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In Reflection…

Posted from Cerritos, California, United States.

I cannot believe that I almost didn’t go to New Orleans!!! I was on the fence about joining the NOLA trip in my last semester before I graduate. I commute from Orange County and barely have enough time to fit everything in as it is, let alone go on a two and a half week Service Learning trip during my Spring Break.  A Spring Break wherein I could have been spending my time completing precious homework, finishing the last of my field work, and catching up on my hours at my workplace(s). Against my better judgment, I decided to apply for the trip and let Dr. Anderson’s decision determine if I should go on the trip. Here I am four months later reminiscing on the absolute most amazing experience of my entire life.

I have visited other states and countries before, done service/volunteer work before, and participated in research and data collection before. But nothing in my entire life could have prepared me for the experience that was New Orleans. Going in to the trip my practical knowledge of what I would be encountering in and around New Orleans consisted of; 1) bring lots of bug spray, 2) bring pants that will hold up to blackberry bushes, and 3) get a lot of sleep before you come because you’re not going to get any while you’re there (and if you like sleep, it’s going to suck). Of those three things, my biggest concern was that I would be tired and not be able to perform in the field. I didn’t think too much about the bugs or blackberry because I was honestly too preoccupied worrying about not getting enough sleep. As it turned out, I actually never even realized how tired I was until I returned home to California. I’m actually embarrassed now that this was even a concern of mine. The work we were doing and experiences that we were having in Louisiana were so non-stop, so fun, so rewarding, and so emotionally and intellectually stimulating I didn’t have time to feel tired. So it turned out that my first two “concerns” were indeed true (so painfully true) and factor that I was most concerned about turned out to be a non-issue…figures!

I’ve never worked so hard in my life and I loved every second of it. I will never be able to recreate a trip with the amount of camaraderie, joy, fun, hard work, and cultural immersion. We were doing work that at first glance might have seemed trivial to some or something that was barely making a dent in the ominous future that New Orleans now faces, but it is really making a difference in the big picture. We were able to see the fruits of our labor while planting a community garden in Buras. We saw the smile on Carol’s face (the man whose property was home to our food garden), the relief he felt knowing that he wouldn’t have to plant a garden alone with his bum leg (torn up in the wake of Katrina), and joy at the thought he and his neighbors would have fresh vegetables in the future to help ease the strain on his budget (a budget that lord knows is limited after losing everything he owned when the levee broke).

I am so humbled and grateful to have been a part of this trip. The live music and delicious food after long days of hard work in the swamp, the fun times with professors and students alike, the relationships that were built between CSUCI and the people of New Orleans, getting to cook traditional New Orleans food with produce purchased directly from the people of New Orleans themselves, being able to connect with students from another university (Tulane) who may never get the opportunity to do the work like we were doing at Woodlands Trail again, and all of the other amazing experiences that we had on this trip all rolled together. I can’t even imagine that I almost missed this opportunity.

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