Friday, June 29, 2012

Going to Convention this summer? Here are some tips.

I have been a fraternity man for a little over five years now.  I was heavily involved with my fraternity chapter during my undergraduate time, and participated in many student organizations such as student government and Interfraternity Council.  I attended various leadership programs and engaged in many community service opportunities.  As a graduate, I serve as an adviser for my undergraduate chapter, house director for my fraternity at graduate school, and co-contributor for the development of a new fraternity graduate chapter.  But what is missing from this list?  Attending my fraternity’s national convention.  Throughout my entire fraternal experience, I have not had the opportunity to attend one of these educational, inspiring events.
Am I jealous?  Oh, most definitely!  However, I thought I would offer some advice to those attending undergraduate members, from an outside perspective.  Whether you are a member of Phi Delta Theta traveling to Washington D.C. or a Delta Zeta traveling to San Antonio, here are few tips that hopefully guide and inform you while at convention:

  1. Be absorbent – Soak in as much information as humanly possible!  If your brain literally aches from all of the active learning you have participated in creating or gathered, then you have successfully completed this goal.  Invigorate your mind with new ideas, remind yourself with already known information, and challenge your assumptions with different knowledge.
  2. Be practical – So you learned all of these great things about what other chapters do at their schools and want to implement them within your chapter.  Now what?  Take a step back and evaluate if any of these idea are worth exploring.  Recognize the successes and limitations of your chapter and whether such an endeavor can flourish and be sustained within your chapter’s current state.
  3. Be friendly – It can be very intimidating to see other members from your organization from across the nation, despite taking the same oaths during the same Ritual ceremony.  However, instead of leaning on fellow chapter members, or previously met members, challenge yourself to meet others.  Remove that cool cap, put on a smile, and be socially excellent (Shout out to Phired Up!).
  4. Be congruent – The values congruence talk in conference settings is as a common as a pair of Sperry’s at a Greek social.  However, until all members of the entire national fraternal community walk the congruent walk, this topic will exist.  Of all the times and places in your collegiate career, make sure your espoused values align with your enacted actions.  It is a simple request; just do it!  
Make the time spent at your national convention an enlightening, transformational, and joyous occasion.  Remember why you joined your specific organization, what that organization has provided you, and how you can continue to give back to its cause.  Have a great national convention season, everyone!

Carson Lance is a guest blogger.  He is a second-year graduate student at Bowling Green State University and summer intern at the University of Louisville.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Trip to Honduras: Gabriel Fernandez

When I was very young, my uncle Eduardo Fernandez, a Catholic priest and Berkeley professor of Theology, used to prop me up on his lap and share with me countless stories of his many journeys around the world. He told me stories of children who were my age and sadly did not have the privileged life that I so guiltily took for granted every day. He told me stories about families who pursued survival every day and not newer things for the home or ideas for an exciting summer vacation. He even told me stories of places where people could die for merely choosing one God over another. All of these stories I took in, so young and so naive. But now, I finally know what he was trying to do. His stories took me through the mountains of Central America, the historically rich cities of Europe, the indigenous communities of Africa and through many unseen cultures in Asia, all for the purpose of fostering within me a love for mankind and a growing urge to take action. For this, I will forever be thankful to him.

From May 19 - 26, I joined my brothers of Phi Delta Theta in an international immersion trip to Honduras. To say that this trip was life changing is a mere understatement. Never in my life have I ever been so humbled and inspired. The experiences that I had in Honduras will forever remind me that anything is truly possible in life, for the world’s problems are far greater than those that we fight at home every day.  In Honduras, I had the privilege of sharing my daily experiences with the rest of the brothers that attended the trip. Our talks and trading of experiences every night helped me to grow deeper in the very things that make me a Phi Delta Theta. I will forever remember these brothers and I hope that they had as great of an experience as I did. 


“One man is no man.”

