Posted by: Katie | June 18, 2012

Resident Assistant to adventures in Chile

Marisa shares her wonderful stories of becoming a resident assistant (RA) while in college, her love of art, and her travels in Chile.

1. What sort of training was involved with becoming an RA? How did you come upon the decision to become one?

Resident Assistant (RA) training began with RA Selection process that took several weeks at the beginning of the spring semester each year. Once a staff was chosen, the residence hall directors (RHDs) invited the RAs and other building staff to come together later in the springtime for “spring training,” this was more of a get-to-know-you type of event more so than it was about specific training processes.

In the middle of August approximately two weeks before classes began, all the RAs returned to campus for training. This was an intensive and long training week, especially for the new RAs who had never experienced this before. The daytimes were reserved for learning about different policy procedures, campus resources, attending presentations, bonding with other staffs from other campus residence halls. All of this was done through different activities from ropes course challenge excursions to role-playing scenarios, such as “Behind Closed Doors.” During this activity held in a res hall room, returning RAs acted as residents in a situation that a new RA might encounter in the dorms and he or she had to act how they should in a similar realistic situation with a resident; this was all done while RHDs and other RAs and counseling center staff watched with feedback to give at the end of each scenario. Then in the evenings we had in-hall training in which each staff went back to their own residence hall and had a more personalized training time for their own building, as each residence hall is different and has slightly different needs, although the policies and procedures were universal throughout the whole campus.

During this time we bonded more closely with our staff and had time to prepare our wings or floors for the new residents. Upon returning to campus for the spring semester, RAs always returned to campus one week early before the rest of campus to have winter training, this was a much more condensed and shorter version of the summer training, it served as a refresher for many RAs on policies and was a chance to recharge out RA batteries before starting the new semester.  At times it was overwhelming to be taking in so much information as a new RA, but the entire training was fun and exciting and helped us grow as individuals and as RAs together. During the first semester that someone becomes an RA, he or she is required to take a 1-credit class with other new RAs to learn more about becoming an RA. The class also offers new RAs a chance to reflect and listen to each other as they experience new challenges during this transition time. I first came upon the decision to become an RA as a freshman in college. I was close with some of the RAs on staff in my residence hall, and my older sister was also an RA in that same building. I really looked up to them and thought it was a position I wanted to be a part of to help students with their college experience within the Marquette community. I applied as a freshman and was put on the waiting list, so I lived with a friend my sophomore year in a different residence hall. Looking back, I really appreciate that time I had to grow and develop my time as a resident at Marquette before I applied again as a sophomore. That second time I applied I was accepted for a position in the residence hall where I lived as a freshman, Cobeen Hall, which is an all-female hall for first year students.

2. What tasks were involved with this title?

So many! I’ve come to realize that you can’t fully appreciate everything that an RA does until you become one, though I imagine that is true for almost anything. We provided and created community for our residents within the residence hall and Marquette community, often bridging them to campus resources and helping to acclimate them into both the university and City of Milwaukee community through helping them become active members in these environments.

We also worked with the other RAs in the building and sometimes RAs from other residence halls to participate on committee/task forces whose purposes were to explore and develop student life in the residence halls- mainly through programming- and assist the Office of Residence Life in the creation and review of equitable policies and procedures. Programming was an essential part of building community, and there were different components that we included in our planning as well as different criteria we as RAs had to meet, such as offering programs that would allow the residents to nurture and develop their sense of community, civic engagements, spirituality, and health and wellness.

We also were responsible for the part that wasn’t so fun when we were disciplinarians through documenting situations that went against policy that the students were involved in- such as underage drinking in the residence hall, or perhaps working with EMTS or other emergency personnel who came to respond to a situation involving a resident in the hall; other times my role required lending a shoulder to cry on in the middle of the night because they were experiencing home sickness or a break-up and needed someone to talk to. We fulfilled roles of work that included administrative (writing weekly reports and meeting with our Hall Directors, doing check-ins and securing keys and other University property and much more), advising, role modeling both academically and personally for our residents, to serving as a visible leader on campus. As leaders, we were expected to provide understanding, appreciating, and celebrating diversity while promoting personal growth for all of our residents.
3. Did you happen to have any crazy incidents that needed to be resolved?

