Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sh*t Sorority Girls Say

Yeah, we saw it. The "Sh*t [insert population here] Say" videos are widely popular - and mostly pretty hilarious. What we can't figure out is this: is it funny because it's true or funny because it's shocking? The sad reality is - probably both.

Sure, we know that all sorority girls don't wear pink button ups paired with leggings, boots, and pearls. But, we know you know some who do.

The things is, stereotypes are usually funny and shocking because there is some truth behind them. I mean, if the "Sh*t RAs Say" video had the line, "I hate living in the halls, creating community is the worst" no one would laugh... because that's not what RAs say. Sure, the words have been uttered from an RAs mouth, but - let's be honest - it's just not the norm.

It's not like these stereotypes are a surprise, however. So why do we get our feathers ruffled when someone says them? Of course, in the ideal world, the video sound more like this:

"I'm so excited because our chapter's cumulative GPA was a 3.5!"

"Our fundraising event raised $5,000 for the domestic violence shelter!"

"[on the phone] What time is the diversity workshop tonight? Yes, I'll be there. Hey, can I bring my roommate?"

Even if they kept the stereotypical sorority girl dialect that added "like," "totally," and "literally" all over the place, it would still be a better video - at least to us. I mean, riiiight?

Is this really what your campus colleagues think of you? If so, what are you doing to defy this stereotype? Sure, some stereotypes and images don't change no matter what we do, but there are lots of steps that can be taken to defy them.

Like, don't do them.

How do you act in public? What are you doing when you're wearing your letters? Are these actions congruent with your values or not?

And, men, don't think you're off the hook. Obviously there is a video about you, too. It's just not as popular.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Man in the Mirror

This past week has been truly amazing. I wish every person I know could have the same experience at some point in his or her lives. The people I met and the stories I heard have really put a lot of things into perspective for me. Everyone I met had a different story and a different personality, yet we all came together for a common purpose: to create a sense of change through serving.

Only being in El Salvador for a week, it seemed almost impossible to make a major difference in these people’s lives. I quickly realized I was wrong. While in El Salvador, we had the opportunity to visit three different work sites in three different villages: Ilobasco, Las Delicias and Villa Zaragoza. At each of the three sites we were benefiting specific families or the community as a whole. I spent most of my trip at Ilobasco, where we were digging through a wall of rock to build a new classroom for a school. The work was not easy, yet so many people from the village came out to help us, children included. Two families who Project FIAT have worked with in the past were very involved with the project and even took us back to their houses each day so that we could be fully immersed in the El Salvadorian culture. Regardless of the language barrier, they shared their stories of their experiences during the war and were constantly reminding us how thankful they were to have us in their lives. We grew very close to these two families and all of the children at the site throughout the week; it was really hard to leave them on Friday. Everyone, especially the children, were so welcoming and were truly excited to see us everyday. They were so patient with us when we would attempt to speak Spanish and they were eager to learn the English words. I’ve come to realize that everyone in El Salvador works so hard for everything they have and they are always just happy to be alive, because nothing is promised for them tomorrow. Everyone was so thankful and said they felt privileged to have us in their lives, when really it’s the other way around.

Before we left Ilobasco on Friday, Don Miguel, the “lead” on the project put us all in a circle and sang us a song explaining that we were all one heart and followed one mind, basically reiterating that we all have one common purpose: to serve. He was so thankful for all of the work we did while we were there and went around the circle to hug and thank each one of us individually. That is a moment in my life I know I will never forget.

When we got in the van to go back home, Jaquin, our driver, blasted Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”. While everyone was dancing and singing along, I took a minute to really listen to the lyrics. I came to realize that this song was the perfect ending to a perfect week. Although we were only in El Salvador for seven days and didn’t complete the projects, it didn’t matter. What did matter was that we were there, we were working and doing the best we could to make a difference in these people’s lives. MJ said it best when he sang, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.” We chose to take a week out of lives to serve the less fortunate, regardless of what was accomplished. We were the change.

Kelsey Fisher is a senior at Kent State University, and a member of Alpha Xi Delta.  

