When thinking of spring break, it brings to mind visions of white sand beaches, relaxing afternoons under the sun, and evenings spent dancing and eating. While this sounds amazing to me, I had other plans for my spring break, plans that I felt really reflected the values of Alpha Omicron Pi. I have been fortunate enough to spend my past two spring breaks with other service-minded members of Fraternity and Sorority Life at George Mason University volunteering with Habitat for Humanity as part of the Alternative Spring Break program. In the past three years the program has run, FSL at GMU has given back in multiple communities. This year we partnered with the Habitat for Humanity of Avery County, North Carolina.
The trip this year consisted of myself, two other sisters of AOII and three sisters of Pi Beta Phi. Our advisor, a Delta Gamma Alumnae, was there to help guide us in reflecting on our week (and make sure no one cut off a finger). We stayed in the Gilmer Community Center with groups from Purdue and the University of Rochester. The greatest part of these trips is not only getting to know other members of the Greek Community better, but getting to connect with students from other Universities.
A majority of the week was spent indoors, as the weather was not ideal. There was rain, snow and wind Monday through Wednesday. These days we spent constructing housing frames to be used on future builds, as well as painting trim. It was a really educational experience, I would even go as far to say that I am now a professional when it comes to the electric saw... maybe. After all that poor weather, Thursday finally came along and brought sunshine with it! We were able to go see the house we had been building walls for and the local Habitat Restore, as well as get a look at the beauty that the mountain region has to offer.
All in all, the most rewarding part of this experience was seeing the people we had helped. We helped to build a house for an ex-marine and cancer survivor, who was disabled after severely injuring her shoulder. She came to visit us and thanked us for helping her, and continually asked if we needed anything, despite the fact that we were supposed to be there helping her. She was such a kind soul; knowing that we were able to give back to someone who had given so much to our Country really helped solidify for me why service is so important and why it is one of the founding values of AOII.
While white sand beaches and warm weather sounds great, I was once again reminded this spring break how important programs like ASB are, and the impact they allow members of FSL to make. I cannot wait to participate again next year and see what other ways we can help make the world a better place.
2018 Rho Gamma
Our sister Kristin Ullman has been abroad this Spring semester studying international relations at the Universidad De Carlos III in Madrid! We are so proud of all she has been studying overseas but we are so thrilled to welcome her back home.
"I chose to study in Madrid because I wanted to work on my Spanish and the best way to do this was to submerge myself in a country where Spanish is the first language! My favorite thing I have done has to be when I went Paragliding in the Swiss Alps. I was sooo scared to jump off the mountain but once I was in the air I was so distracted by the beauty of the mountains and the lake that I forgot how high up I was!
The culture here in Madrid is SO different than the culture back at home and therefore I did experience culture shock. You don't realize how accustomed you are to things until they are no longer available to you. My biggest adjustment was the "siesta" period. Everything closes down for 2-3 hours, I still can't get use to it!
Studying in Madrid has been the best decision I have made! If I had the opportunity to stay throughout the summer and into the fall semester, I would do it hands down. I would recommend anyone to take the opportunity to study abroad!"
Over Winter Break three of our adventurous sisters were selected to represent GMU on a leadership forum trip called the David Project. While they were there they observed and studied the people, culture and the conflict of Israel.
"In AOII, we are founded upon service and bettering our community. That's why the morning we spent at a charity was my absolute favorite: We spent a morning at Shevet Achim, a grace-based international community that brings children of Middle Eastern countries that suffer from terminal heart defects in, and pays for their treatments and surgeries in advanced Israeli medical centers. At one point, the representative said "We are a Christian-based organization, helping Muslim children, in a Jewish country. You must overcome evil... with good." Being able to meet the family going through treatment and hold the little boy in my arms brought me to tears. His name in Arabic meant "Little Lion", and his precious smile and bravery was inspiring.
The culture, food, people, and history behind this region is mesmerizing. The trip humbled me, challenged me, and changed my views in so many ways. Most importantly would be to never take anything for granted, seek a way to help those less fortunate than you in anyway you can, and remember that behind every headline is a human life. I would go back in a heartbeat! Those 10 days were easily some of the best of my ENTIRE life, and experiencing with AOII sisters made even that much more memorable."
"Throughout the ten day trip, we were unbiasedly immersed into Middle Eastern culture, and were able to learn about the conflict through multiple perspectives. When I traveled to Israel before, I mostly have been exposed to aspects pertaining to Judaism, whereas on this trip I was able to see the country through so many different lenses. My favorite part of the trip was hearing the narratives of Israelis and Palestinians, and being able to first-handedly see the initiatives currently happening to promote peace and coexistence.