On the third day of our trip, I had the experience of joining a group of children for an afternoon on a soccer field that was in the village right outside of where we stayed. Many of these children had holes in their shoes, old clothes, scratches all over their body and occasional health issues, but each of these children wore the most enormous smiles I’ve ever seen. In my community at home, it is becoming less common to see children putting down video game controllers and taking their play outside. In this fast moving world that we live in, technology has become the standard for fun and entertainment and unfortunately, many children will grow up not valuing the person to person contact that is shared outside on the playground. In Honduras, however, technology was not an option. With no toys, no playground, no balls and no pavement, these children reminded me that all that is needed to enjoy life is the mere society of others. We learned the games that these children played and we spent three hours running around, getting dirty, falling on our faces and enjoying life by the help and society of these children. I will never forget the love and compassion that they all shared with each other and the amount of love that they shared with us despite the fact that we were odd strangers.

Friendship is an element of life that exists when one chooses it. It doesn’t happen by chance or by coincidence. Friendship is the foundation for any relationship no matter what kind, and I will now forever value all of the great people that I have ever welcomed into my life far more than I have before. Friendship is what makes someone commit an act of bravery; it is what makes one decide to do something about the problems within his community. It is what shapes the minds of fraternity men who go on to shape the world. Friendship, though often taken for granted, exists not between computers or between phones, but between people. Friendship is God’s gift to humanity and without it we are nothing.

Our day with the children of San Isidro
 Sound Learning

Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.” – John F. Kennedy

Throughout our trip, we were treated with incredible hospitality by some of the most compassionate people that I have ever met. We stayed in a missionary camp that was founded in order to host travelers who went to Honduras with the plans of helping to better the surrounding communities. One of the people who I grew closest with was Leo. Leo is a native of Nicaragua and traveled to Honduras to follow his brother who is a pastor. Leo has been serving with the missionary for five years and told me that if he didn’t have necessities in life, he would do his work for the mission for free. Though born in a less fortunate family, Leo went to Honduras with a plan to better himself in order to enable himself to help others. Throughout his five years in Honduras, Leo has managed to learn English, attend a university, start a business, become a leader in many communities in Honduras, start a family and become one of the most faithful employees of Heart for Honduras. In my eyes, Leo greatly exemplified our cardinal principle of sound learning through his diligent work in bettering himself as a person through persistently seeking knowledge. In college, we are often taught what to think and seldom how to think. It is only a small percentage of the college population that chooses to pursue the ability to think efficiently rather than accepting what they are told to think. In a way, Leo fought the same battles that we do but on a different level. Everywhere around Leo, there are people struggling, hurting and often giving in to the challenges of life. Leo, however, chose a different path for himself and although he struggled far more than the average person, he never lost sight of his path and he finally created a life for both himself and for others.

In life, we need to accept where we are and learn to move forward. Oftentimes, we let the biggest opportunities pass us by and we allow the most insignificant things to get in our way. Those who never lose sight of their path are the ones who arrive at their destination. Sound Learning is about everything that happens outside of classroom. It is about what we do to seek out a high standard of mental culture no matter what area of study we come. We need to always remember to be mindful of what we accept into our minds as individuals and to always remember to pay our blessings forward. Like Leo, we should love what we do so much that if we could, we would do it for free.

Brother Joel Vega (left), Leo (middle), and me
 Moral Rectitude

“Justice is a certain rectitude of mind whereby a man does what he ought to do in the circumstances confronting him.” – Thomas Aquinas

On the sixth day of our trip, we had the pleasure of visiting an orphanage in San Pedro Sula, one of the world’s most dangerous cities. This orphanage housed children of all ages, most of whom needed medical attention. Children who lived in the orphanage were children who were left behind by their parents for one reason or another. In my eyes, it is a calamity that I child can go unloved by their parents.