Vamos todos al banquete a la mesa del senor

Everyone has a place on the table. Well supposedly. Unfortunately in America we compare our place on the table to those immediately around us. In a lucky lifetime though I believe one will venture far from the table to see those who are in the back cooking. Or better yet those who are outside of the house. A couple times I myself have had a privilege of talking with the beggar. However much of your interaction with someone is determined by the company you keep. At my time in El Salvador I had the pleasure of going with other Greek affiliated people. Over my time here I dug holes, played with orphans, talked with the impoverished, broke rocks, washed dishes and painted walls. Through these eye opening experiences I am reminded that my place on the table is all too privileged. Back at home I know brothers who also venture outside the dining room. Nick for instance is going across country with his phi kap brothers to help raise money for leukemia. Bob helped make an annual IFC philanthropy in which snow is brought down from the mountains to help mentally challenged children learn through sensory skills.  Ghandi said be the change you want to see in the world. I realized that as I became someone who worked hard for the world around me I saw more and more people who work hard for the world around them. This is a free radicals. Our care and love was started long before the Greeks, and will continue long after our forefathers. Sure since our creation we have a muddled history, and very unclear present. We have all heard the reply “your in a sorority?” even if you just told the person you’re in the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon. We have an apathetic brother or sister. But here as in many parts of the world there is hope. Why have we lost hope? And if we haven’t lost hope why are we not going out and helping the hungry outside our door?
Mark Gilpatrick is a senior at the University of California Riverside, and a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon.  

Friday, January 6, 2012


Each day is the beginning of a new day, a new perspective on life, and a new path that we walk upon. As I took my first few steps into this journey, I was frightened with where those steps were taking me. Having missed my flight on the first day, I was so worried that the path to this trip had completely halted. The thoughts that ran through my mind were worries and negative outlooks. But as I got onto the plane the next day, and landing in El Salvador, all those negative emotions went away. Before I knew it, I was greeted and surrounded by some of the most amazing-est (haha) people ever, whom I got the opportunity to experience this amazing-est trip with.

My time here was truly inspirational, educational, unforgettable, and I do apologize as I can’t possibly sum up my whole experience in a blog. This trip challenged me to put my values into action and do what I believe is right. As I applied for this trip back in September, I was only focused on the working/building aspect of the trip – little did I know, what I was about to work with was so much more than picking up a shovel or a paint brush. Each day, my life was filled with the children of El Salvador who brought not only their energy but their smiles – and might I add, they had A TON of energy! I remember taking Spanish in high school and thinking, “this language is so easy” haha oh was I ever wrong! I could not speak a word to the children nor did I understand what they were asking me – I felt like a deer in headlights! Despite my embarrassments with attempting to speak Spanish, I have never felt so much love from the kids! They didn’t judge me for not knowing Spanish (at least I hope they didn’t haha), they even tried so hard to slow down what they were saying so that I could understand. As my last hour on the worksite approached, all the children knew that today was going to be our last day. They held onto our hands and our legs and asking us not to go. They even held onto our fingers as we were in the van and driving away – running with the van until they no longer can catch up to us. It touches my heart to see that these children wait at the worksite early in the morning and running up to us and just saying a simple “hola” and spending the rest of their day with us.
I have learned so much from this trip and have gained a whole lot more than what I had expected to gain. One thing that I have truly taken to heart is the idea of time. When I think about time, I just think about what time I should do this/ that or asking “what time is it?” I’ve realized that time shouldn’t be counted nor watched but instead valued and cherished. As I started this trip, I was so upset that I had missed the check in time that I let it ruin my day. I forgot to look at the big picture – how I am still going to El Salvador and do the exact same things as I have planned to do while I was down there. We wake up each day timing our events and school schedules that we sometimes miss the little things that makes us smile. I have come to appreciate that time is so valuable and what better way to spend it than to live in the moment and just enjoy each minute! Do something that makes you happy, that motivates you, that challenges your values, that changes your life – this is truly my happiness! I would like to say goodbye to all the wonderful people that I have met on this trip! You are all so beautiful in your own way - I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to meet you all and share this wonderful experience with ya’ll! Please come visit Canada, I swear it’s not as scary and cold as it sounds!
Annie Cai is a 4th year at University of Alberta and a member of Delta Gamma.

