Traveling Made Me a Better Sorority Woman

Song Vibe of this Article: Paint by The Paper Kites 

They say that being in a sorority makes you a better woman. Some say otherwise (not so positive things), but I can speak from my experience and mine alone. My time in a sorority changed my life for the better. It taught me how to be a better friend, have confidence in myself, that every woman has her flaws, to love my body, not to be afraid to embarrass myself, and not to be afraid. It wasn't always like that, however, and took time for me to get to a place where I could give back to KD the way it gave to me. 

If you were to ask me in passing about my time in KD, I'll be more likely to tell you about the nights I spent getting ready for formals with my sisters, drunken late night bagels in our house kitchen, stupid matching recruitment outfits, or how much I loved/hated sharing a room with my five best friends. But KD is so much deeper than that. 

Kappa Delta found me when I was at a dark place. My first month of pledgeship left me facing the loss of one of my best friends, experiencing my first true heartbreak (followed shortly after by a second one), awkwardly attempting to adjust to my first time living away from home (unless you count my few weeks a year at sleepaway camp) and trying to understand why the hell I chose to move from Chicago to Missouri (although I still grapple with that one). And my first few days as a newfound KD weren't so gracious either, as rush week found me constantly tearful and clamoring to find the answer as to why my mother's sorority (which I was forever destined to be a part of) had dropped me. Now add the introduction of my first sips of alcohol into the mix, and my first year of college became less than glamorous.

Suddenly, I had lost track of who I had become. I had gone from being the church-going girl I was in high school to being a sorority girl, which in my mind, were two completely different arenas. My best friends from home were the ones I made at church, and our relationships were strengthened by that bond. My identity was defined by that part of me. But as soon as I started college, my skirts became shorter, my heels grew higher, and if you took a sample of my blood at age 18, it more than likely was .01 percent cranberry vodka at all times. 

I'm not an outlier here, and can almost guarantee that most other women have experienced some sort of identity crisis at the start of college. Which is why I cannot attribute my newfound love for partying directly to my sorority, but moreso from a mix of emotions, confusion, and trying to figure out where the hell I fit in this big huge world. Was I the church girl, or the sorority girl? Turns out, as I now know, I am neither. 

Those first two years of college, Kappa Delta gave me so much more than I could possibly give it. While I didn't realize it at the time, those drunken nights at Delta Sigma Phi paled in comparison to the fits of laughter I had with my roommates on the floor of the "6-man" (the name of the room I shared with my five best friends), or curled up on the sofa watching the Victoria's Secret Fashion show surrounded by 50 girls I love, or fort building under our bunk beds, or being snowed into a dorm building with some of my closest friends for four days. It took until my breaking point to figure out that those sober nights with my sisters, and not the drunken ones, were the ones that would go on to shape my identity. Just the same that my interactions with my youth group friends from high school, not the actual youth group itself, have made me who I am today, despite their diminished presence in my life now.

For those first two years, I took and took and took from Kappa Delta. I got the friends, the letters plastered across my chest, the themed socials, the Instagram photos, the incredible support system that I so desperately needed, and a refuge when I needed it. When I left to study in Spain, I had a chance to step away from Kappa Delta and realize who I was without it. Alexander Solzhenitsyn said "when you've robbed a man of everything, he's free again." For the first time in my life, I had become stripped of every part of my identity. I wasn't a church-going girl, I wasn't a sorority girl, and I wasn't who anyone else wanted me to be except myself. Spain left me alone in a country where I knew not a soul, in a place where I could be who I wanted to be, without any identity attached to my name. 

Me with two of my seeeeesters in Ireland 

Me with two of my seeeeesters in Ireland 

As I took the time to learn who I was without Kappa Delta, I realized how desperately I needed it, and how desperately it needed me, but not the me that it knew before. I owed it to my sisters to love myself so I could love them in the way that they had loved me. I had never really felt like a sorority girl. But that's because being a sorority woman isn't who you are, it becomes a part of the rest of you. I wish I could have told my 18 year old self that very statement. Being a "sorority girl" didn't mean that I was the drunk girl at Delt Sig on a Wednesday, but it meant that I can be myself with a whole epic squad to rival Taylor's in my corner, and I can be someone's Gigi Hadid whenever she needs it. 

Someone wise (read: everyone) on Instagram probably said: "in order to love others, you must first love yourself" or some sort of variation of that quote. While I can share my story, I'm no anomaly. There are reasons that we travel, and each person's varies, but I can almost guarantee that most of us travel for some sort of personal betterment. Traveling gives us the freedom to know ourselves away from all the distractions of every day life, from material possessions, to personal relationships, to the comfort and complacency that comes with every day life. As strange as it sounds, sometimes the best way to combat personal loneliness is to force yourself into further loneliness, stripping yourself of all things you know to be consistent in your life. This way, you allow yourself to fail, struggle, and even drown in order to learn how you cope with hard problems, relationships, and tragedy. Once you know who you are at your very core, you've built a foundation that allows you to know who you are in relation to other people.

Healthy friendships and sisterhoods form when two people are content enough in themselves to be comfortable around the other, open up to the other, be vulnerable with the other, and express love and happiness for the other. Sometimes that we think that simply loving someone can be enough. I am first to admit that I've spent most of my life as a victim to this narrative. Ask any man I dated throughout college. I could never give myself over fully because I wasn't stable enough to stand on my own. 'But shouldn't me loving him just be enough?' Love, on its own, at its very core, is never fully enough. We cannot sustain the lashes of someone else's pain if we cannot sustain our own. 

While this may seem longwinded, there's an important point to be made here, at least in terms of my own personal journey. I would never have discovered these things had I not traveled. My final year of college after returning home from traveling was a new, tremendous time of self-discovery, as I learned to integrate my new-found love for myself into my old friendships. By no means was it a smooth ride, but finally, I had internal strength to put forward my whole self into my worthwhile friendships, and to let go of toxic friendships that could no longer be sustained without my prior pain. Now was my chance to repay my KD sisters for the three years they had stood behind me, holding me up, as I learned to stand on my own. But that reparation cannot be done in a year, and shouldn't be done with a year. In all avoidance in being a cliche, basic betch, my sisterhood in Kappa Delta will last forever. Even if I never once return to my sorority house, and my Comfort Colors t-shirts begin to collect dust at the back of my closet, the women I met and will continue to meet through my network of sisters continues to strengthen, fuel, and encourage me every day. And in some years, I know that those girls who stood by my side during my first two years in college will be the girls standing by my side on my wedding day, and vice versa, but only because I had the courage to allow myself to love me for who I truly am first. 

I owe so many thanks to these women for allowing me to find myself before giving myself to them. The love I have for myself now, I only can attribute to traveling, which took time, patience, and understanding. My sisters could have so easily walked away (considering we pay for our friends!!), but I am one of the lucky ones. Today, they live thousands of miles away from me, but thanks to technology, it feels just like they're sleeping in the bunk bed above me again. 

6 man residents during senior year recruitment 

6 man residents during senior year recruitment 

Got a story about how traveling strengthened your friendships? I'd love to hear it. Share it with me in the comments down below! And to all my KD sisters, AOT!