Saturday, October 29, 2011

Kansas: It's about the People

I’m prefacing this post with the fact that about half of it was typed with one hand, so please excuse the lack of normal excessive details and possible typos.

In the beginning of October, I had the privilege of traveling to Emporia, Kansas to work with a chapter who was recently installed in December.  I flew from PIT to MCO (the code for the Kansas City airport, which is strangely enough not in Kansas but is rather in Missouri) with a connection in Cincinnati, OH (CVG).  Ohio is not my favorite state, and CVG is surely not my favorite airport – it’s going to be placed low on my list of favorites.  When I got to MCO, the chapter women came to pick me up. From there, we had about a 1.5 hour ride back to Emporia, Kansas. Our ride was pretty long, so for our first time meeting each other, we had to really think of some conversation starters. Luckily, all three of the women who came to pick me up were really great people so conversation was very easy. For the week, one of the chapter women gave up her room, which included a full sized bed and a private bathroom. They were so accommodating and I’m so grateful for their hospitality.

Emporia State University – an institution known for is education program – was very comforting as it reminded me of my alma mater in the sense that it was a small, close-knit community where everyone knew everyone else.  Two members gave me a tour, and it made me happy that the women who were giving me a tour knew some history about their college and some of the traditions it had. 

For example, the school mascot, Corky the hornet, was designed by Paul Edwards in the 1930s, then a freshman art student and cheerleader.   ESU’s mascot has undergone several changes through the years; however, Corky retains what Edwards calls that “determined, but happy” look on its face.  The women informed me that Edwards is still involved with the school and is the only person who is allowed to change anything about Corky. Since I like alumni things, this was delightful to learn.

Another thing they shared with me was the tradition of people becoming engaged or, in cases of Greeks, lavaliered. The bridge is over a little pond with a fountain and during Greek Week, the have a canoe competition.  It’s a very nice touch to campus.

Below is one more tradition the school has. The students, as incoming first-years, walk through this arch during their academic convocation and are to find it bad luck to walk the opposite way through the arch until their commencement. I guess many students don't take it seriously except for the art and theatre students.  Just another interesting thing about ESU.

I must admit it was a little scary being in Kansas – a state notorious for deadly tornadoes. The weather for most of my visit was fairly nice, though while I slept one night, it was severely thundering and lightning. In a half-sleep as I feared for my life, I somehow managed to not only check my phone’s weather application, but also set it to the nearest National Weather Service station since it was still set to Buffalo weather.  Obviously the fear carried deep into my mind.
Something very interesting -- and something I somewhat expected -- was its lack of dining choices.  Emporia's "hot spot" is Applebee's, which I frequented at least three times during my week-long visit.  Although during one of the Applebee's trips, Allison (a colleague based in Indianapolis who was visiting for the chapter's alumnae reunion) and I met a staff member of a fraternity.  It was neat talking to a new friend who has some similar and also some different experiences.  Anyway -- back to food. We dined locally twice and ate in a few times.  One of the places we ate at was Bobby D's BBQ. I'm not much into BBQ, but the turkey open-faced sandwich and sweet potato fries were muy delicioso! It was definitely my favorite place we dined.

The visit with the women was great.  The chapter was re-installed last December, so they are still learning some things and it was nice to be there help with some things.  I was also there for their initiation, so that is always a special time.  The school’s fraternity/sorority adviser actually came to introduce herself to the entire chapter and do a small activity with them – which I added to my activity toolbox. It’s an activity where each member has an envelope with her name on it and all members had a stack of sticky notes.  Then everyone passes each other’s envelope to one direction in sync and wrote something nice about one another and put it in their envelope as that person’s envelope came around to them.  And these nice messages are not “she’s so cute – I love her shoe collection!” things, but deeper things about what they appreciate, admire, like or love about one another.  Once each member has written in everyone else’s and has hers returned to her, (my favorite part) they seal their own envelopes and save the nice messages for a lousy day pick-me-up. Telling them they cannot read the messages right then and there is definitely the highlight of the activity. Muah-ha-ha-haa.
Kansas really surprised me.  At first, I was judging it by it's geography and lack of things to do.  But then one of the chapter alumnae (who owns an ostrich farm!) said the secret to Kansas:  It's not about the area; it's about the people.  It's so true, too.  Any memory made wasn't revolving around where we were or what we were doing, but it was mostly about the people.  And having Allison's familiar face there for a short amount of time was very comforting. It's nice to be around colleagues every now and then!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Buffalo Wrap Up -- Finally!

Okay, so. I guess it has been a long, long time since I’ve last updated. Updating is difficult to remember and just sit down and write. Since the last post, I have left the Buffalo, NY area and have moved on to Kansas. But before I get into what’s happening in Kansas, I first have to finish up with some fun things I did in Buffalo.

Before I departed from the Queen City, I was fortunate enough to have visited the American side of Niagara Falls.  Even though it was dark out, it was still a pretty neat experience.  We walked on trails that were so close to the river that goes over the falls; we were so surprised that no boundary or protection of any sort was there.  After we walked around the falls, we had some Indian food for a late-night dinner. It was delicious and a much needed evening out with some college friends and sorority alumnae.

Something else fun that I had the luxury of doing while in Buffalo was dining at Pizza Junction, as seen on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  My mom saw it on there and immediately told me about it.  Apparently they were featured on the Food Network for their pulled pork pizza, rueben pizza, and beef on weck pizza.  I had none of these; I think I just had a regular pizza with mushrooms and some chicken wings. But it was just as delicious, if not more, than the fancy specialty, loaded-up-on-meat pizzas. My only complaint is that when I ordered, my meal was supposed to cost around $8.00; however, when I received my check, the price was $10.00. When I addressed the waitress, she went to the server's area and compared menus. She then informed me that she must have given me the outdated menu because they raised some prices. But me being myself, I just paid the extra two dollars and didn't put up a fight. But seriously -- not my problem you don't update you entire stock of menus at once and misinform customers of meal prices. It was still a good experience despite this.

The day I left Buffalo, some friends and I stopped and ate at Duff’s.  Duff’s is apparently has the best wings, not the original- but the best. Established in 1969, it has taken over the world of wings – or at least Buffalo and Southern Canada.  The wing flavor selection was mildly disappointing, because they only really had mild, medium mild, medium hot, etc. There were no fun flavors like Cajun, ranch, or parmesan.  And it took a very long time for us to get our checks, so that didn’t impress me much either. But it was good to experience.

On my last night in Buffalo, the women took me out to dinner at El Palenque, the Mexican restaurant we went to on my first night in Buffalo.  It was kind of neat to see it all come full circle. Only with this dining experience, it wasn’t awkward because we had known each other for a month and not just a half-hour. So the conversation was a lot more casual and more relaxed. One of the women studied abroad in Spain in the spring and is fairly fluent in the language. It was delightful to hear her speak to the restaurant waitstaff in Spanish and to see her continue to practice the language.

Now that my first visit is over, I feel like some mistakes have been made on my end and some things have been learned. There are things I would have done differently, but you live and learn. I’m glad my first visit was stationary for a few weeks, rather than on the road constantly. It was a good transition after being so situated and stable in  my itsy-bitsy apartment.

I’m happy to say that when I left the group of women, things were looking good. The visit definitely went quickly—a lot faster than I was expecting.  But I think that I left them with the tools and resources they need to do good things, and I’ll be talking with the president every week, if not more than once a week, and other officers to see how things are progressing.  During my five week visit, we definitely had our ups and downs, but I think it made us all stronger in the end—them as a group and me as a consultant. There were probably times where they wanted to kill me, and I also got frustrated at times, but I hope they learned a lot and that they do good things.