I did not experience culture shock as I have have been to Israel before and have been immersed in the culture throughout my life. I will definitely be back in the near future! This trip was really special being able to share my religion and the Israeli culture with Savannah."
Our beautiful sister Emalie traveled all the way to Kenya this past winter break! She had the time of her life and we are so proud that she showed Alpha Love everywhere she went.
"Being in Kenya, even just being in Africa at all, was such a rewarding and eye-opening experience. While we hear about third world countries in the classroom or on the news, you never actually understand their situation until you experience it.
I saw things I only could have dreamed of seeing. Everything you imagine an African safari to be is exactly what it is. Everyday I saw elephants, lions, zebras, gazelles, hippos, giraffes, rhinos, and monkeys. I even got to touch the last living male northern white rhino on Earth. The moment I got down next to this animal, I understood the purpose of the course we were there to complete, Conservation & Wildlife. Humans have such a huge impact on wildlife all over the world and only humans can turn it into a positive impact."
Why did you go?
"My initial reason for going to Kenya was to earn 3 credits toward my Environmental Science, BS. When I changed my major, the reason for the trip became to step out of my comfort zone and take advantage of a once in a lifetime experience. Had I not registered for this trip, I never would have gone to Africa in the future or truly understood human-wildlife conflict."
Did you experience culture shock?
"Kind of. I didn't experience any of the physical symptoms of culture shock, however, I did feel a sense of disbelief and developed a greater appreciation for the things we have here in the U.S. I couldn't believe that it was 2017 and people were still living in mud huts and children were going to schools with no books or doors."
Would You Go Back?
"Without a doubt. If I were to return to Africa, I'd like to go to South Africa. I loved Kenya, but I want to experience it all, branch out, and see different things. There's nothing like seeing the animals I saw in the wild instead of a zoo."
Our sister Brooke Farbstein travelled abroad to Israel on Birthright, a program which allows Jewish Americans ages 18-26 a free 10-day trip to Israel. Brooke went with a group of college students from around the country; however the majority were from George Mason University and Georgetown University!
What is your favorite memory from traveling abroad?
"My favorite memories of being abroad include getting to interact with Israeli citizens my age, exploring the beautiful country, and the food! Hiking Masada to see the sunrise, floating in the Dead Sea, and riding a camel were definitely some of the highlights of the trip. I also loved having the opportunity of meeting new people from all over the world- I even got to meet AOII sisters who were on their Birthright trips from University of Delaware and Penn State!"
Did you experience any cultural shock while abroad?
"The biggest culture shock I was exposed to while in Israel was how different the media’s portrayal of the Middle East was from reality. I had the opportunity to meet a plethora of Israelis and Arabs who were dedicated to promoting peace and solidarity throughout the Middle East, which is something the media very rarely makes apparent."
We are so proud of our sister, Brooke for her accomplishments this summer in Israel! We can't wait to hear about more amazing adventures that our AOII sisters have been on!
Our Spanish speaking sisters, Brooke Clark and Sara Jordan, have been studying abroad in Granada, Spain this summer! These Panda's abroad have been fine-tuning their Spanish by immersing themselves into the culture and lifestyle of this beautiful country.
Favorite memory so far? Brooke says, "So far my favorite memory has to be traveling to Los Cahorros de Monachil! It's a small town 20 mins outside Granada that's actually in the Sierra Nevada! It has the most amazing scenery and some pretty scary hanging bridges! It was a great day out in nature just relaxing by the water and taking in the beauty of the land!"
Did you experience any culture shock? Sara elaborated, "I didn't experience too much culture shock. I know a lot of people get overwhelmed and find themselves upset and crying their first few days adapting, but I try to be a positive person. I recognize that I only have a limited time here so I'm trying to enjoy every second as much as possible."
Sara expressed, "My favorite part of traveling is learning about new cultures. I also love speaking Spanish, I've been studying it since I was 11 and I'm one of the highest levels of speaking in my classes so I'm glad I can thrive while speaking even in Spain!"
We are so proud of our sisters for immersing themselves within this new culture, and can't wait to hear more of their world-travels when they come back home to GMU and AOII!
