school where I was taught Spanish for six hours a day. The operative word is “taught” and not “learned.” I was never a slacker during any of these opportunities to learn a second language. The instructors were diligent in teaching what they knew in the way in which they had been taught. I received good grades in most of my classes because I was good at memorizing and performed well on written exams. By the time I was in third-year French in college, the ruse was up. I had to learn the language and could not rely on my good memory to repeat back what I’d read and heard. I had to think critically in another language.

There are other students like me today who will do well on the exams that require rote memorization, and they, like me, will give up on learning a language when they can no longer parrot what they have heard. It is heartening to know that languages today are taught more in context where students have to use the language and not simply memorize conjugations and vocabulary.  

Regrets aside, by way of observation, I have noticed that in travel I can appreciate the liberal arts.  Recently, in conversations with students at a university, they expressed impatience in having to take courses in general education. They wanted to get to their major as quickly as possible. They said that they would make better grades if they were taking courses where they could see the practical application for their future work. If these students had the opportunity to travel internationally, I think they would understand that there are practical applications for the their courses in general education, and more than that, they would feel a sense of satisfaction in being able to be at home  anywhere in the world because of their common base of knowledge about history and the way the world works.

Competencies and a Cross-Cultural Perspective

gwen dungy at nissiThe second day of the Institute was divided into two sessions. During the morning session, we reviewed the lessons from the previous day and the goals the participants had for the Institute. Most of the goals not met on the first day were going to be addressed on this day. Our topic was the competency Advising and Helping.  Before giving an overview of the session, participants also shared what they saw as the most pressing concerns their students had. We would plan to use the list of concerns for role playing during the Advising and Helping session.

We learned that some of the participants had had some training in active listening skills, and we asked them to demonstrate some of the skills of active listening for the entire group. During the role play, one person was the student with a concern, one person was the helper, and the third person was the observer. The role play was videotaped and played back for all to see and share in discussing observations related to active listening skills. There was enthusiastic participation, and the exercise seemed to be quite effective.

oscar felixThe afternoon session was the Host Country Session on culture. What began as an information session became a lively discussion among nationals who had different perspectives on traditions and customs. This session is an invaluable part of the NASPA International Student Services Institute, and the only thing we would change about it is where we place it on the schedule. In the future, we will do the Host Country Session earlier in the program in order for non-nationals to have this information as the competencies are reviewed since the competencies were created from a U.S. perspective.

Dr. Oscar Felix, Dr. Courtney Stryker, and I think the participants learned and were satisfied with the Institute. In a cursory review, the evaluations were extremely positive.

NASPA International Student Services Institute

The first day of the NASPA International Student Services Institute (NISSI) was attended by forty participants, ten of which were undergraduate students. The five male and five female undergraduates were an interesting and thought-provoking addition to the Institute. As we student affairs practitioners talked about students, these students were able to interject the student perspective as they were living it.

courtney strykerDr. Courtney Stryker, student affairs administrator at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi, hosted NISSI at Zayed University’s Abu Dhabi campus. Some photos of the convention center where the Institute is being held speak volumes about the AAA facility with so much space and architectural interest. The facility is impressively beautiful, comfortable and quite practically useful.

Zayed UniversityFrom 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., Dr. Oscar Felix and I shared a sketch of student development and learning theories. I talked briefly about the evolution of student affairs, the purpose of the publication Learning Reconsidered and how the publication has redefined learning.

oscar felixDr. Felix gave an introduction to various student development theories. Participants were engaged throughout the session and had quite a bit of discussion on Sanford’s challenge and support theory.

It was interesting to see the different perspectives of students and student affairs educators on whether or not students were more challenged than supported. Baxter-Magolda’s theory on self-authorship caused several participants to recall conversations with students who were at the threshold of making the decision to take responsibility for self authorship or sacrifice their own independence for the sake of tradition and family pride.

Tomorrow as we discuss and practice using the basic skills of advising and counseling, we might explore how the helpers would guide a student who is in-between.



Had a really fine dinner and discussions with colleagues last night at an Indian restaurant in a shopping arcade next to the Shangri-La Hotel. Yes, it really does look like it should be called Shangri-La.

After dinner, sleep did not welcome me with open arms. Writers have described the sound of the wind during the night as howling, haunting, or even mournful. As I lay awake last night, because my body has not adjusted to the new time zone, I likened the sound of the wind to an ensemble of wind instruments, especially the flute. The sound was lilting and soothing, and for that, I am grateful.

In just a few hours, Dr. Oscar Felix and I will meet the participants who are attending the first NASPA International Student Services Institute (NISSI) in the United Arab Kingdom (UAE). This NISSI is a collaborative program created by Colorado State University Student Affairs in Higher Education program, Zayed University, and NASPA.

I could not be more excited about the Institute and future possibilities!

Oscar Felix, Colorado State University; Courtney Stryker, Zayed University;  Karla Fraser, American University of Afghanistan, Gwen Dungy, NASPA

Oscar Felix, Colorado State University; Courtney Stryker, Zayed University;  Karla Fraser, American University of Afghanistan, Gwen Dungy, NASPA

Dreaming While Awake – International Student Services Institutes

It’s 1:00 a.m. here in Abu Dhabi and 4:00 p.m. on the East Coast of the United States.  I left my house at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, February 1, for Dulles airport to take British Airways to Heathrow in London and from London to Abu Dhabi. I lost a day, so to speak, in travel. As soon as I finish this message to you, I will finally go to bed since I’ve not been prone since Thursday night, January 31. 

I’m surprisingly alert and have such a sense of well-being. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been so thrilled that the vision Kevin Kruger and I had about ways to fulfill the NASPA Board’s international objective is coming together on several fronts much sooner than either of us expected. One dream was to offer student services institutes internationally. We had our first one in December in collaboration with the Hong Kong Student Services Association. Speaking of collaboration, a partnership with Colorado State University’s SAHE program working with Dave McKelfresh, Jody, Donovan, and Oscar Felix is a fantastic dream as well.

I’m also pumped because Courtney Stryker, Zayed University in Abu Dhabi,  and I had an impossible dream to have a NASPA International Student Services Institute (NISSI) this February despite some setbacks along the way. The potential success for the Institute is beyond what either of us dared hope. I will give a better account of attendance and response after the first day of the Institute.

Last year, Denny Roberts, gave me an opportunity to represent NASPA in the Region III 6th Annual Gulf Conference program as a panelist along with Greg Roberts and colleagues from Hamad Bin Kalifa University in Doha, Qatar, or Education City. This year, Courtney Stryker and the Conference Planning Committee are giving me an opportunity to keynote the NASPA-ACPA Gulf Conference following the NASPA International Student Services Institute. It’s all coming together beautifully, and I am going to get some sleep now to continue the dream.