Upon entering this orphanage, within a few seconds, children were jumping all over us asking us to pick them up and to hold them. They called us, ‘Tio,” which literally translates to, “Uncle,” but in the Honduran culture is used as a term of endearment. These children had so much energy that many of us were tired before they were. We played soccer, showed them things of ours, took pictures, offered a hand in the nursery and had conversations with the more timid children. One child I will never forget was Abigail. Abigail is 10 years old and is dying of leukemia. When she was 8 years old, Abigail’s right leg was amputated and she is now forever confined to crutches when she walks. At merely 10 years old, Abigail was already the sweetest and most loving young lady I had ever met. She complimented me on my smile, asked questions about my American education, told me something about each of the children in the nursery and even teased me about my Spanish being terrible. Abigail went on to tell me that her medical condition can only hold her back if she lets it and that she would never let that happen. Abigail’s smile will forever be a memory that I recall when my life seems to come to a halt. 

One of the most surprising discoveries I made at the orphanage was the amount of pay for the nurses that run it. Nurses who work at the orphanage, though nationally certified and fully educated, are paid no more than a few thousand dollars a year. I wondered to myself, if a degree in nursing is extremely difficult to attain in a country like Honduras, why would one choose to pursue a career in nursing knowing that the pay is not logical? To my humble surprise, these women told us that if they did not care for these children, who would? If they had not done what ought to be done, then no one would have.

That evening, we visited to a local children’s program that was headed by a Honduran pastor who has dedicated his life to helping children escape the shackles of poverty through providing education and opportunity. Pastor Francisco Huete was one of the most compassionate men I’d met throughout the whole trip and his dedication to both his faith and the children of Honduras was incredibly inspiring. “Pastor Freddy,” as he told us to call him, gave us a tour of his facility and acquainted us with the program. He explained that international donors from all over the world fund the program and all money received goes towards funding educational programs, leadership development opportunities, sports, books and basic living needs for over 30 children. 15 children, Pastor Freddy informed us, currently still need sponsors and cannot be included in the program until they are found sponsors. “You, my son, will change the lives of one of these children when you get home,” he told me as he put his arm around me and looked me straight in the eye. I am currently in the process of applying to become a sponsor.

Before the trip, I thought I knew how meaningful Robert Morrison’s philosophy was. “To do what ought to be done but would not have been done unless I did it,” is a philosophy that we as members of Phi Delta Theta constantly hear in our minds throughout our everyday lives. Until I had seen it in action in a place like Honduras, I never realized how important it really was. In a place that is home to the world’s most dangerous cities, there still exist brave men and women who strive to do what ought to be done everyday. Though it is difficult and though it called for major sacrifices, the men and women I met on my trip lived this philosophy without question. Everyday, whether it be with a group project, a chapter meeting, a community service group or our own families, we always wait for someone else to step up to the plate and make something happen. We always assume that there is someone else to fill a position that needs to be filled or that there is someone else who will be willing to take up a responsibility. However, I am very sure that those who have made the biggest impact in history were the ones who did what ought to be done. The reality of life is that sometimes that person is not there and sometimes that person does not show up. We, as men of Phi Delta Theta, need to be that person who people can count on. When people assume that someone will fill a position, because they will, we need to be that man. When people are lost and need a leader to show them the light, we need to be that man. When there is calamity all around us with no one brave enough to do something about it, we will be those men who do something about it.

In all ways, in all things that you do and in every moment of your life, live with every single ounce of you because when the time comes to do what ought to be done, the world will look to a leader to get the job done. We are those leaders.

Gabriel Fernandez is a member of the Texas Tau chapter of Phi Delta Theta at the University of Texas. This post was originally posted on the Phi Delta Thetablog.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Trip to Honduras: Adam Davis

Traveling to Honduras with twelve Phi Delts from around the United States and Canada to serve the people of Honduras was definitely the experience of a lifetime.  I knew from the minute my plane landed in Miami and my brothers whom I’ve never before met greeted me, that this was going to be a trip unlike any I had ever experienced.  Being a part of the same great organization that is Phi Delta Theta helped us to form strong bonds of friendships within the short time we spent together. 
My favorite part of the trip was being able to share in our nightly ritual and see that although we are all from different parts of the country and different walks of life, we are all able to live the ritual in our daily lives.  Each night, we would spend hours reflecting on our days and the different observations we each made.  We would share stories and our realizations of our “first world problems” and we would take the time to evaluate our own values. 
I will never forget the friendships that I made that week abroad, and the impact that we had on the native people of Honduras.  I challenge every Phi Delt to experience some sort of service immersion trip sometime in his life. 

