My Trip to Appalachia

by Tara Lucian, USA

Every fall and spring break the Center for Social Concerns hosts seminars throughout Appalachia, a region of the United States that surrounds the Appalachian Mountains and includes counties in 13 different states.  This region is one of the poorest in the United States, with some of the highest levels of unemployment and lowest levels of education.  The people you meet in Appalachia are usually very different than the people you will meet at Notre Dame; they have different backgrounds, expectations for the future, and perspectives on life.  There are some similarities though: they are friendly people who are willing to lend a helping hand and work hard for what they want.

This spring break I went to West Virginia with fifteen other Notre Dame students. The beginning of the drive down was boring.  We spent hours driving through flat Indiana and Ohio cornfields.  Once we hit the foothills of the Appalachians, the scenery took a turn for the better. There was something eerily beautiful about the tree-covered mountains.  It was too early in the season for leaves, but rather than the normal brown or gray that you would expect from leafless trees, they almost had a blue tinge to them.  Driving through the mountains with the bright sun and blue sky overhead, and country music blasting on the radio, we made our way deeper into Appalachia.

We spent most of our time working with Park Ranger Eddie Hatcher, readying a state park for summer visitors while Eddie imparted his ageless wisdom on us. When geese fly in a “V,” why is one side longer than the other? Because there are more geese on that side!

When we finished work for the day, we would go hiking in different state parks.  Wading through fallen leaves next to trickling streams and babbling brooks, crawling behind waterfalls and under rocky outcrops, we wondered at the beauty of the nature around us.  Every walk was an adventure as we often went off trail, never knowing where we would end up next.  I have vivid memories of staring down at our car from a 40 foot cliff, wondering how on Earth we were going to get down so we could return in time for dinner.

Of course, there was an educational aspect to the trip as well.  There were several cultural events at the Folklife Center: Ranger Rudy taught us about the history of coal mining, Nancy spoke about preserving West Virginia and its culture, and Will treated us to a haunting coal miner’s song.

“It’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew/Where danger is double and pleasures are few/Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines/It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mines.”

Even listening to the radio was an experience.  Most strikingly, I heard a commercial about looking for a job after high school, with no mention of college, no suggestion that it might be an option.  For many people in Appalachia, it’s not.  As someone who was raised assuming that I would go to college, this commercial made a strong impression.

If any undergraduate student is looking for a new experience to fill their fall or spring break, I highly encourage them to take part in an Appalachia Seminar.  I had the time of my life on my trip: I worked hard, recharged, met new people, and explored the outdoors.  I learned so much about a region of the United States that I had only ever driven through before, and I felt honored and privileged to have done so.

We’re All Irish

by Tanya Alconcel, Hawaii, U.S.A

Leaving my home state of Hawaii to come to Notre Dame was the biggest culture shock of my life, which isn’t something you might expect since Hawaii is still part of the U.S.  But the environment, the people, and the culture at Notre Dame was completely different from island life.  Although it was extremely disconcerting at first, I think it was my curiosity and excitement of being in a new place, experiencing a new culture, and meeting new people, that helped me overcome my initial fear and thrive in this new environment.  I stepped out of my comfort zone to talk to lots of different people, join lots of different clubs, and even try several different majors to learn and experience lots of different things, and that would be my biggest piece of advice to new students today.

Meeting and connecting with new people who were ethnically, religiously, and even economically different from me was a challenge.  But instead of letting my differences hinder me from connecting with people, I used it to my advantage as a great token of interest in conversation, because people were really interested to hear about Hawaii and my culture.  Be proud of yourself and where you come from, because I think people at ND really appreciate diversity and want to learn more about you!  And remember that despite any ostensible differences, we’re all Irish.

Blessed to be here!

I try to live by Anthony Bourdain’s philosophy…I write, I travel, I eat and I am hungry for more. My trip to the US a year back and my time spent in the International Ambassador (IA) retreat, International Student Orientation and now blogging as an IA is, somewhat, satisfying my modest take on this big life philosophy… a way of living life with ‘no reservations’.

At least it’s a start…

The retreat was some serious fun. If I had to wrap it up in the least number of words…it was “soul searching rejuvenation with some strangers who ended up as a family!!”…I could be liberal with those exclamation marks. I was pleasantly surprised. My new family – a cocktail of efficient and enthusiastic staff, fun loving and crazy undergrads, overworked and ready to leave work at the word ‘go’ grads (I apologize for self-sympathy). Need I say more!!!

When I started my journey to the US in August 2009, there was a sinking feeling with a rush of adrenaline, the feeling then hitting rock bottom to jump right back to choke me up with emotions. Sounds dramatic, but it might have been the flight take off and seeing my country become a small speck in the distance. I realized soon, we as human beings like our comfort zone and resist change; but when the change comes along we are very much equipped with the necessary toolkit to adapt and embrace it!

At the registration desk, the first few hours of the International  Student Orientation was mind numbing. In a span of a half hour I had passed (to the scanning station) 20 passports from 10 different countries; China to Mexico…When I look back to that day, it was satisfying to be a part of what I would call a humble example of a ‘global melting pot’.
This is my little tribute to Anthony Bourdain’s 100th episode being aired on the Travel channel today. To sum it up, I appreciate my life a little more as an International Ambassador and a part of the international community of the University of Notre Dame.

Shailaja Kunda, International Ambassador from India