UPDATE: Trailing Spouses Lose Benefits in Kansas

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Most of the traffic to my site is about unemployment benefits for trailing spouses.  I realized today that Kansas law changed in 2012 so that non-military spouses who quit their jobs to relocate for their spouse’s job are NOT entitled to unemployment benefits.

Read more here:  2011 Senate Bill 77 http://www.kscpa.org/about/news/37-unemployment_bill_sb_77_passes_the_senate_2_15

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Gun Culture Shock

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Upon arrival in Wichita, one thing we noticed immediately is that most buildings had this sticker on its doors.  It is a handgun encircled in red with with a red strike-through diagonally across it. I had never seen this before and it immediately aroused my curiosity.

When I asked about it, I was told it meant “No Concealed Weapons,” which made sense since most places I frequented were public, government or service-provider buildings, places like universities, banks or non-profits.  I was glad for the ban in those places but troubled that there was even a need for the sign.  I guess that meant that guns were allowed in other places? It did explain somehow the preoccupation with local news with gun shooting incidents, as well as, the reserved and polite etiquette in regular interactions with locals.  No reason to get shot for incivility, right? A lot of this was new to me and a little unsettling.

Upon further reflection, I thought surely Oregon was a safer, smart, more responsible gun state. When I lived there, gun ownership was not regularly discussed and there certainly weren’t those [scary] stickers on every door. People didn’t boast about their views on gun ownership. In the cities, people are very rude, and I never worried about being shot. Unfortunately, I was wrong: According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Oregon earned a “D” on its gun laws in 2013.  Kansas was only a few steps behind with its grade “F”.

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Grades have been assigned based on the strength of each state’s gun laws. A state in blue (or orange) has one of the ten lowest (or highest) gun death rates of all fifty states. Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2013.

Overall, there were “75 laws in 29 states made it easier for people to own guns, carry guns in public places—including schools, churches, restaurants, bars, and casinos—and made it harder for the government to track guns” (Mark Follman, Mother Jones, “More Than Half of Americans Now Have Tougher Gun Laws.”) 

A study conducted by The American Journal of Medicine concluded that gun laws don’t make a nation safer.

In July 2013, Kansas changed its concealed carry laws so that guns are allowed in government buildings and those other places where they were once prohibited.

I am fully aware of the Bill of Rights and the Second Amendment. Heck, my dad polished his guns in front of me and I had shooting lessons at the range when I was little.  And it isn’t as though I’ve never seen military-grade weapons either:  In Switzerland, I saw a machine gun in the shoe closet because all Swiss men serve military time and must be ready to defend. As a tourist in Italy, I saw policemen with machine guns during the course of their regular activities.

I am just not accustomed to this facet of culture, to this Gun Culture, being in my awareness all the time. I am not used to hearing gun shots night and day, and being woken up in the middle of the night to gun shots outside my house; gun shots so close I could see the spark. I am not used to people claiming to be liberals but in the same sentence talking about their right to bear arms; I still find myself surprised that local news talks about the issue so much. The annual Gun Show in Wichita is one of the few things to do this time of year.

It is just another kind of culture shock.

Tallgrass Kanza Prairie

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Tallgrass Kanza Prairie

“The Kaw Nation (or Kanza) are a federally recognized American Indian tribe in Oklahoma. They come from the central Midwestern United States. The tribe known as Kaw have also been known as the “People of the South wind”, “People of water”, Kansa, Kaza, Kosa, and Kasa. Their tribal language is Kansa, classified as a Siouan language.”–Wikipedia

Big Bluestem, Silver bluestem, Indian grass and many other species of grasses once covered at least 170 millions acres across North America. Today, less than four percent remains. Click on the photo to link to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve website to learn more.

Lost and Found: Statues and Fountains

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Ok, so I’m never really “lost.”

I just like exploring and fortunately this town has a little gem around every turn. My first month here I was delighted to discover all the public art: Wichita has an extraordinary amount of public art for the city’s size.  There are murals, statues, fountains, and monuments.

I like the statues and fountains best. There is a book I found that states there is at least 300 statues in this town. Wichita State University also has a virtual tour of its statues here.  Some statues are little fountains too.  Here are some of my favorites:

The Keeper of Plains is part of the Arkansas River bike path system in Wichita.  This beautiful statue is within walking distance of my house.

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At the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Arkansas Rivers, The Keeper of Plains keeps eternal watch over sacred Native American Indian grounds. Donated to the People of Wichita from Blackbear Boisin.

Cowtown Entrance

Frolicking Children with Burbling Brook. Wichita Central Library Outside reading area.

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Part of a larger outdoor art installation at the corner of 3rd and N. Washington.

Corner Clock and Barefoot Reading Man. At his feet are little bubblers.

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Kinetic art installation at the Rotary park across from the Coleman museum. The top spins freely in the wind while the lower cogs move more deliberately. Corner of 3rd and N. St. Francis.
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Eagle at the Wichita Central Public Library outdoor reading area.

Top of courthouse

Sedgwick County Historic Courthouse

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Entrance of new Courthouse. Replica of Liberty Bell.

Staring, politeness, tailgating. This place rocks, man.

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I wasn’t accustomed to being the odd one.  So it took me by surprise that people stared at us. All the time: In Walgreens, in the grocery store, on the sidewalk, while driving by.  They would see me on my bike and crane their necks out the window as if I had green skin and two heads.

I also wasn’t very experienced with super duper kindness in person upon the first time meeting but then the cold shoulder otherwise after that. But that is how we were (are) sometimes treated here. It makes me leery of any kindness extended, because I am unsure this person will speak to me again.

Finally, I had to adjust my own driving style to accommodate the TAILGATING here! It is so scary.  I just drive a little slower than the speed limit and put my blinker on way before I need to turn.  So many cars here are dented (or worse) and it doesn’t take a genius to understand it’s because of the way they drive.

Of course, now that I’m used to these things, I realize also that people aren’t as touchy feely as I’m used to and aren’t as responsive to conversational opinions either.  Most times I just get a blank stare when I say something. To soothe the awkwardness of social interactions and ease into another culture, consider the following:

  • It is easy to romanticize where you formerly lived and think where you live currently is full of odd cultural ticks.  Even though you might still be in the US, there are regional and even municipal cultural aspects that differ significantly place to place. Accept it: What’s normal for you is balls-out weird for others.
  • Personal space is a key cultural factor.  Figure it out. For example, most people don’t want to be hugged by a stranger during a conversation, but that’s how people operate in Eugene, Oregon. Conversely, I was hugged by an elderly Latina as I dropped her off at her appointment when I was a driver for the Red Cross here in Wichita; I have never seen her again. It just depends.
  • All citizens in the US either are immigrants or descendents of immigrants.  That means that another country’s culture has been transplanted here as well.  So it could help you understand some nuances by learning about what settlers colonized where you live and then read a travel guide on cultural competency for the original country. For example, it helped me to understand that parts of Kansas were colonized by religious Swiss immigrants.  Since I’ve lived in Switzerland too, I started recognizing cultural similarities in small Kansas towns and here in Wichita.  In fact, for some people in Kansas German is their mother tongue, so some Kansas government documents have a German-language version.  Cool!
  • Change.  Don’t do what is comfortable to you.  Mimic and imitate. Observe what locals do. You might fit in more quickly and get a favorable response sooner.  Instead of expecting chatty customer service, I state the facts now and reduce my friendliness to wait staff unless they initiate something more.
  • Get a sense of humor (that’s culturally sensitive).  Everyone likes a good laugh!

What have you done to adapt to your new place?  Let me know in the comments!