Adam Davis is a member of the Indiana Gamma chapter of Phi Delta Theta at Butler University. This post was originally posted on the Phi Delta Theta blog

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Trip to Honduras: Ernie Chan

I’m on the plane home, and it’s time for me to look back at my week and reflect on what has been a whirlwind of a trip. Now that everything has slowed down, I’ve been able to look over our itinerary again and think of all that we did and accomplished. In a way, this week has gone by in the blink of an eye, but in another, it really felt like a long seven days.

There are many cultural differences living everyday in a country like Honduras as compared to Canada. One of the biggest things about this trip for me was the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone. Whether it was trying to communicate in a Spanish-speaking country, navigating myself through an incredibly crowded football stadium, or doing physical labor in the heat of the Honduran mountains, it was important for me to embrace these new experiences and experience life outside my normal boundaries.

From the time that we touched down on the ground, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the country of Honduras. The vast landscapes and rolling mountains provided for an incredible backdrop, and some of the scenic vistas were almost surreal. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was not on a week-long vacation. I had never been to an area of the world like this before, only having seen programs on television and read about communities living in poverty. Being immersed in this environment really floored me, and I saw many things that my eyes were not used to seeing. I realize how lucky and privileged that I have been throughout my lifetime, and I must remind myself to always be thankful and appreciative for everything that I have. That being said, although some individuals in Honduras may not have the same monetary wealth or social opportunities as we do in North America, I realized they are able to live lives just as happy and fulfilling as ours due to the value they place on their relationships, their work, and their faith.

This trip has really made me look at everything around me in a different light, and has made me aware of how important perspective is in the grand scheme of life. Many things that we face are actually quite simple and straightforward, it’s the perspectives that are taken on them that make everybody’s experience different. There are many situations and instances where we don’t completely understand what others are thinking or feeling until we are thrown into their shoes. When we are able to evaluate our own perspectives carefully and critically while comparing them to the perspectives of others, we gain a greater appreciation for what the world can offer us and how we can work together to achieve the best outcomes for everyone involved.

In order to understand our purpose as members of society, we have to look at the fundamental tenets upon which communities are built. Going on this trip and immersing myself in the local culture really helped me break down the many components that keep this machine rolling, and think of ways that we can bring forward positive social change. We are all built as citizens of the earth, and it is important for us to collaborate in working towards common goals and purposes. As individuals, we must have a properly developed sense of self and carry out our actions in a way that is congruent with our ideals. Making the world a better place starts with the simple idea of making a commitment to ourselves, and our communities. The opportunity to serve has been provided to us on this trip, but I think the more valuable part of this equation that I am leaving with is the understanding of the reasons why we served.

I’ve got a lot of people to thank for making this past week the incredible experience that it was. I’m going to start with everyone who supported me with donations and words of encouragement in the days and months leading up to the trip. I simply couldn’t have gone on this trip without your support, and I can’t thank you enough for providing me with the opportunity to be a part of this experience. I want to thank the ministry staff that we worked with while on the ground in Honduras: German, Leo, Eric and Alberto all played a large role in helping us through the week, and did a great job of making us feel at home while in Canchias. I want to thank Mark Koepsell and Luke Benfield, who did an amazing job of facilitating our trip, and the 10 brothers from across America that joined me on the trip: Gabe, Joel, Adam, Dennis, Wabha, Leggett, Fabian, Chris, Andrew and Henkel – you are all such awesome dudes and I’m glad to have served with you guys. We had some great conversations, shared more than a few laughs, and put in some pretty hard work this week. I’m going to miss you guys, but I’m sure we will cross paths again at one point or another. Last but not least, I want to thank the people and the land of Honduras for opening my eyes to a side of the world I had never seen. I will never forget the memories I made or the lessons I have learned.

