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.

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