Austin, Texas. The fastest growing city in America and a hub of culture and the arts. Also, the location of the 2018 PRSA and PRSSA National Conference. The upcoming week is one that will be filled with great learning experiences and memories to be made. So here’s a series of blog posts documenting my experience thus far.
Thursday, October 4. Day 1
This conference marks quite a few firsts, at least for me and my girlfriend Kelsey. My first time at a conference. My first time in Texas. My first time flying independently. This is Kelsey’s first time in an airplane. When asked what she thought about her first time being in the stratosphere she replied, “What? My ears hurt,” Oh well. A tame reaction compared to the anxiety she had mounting on our way to the airport.
As this is the first time I’ve been to a conference like this (any conference I guess), I’m not sure what to expect. I packed six different outfits in casual, business casual and business professional, as well as three in what I like to call “California Warm Semi-Casual” which essentially translates to shorts, a short sleeve button-up (sometimes with patterns) and boat shoes.
The stress of packing and the ever-looming fear that I forgot something (I did, my sunglasses) aside, it was a quite pleasant trip to get down here. Two hours from West Lafayette to Mishawaka to get Kelsey and two hours to Chicago for our hotel. To be honest, I was so excited I didn’t even realize how tired I was at 4:30 in the morning to leave the hotel. A quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and a delayed flight later and we were officially on our way to Keep Austin Weird. One thing I hadn’t planned out very well was timing out our flight and AirBnb reservation. Our flight arrived at 10:30am and we can’t check in until 4pm.
As I write this, I’m sitting on our luggage on the lawn of the South Mall at the University of Texas at Austin waiting for four o’clock to roll around so we can at least put the luggage somewhere.
While I’m sitting here, two things are running through my mind.
- University of Texas has a rather pretty campus nestled into a large bustling city. I’m pleasantly surprised at how much they were able to maintain the college campus feel in such a large city.
- I’m definitely triple checking to make sure the times match up next time. Or at least set aside some extra money to be able to rent a car.
As far as what we’ll do once we check in, I’m not sure yet. Registration and some conference events begin tomorrow during the day with the opening ceremony tomorrow at 7pm. So we have some time to kill. Our Uber driver suggested we check out Sixth Street if we have time.
Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?
Friday, October 5. Day 2
One of my favorite things I get to do with the PRSSA right now is the opportunity to tour companies to see what life is like out there in the real world. Last year my chapter at Purdue was able to take tours in Indianapolis and I got to tour Eli Lilly’s global headquarters. I remember how much awe I was in from the sheer size of it and how many communicators worked there. It was the first time I felt legitimized in what I was passionate and what I wanted to do. The first time I saw what this field really looked like, and I was beyond excited. It left a lasting impression on me.
Today, I felt that rush all over again when I had the opportunity to tour Edelman’s Austin office.
Edelman is a major player in the PR world, with offices in over 60 countries. They’ve worked with clients like Adobe, Dove, Samsung and Lego. Working at an agency with the reach like Edelman’s is a dream of mine, so I jumped at the chance to tour their office while I was in Austin.
The tour was a great way to start out my first conference experience. I met and connected with students from across the country and met with professionals in the same position I hope to be in soon.
Aside from the Edelman tour, there wasn’t much going on Friday, as most people were still arriving and checking in. So, Kelsey and I had a good chance to explore the city. Austin continued to surprise me. The downtown area is extremely walkable and filled with local businesses and culture abound. We noted how few chains we had seen while exploring. No Walmart, McDonalds or Burger King. Everywhere we looked, there was something different and new, waiting for us to try it.
My two favorite examples: A barbershop that throws in a complimentary craft beer with every haircut and a restaurant that focuses exclusively on chicken tenders, Happy Chicks. I was able to snap a couple pictures at Happy Chicks. Easily the best chicken tenders I have ever had, and great fries to boot!
After a day of exploring Austin, I began to adore the city and its culture. The people were friendly, the city was beautiful and there was a seemingly limitless supply of new food and activities to try.
We ended up finishing the night with the welcoming ceremony with a 70s theme. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo from this one, but our chapter president introduced the rest of us to the chapter from UIndy, the University of Indianapolis. The UIndy chapter not only became great companions to go through the rest of the conference with us, but also great friendships to bring home with us!
We rounded out the night with a walk down Sixth Street, a nightlife hub in Austin. The city blocked off the street to allow people to walk down the road. The street was lined with unique bars and restaurants that were all tempting, but most notable was Voodoo Donuts. One of our chapter members, Adam, had head about Voodoo Donuts, and insisted we try it. It did not disappoint.
Overall, Friday was a great kickoff to the conference. We had time to explore and familiarize ourselves with the city, we made new friends that we would get to spend the rest of conference with and we got just one of many amazing food experiences.