I’m very proud to have served as a pioneer on this first Phi Delt Service immersion trip, and I hope that we have paved the way for more brothers to serve in the future. When I joined the fraternity, I had very little idea of the opportunities that Phi Delta Theta would provide me, and this trip really proved to me that I am a member of the greatest organization in the world. I say this phrase with great regularity, but in no way does the frequency make the statement less meaningful: I’m Proud to be a Phi.

All in all, I am coming out of this week with a much different mindset from which I entered. My reasons for coming on this trip were of good intentions, but the trip itself uncovered my true purpose and showed me what service immersion is all about. I came into the trip looking to help those in need, and ended up receiving back just as much as I was able to provide. I did much more than put up a roof or dig a trench – through immersing ourselves in the local culture and having in-depth discussion with my fraternity brothers, I learned a lot about myself, the people, and the world around me. Most importantly, I placed myself in a constant state of exploration, discovering how my fraternal values can be applied to make the world around me a better place.

Ernie Chan is a member of the Nova Scotia Alpha chapter of Phi Delta Theta and will be going into his senior year at Dalhousie University.  This post was originally posted on the Phi Delta Theta blog.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summertime and Social Media

Ahhh summertime!

School is out and many of us are off to spend time with old friends, family, and catch some summer sun. Summertime is great for relaxing, reading, getting a part time job, traveling, and having FUN. While we are in school, it is easy to remember our fraternal membership and the way in which we must conduct ourselves online. We would not want pictures or posts from a night of fun ending up on a social media site and potentially getting ourselves or our own chapter in hot water. Rather, we have our fellow fraternity and sorority members keeping us in check and making sure we are accountable to what we post online. It is easy to forget that in the summer, we are still representing our organizations, even when we are not attending weekly chapter events.

Summertime gatherings in the backyard or on a trip can be very fun especially when friends come to share time with us. Taking photos and sharing them is definitely something typical at many social events. However, before posting photos or tagging others, decide if the photos represent yourself and your organization well. Also it might be polite to ask friends before posting certain photos if they want to posted or not. You never know what people want to have online of themselves. Perhaps when taking photos encouraging friends to set down drink containers, alcoholic or not, so all photos can be posted and show the fun being had without any misinterpretations of your summer bash. Summertime activities do not always involve parties and drinking but if they do, posting photos and comments about these gatherings should be treated the same way they would at any time during the school year. When posting other content on social media sites during the summer, ask yourself “Would I repeat this post or tweet to everyone in my chapter during chapter meeting? Does it reflect myself and my values?” This could help ensure summer events and thoughts don’t end up offending others. Additionally, summer time is truly the pre-recruitment season. You never know who is looking at your online content for information about your chapter, especially new students and their parents. Summer also is when many students hold internships and other jobs that can help build resumes and wallets. Summer employers who might have access to your online profiles could see things you post and might decide that your summer activities do not represent their business well. Though letters may not be physically worn during the summer, others know we are fraternity and sorority members and you cannot remove that identity. Be aware of what you post and who might see it. This may seem tedious, but a lack of caution can have negative consequences on yourself, your career, and your chapter. Summertime should be no exception.

Letting loose and have fun during the summer months is important to getting recharged for the fall. Making sure it is spent on activities and with friends who match our values is also important. There are so many great ways to have fun that also ensure we do not ruin our own reputation and that of our chapter and fraternity/sorority community. Being aware of our online presence during the school year is just as important in the Summer when we think less people are watching. We are always wearing our letters, even when school is not in session.

Guest blogger: Liz Rader is a graduate student at Bowling Green State University and a summer intern with AFLV.