The process that I’ve gone through, from receiving the initial acceptance email until now, seven days before the trip, has been a colourful one. One would think that excitement would be the only emotion cursing through my veins – I mean, I’m going to NEW ORLEANS! And while excitement surely is a big part of what I’ve felt since the beginning, I’d have to say that my personal journey leading to this experience has been more dynamic than I’d expected.  

          I was sitting on the couch in my apartment, halfheartedly studying for my psych midterm while totally immersed in an episode of Jeopardy, when I got the first email. I literally jumped off of my couch and threw a pillow at my roommate yelling “NEW ORLEANS!” Of course, he had no idea what I was talking about, but I guess these outbursts came to be normal for us so he didn’t really ask. After sending a frantic thank you email to my instructors, I called my mom and boyfriend and grandmother and dentist (okay, maybe not my dentist) to give them the great news. Everyone was really excited for me and I was elated. New Orleans had always been a place that I had wanted to give back to, and now I was given the opportunity to do so. 

          Upon walking into our first class, I was…nervous. Nervous! I felt like a little kid again, walking onto the playground at a new school, now knowing anyone. Would they like me? Would we get along? Did anyone come from the same program? Am I a total loser? Why am I sweating? Up until this point, I had never really given thought to these types of questions. But I took comfort in the fact that all of these people were here for the same reason I was. And as we all got to know each other, It became clear to me that regardless of our respective disciplines and background, we all possessed a unifying trait that would enable us to understand each other, in one way or another. So the nerves subsided. 

          My reaction to the information I have received across the scope of our classes was an unexpected one, too. Up until this point, I had possessed an average understanding of the facts of Hurricane Katrina. I knew what had taken place, the structural repercussions, and the still ever-present need for relief work. 
But nothing prepared me for the level of social injustice that had been executed after the Hurricane by the state of Louisiana and the federal government. Most of it was unearthing the various behaviours of the state and witnessing the social repercussions, and my dominating response was anger. I was angry about what had been done to the people of the state. I was angry with the lackluster relief response to those in need. Hearing of these injustices created such a dissonance in my view of how human beings should help one another in a crisis.

          Both of my instructors opened my eyes to a world of new information that, hadn’t I participated in this class, I wouldn’t have come to understand as critically.  And it was in focusing on the existing relief networks and continued nation-wide efforts that have given me hope. It’s a weird feeling, to experience such emotions towards an event I had no part in experiencing. It’s also a discouraging one – should I have hope for the victims when I don’t know what it felt like to lose it? But I’ve realized that having hope for change is the driving force behind doing good, and exciting hope in others.

          During these last few days before the trip, I still have the same jitters as expected. Sure, I’m excited for the adventure. I’m nervous to be in an unfamiliar place. I’m angry that there’s still an existing need for help. But I’m hopeful, I’m prepared. I still have as much excitement as I did when I first received my email, but I’ve been so lucky to have been educated and prepared for this trip as I have been. I’m not expecting to put up some drywall and save New Orleans. But I am prepared to give as much of myself over to this experience, in hopes that I’ll contribute a fraction of what it will take to give the people of New Orleans the strength to stand on their own two feet again. 

See you in NOLA, 

Maria

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