Our sister Demi Charlifue has spent her summer interning in Frankfurt, Germany! She's incredibly busy working and exploring the culture of Germany, but she took some time to tell us a little bit more about what she is up to:
Demi: "My parents are both Foreign Service officers and got posted to Frankfurt, Germany at the U.S. Consulate General here, the biggest American Consulate overseas and one of the biggest diplomatic missions in the world. The Consulate used to be an old Nazi hospital, then became a German Air Force hospital before the American Army seized it after the war and converted and expanded it to their own hospital to serve the 400,000 Americans living here. You can still see Nazi emblems on the ceilings of some rooms here. There is also a red marble carving right at the entrance of the Consulate and I was told that it was a gift from Mussolini. Additionally, when you walk outside the building and look on the roof you can see the huge Red Cross emblem on top, which was a universal "do not bomb" symbol during WWII. Elvis Presley also had his appendix taken out here, there really is so much history to this building. The marine detachment which works on the bottom level where the original morgue was also claims to have some eerie stories of their own. As if this area couldn't be loaded with history enough, on my 10 minute bus ride to work I also pass 2 of Anne Frank's childhood homes when she lived in Frankfurt before moving to Amsterdam."
What are you doing while there?
Demi: "I am majoring in international studies and would like to opt for a career path with the State Department, so I applied for the Summer Hire Program at the Consulate. This program gives 5 dependents of the FSO's (foreign service officers) a chance to work at a department here for 4 weeks and learn about the functions of the State Department and American diplomatic interests overseas. I landed a position at the Health Unit as an administrative assistant. The health unit at the Consulate in Frankfurt is the biggest diplomatic health unit because it takes in all the medivac patients from North Africa, the Middle East and Europe because of the medical resources here."
What is your average day like?
Demi: "I'm in charge of scheduling appointments, making newcomer charts, tracking monthly statistics, helping the nurses, filing paper, and answering phone calls. When I am not working 40 hours a week I go out to the town at night with the other Summer Hires who are college students like me (and in Greek life) from VT, JMU, Washington State, and Georgia State. The nightlife in Frankfurt is incredible, the city never sleeps and most bars and clubs close at 5am. When we go out during the day we walk around the downtown areas which are full of shops and lots of people, and you are always guaranteed to spot a Ferrari or two outside the old opera house there. I am enjoying some cultural things which are unique to Europe as well here. I have fallen in love with döner, a traditional meat on this side of the world, and it has taken the place of Chipotle in my heart. And I am also loving the transportation system here and the weekly transportation ticket I get which has unlimited metro and bus rides."
Have you gotten to travel anywhere else while there?
Demi: "My family has taken several weekend trips here around the region. We went to Strasbourg, France for a day and visited the 1,000 year old church of Notre Dam and visited Poland the next weekend. In Poland we visited the city of Kraków, which was a mixture of old and new. The nightlife was all centered around the old town square and young kids flocked to the area. In Poland we also visited the site of Auschwitz, the concentration camp which took the most lives during the holocaust. Though it was dismal and eerie, it was well preserved and served as a good reminder of the atrocities which occurred there."
Desirae Luna is a rising senior majoring in Government and International Relations who joined AOII in the fall of 2014. In addition to being an active sister, serving as Alumnae Relations Chair, she travels all over the country and the world with the GMU Speech Team. This summer, we're glad her speech training is giving her the opportunity to work in the DC area for a portion of the summer, closer to her sisters!She is working as a faculty advisor at Envision EMI's Law and CSI Conference. The conference is a college readiness program for high school students and is designed to get them ready for college by exposing them to college curriculum, professors, and course work. At the conference Desirae will be working alongside educators and legal experts, while facilitating curriculum to high school students and teaching them the fundamentals of Law & CSI. Aside from the legal curriculum, she will also be instructing debate workshop and teaching them leadership, team building and conflict management skills. By the end of the conference, the students will put what they learned to the test and assume the role of a justice or attorney, use their analytical skills to review issues relevant to their assigned case, and argue their position -- just like the Supreme Court! When she is not busy with work, she makes plenty of time to see other sisters in the area and explore DC!
This summer our sister, Sarah Miller is in London for 2 months interning, taking a class, and of course traveling on the weekends! She interns three days a week at a company called Hire Space, which is a venue finding service based in London, but growing to other areas in England such as Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham. Sarah helps the marketing team at Hire Space and do everything from finding Pinterest pictures, assisting with the Twitter, editing the website, and pretty much anything else the company needs. It is a small company, which provides her with the opportunity to be involved in almost all aspects of the business, including going with senior members of Hire Space to "view" their venue and get free drinks and delicious food!
In addition to her internship, Sarah is taking a British Life and Culture class where they explore museums and tour the city, and on the weekends has been making her way around Europe! We're so jealous of her amazing time abroad and can't wait to hear about it when she gets home in the fall!