Oh, yes, I had lots of them, but that happens when each floor in the building houses upwards of 60 people all living together. My first year as an RA was definitely more challenging for me because I was still learning to balance school and being an RA, so the stress of that combined with some very unique circumstances concerning some of my residents was at times challenging. Overall though I think it was a wonderful time of growth for everyone and it was really exciting to watch people grow in their first year of college and build relationships with them. I think the majority of “crazy incidents” were when some of the residents would go out and party and get drunk and didn’t fully understand safety concerns that affected their well being, which would be evident when they returned to the residence hall.  Oh, yes, there were many, many interesting moments- both good and bad.

4. Was the main purpose of you visiting Chile to see your sister? Did you have to practice on your Spanish a tad before visiting?

Yes! My sister was living in Santiago, Chile for two years serving as a volunteer for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC)- which as I always explain it is it’s like the Peace Corps (but slightly different and with differing core tenets). She wasn’t allowed to ever come home and couldn’t have visitors until she was halfway done with her time there, so my younger sister and I went to see her over our winter break at her one year mark to visit. It was so wonderful just to see the relationships she had built with so many people and all the loving families and friends who had taken her under their wing, as well as the type of work she was doing- such as working at a school and also working with teenage mothers at a different location and then working with immigrants later on in her second year. I didn’t really practice my Spanish beforehand, I felt pretty confident with my ability to speak as well as speak for my younger sister whose Spanish isn’t as strong. This came in handy when we arrived in Santiago and the airport lost our luggage and I had to communicate with the baggage people, after that though the Spanish was a lot more difficult because Chileans have a reputation for speaking bad Spanish, there’s a lot of slang and made-up words, endings cut off words and everything is slurred together very fast, not by everyone of course, but it definitely felt that way. There is a joke about Chileans that I learned while there: that every Latin American Spanish-speaking country tries to boast that they have the best Spanish after Spain, but for Chileans, they not only deny this and accept that they have the worst Spanish, but they boast about this instead like they are proud of it. Luckily though, my sister who we were visiting was accustomed to the Chilean Spanish and could help us out 🙂

5. What sights were your favorite? What were your favorite memories?

Santiago is a great city and extremely developed- much more than people here often realize- but in terms of sights only a few days are needed to get a feel for everything around the city. The city is surrounded by the Andes Mountains and there is often lots of smog that restricts you from seeing them, but closer to and around the city are some smaller mountains coming from that range. One of these smaller mountains (the Chileans called it a hill because its size paled in comparison to the real mountains in the background) is in the middle of the city and its called El Cerro, or Spanish for “the hill.” On the top of this hill is a giant statue of the Virgin Mary overlooking the city. Tourists and locals hike the path up this hill to see the statue and other attractions up there, which is what we did. At the top just before reaching the Virgin Mary are vendors and a chapel and a prayer wall with candles and the view itself of the city from the top is absolutely beautiful. This was one of my favorite sights. I also loved other simple things such as riding the subway with my sisters or walking around her neighborhood, which was very poor because that’s how the volunteers live, but everyone was very welcoming and friendly. For New Year’s we took a bus to the coast to a city called Viña del Mar- or Viña for short- where we stayed with some friends in an apartment for the weekend and prepared to watch fireworks on the beach over the Pacific Ocean to celebrate the New Year. I believe this is the largest New Year’s celebration in Latin America, and it was really exciting because tons and tons of Chilean tourists and other South Americans came to the beach to watch the fireworks over the ocean. Viña del Mar is next to another coastal town called Valparaiso, or Valpo for short. Viña is typically where more wealthy people live and Valpo is more of a town of less affluent people and it also has beautifully vibrantly colored old buildings along its streets. While we were visiting Valpo one day with some friends of ours, we were mugged by two guys (teenagers or so) and they started attacking some of the friends in our group for their things and then they ripped a necklace off my neck (with lots of sentimental value- this was a good lesson not to pack irreplaceable things on a trip!), then they acted like they had knives under their clothes and wanted us to come with them. Luckily though, a woman was nearby who saw this and called out to us as the two guys ran off. She brought us to a local shop to wait for the police, but we waited for two hours and they never showed up. When we made it back to our apartment we were locked out and set off the security alarm and had to wait a few hours until we could get back inside. Needless to say, this was one of my more memorable moments of the trip; however, I don’t want it to cause any negative feelings towards Chile that I may carry or for anyone else- that sort of thing could happen anywhere in the world and other than that particular incident the people all truly were wonderful and warm and welcoming.

