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Daily archives "April 7, 2015"

3 Articles

Final Thoughts

Posted from Cerritos, California, United States.

My name is Stephanie Jamal. I am a student in the Communication Program at California State University Channel Islands. Recently, I was given an opportunity to participate in a Service Learning course offered by the Environmental Science and Resource Management Program at my University. The course offers undergraduate students a chance to gain field experience for roughly two weeks in New Orleans, Louisiana. I’ll be honest; I did not know what I was in for before I applied for the course. Additionally, I don’t think any of my previous experience in my academic or personal life could have truly prepared me for what we endured. The craziest part of all this, each of us could have been lounging pool side back in California. Soaking up the sun, enjoying our Spring Break.

Instead, we shuffled through the murky waters of the Delacroix swamp hoping not encounter a venomous snake. For days on end we bathed ourselves in DEET, aiming to avoid satisfying an ever-hungry and persistent beast (commonly known as the mosquito). Amidst long hours of fieldwork, we recreated our childhood Star Wars fantasies of pretending our machetes were actually lightsabers. We slashed and crawled through the unforgiving thorns of overgrown blackberry bushes that tore at our clothes and skin.

We didn’t do this because someone forced us to. No one paid us to do the labor intensive activities we performed. We went of our own free will. We went because we wanted to. We wanted to learn. We wanted to help. We wanted to experience. It is one thing to be told what you are learning is important. It is completely different to actually experience and understand it first hand. Programs like this don’t just provide an opportunity for students to gain experience. They also contribute much needed time to communities. This, I believe to be the reason why Service Learning is so vital to the survival of society.

We went to New Orleans because we wanted to learn. We wanted to help and experience something completely different from what we knew. In reality, what we experienced in Louisiana was far greater than what any of us could have anticipated. What we took back with us was much more than simple memories or a gold star on a resume. What we took back was a connection.

A Trip to Remember

Posted from Cerritos, California, United States.

Before leaving for the trip, our class explored some of the history of New Orleans, culture of Louisiana, and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. But actually being in New Orleans, experiencing that culture, and actually seeing the lingering devastation spurred by Hurricane Katrina was nothing I expected to experience so intensely. Several things touched me most deeply; speaking with locals who experienced Katrina and reliving their stories, speaking with professors who care so much about their community, hearing about the lawsuits pushing big oil companies to clean up and restore the wetlands, and reporters who wrote about the storm/environmental issues/political milieu of New Orleans.

In addition to all these individual learning experiences, we were able to do hands on work to directly help the cause. I learned so much trudging through the swamp, identifying native and invasive plants, collecting data, learning to work with different teams, and overcoming many types of discomforts.

I left New Orleans with my eyes opened to the issues our friends there face…and the politics that go along hand in hand with those issues. I am now aware of the problems. Hopefully, I will be able to make others aware too by fostering education, engaging in more research, and taking political actions. I thank CSUCI and Dr. Anderson for the amazing opportunity to help, be involved, and to learn about this fragile area and its amazing culture and history.

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I learned how to cook a creole tomato sauce over shrimp and rice.

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Learning from the great Dr. Steve Nelson from Tulane University about the levee system in New Orleans.

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Enjoying a wonderful evening at Woodlands Plantation.

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And I got to meet the amazing trumpeter Irvin Mayfield!

Looking back

Posted from Camarillo, California, United States.

New Orleans is easily the most amazing place I have ever been. I will never forget my experience with our ESRM 492 class and inspired by the kind nature of the city’s residents, the phenomenal musicians, and the diverse culture that blessed New Orleans.

Exploring the French Quarter during our first days in town gave me an impression of the people native to the area. Absolutely everyone I encountered had a smile and kind words for the work our class was doing for the city and region.  Paul Sanchez strengthened this impression with his pronounced “thank you” to our class with free CDs and a public mentioning of our hard work during his fanatic set at Chickie Wah Wahs. I was also inspired by the love that the city’s residents had for New Orleans and how that in turn fed their history, culture, and family.

Everywhere we went it seemed that there were street musicians, artists, and other performers livening up the scene. Every club, social establishment, or venue we visited had some of the most talented musicians I ever had the pleasure of hearing. These musicians were well versed in the musical history and culture of the city and assisted in making my New Orleans trip even more unforgettable.

The liveliness of New Orleans was most evident in the parades the city seemed to have most nights we were there. There were parades for St. Patrick’s Day,  St. Joseph’s Day, and a small parade for every wedding that took place in the quarter.  I was amazed by New Orleans’ friendliness with artists and street performers. Unlike Los Angeles, I can actually believe that a performing musician can make it comfortably in New Orleans.

The work our group did in the wetlands was grueling and labor intensive but impossibly rewarding for all of us when we thought about what the city now means to us (and I suspect anybody else who has ever experienced the Crescent City).  We were reminded of this sentiment whenever a loud soul would shout “CORNBREAD!” at the top of their lungs to raise moral in the swamp. That food will forever be a rallying cry for the group that took this trip to the beautiful New Orleans.