The Cuban Five: Rediscovering Cuba

This year I had the opportunity of a lifetime. It all started with one question my grandmother asked, “Will you go to Cuba with me?”

Ready for Cuba!

Ready for Cuba!

My grandmother is basically Wonder Woman. She has been to all seven continents and wrote two books about it. The first one, Around the World in the Middle Seat talks about her many adventures as a group travel leader and the second one, Seven Before Seventy, is about reaching her goal of traveling to Antarctica, her seventh continent. I’ve been blessed to have her as a role model and I couldn’t be more proud to follow in her footsteps as a writer.

Of course I said I would go with her to Cuba. In case you are unfamiliar with tourism in Cuba, not many Americans are able to travel to Cuba. In fact, only a few travel agencies have the certifications to bring American tourists to the island. Because of this reason, I had never really thought about Cuba as a place I’d ever have the opportunity to visit. I savored each city we visited, knowing I was extremely fortunate to be on this trip among 27 fellow travelers, which by the way, I was the youngest by about 45 years. If you know me, you know I can talk to anyone/anything, so it was no problem and I enjoyed learning about Cuba with each of them. Many of the group members were alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the issuing of the Embargo, so I learned a lot about the relationship between the United States and Cuba just by talking to them.

While Cuba was an amazing historical journey, I loved experiencing the culture first-hand. Here are five of the attributes I wanted to take home with me:

 1. The weather

When I left Dallas early March it was cloudy and windy. When I arrived in Cienfuegos, the sun was shining and the palm trees were swaying in the breeze. It rained once while we were on the road to Havana, but the weather quickly cleared up and resumed its beauty. Although it’s spring in the United States, we were in Cuba during the middle of winter. I’m glad we didn’t stick around for rainy season, but I wouldn’t mind having such a mild winter here in the States.

 2. The cars

Back in the 1950s it was common for Americans to travel to Cuba on a ferry. Our local guide told us that many came to gamble in Havana and after one too many mojitos I assume, many bet their car. This explains why so many Chevys and Fords can be found speeding through the streets in Cuba. Our guide Ari said, “There are no mechanics in Cuba. Only magicians!” This is certainly true, as many of the old-fashioned cars are still up and running even though they’ve passed through many generations. Not all the cars have the antique charm only the 50s birthed, but these gems that do make Cuba such an exciting place to venture. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ride around in a red convertible for an hour the last night we spent in Havana. By the end I was wishing I hadn’t taken the time to do my hair, but it was certainly a memorable experience.

3. The architecture

Because of Cuba’s history, there are so many types of architecture in Cuba. Some buildings had regal columns and others resembled brightly colored boxes. Each city we visited had a different style and even some neighborhoods were distinguished by particular architecture styles.

My favorite was Jose Ramirez Fuster’s neighborhood. Fuster is a Cuban artist whose style can be described as a hybrid between Picasso and Dr. Seuss. Each house in his neighborhood had elements of Fuster’s mosaic style and then BAM! Fuster’s house is an explosion of imagination and creativity. I would’ve been perfectly fine if my group left me behind.

4. The music

I grew up around music and although I thought I enjoyed music a lot, I quickly realized that Cuba is on an entirely new level when it comes to enjoying music. A mariachi group, acoustic guitar duo or percussion ensemble serenaded nearly every meal and a few of the musicians even asked me to join in! Music is not just in the background in Cuba. In many places there were musicians playing in the street or at markets. Wouldn’t it be nice if every meal were accompanied by music?

 5. The outlook on life

Most of all, I loved the laid-back, easy going way of life the Cubans enjoy. In the countryside and even in the large cities, I saw families sitting together on their porches or congregated by the fences talking to their neighbors. Most houses and apartments had all windows and doors open, partially because it’s so hot and humid, but mostly because the people see their neighbors as family. The thought of even leaving my door unlocked is frightening. It’s hard to imagine living life with an open-door policy like the Cubans do.

Needless to say, our countries have had their differences, but I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to explore Cuba and I hope someday I can take my grandchildren like my grandmother took me.

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Anyone Can Be an Alchemist

I visited an agency about a year ago and met an insightful account executive who recommended Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist when I asked her for reading recommendations. I finally had time to read it during my time off from school and work during the holidays and I’m glad I did. Although it didn’t directly pertain to PR, it provided inspiration that easily applied to my career and life in general.

The Alchemist is a story of a young boy, Santiago, who embarks on a mission to find his treasure. Along the way, he falls into snares and consequences of naivety, makes immense sacrifices, finds and loses love, and learns life lessons from an infamous alchemist.