6. Could you explain what the people there were like?

I felt that the culture and the way people act towards each other including to strangers is so much more warm and inviting than the way we act in the United States. People greet each other with a little beso on each cheek even if meeting for the first time, which is a common custom in all of Latin America; however, in the US I feel we have a more sterile, cold sense of interaction with others compared to the culture and people of Chile. Everyone who my sister was close to were so excited to meet my sister and me, often welcoming us into their homes and making amazing meals for us and letting us into their lives during our stay. The people in her neighborhood were all friendly as well and there seemed to be an understood sense of respect and care for one another.

7. Besides Chile, What other places have you traveled and did you learn any lessons from these travels?

Well, I really wanted to study abroad while I was in college but never got the chance because of my schedule and changing majors a few times. Because of this, I took a trip through EF College Break (an awesome organization for college aged and twenty-somethings who want to travel) with a college friend to Europe for a few weeks in the summer. The main destinations were London, Paris, and Rome, but we also visited the town of Bath, England, and Pompeii, Italy, as well as a few other small cities. During this trip I really learned a lot about myself even though it was a brief amount of time abroad. I learned how I want to travel in the future and deciding important factors about who to share this experience with while traveling. I formed some of my own opinions about these cities based on my brief time there, and I also learned about people and certain social norms in other cultures and what it’s like to be an American abroad. While I was in Paris I visited my great aunt who has lived there for the majority of her adult life. She is Colombian and grew up in Colombia but ended up staying in Paris after working there. I remember it was so mysterious and yet exciting to be visiting a relative abroad who I had never met before but had only heard stories about.

Overall, it was a fun, crash-course trip of doing all things touristy in these cities. I also visited Mexico in middle school for a school trip; we lived with another student from school in a host family’s house in Merida, and then visited the island of Isla Mujeres for the last few days of the trip where we stayed in a hotel with our classmates. This was such an incredible and educational experience; it was also my first time abroad so I have many fond memories of this trip. I also visited Canada with my family very briefly once when we went to Niagra Falls. That experience was so close to the New York border though and I was mainly focused on the Falls so I hardly can recall any significant details about the people there. I just remember that there were many tourists from around the world and lots of languages represented there as people came to see the Falls as well. Places that I’ve traveled domestically have reflected my family’s interests and passions, such as going to Boston and exploring the history and ancestry of the Irish Curleys 🙂 We also frequently go to Door County, a cutesy area in Wisconsin along Lake Michigan- it’s like the Cape Cod of Wisconsin, so to speak. We stay in a cabin on a private beach in the woods that is owned by some family friends and use the time to relax and get away from the hassle of our daily lives.  I’ve been to other places in the US including San Antonio (very hot and very pretty with the river walk), lots of Midwestern cities such as Saint Louis or Chicago, and a few other random places that I enjoyed visiting. The continental US is enormous and I would love to be able to road trip and explore the whole thing one day, especially since different regions have a distinct culture even though it’s all part of the same country. Actually, I will be moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a year in August to be a volunteer for JVC (like my sister) and I am really excited to be living in “the city of enchantment” (as it is called) and working with Latino immigrants everyday. I hope that while I am there that I can visit some sites nearby, such as Santa Fe or the Grand Canyon. Also, Albuquerque hosts the largest international hot air balloon fiesta every year in October- and I can’t wait 🙂