Living Each Day to the Fullest

As our last full day draws to a close, a lot of us begin to reflect about our journeys this past week. As I sit here thinking about all of the wonderful experiences, moments, memories, phrases, reflections and even laughs, it is hard to believe that this experience is coming to a close. It’s challenging to summarize the best parts or my favorite moments of this trip, because there have been so many. For me, this week has been about taking risks, meeting new people, trying new things and understanding new perspectives.

A week ago—our group was made up of 20 strangers. None of us had ever met before. None of us had even spoken to one another. Yet—as I think about leaving tonight, I am sad to say goodbye. I am sad to leave behind not only new friendships, but also the opportunity to experience new things. Being in El Salvador this past week has allowed me the chance to step away from home; to try things that I have never tried before, embrace new people, and to experience the culture of El Salvador.

Before embarking on this journey, lots of family and friends expressed how an experience like this could change one’s life. I have found some truth to this statement and believe that this trip has taught me several very important things that I will take with me for the rest of my life. I’ve learned that emotions are universal. All people smile, laugh and even cry. It’s amazing to see the people and be unable to communicate through language but connect through emotions. Secondly, I learned that material possessions are just that, possessions. The people here do not have a whole lot, but love and time with family and friends means much more than a new pair of shoes.

Lastly, I learned to fully appreciate every moment of every day. This one is the most important. At home, I as well as others often become wrapped up in our busy lives. We plan and work hard and always are looking forward to tomorrow. In El Salvador, the people have taught me to embrace today, because tomorrow is not always a guarantee. When I leave this country, I want to remember these things. I want to embrace all of the wonderful opportunities and experiences that I have been given, and always remember to live each day to the fullest. 

Madeja Metcalf is a Junior at the University of Missouri, and a member of Zeta Tau Alpha.

It's the People

I came into this trip not knowing what to expect.  I had preconceived notions that people in poverty are sad and would be happier if they had a couple more material goods.  This is not the case at all.  One of the biggest surprises for me was how happy all the people are.  Not once did I see someone sad or crying.  These people don’t want or need material things like so many of us feel we do.  They are content and happy with what they have and are just grateful for their families and for another day.

There were many different aspects to this trip: learning the history, seeing the cities and the poverty, and meeting the people.  When thinking about each of those, I realize that it is the people that have made the biggest impact on me.  Through the relationships I’ve formed, the conversations I’ve had, the laughing and playing, the working, and so much more.

Meeting all of the Salvadoran people was my favorite part of the trip.  As the trip went on, I found myself picking my next site not by the type of work that I would be doing there, but by the people at each site.  I found myself wanting to go back to one of the sites to see the children.  They were so happy and playful and all they wanted was some attention from one of us.  It didn’t matter if all you could say to them was “Como te llamas” (which means “What is your name?”).  They were happy with a smile, a wave, or a laugh.  I found myself connecting to these children through actions more than words because my Spanish was so limited.  This was amazing to me: the fact that regardless of the language barrier I could get to know each one’s personality and we could play and laugh together all the same.

As I get ready to head back to the United States, I think about all the things that I have gained this trip.  I’ve gained 20 new friends, countless memories and laughs, a sense of service, and a new outlook on some of the aspects in my own life.  I’m excited to go home and see my family and friends again, but along with that comes sadness knowing that I will probably never see these people again.  In only a short week they have made such a huge impact on my life.  I will never forget the smiling faces of the children, the appreciative faces of the adults, and the excited faces of everyone working on the trip.

Whitney Rucker is a senior at the Colorado School of Mines and a member of Sigma Kappa.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Through all that I have experienced in my life, I have come to realize how important it is to cherish every moment. Coming to El Salvador has helped me to understand this in a way that I didn’t think was possible.

While there are several moments and memories that I could reflect on at this point, there are some that I will take with me for the rest of my life. One of our first “adventures” on this trip was to a Catholic Church in town. We entered the Church a few minutes after mass had started, and there didn’t appear to be any room for us to sit down- we were fine with that. We stood against the wall and listened to what the priest was saying. Suddenly, all of the people started to make room for us, making sure that we had somewhere to sit. This was my very first impression of the people of El Salvador, and I was so completely honored and inspired.

