The night before the conference, the Institute hosted a welcome reception, which Megan writes about here:
"Reza, Grace, Lauren, Sarah and I attended the welcome reception the day before the forum. We met several study abroad advisers and administrators from universities across the country, as well as some professionals in the study abroad industry. Our conversations were rewarding and productive, especially with Lili Batchelder of Lodestone Safety International and Brian Whalen, the President and CEO of the forum. Lili praised us for our work, informing us that she and several of her colleagues already use the resources available on our website. Upon hearing this, I knew that as a foundation we have already accomplished a major goal, although there will always be more work we can do. We are teaching fire safety to more people than we can keep track of. This information, infectious though benign, will doubtless save at least one life if it hasn't already. At the end of the reception, Brian proposed that we establish a task force to update the Standards of Good Practice, which the forum publishes each year, to include standards concerning fire safety. Through this effort, we will spread fire safety education to even more study abroad staff and students."
The next day was our panel. Here is the link to the description of all the panels at the conference. Ours can be found in the 10:45-12:15 time slot:
During our panel, Reza gave a moving introduction, Grace shared her story, and Sarah talked about the Foundation's projects. I also talked about my experience with the fire in London and how much it differed from the devastating events of April, 2011.
Here is Grace's account of the experience she had sharing her story at the conference:
"When I was first invited to share the story of the April 14 fire with the Forum on Education Abroad my reaction was a mix of nerves, incredulity, and overwhelming excitement. Never before had I shared such an intimate piece of myself with such a large audience and I was unsure whether or not I could even speak about it for so long without my emotions taking over. What I did not know, however, was that it would turn out to be a pivotal opportunity in my own recovery and an important step forward for JUSTICE.
Part of recovery is, of course, the ability to remain open and speak freely about one’s trauma. In this way, the Forum was some of the best medicine I have had in a long time. Unlike sharing the story with so many concerned friends and acquaintances, the Forum participants are in a position to make actual changes in fire safety policy that will prevent the further loss of student life. As I spoke about the fire, I realized that the room was full of solutions. Every audience member, engaged and willing to combat the apathy and ignorance surrounding fire safety that we encounter so often, made me feel as if some of the burden was lifting. Now, they know my story. Now, we all have a responsibility to do something about it."
We really felt like we were able to share our story with a caring and thoughtful group of people, and we thank the Institute for that opportunity. We were so pleased with how this conference went that we are now preparing an application for the Institute's national conference next April in Chicago.
As Reza sums it up:
"I have been thinking about the various people we met in Washington D.C. at the Forum on Education Abroad and discovered that in previous years, many subjects regarding the safety of students traveling abroad were being addressed. Unfortunately, one of the most important subjects, fire safety, had never been on the agenda. Our Foundation brought that missing piece of the puzzle to the table. There did not seem to be any resistance to learning about this important problem and we hope that our presence at the National Conference in Chicago next year will prove to be extremely effective."