As I read The Alchemist, several major themes kept returning:

1. Find your Personal Legend

This book placed an emphasis on chasing after your dreams.  Santiago was on a mission to find his life’s purpose. As many others can relate, Santiago didn’t always know his personal legend and reason for life. If you don’t know, that’s okay. Part of the fun is discovering that one thing that makes you happy and makes you different from anyone else on earth. Are you hoping to discover your personal legend this year? The beauty of this concept is that making a decision is only the beginning of a lifelong journey that can be extraordinarily rewarding.

What are you most excited about in life?

2. Don’t fear the desert

In The Alchemist, Santiago took a journey through the Sahara Desert to go to the pyramids, where he believed the treasure was buried. This was an apprehensive time in his journey. The caravan through the desert was long and dangerous and at times Santiago was tempted to give up.

Sometimes your life’s calling will require you to take a detour. Instead of feeling inconvenienced by these perceived setbacks, see them as opportunities– even in the midst of suffering. You might be thinking, “That sounds a lot easier than it is.” Coelho cleverly wrote, “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself… No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” You’re not alone in the desert and when you reach an oasis or your final destination you will be reminded of life’s blessings and be thankful for life in and of itself.

What are you most afraid of? Why?

“Immerse yourself in the desert. You don’t even have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a single grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.”

3. “Where your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” 

During Santiago’s journey, he finds a beautiful woman and falls in love. She tells Santiago to follow his heart and find his treasure, and then he can come back and they will be together. I admired this selfless aspect of love because she wanted him to pursue his dreams enough to let him go.

As Coehlo wrote, “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

How can you do a better job of loving your family, significant other or coworkers?

Life is Golden 

The alchemist book

Add this one to your booklist.

I admit… when I picked up this book I wasn’t really sure what an alchemist was, but now that I’ve finished this book I understand that life is less about a treasure hunt than transforming what you see as lead to gold.

Would you say your life is more like lead or gold?

Although life will never be perfect, it’s rewarding to follow after your personal legend even if it means you’ll have to travel through a desert for a while. You have everything you need right now to see your life as the sparkling gold it is.

“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”- Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist

Preparing to A.C.H.I.E.V.E.

IMG_8575This year I attended my last PRSSA National Conference. Although I’m excited to graduate and enter the real world this May, it was bittersweet to leave Philadelphia knowing that it was the last time I’d attend Conference as a student.

During the awards dinner on the last night we were all given a note card that says, “today’s preparation determines tomorrow’s achievement.” On the back is an acronym for A.C.H.I.E.V.E., which I think is an excellent summary of the insight shared during PRSSA National Conference.

A is for aspire.

Aspiration has been a main theme of every PRSSA event I’ve attended. Aspire means to align your hopes toward achieving something. PRSSA encourages students to set big goals and chase after them, which is, of course, much easier said than done.

Mary Henige and Mary Beth West are admirable speakers who presented at Conference. These two women are strong role models for pre-professionals and encouraged attendees to stretch further to achieve success. Here are some words of wisdom given during their presentations:

  • Be a life-long learner. I was surprised to see that even West was taking notes when the other panelists were speaking during the Living Legends panel, showing that she embraces that there is always more to learn!
  • Showing up is not enough. Have a roll-up-your sleeves approach to your work.
  • Squeeze everything you can out of college. Learn all you can so you’ll leave with a rounded education.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of reverse mentoring. Just because you’re young does not mean you can’t teach others who are older than you.
  • It’s okay to not know where you’re going, but everything you do should be driven by goals.
  • Quality of experience not quantity (salary). A person of initiative doesn’t sit back and get frustrated about something, they change it. – Mary Heinigie
  • Applying for jobs is scary. Don’t let that stop you.

 “Don’t create obstacles for yourself- stop thinking of yourself as a woman. Think of yourself as a professional” – Mary Beth West

It all comes down to the fact that it’s not someone else’s job to prepare you for your career. College is the best time to start your legacy of initiative and integrity.

C is for challenge

Brian Solis, Principal Analyst at Altimeter Group presented on  learning how to #LeanForward

Brian Solis, Principal Analyst at Altimeter Group presented on learning how to #LeanForward

One of my favorite parts of PRSSA National Conference is sitting in on PRSA ICON sessions. This year Brian Solis presented on leaning forward. Although my generation grew up with social media, I know it will not stop with what we have now. Social media is always changing and what’s “in” today won’t necessarily be “in” tomorrow. It’s important to embrace change and avoid pulling back, because brands that embrace change are the brands that stay relevant to consumers

Social media has a reputation of being narcissistic, but when social media is done well, it’s not about me, or the brand I’m representing. The A.R.T. of social media is actions, reactions and transactions. We live in an age where brands are now people and people are now brands. How can we leverage this as PR professionals?

Here is a Storify summary of the Twitter conversations revolving around Solis’ lecture.