When it was time for communion, I became extremely nervous and apprehensive. I grew up in a Catholic family; however, I was afraid that I was going to do something wrong because of the language barrier. I sat there contemplating what to do…until it hit me- it all means the same thing. These people take pride in the Catholic Church and their faith and so do I, so I stood in line and the feeling I felt was unexplainable. I was so happy that I stepped forward.

One of the other parts of this trip that I will think about every single day is the kids. These kids have a passion for life that I never knew existed. Even though they were extremely aware that we all spoke English, they didn’t care. They would run towards our van when we arrived on a site and would be running after the van waving goodbye as we left. One of the most important things I have learned from the people and the children here is that there are SO many things that are universal in the world, like smiling.

I arrived on site one day and smiled at a boy named Carlos. He was twelve years old and had an unforgettable smile. Because of my smile, he knew that we could be friends. He took my hand and showed me this beautiful tree. We climbed the tree together and sat in it for about twenty minutes trying to communicate, but mostly we just laughed and appreciated the moment we were in. To me, he represented all of the important parts of life. I asked him if he liked to ride his bike and he told me he didn’t have one- but then he smiled and told me he loved to play soccer.       I will never forget Carlos.

I have no idea how I am going to adjust to my life back at home but I do know that these people have helped me appreciate the things I have and the importance of every moment. Whenever I forget this, I will think about the smiles in El Salvador that continue to exist, no matter the day.

Meghan Barrett is a senior at Eastern Illinois University and a member of Kappa Delta.

Love One Another

As we enter our last 48 hours in El Salvador, I am overwhelmed by the sadness I feel to leave this country. Though I have been abroad before, this is my first true immersion experience. El Salvador continues to struggle with the issues that were fought against in their Civil War in 1980-1992. It is no surprise to me that I am frustrated beyond belief with this world of poverty that is unfair, unjust, and full of deep anguish.

However, my sadness runs much deeper than just empathy. A quote we read prior to visiting one of our work sites this week has resonated deeply with me: “More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them.”  You see, more than just empathizing with Salvadorans- I have become friends with them. I already miss Don Corneilo laughing and telling me that I am “mas fuerte” as I struggle with the pickax. I will miss Jaquin, our driver, dancing and singing Michael Jackson or saying “Hola Emeli” with his contagious smile. Over the past couple of days I have spent time with a 17 year old named Elmer. We spent the majority of our time drawing pictures and labeling them in Spanish and English. As our van drove away today, my heart was breaking knowing that there was a good chance that I would never see him again. I made him promise me to be a “bien estudiante.” He smiled and said “I promise” in English.
There have been many of these moments on this trip- many more than I can possibly include in a short blog. So, more than anything else, as I go to my last site tomorrow- it will not be so much about finalizing our projects or rushing to finish as much as we can. In the words of Henri Nouwen, It will be “…knowing people by name, eating and drinking with them, listening to their stories, and telling them my own, to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that I do not simply like them, but I truly love them.” Here in El Salvador I have discovered the importance and power of what is universal: blood, sweat, tears, sadness, happiness, a smile, a heartache- love. I have fallen in love with these people and their stories. They have moved me in ways I certainly never expected. So in these final 48 hours, I will continue to feel sadness as I prepare to leave El Salvador. However, I will also exemplify the lessons that the Salvadorans have taught me: to enjoy every moment, to worry less and celebrate more, and to get to know, understand, and truly love people.

Emily Meyer is a senior at Drake University and a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Go big or go home

At dinner last night, Lynnette introduced the three worksites that were available for us to work at: a really hard one, a medium paced one, and a painting job (put simply, of course). All 39 of us were split evenly between the three places and I thought it would be a great idea to start strong with the really hard one that had no shade, lots of physical labor, and a deformed goat. There was really no selling point, so I guess that appealed to me personally. Did I mention that we had to wake up earlier because the job site was 1.5 hours away and Joaquin (our driver) loves to drive crazy? The journey there was quite the experience itself. Above the constant stopping and going and the crazy curves to avoid potholes, the scenes we saw were breathtaking. At one point, Lynnette pointed out the stark difference of wealth illustrated by a cemetery to our right and shacks to our left. The cemetery had perfect grass spotted with beautiful flower arrangements and working sprinklers, whereas the shacks were completely littered with car parts and papers and seemed to be homes for people. They were literally 200 feet away from each other across the highway.

