Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Megan Stephenson: The Small-Town Girl Living in the Big City World

Milford, Iowa, has a population of 3,055. Arnolds Park, Iowa, has a population of 1,256. Okoboji, Iowa, has a population of 830. These three towns, which make their home in the Northwest corner of the state, were my childhood playground. From the lakes, amusement park and adventure in Okoboji to the safe, quiet living in Milford, I never had a reason to complain. But there are imperfections in every place.

Denver, Colorado, has a population of 682,545. This city, which has served as my home, community, and lab for the past three months, is one of many wonders. But there are imperfections in every place.

My time spent in Denver has taught me a lot about myself and what it means to come from a small, rural town like mine. There are certainly many differences between rural Iowa and urban Denver, but it was surprising for me to find that there are some similarities, too. I know that there are people on Wartburg’s campus who might share a story similar to mine—they grew up in a small, rural town and have not had much experience in an ultra-urban environment. I am here to tell about my own experiences in Denver, and how through my time here I have been able to grow closer to my roots than ever before.

There is no doubt that I was nervous about coming to live in the city, and when I got here I questioned what I got myself into. Being the person I am, though, I accepted the challenge and did my best to get acclimated to the city life as quickly as possible. The biggest hoops I had to jump through were ones that are present in many urban environments: the presence of a homeless population, not always encountering friendly faces, and traffic and parking (oh, the parking). It turns out that these factors were what intimidated me the most upon arrival. It also turns out that I had no reason to be intimidated. 

As someone who had only encountered homelessness a handful of times, I was thrown into an environment where homeless is very prominent. Something important to note, though, is that when living in a city, homeless people are neighbors to those with homes and apartments. They sleep nearby, eat nearby, and socialize nearby. I had the opportunity to work with Denver Homeless Out Loud over the past couple of months. This organization is very much run by homeless for homeless, and they work to give the homeless population in Denver a voice to the public through education panels, social media, and an in-house publication. My work with Denver Homeless Out Loud opened my eyes to a much larger issue—there are stereotypes surrounding homelessness that simply are not true. Unfortunately, I played into those stereotypes when I first arrived. Overall, the homeless population in Denver is very friendly, and even if they are not, they do not seem to bother people very much. 

One thing that is great about living in a small town and even attending a small college campus is the fact that it can be difficult not to find a friendly, welcoming face. I would say from my own experience of growing up in a small town, everybody knows everybody. Sometimes this can be a negative thing, but I think that, for the most part, this leads to a strong sense of community. It is that small-town appeal, as I like to call it. Denver might be a big city, but the sense of community I have found in this temporary adventure is truly incredible. Sure, I rarely encounter the same face twice, but I have found many opportunities to get involved and meet new people, whether that be attending free events, going to community gatherings, and more. The list could go on and on if I am talking about Denver. There are athletics clubs, yoga classes, dance groups, art groups, theatre groups, writing workshops, and tons of free events. Searching for a community in Denver might be a little bit different than automatically having one in a small town, but I think that is what makes it special. In a city, anyone has the opportunity to meet and organize with anyone.

Before I came to Denver, I would avoid having to parallel park anywhere I went. Now, many people might have this basic skill, but I was simply not a member of that population before I came to Denver. Most of the time, I could get away with my inability to park a car on the side of the street because I rarely had to. Open, free, available parking lots are common in rural towns. However, after about two weeks of living in one of the fullest, busiest residential areas in Denver, I realized that there was no way I would be able to get away with not having to parallel park anymore. It might seem silly to write about my journey to learning how to parallel park, (which I can successfully do now, by the way) but I think this is one of the bigger surprises that comes with city life. Becoming a defensive driver and learning how city street-parking works is a skill I can now apply to any city adventure I decide to take in my lifetime.

My time in Denver has made me realize that wherever I am, I can always connect my experiences back to my Iowa roots. This adventure has made me appreciate the things I have back home more than I ever have before, but it has also taught me that going outside of my own comfort zone can be extremely rewarding. I encourage everyone to explore places and communities across the board—thrive in the big cities and find comfort in the small towns. It will be worth it.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Cameron Corday: Tips and Tricks for the Mile-High City

Wartburg West is a unique experience unlike anything you’ll get on campus. Whether you go in the summer or during a semester, Denver will push you out of your comfort zone. You’ll gain life experiences and grow as a person. Tuition is even the same as in Iowa!