 “Humbly recognize there’s more to learn. Learning helps us lead and learning brings about change.” – Brian Solis #LeanForward

H is for hope

When I was a kid I didn’t think twice about how fortunate I was that I could read. The PRSA ICON presentation by John Wood, who explained how a library card could be the passport to a better life, was very inspiring. Wood is very passionate about making education accessible to boys and girls all over the world. In fact, he is so passionate about this mission that he quit his job at Microsoft to develop his nonprofit organization, Room to Read, from scratch.

I was deeply touched by this man’s passion and willingness to take a risk. He taught that bold goals attract bold people and that hope can go a long way. He encourages attendees to strive for more than just small-scale leadership. “Don’t be the leader of an organization,” he said. “I want to be one of many leaders of a global movement.”

As a future professional it’s important to have big, hairy audacious goals (B.H.A.G.S.) and learn to have hope in what might seem impossible.

“An entrepreneur is someone who does something with resources not yet acquired.” – John Wood, Room to Read

I is for insight

Kingsford Coal's data-driven campaign included sending a special visitor to the nicest social media user. Clever!

Kingsford Coal’s data-driven campaign included sending a special visitor to the nicest social media user. Clever!

Insight is a key asset for job seekers to leverage themselves as an asset to a public relations team. Valuable hires come into a company ready to put their knowledge to work for a company or a brand. In a session on analytics and big data led by Adam Singer, Shonali Burke and Deidre Breakenridge, we learned a few of the ways data is used in real-world applications:

  • Use data to tell stories with visual representations.
  • Use data to pitch- No one likes receiving pitches that are not based on factual evidence.
  • Use data to influence strategy decisions.
  • Use data to predict future outcomes.

One of the best examples given was for crises. Data can help make responses more efficient and can even save lives. Another good example discussed was the clever campaign created for Kingsford Coal, which involved sending Santa to visit the nicest social media user. The lucky winner in the photo (left) was found through data-driven research. The number of times he said, “thank you” and “please” on social media were monitored and his politeness was recognized. Who knew good manners could help you win a visit from Santa?

Here are some of the basic tools PR students can familiarize themselves with, suggested by Adam Singer from Google:

E is for enthusiasm

Of the many areas in PR, agency life was emphasized in the sessions at Conference. Juggling life at an agency is often challenging for new professionals that are employed at agencies right after college.

New professionals are typically younger, unmarried and can handle more stress than employees that have been in the workforce for a longer period of time. Because of this, they are often pushed to accomplish more. Every professional is faced with the challenge at one time or another to decide their limit and maintain the work-life balance that works for them. In addition, if you’re enthusiastic about your job it won’t feel like work, but if you dread going to the office, it might be time to try something new.

Members of the panel included Jessica Noonan of Burson-Marsteller, Joe Clarkson of Taylor Strategy and Nick Lucido of Edelman Public Relations. Here are a few tips they shared during the panel discussion:

  • Have an outlet for creativity and fun. Too much work will inevitably lead to burnout.
  • Don’t work hard; work smart. Working inefficiently is actually a disservice for your clients.
  • Love what you do, because if you’re in it for the money, you’re in for a let-down.

“Be nice to people. The PR world is very, very small and your relationships can help or hurt you.” –Nick Lucido, Edelman Public Relations

V is for voice

There was a special session for Chapter presidents on the first night of Conference. Cassandra Bailey, principal at Slice Communications in Philadelphia shared her wisdom on the importance of uniqueness and drive. She advised students to embrace personal branding as a chance to show authenticity and individuality.

Here are some of her key points:

  • Ideas, time and insights are the currency of PR agencies. What values do your ideas have over those of other agencies?
  • Your personal brand should be unique as a fingerprint. What’s unique about you? How can you communicate this with others?
  • There is inherent value in being different. How can your voice be distinguishable in the sea of noise?

“There is inherent value in being different.” –Cassandra Bailey

E is for enjoy

With all the sessions and presentations at PRSSANC and PRSA ICON, luckily I found some time to enjoy Philadelphia. I ate a Philadelphia cheese steak (Two, actually. We found a place called Zio’s that was so we good we had to come back again before leaving the city), visited LOVE park, saw the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, and even made some new friends.

This post would be incomplete without photos from the trip!

If you are a PR student I highly recommend joining PRSSA and attending National Conference. Although it’s expensive, attending events helps you meet speakers and other PRSSA members that will help you learn and grow as a future professional. I am so thankful I joined this organization as a sophomore journalism student and that I invested as much as I have so far. I know what I’ve learned and the connections I’ve made will help me succeed as a professional in the pubic relations industry.

View my PRSSANC Recap presentation for UNT PRSSA on Prezi.

Summer Top Ten

As my last day of summer winds down (already?) and I prepare to return to classes for my last fall semester as a college student tomorrow it’s bittersweet, but also exciting. All this hard work is paying off and I’ve had so much fun along the way.

