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My first Appalachia trip

Ankur Chawla | Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Every spring and fall break, the Center for Social Concerns sends students across the Appalachian region and various urban centers to understand and try to help with the poverty in the region. But as I’m sure everyone who’s ever gone on one of the trips knows we come back with so much more than the feeling of service.

I have been lucky enough to attend a spring seminar each of the past two years, working in New Orleans, La., and Big Creek, W.Va., respectively, with each trip being uniquely awesome. This column is a tribute to those moments that make me eager to head back next fall.

Nothing epitomizes these times than Tuesday night this past week. Our service group was entertained by the always classy sounds of bluegrass music performed by a man named Chester and taught how to dance by his musical partner Manuel. Donning a green hat with “Flatfooter” across the top, Manuel moved across the floor like butter on a fry pan.

The professional dancer was kind enough to show us his moves, both on the floor and with the ladies. And Manuel wasn’t just light on his feet when listening to bluegrass, he was more than happy to “smang it” with us and whip his hair back and forth. He even did the dreaded “broom dance” (literally pretending a broom was his dance partner).

Meanwhile, Chester played his guitar and sang songs the likes of “When the Rooster Came on the Farm” (pun intended) and “Penicillin Penny” (referring to a woman that may require you go see a pharmacist). These hilarious parodies served more than to get a few cheap laughs from us students –– they created an instant bond through humor and music.

These antics, while incredibly fun, opened the door to serious conversation about the poverty and problems of rural Appalachia. Chester was able to open up and let us in to his thoughts and beliefs. This encounter was so characteristic of the entire trip. Being able to have an incredible time and a lot of fun while still helping and showing concern for the problems of the area.

What’s truly amazing about the Appalachia seminars is this very balance. Those of us on the trip were able to enjoy ourselves making “that’s what she said” jokes and being utterly awful at basketball while at the same time having serious discussions of what our role in the region and in service is. It’s hard to imagine throwing together 10 random students for a week could be a venue for making some of my closest friends at this university, but that’s exactly what happened these past two years. I hope those of you reading this (even if it is just the 9 others who served with me in Big Creek) will take the opportunity to participate in one of the CSC’s seminars. I can personally guarantee it will be one of the best weeks you’ve ever had.