Life in Denver, Colorado has a few, minuscule differences when compared to my hometown of Denver, Iowa.  Denver, Colorado: The Mile-High City. Population: 682,545. Starbucks: 60+. Denver, Iowa: The Mile-Wide City. Population: 1,841. Starbucks: 0 (Sorry Pumpkin Spice lovers, you’ll have to feed your addiction elsewhere). Life in the Mile-High City is a rush. Each day is filled with commotion and excitement, and there is never a dull moment. If you consider spending a semester or summer at Wartburg West, which I highly recommend you do, here are a few tricks and tips that should make your hectic life a bit less crazy and help you to get the full experience.

Adventure Opportunities
Denver has no shortage of exciting things to do. I personally enjoy anything having to do with the mountains. I hiked up Mt. Elbert, all 14,439 feet of it. Just be prepared to put on your big boy/girl pants, as it can take over 7 hours. I had the opportunity to go rafting, soak in a hot spring, and see the stunningly beautiful Hanging Lake. There are even some mountains where no hiking is required. Mt. Evans (14,265) has a road that goes almost all the way up, stopping only 120 feet below the summit. If you plan to make this incredibly scenic drive, make sure you don’t have a weak stomach, and plan go early, as the top portion of the road closes after Labor Day. All of these opportunities are available to you with a little research and effort on your part.

Sustainability
In Denver, you’ll have the opportunity to experience conscious, sustainable choices from people and businesses that are seemingly non-existent in Iowa. The Alliance Center is one example of a leader in sustainability, with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) v4 Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance Platinum rating (Trust me, it’s a big deal). The free buses on the 16th Street mall are fully electric. Protected bike lanes crisscross around downtown. The dinners at St. John’s Cathedral have almost always zero landfill waste, with everything, including utensils and cups, being completely compostable. I had an amazing time volunteering with Scraps, a biking startup that picks up compost for those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it.  There is a community of people here that understand the need to choose more sustainable resource management if we want to transition into cleaner, better 21st century. If you’re interested in becoming more involved with sustainability, Denver is a great place to do so.

Good Eats
Nearly any big city will have plenty of cuisine options, and Denver is no exception. There’s Indian, Thai, Haitian, Ethiopian, homemade burgers, nearly every style of pizza and more. In the summer months, there are food trucks that line up and down Civic Center Park for lunch. Here are my top three picks for restaurants I enjoyed while in Denver.
  • 5280 Burger Bar: This place is right downtown on the 16th Street mall, and the short walk is definitely worth the food. Their burgers are super fresh, and all their condiments are made in house. There’s even an ice cream shop right next door, all homemade. (They even have Nutella ice cream!). My favorite burger is “The Ring of Fire”. Be warned, it lives up to its name. 
  • Liang’s Thai Food: This little inconspicuous food cart is a bit difficult to find, so just look for the long line. It’s set up at the intersection of Tremont Place and the 16th street mall. The prices are reasonable, and the food it made fresh in front of you. Drunken Noodles with basil? Yes please! Just expect a pretty long wait in line, as everything is made to order and I’m not the only one who knows how good it tastes. 
  • Bada Bing Grill: This place is a little out of the way of downtown, and would require a drive. However, it was a great place to stop when my family and I were headed out to a Red Rocks concert. The El Greko pizza was amazing and super crisp, with really fresh mozzarella cheese. Definitely stop by if you’re in Arvada. 
  •  
    Music Scene
    This is one area I wish I would have been more involved in, as I only went to one concert. However, some of my fellow classmates really took advantage of this opportunity and saw 5-6 shows. There are many venues here that attract big name artists. The Ogden, Bluebird, Fillmore, and Gothic Theaters are some of the big ones. The best venue by far was Red Rocks Amphitheater. I know that everyone already recommends seeing at least one show here, but seriously, do it. There isn’t a bad seat in the house.

    So c‘mon my fellow Wartburg Knights. Take the jump and come out to Denver. I can promise it’s #WartburgWorthIt.