8. You also like photography. When was this hobby started and what is your favorite thing to photograph?

I love photography and enjoy taking my own photos as well as appreciating the work of other amateur and professional photographers. I don’t consider myself skilled in this area, but it’s just a hobby that I find entertaining and peaceful. I started taking photos with disposable cameras when I was really young before I had digital cameras. I would go on ‘nature walks’ in which I would walk around my yard and neighborhood looking for opportune shots of nature to take while also forcing my younger sister to accompany me as my assistant. I think that part of this stemmed from my love of Mother Nature and all the simple and beautiful things to discover outside. Capturing a photograph of these things just allowed me to appreciate the memory of discovering something longer. We grew up on a lake with willow trees and all sorts of animals in the backyard, along with a cornfield close by that we would explore all year round. These sorts of environments provided all kinds of opportunities for me to take photos, but I discovered later on in college that you don’t need a country, rural setting to take nice nature pictures. I went to school in a city where there was hardly any greenery, so I found ways to take pictures of my settings there- such as of alleyways, fire escapes, doors, old buildings, etc. I’m not really sure what my favorite thing is to photograph, I think I like to look for subjects that are appealing to me through color or texture and stir up some emotion in me. I also like to photograph doors from old buildings and compile them together, it sounds a little weird but I was inspired by a similar poster of this that I saw when I was a kid and I guess the interest stuck with me.

9. You also seem to have an appreciation for history and the arts. Any favorite art pieces?

Yes, I love art! I love drawing and painting and making my own art as well as enjoying the art of others. By far my favorite form of art is impressionism, a movement that began in the 19th century with French artists who were going against the standard norm for painting- this itself is very appealing to me because the work they made at first was seen as a radical shift in art and yet what they created is so beautiful and amazing. I love the look of impressionism; it focuses on capturing light and showing its different qualities through everyday settings (such as a sunset over a river, or farmers in a field).

For me, the colors and soft brush strokes that are characteristic of this style evoke so many emotions in me that I feel a connectedness to this form of art. I’m not sure where this came from per se, but my grandfather was a professional artist and when I started drawing as a kid he used to mentor me and I greatly valued his opinions. And yes, I have so many favorite art pieces! One of my favorite things to do is to visit the local Milwaukee Art Museum (especially on its free days- yay!) as well as other art museums, which I do as much as I can whenever I travel. My favorite artist of all time is Pierre Auguste Renoir, a French impressionist, and I absolutely love his painting The Luncheon of the Boating Party. I have a giant copy of this painting framed and hung above my bed, and I love to look at it and imagine little stories for each person in the picture and what they were talking about. I also love Café Terrace at Night by Vincent Van Gogh- yet another giant framed painting in my room- I like to surround myself with beautiful art that simply makes me happy whenever I look at it. There is so much wonderful art in this world that I could go on forever talking about it! I love history as well! I find it so fascinating and mysterious to think about what life was like for people who came before us on this earth and how their lives influenced the way we live today. I especially love studying US American history, but I also love learning about the rich history and culture of Latin America.

My whole family has a passion for studying history and there are lots of books around the house about different time periods and peoples of different cultures. I think my father really instilled this interest in us daughters, he is a big history buff- both my parents have always been big into the humanities and arts, which was an appreciation and passion passed down to my two sisters and me. My sisters and I used to play a game where we had to name which time period in history we would like to live in and who we would be if we weren’t born in the present era. This was always a fun way to use our imaginations and think about history together. I also have always been interested in my history classes at university and in school growing up- I think there is so much that we can learn from the past that can teach us about who we are today.



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