Saturday, November 19

“Nobody said it was easy, nobody said it would be so hard, oh take me back to the start”

Just about 21 days and 5,000 miles later, here I sit typing the final blog entry in the shotgun seat of one of the 12-passenger vans (Candie is driving). People are sprawled throughout the van, curled up with one another, cat-napping, in quiet conversation, or listening to a mix CD playing a Bare Naked Ladies song at the moment. As I look around the van, I can’t help but smile and laugh to myself. Wow, what a trip. Seventeen random acquaintances from Dickinson College, brought together by one common factor; a passion for studying environmental challenges. Besides that one common factor, we are as diverse as they come; we represent seven states, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, fraternities, sororities, service organizations, tree kids, sports teams, the outing club, and Res Life (just to name a few). We are each a piece of a very large jigsaw puzzle, called the LUCE semester. Together, we ventured off on a three week excursion. This is it; the final 100 miles or so of the trip.

As I sit here with the incredibly difficult task of writing a final entry to encompass the past three weeks, a thought seems to appear from nowhere. All through college at Dickinson, we are ingrained time and time again with this need to “engage the world”. Often times, this idea can be misconceived to seem as though one must first leave the country in order to “engage the world”. In all actuality, having studied abroad last year, I once had this same view. The past three weeks, however, have taught me that you do not need to leave the country to engage the world. In fact, they have made me wonder how you can feasibly say that you have “engaged the world” if you haven’t first “engaged” your own country.

For 21 days, we have studied everything from Mountain Top Removal to Vanishing Wetlands. We have spoken with members from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the National Estuary Program, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Coal River Mountain Watch, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratories (that’s not even half of them). We attended the Louisiana Environmental Action Network Conference, we listened to Big Jack Johnson play at an original juke joint, we had a tour of New Orleans with the famous Wilma Subra, we heard from the “King of the Oysters” (Earl Melancon) and the “Queen of the Dead Zone” (Nancy Rabalais), and we toured swamps with the Atchafalaya River Basin Keeper (Dean Wilson). I could go on and on, listing the people we met, the places we visited, and the things we got to see, but that’s what the rest of the blogs are for, so read them.

I guess my point in the above paragraph is to show that it really isn’t necessary to leave the country in order to “engage the world”. We learned more in the past three weeks than most people learn in their four years of college. I am fully confident of that statement. A 21-day trip with only two days “completely to ourselves”, kept us on our toes and constantly moving. Even on our two days off, we were out and about, talking with locals, explaining what the purpose of our trip was, and listening to what they had to say. I found myself oftentimes forgetting I was in college. Whereas most undergrad students find themselves in the classroom or library reading about other parts of the country (save for science students who have lab once or twice a week), we were given front row seats to real life experiences.

Eighteen months ago, initial plans for the Louisiana field trip started to take shape and form. Candie and Heiman made phone calls, sent emails, researched, visited, and set all of our activities. Completely confident that things were going to go as planned and no major issues would occur, the two profs put the finishing touches on lectures and curriculum, in anticipation of the first ever LUCE semester. August 28, 2005, changed everything, with the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. All at once, the feasibility of going to Louisiana was up in the air. The proceeding weeks left all of us wondering whether or not the trip, which Candie and Heiman had put so much into, would still be possible. When the announcement was made that we were still good to go, a large sigh of relief was emitted from the group. That’s when Rita reared her ugly head. Once again, the situation was up in the air. The one thing that never changed, however, was the composure of our fearless professors. Somehow, they managed to remain pretty calm towards us, even though all of their hard-work and dedication was being slowly taken away.

In the end, everything worked out just fine. Yes, our semester took on a whole new perspective with the arrival of the Katrina and Rita, but it went more smoothly than anyone would have thought. We made the trip, no one was hurt, everyone got along really well, we learned more than is humanly possible, we met nationally known and respected leaders of organizations throughout Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and we got a real feel for the various cultures, tastes, and traditions, in each place we visited. We took book learning to a whole new level. Instead of just reading books and learning concepts, we “lived” books and we “dissected” concepts. We obtained a true grasp on real life issues and problems, and we considered possible solutions. Even more, instead of strictly being lectured by the people we met, we got the chance to “walk in their shoes” and see what they deal with day-in and day-out.

I am fully confident that this trip would not have been anywhere near as amazing as it was, if it were not for my 16 “brothers and sisters.” I can’t even begin to explain how close I feel to everyone who went on this trip, including the two professors (now known as our adopted parents). I have never looked more forward to waking up at 7:30am, as much as I have on this trip. You’d think people would get sick of one another, but no, not us. We spent every waking hour together (and sleeping for that matter). We were confined to 12-passenger vans sometimes for 12-hour drives. “Alone time” was a foreign concept and “sleeping-in” did not exist. And yet, every day, every hour, every minute, no matter what, people were in high spirits and generally excited for what was next on the list. I will truly never forget anyone who went on this trip. Each person was so dynamic and so different, it was absolutely indescribable. We really have become a family. You can laugh at that, feel free, but the truth is, we are probably closer than most “actual” families.

Now in Virginia, we have just started our final leg of the journey. We’re about to re-enter the world and life that we left what seems like, a lifetime ago. We’ll go back to our normal college lives, living in random places with random people, getting back into the usual routine, the same-old, same-old. Everything will be just as we left it, as if we were gone for only a wink. Our friends will embrace us and fill our ears with story after story; the latest news, the hottest gossip, and how stressful their courses are going. We’ll go out tonight, hang out in the usual places that we do, talk about the all too familiar people, and do the same old things we did before. I’m going to be truthful- who knows what will happen after today; after the next 2 hours come and go. All I know is that the past 21 days will forever be engraved upon my heart; the road-trips, late nights, and early mornings will cross my mind constantly, and the smiling faces of my 16 new family members will be an image that will never fade away. I may not know what tomorrow will bring, but I do know that during the past three weeks, I have lived each moment like it was my last. Louisiana was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, a life changing experience and the experience of a lifetime. I think I speak for the whole group when I say, “what happens in Louisiana, may stay in Louisiana, but it will never be forgotten.”

“Something unpredictable, but in the end is right, I hope you have the time of your life”

Meghan Klasic