I compiled a lit of my favorite memories or accomplishments from this summer. Although my internship and job didn’t provide me with too much time off, this year I wanted to complete the ten things below:

1. Go somewhere exciting

This year my family went to Alaska. My mom had a goal to travel to all 50 states before her 50th birthday and Alaska was her 49th state (North Dakota was her 50th).  We went on an Alaskan cruise and stopped at Juneau, Icy Strait Point and Ketchikan. We went sea kayaking and I rode the longest zip line in the world! It was a great vacation. Here are a few photos of the trip’s highlights:

2. Intern at an agency

I had the opportunity to intern at an international agency in Dallas this summer with the Digital Team. I learned a lot about social media and analytics and loved being surrounded by young, brilliant PR professionals.

3. Reconnect with PRSSA friends

As president of UNT PRSSA, I had the honor, once again, of representing my Chapter at the PRSSA 2013 Leadership Rally! It was great to see friends new and old and learn more about the profession and planning a great semester. Want to see my notes from the last two years at the Rally? Download the PDF: PRSSA Leadership Rally Notes 2012-13.

When I was in Scottsdale, Arizona I had the opportunity to stop by the scene of summer’s most hilarious PR crisis, Amy’s Baking Company. In case you missed it, view the video here. Although I didn’t have bad service or witness anything notable, it was fun to see the infamous husband and wife team in person after seeing so much about them for a month. Plus, my lemon meringue pie was delicious.

4. Get published

My latest position at UNT has allowed me the opportunity to get my work published several times. I wrote several stories that were posted on UNT’s InHouse blog and even a few news releases. Maybe I’m just new at this, but I get excited every time I see my work published.

5. Read a good book

One of the best books I read this summer was on the airplane to the PRSSA Leadership Rally. It’s called The One Minute Manager. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I loved the way it was written and the advice it had for busy, successful leaders.

You set One Minute Goals with your people to make sure they know what they are being held accountable for and what good performance looks like. You then try to catch them doing something right so you can give them a One Minute Praising. And then, finally, if they have all the skills to do something right and they don’t, you give them a One Minute Reprimand.

I loved this book because it taught me a lot about leadership and helping those that are following you better understand expectations and how to make them feel valued and appreciated, while at the same time, getting things done.

6. Make a new friend

I always love making new friends. I was at church one Sunday and I sat down next to a girl I didn’t recognize. After talking with her for a few minutes I found that she was from out of state and had come to Denton to take a 5-week class for her major that was only offered at UNT. She didn’t know anyone, so I made myself available and saw her many more times before she flew back to Indiana! I was so thankful I randomly sat down by her and I hope to see her again someday soon.

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Thankful for good times with friends this summer

7. Start one new good habit

I’m really hoping this habit carries over into the school year, but I focused a lot on productivity and prioritization this summer. Time is money and at my internship, I had to be fast in order to meet all the deadlines I was given. I allowed myself a block of time that was long enough to complete the task with no distractions. Sometimes I even set a timer. The countdown really motivated me to move quickly. I also made an effort to use my Outlook calendar to be extra organized and keep track of where my time was going.

8. Cook something delicious

I’ve been wanting to work on my cooking skills and the summer was a perfect opportunity to do so. I rarely make recipes off the side of a bag, but I made a recipe for cheesy chicken monterey and it was delicious! The recipe is below:

Cheesy Chicken Monterey

Cheesy Chicken Monterey

You will need:

  • One package of chicken flavored rice (I used Knorr brand)
  • One 11 oz. can of corn , drained
  • One 11 oz. can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • One 4 oz. can of chopped green chilies, undrained
  • One pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
  • One cup of shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 4 oz.)
  1. Prepare rice according to the package directions. Stir in corn, beans and chilies.
  2. Meanwhile, heat one tablestoon vegetable oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and cook chicken, stirring frequently, 4 mins. or until chicken is thoroughly cooked.
  3. Arrange rice mixture on serving platter, then top with chicken and cheese

Here’s to perfecting future mom skills!

9. Learn something new

In an interview with a UNT alum for a story I was writing for UNT’s alumni magazine I asked her if there are any words she lives by. I loved what she told me;

“Stress is a choice. You can decide to use your energy worrying about the problem or finding a situation. You can’t change the situation, but you can change your reaction to the situation.”

I love that she shared that with me and I hope I remember those wise words next time I feel the stress building up.

10. Relax

I didn’t have a lot of time to relax (or sleep) this summer, but there were several days I stopped by the pool after work or had a lazy weekend curled up on the couch with a book. It’s so nice to have had that time to rejuvenate for a busy semester.

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So long, summer 2013. It was wonderful knowing you!