In 2015, The College of Global Studies formed The Guild as an invitational group designed to bring together in a community of conversation a revolving, eclectic group of education abroad professionals from among our domestic and overseas partners. It was our hope that we could provide a forum combining formal and informal opportunities for in-depth discussion of the issues, opportunities, and challenges that the members faced in their offices on a regular basis. As John Wells noted in the original announcement, “The Guild is intended to …. allow for a different level of conversation. Education Abroad conferences with hundreds to thousands of people in attendance don’t permit a sustained level of discourse.”
The events included an annual gathering at Arcadia University each June, along with a mix of meals and happy hours at various conferences. In the planning and execution of these events, we learned several important lessons. First, it is challenging to strike the right balance of formal and informal settings that engender conversations that successfully include peers from differing institutional backgrounds and possessing different organizational responsibilities. Second, given the demanding schedules of all involved, it was nearly impossible to find ways to extend conversations beyond a given event in order to allow ideas and modes of inquiry to develop organically through give and take over extended periods. Last, we realized that it is all too easy to fall into the trap of bringing together present leaders of the field, and then to run out of space and time to include folks from the next generation of leaders and contributors.
As a result of these experiences, we have decided to hit the reset button and return to first principles. Given that our goal is to establish opportunities for sustained discourse, collaborative learning, and professional networking, we have decided to restructure The Guild as an inclusive community of engagement rather than a membership group. In its place, we envision building conversation circles to serve as professional learning and networking communities that can engage an array of topics of interest to our colleagues, to contribute to the field’s commonwealth, and to inform our thinking in The College about best and next practices and opportunities for innovation in our program development. Further, it is our hope for these communities to welcome professionals at varied stages of their careers, providing the opportunity for exchanges of insight and wisdom across the generations of leadership.
Throughout the year The Guild will offer invitational events designed to bring together a diverse set of education abroad peers to explore issues of interest in the field. These will include meetings of conversation circles at conferences and virtually, small dinner conversations, receptions/happy hours, pop-up conversations on various topics, and visits to Glenside for targeted activities. The initial set of conversation circles will focus on student engagement, applied learning, and institutional partnership, but it is our hope that several new circles spring from the initial gatherings. Folks who are context experts will be invited to serve in leadership capacities in these various activities, such as working with a colleague from The College to lead a conversation circle or to help us mentor rising professionals, colleagues from smaller, less-well-resourced institutions, etc. The pop-up conversations will provide both senior and rising professionals alike the opportunity to lead a discussion around a topic that we've seen them present at a conference and found compelling.
We in The College are hopeful for the opportunity The Guild offers to build an informal, collegial culture of shared curiosity, mentoring, and networking with the goal of meaningfully impacting the student experience on our programs and for students at your institutions, a place where the best aspects of academic community grounded in student-centered teaching and learning can join up with enquiring minds from all corners of the field.