    Thursday, October 19, 2017

    Yecenia Andrade Q&A: Most Commons Questions Asked in Denver


    This past weekend was Homecoming and I had the opportunity to return back to Wartburg’s main campus in Waverly, Iowa. Naturally, everyone I bumped into asked about my experience so far at Wartburg West. I found it a bit difficult to accurately depict my experiences thus far as it has all been a huge whirlwind. But here I will address the most common questions I was asked: 

    How’s Denver? Is it scary living in a city?
    Having been born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, I am no stranger to urban settings. Nevertheless, Denver and Phoenix are very different from one another, but both have provided me with completely new experiences. Living at the heart of the Mile-High City comes with many great surprises, ranging from random festivals taking place right outside my apartment window to breathtaking sights of snow-capped mountains. However, city living can also be quite stressful—especially for someone who is living for the first time ever far from home. Learning the hoops of budgeting, contacting landlords, dealing with homesickness, and navigating the complex RTD system are only few of the many challenges I have had to face. Regardless, these struggles have taught me many valuable lessons that are in turn preparing me for the “adult world”.

    Where are you interning? What do they have you do? Are you just doing coffee runs like seen on TV?
    Some of my best experiences so far have taken place at my internship site, Metro Caring. Metro Caring is a hunger prevention center that offers fresh food and produce as well as a variety of other free services to their participants. Their mission is to “meet people’s immediate need for nutritious food while also sustainably addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty.” As a nutrition intern (and a double major in Public Health and Spanish), I am taking part in the nutrition and cooking classes, translating process of documents, flyers, and posters, teaching participants to grocery shop healthfully on a budget, and partnering with the YMCA Spanish Diabetes Prevention Program. I am extremely grateful that my supervisor, since day one, has entrusted me with so many projects and responsibilities—despite the fact I am merely an undergrad sophomore with little to no experience. My time at Metro Caring has not only solidified my desire to help marginalized communities learn about nutrition, but it has also created a clear path on how to make my dream into a reality. Although challenging and at times tough to balance with homework and school, being an intern has overall been a definite highlight of my Wartburg West experience.

    What classes are you taking? Is the course work difficult? What do they have you do?  
    I am not joking when I state that I have gone on more field trips during my 2 months at Wartburg West than all of my years of prior education combined. I am currently taking RE324: Immigrant Communities and Their Religious Traditions in Denver, ID360: The Metropolis, and IS201: Self-Expression and Social Change in Denver and Beyond. While these classes are all writing intensive and require heavy readings, most of actual class time is spent outside the classroom. Our “field trips” have consisted of different museum exhibits, religious sites, local businesses, city parks, controversial plays, governmental offices, Panera pit stops…only to name a few. These trips have all had a powerful impact on my learning and understanding of several different topics surrounding social issues in and outside of Denver that affect us all as human beings. The discussions we have in class are all quite mind-opening and provoke a lot of self-reflection and awareness of the society we live in. These courses are not only teaching me the importance of time management, but they’ve also taught me many lessons about sustainability, interfaith communications, homelessness, equity and inclusion, and much, much more. I am excited to return home and to campus to share more about the new things I have learned!

    How many of you are there? WHERE do you take your classes?
    Six sophomores and three seniors…therefore nine. Nine burgies taking on Denver. Our classes take place at a church right across the street from our apartments. Let’s just say that we have all grown very close to one another (literally…we are all neighbors).

    Do you recommend it?
    Yes, but do know it is NOT a vacation. Expect a lot of course work, tiresome nights, busy days, and unexpected surprises (mainly good but a few not so good). But I could confidently say that it is #wartburgworthit.

    Monday, October 9, 2017

    Kailee O'Brien: New Perspective through New Experiences

    What is This World?

    It has been a little over a month since I began my exploration of a city I did not know. But, I have discovered that this city would teach me more about myself than I anticipated. Growing up in a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa, I knew what city life was like, but to the extent of Denver, Colorado, I did not. I have a poster hung up in my room that says, “If you never leave, you’ll never find the road home”.

    Because of numerous softball tournaments I participated in, I have traveled across the country with my family, going coast to coast just to play the best competition we could find. The biggest difference between traveling then and traveling now is, I am on my own. I am away from my family, my friends, my pets… everyone. The one thing I hold onto is the urge to travel.

    Though it is hard being away from them, I am seeing the world through my own eyes. I am able to go up into the mountains, and breathe in the freshest air that God has given. I am able to see people that are completely different than they are from Iowa.

    I have gained perspective. Whether it comes from different religious views, or simply the small acts that people do to make them happy, here in Denver, that scale is huge.

    I recently went to a tattoo shop. I knew I wanted to get something that reminded me of Denver and the numerous adventures I have taken. The only thing that came to mind was traveling. In the smallest form, I now have on my arm “wanderlust,” which means a strong desire to travel.