When we got to the site, we were all excited to get straight to work. Our work mostly consisted of using picks, hoes and shovels to dig out a space for a new classroom. We worked with a handful of natives and their children and dug until lunch. After lunch, Lynnette took us for a walk and we visited Santiago’s house that was built during AFLV’s visit last year. His new home stands right next to his old house and it’s a wonder how his family was able to survive in the conditions they used to be in. His old house has one wall and a roof. It now serves as a hang out area and dining room for the family. His new home has three small bedrooms and one equally small living room. Santiago harvests corn to feed his family and is constantly on the look-out for jobs. We then walked up the hill to visit Don Manuel’s house. His wife had graciously cut up papaya for us, which we all hesitantly ate as we sat and relaxed. (It’s been about 4 hours since I ate some and I feel fine!). Lynnette talked to Don Manuel and Santiago about the war and we learned that Santiago had actually been captured by the guerillas when he was 15 years old. Santiago was hiding in the woods and mistakenly shot a guerilla with his slingshot because he thought he was a coyote. Santiago was interrogated all night and accused of being a member of the government military. His shirt and shoes were taken and 4 men surrounded him with guns as he pleaded his case. Eventually they released him and said he had 5-seconds until they started shooting.  He dived into a ditch and crawled the entire way home. For 12 years, families like Santiago’s and Don Miguel’s had to spend their nights camping in the woods because guerillas would invade their homes and take boys to join their regime. Needless to say, they had a rough childhood. As we were leaving, Don Miguel said he was our new family in El Salvador and thanked us for visiting his home. It’s moments like that that make the hard work really worth it.

We returned to the worksite and worked another hour before returning to San Salvador. We all passed out on the ride home and speeded for the showers. I’m really glad that I went to Ilobasco today. I will never forget the stories of Santiago and Don Miguel. I’m so proud of the work we did and all we were able to accomplish in just one day. It was a precocious-kind of day.

Jena Miller is a 3rd year at Cal Poly, SLO and a member of Gamma Phi Beta.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Geography and History

Since I know my family is anxiously waiting back home to hear what I’m up to in El Salvador, I thought I’d give a little update and start with a quick geography lesson for my little brothers and sisters (get out your maps, mom and dad!) El Salvador is located in between Guatemala and Honduras and is also bordered by the Pacific Ocean, although the capitol city of San Salvador where are staying is landlocked. It is very hot here and the terrain is beautiful. El Salvador is known as the Land of Volcanoes and today already we got to see an active volcano! The population of El Salvador is about six million compared to the U.S.’s approximate 310 million and the size of El Salvador is roughly comparable to the size of the state of Massachusetts.
From snowy Minnesota to sunny El Salvador, my flight into the country went without a hitch and I was one of the few people on the plane who spoke English, making for an interesting flight as I attempted to brush up on my Spanish-speaking skills with my two seatmates who were returning to the country. As we landed, everyone on the plane began clapping and cheering, something that I have not yet experienced on a flight, so I was needless to say very excited to experience this country that was so well loved by its people.

Yesterday we spent the day seeing some of the sites in the country; we hiked up a mountain and did some shopping at a local market before settling in at la Casa Voluntariado. Today, we learned more about the history of El Salvador and the terrible civil war that the country went through up until 1992. We attended mass at the parish near wear Fr. Rutilo Grande was killed. Later in the day, we had a blast bringing our donated craft supplies and games to an orphanage and playing with the children there!

It has been an exciting and eye-opening trip so far and I cannot wait to see what is in store! Missing my hot showers back home but appreciating my mosquito-net covered bunk bed! ;-)

Christina Miller is a senior at Minnesota State University, Mankato and is a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority.