December Retreat – My Reflection

The December Retreat was the second What’s the Story retreat this year. It was the opportunity to really sit down with our groups and start to plan for the upcoming interviews we had. I remember last retreat being terrified to talk in front of the group and to even be in the same room with them. However, this time I was excited, ready to have a weekend full of learning and communicating and planning with my team.

One of the first things we did on Saturday was get into our teams and reflect on the past month. We talked about what went well and what didn’t. Our group said that we worked well together and managed to stay mostly in touch, accomplishing more than if we had gone out on our own. Granted, we did have some mistakes where we had some inconsistency of blogging and events that would come up and prioritize over the hangout time. But we were also flexible to each other’s schedules and respectfully listened to each other’s ideas, forgetting the age gap that others would find distracting. When we thought about what we had learned, we agreed that we had learned about the importance of communication and grew to know each other more in between the two retreats.

Then it was time to pull out the media kits. This I was particularly excited for because who wouldn’t love big black brief cases that make us feel important and technology that was new to some of us but fun to all. We learned how to set up the tripod and how to put the camera on it. We then learned about the microphones that you attached and the importance of making sure they’re on before you start the interview.

After lunch, Jason Mittell then came and talked to us. He was a videographer and taught us about lighting, thirds, the importance of the footage and clothing to show character, and eye position. After he left, we got out the cameras and took short videos using his tips and advice to start to get experience and familiarity with the cameras. Justin, Nigel, Brennan, and I created two videos, one staring Nigel and the other staring Brennan.

We then learned about what makes an interesting story. The three things that make a story engaging is to have action, reflection, and stakes. Action, or motion, catches the listener’s ear, making them anticipate a climax. Reflection allows the listener to get inside the character’s head. It makes it relatable  and gives a moral to the story. Stakes are what keeps the listener on their toes. It gives purpose to the story, makes the main character have something they need to do. These three things are what really makes a story listenable to the audience. We then went to eat dinner.

As Saturday began to close, we focused our attention on one final thing before break and bed. We listened to a TED Talk about the beliefs of liberals and conservatives and how to convince someone to agree with you. We talked about how sometimes you try to force the facts down your opponents throat, believing they can’t deny the facts, but instead only make them retaliate more and therefore getting mad at you. Tim O’Leary talked about how you can win someone over without using moral righteousness. My team than talked about how we should do that with our topic. I said that to make someone agree with you, you should make it clear that you don’t know the whole story yet, that you only know one side, but that you would like to learn the other so you can truly understand what goes on in their heads. Brennan then argued that we then wouldn’t really be making a case or an argument and we might not create the change we want to. I saw where he was coming from and agreed with him and considered my idea a bit more. Our team came to the conclusion that we don’t know enough to make a decision yet.

Finally, we played Anomia before heading off to bed for a new day.

Sunday rolled around and we started to focus on what to do in the next couple of months until our next retreat which will be in February. We planned to do Google Hangouts every Tuesday at 4:30 from the 13th of December to the 7th of February. We agreed to have a Google Doc that held information about  interviewees and dates of interviews. We would have updates through emails and would put new ideas and questions on a Google Doc too.

After a lunch of Thai food from Sugar Snap Catering, we Google Hangouted with our sister program WtS Louisville, Kentucky. We discussed what we were doing, what we had done, and what was to come.

Like we did in the November Retreat, we were asked to sit down and write a blog post that was about our reflection of this past weekend. I thought for a while, and then started to write.

I loved the sense of purpose that came from this weekend. Over the month separation, I had gotten used to the routine of answering a question per week. It was relieving and enthralling at the same time to feel the importance of what we were doing. I am now excited to start to do interviews and videoing, because it shows progress, that I haven’t been sitting around doing blog posts and group video chats for nothing. It proves there will still be a final or semi-final outcome that will show what we’ve accomplished and will hopefully make a difference.

The individuality within the program was also a relief. School doesn’t necessarily allow the individual exploration that What’s the Story does. I understand why not, sometimes the school has 800 students and can’t do that without a major crisis happening, but I feel independence is extremely important for the learning process of a teenager. Being able to go and sit down with a group of people roughly my age with a little adult guidance and talk about a task we all wanted to do was amazing and it really reminded me what this program is trying to install in people.

We are now being thrown out of the nest, so to speak, and are really taking this project into our own hands, even more so than before. I’m a little nervous because it’s a big responsibly, but at the same time, I’ve only ever been this excited about an education project a few times. What’s the Story is an amazing experience, one I’m so glad I didn’t turn down.  I can’t wait to continue to explore, learn new things, and challenge myself along the way.


Elsa Lindenmeyr

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