    While adventuring in Colorado, I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite bands, NEEDTOBREATHE at the Red Rocks Amphitheater. They have a song called “Keep Your Eyes Open,” and there is a line that says, “if you never leave home, never let go, you’ll never make it to the great unknown”.

    Being completely wanderlust in a city that is full of opportunities, I have fully kept my eyes open. I have left home to a place I never knew I would fall in love with. I have traveled the unknown and, more importantly, I have discovered how to be a stronger person than I was before. Denver has challenged me and has given me a newer perspective on the world. It is an experience I would never take back.

    Tuesday, October 3, 2017

    Maria Munguia on the City, Mountains, and Adventures of Wartburg West

    From small town Immokalee, Florida to small town Waverly, Iowa, I now find myself in the big city of Denver, Colorado. I always pictured myself living in a city, but I never imagined it to be this soon. I can’t believe I’m here, and I can’t believe I am living in Denver, Colorado. I have been exposed to the mountains, which is something I had never experienced before. Since I’ve been in Denver I have discovered a whole new Maria; I climbed Mount Elbert! I never in a million years thought I would be on the highest peak of Colorado, as I had never climbed anything before. I come from Florida, a pretty flat area with its occasional hill as you start heading up north. I didn’t think I could do the climb, but I did. I made it to the top of Mount Elbert, and that is so empowering for me to say. I felt like I was on top of the world, and I felt like I could do anything. I truly felt unstoppable, and amazing. We never think we can until we do it, and that’s why I say go for it.  I have learned how to live on my own so soon, and it has given me a glimpse at what will soon be my life and not just a semester experience. I have learned so much about Denver, and I can see why so many people are moving to this amazing city. I would be lying if I said I didn’t picture myself living here. There is so much to do, and not taking advantage of every opportunity here would be a loss to myself. I grew so much by leaving Florida and going to school in Iowa, and this experience is just helping me develop into the person I am called out to be. If you’re thinking about doing Wartburg West, I encourage you and support you. It may seem scary, but I promise you will love it just as much as I do. The mountains, the city, the adventures here are all calling your name. Do it, it’s so worth it. 
    Blessings,
    Maria Munguia

    Friday, September 22, 2017

    Mason McMillan: Transportation Lessons Learned in the Big City

    Waukon, Iowa: Population 3,500. Stoplights in town: one.
    Denver, Colorado: Population 3,200,000. Stoplights in town: thousands.

    You could say it’s been a bit of a culture shock learning how to get around in such a large city compared to where I’m from.

    My work-study advised me to bring a car, and so I did!  Driving in Denver is not difficult as long as you use GPS or know your route.  I personally like to use Google Maps because the app will point out parts of your desired route and explain if traffic will be heavy or congested.  Making sure that you have enough time to get to your destination and time to park is a major key to driving in Denver.

    Driving in Denver is much different than driving in my hometown of Waukon, Iowa. Unlike Waukon, Denver has thousands of stoplights and intersections.  I never have to worry about rush hour or congested traffic in Waukon, but in Denver, it is the complete opposite.  To get to my work-study location, I do take main roads that can be congested at times.  There is no specific time of rush hour; it differs every day.

    Parking can be very frustrating, but everyone is in the same predicament.  If you are bringing a car to Denver, I highly recommend practicing parallel parking before coming to Denver.  I have to parallel park almost every day, and before I came to Denver, I never really had to parallel park.  When parking, one has to pay very close to the parking signs.  Every road is different and the parking signs differ as well. Parking violations can be very costly, and having a car towed can cost up to $350.

    However, you definitely don’t need a car to be able to get around Denver!  If I didn’t need a car for my work study, I would not have brought a car.  The bus and light rail systems are easy to use.  People can look up directions online or on Google Maps on where to board and exit the bus to be able to get around town.  The Kimberly apartments are located in a great part of Denver for accessing the public transportation routes.  The apartments are close to downtown but still out of the commotion.

    Driving in Denver has taught me a lot about living in a heavily populated city.  I am glad that I took this opportunity to study in Denver because it is helping me decide if I want to live in a city after college.  I am looking forward to all of the educational experiences and memories that are to come!


    Mason McMillan ’20 is a current sophomore attending the Urban Studies program this semester in Denver, Colorado. During his semester in Denver he is taking part in the “sophomore experience” which consists of three essential education classes as well as a work study with a local business - Nostalgic Homes Realty. Back on campus, Mason is a Business Administration major and also a Knightcaller for the Annual Giving office.