February 9, 2015

On the Road: Parts Unknown: University Edition

As an ELC, I don’t get a lot of time to watch television but when I do have time one of my favorite TV shows is Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. For those that are unfamiliar with the show’s premise, the host “travels across the globe to uncover little-known destinations and diverse cultures.” The show’s host, Anthony Bourdain, is an outspoken, uninhibited, middle-aged man who keeps his viewers engaged with his radical immersion into the cultures of the places he visits. Although I am far from a middle-aged man and have yet to travel to Tangier or Thailand, sometimes I feel like Bourdain as I immerse myself into the little known cultures of some well-known universities. I thought it would only be appropriate to share some of my favorite discoveries I have made over the course of my ELC career thus far.

Louisiana State University: LSU is located in Baton Rouge, LA, which is less than an hour from New Orleans. Having never been in Louisiana before, my only association with it was it being the ultimate Mardi Gras destination. I quickly came to learn that Mardi Gras is more than a party; it is a historical tradition that binds Louisianans together. There are dozens of parades which give diverse groups a time to celebrate their heritage in this state. There is also a special Mardi Gras cake – King’s cake to be exact. It is something like a cross between a cinnamon roll and a frosted filled doughnut, and is pure deliciousness.  But it’s not all fun; there is a small baby figurine hidden in this cake and if you find it in your slice, you have to buy the next one!

University of Alabama: Tuscaloosa, AL is the ultimate college town. Every local business emanates crimson pride. I knew Alabama was a big football school, but I had no idea the extent of how it shaped each student’s college experience. I was able to take part in cheering on Alabama during their away game against Tennessee. Although half the school made the road trip to watch the game live, the second half remained in town, singing Dixieland Delight wherever they were congregated (I’ve picked up on most if the lyrics by now). It is a tradition that if Alabama wins the Tennessee game, men smoke cigars as a symbol of victory. Sure enough, as the game ended 34-20 Alabama, men were filing out to the patios to have their cigars – many of which are the only cigars they’ll smoke all year.

University of Wisconsin: Madison, WI has a little something for everyone. Although it has a reputation as a notoriously “college” college-town, many do not realize the dignified state capital building is just a few blocks from Greek row. Campus is on an “Isthmus”, or a body of land between two lakes, which makes for more than just a beautiful view. Fraternities have “decks” extending into the water which are coveted destinations in the humid summer months. The campus Memorial Union has a feature called “The Terrace”, which overlooks the lake and hosts hundreds of picnic tables that are occupied by students and locals alike. When I visited the terrace something caught my attention: the rainbow collection of chairs, which I quickly learned are highly in danger of being stolen as a symbol of Wisconsin pride.

University of Pennsylvania: Knowing little about Penn other than its Ivy League status and intimidating Wharton school of business, I was anticipating a campus engrained in academia with little time for anything else. My first surprise at Penn was how integrated it was into Philadelphia’s metropolitan atmosphere. This realization supplemented the fact that Penn students are just as social and active as the students on my other visits. The dynamic of being incredibly intelligent, yet a normal college student didn’t just surprise me but I admired it (these students truly are the definition of “work hard play hard”). Diversity at Penn goes beyond a few international students sprinkled throughout your classes; it is a fundamental aspect of the university. Men and women from all across the world make up the fraternities and sororities on campus which makes for a delightful mix of philosophies and accents. Lastly, there is a restaurant on campus that has addicting green smoothies coined “groothies” – you can’t leave Penn without trying one.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have adventures in cities that many people may never visit. I have met people so much different from myself, but who have changed my perspective for the better. This job has validated my extreme wanderlust and love for experiencing cultures different from my own. Being an ELC has launched me into a life of traveling, learning, and growing through experience. But I have also learned that when I travel the globe, in awe of new people and places, I will never forget my home. These universities have captivated me in their unique ways, but Arizona will always have my heart.

Anita Shannon (Beta Epsilon-Arizona) is a first year educational leadership consultant. Learn more about Anita by clicking here.

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