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Appalachia seminar students return from immersion trip

| Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Students enrolled in the Appalachia Seminar this semester traveled to the Appalachia region over fall break as a part of the immersion component of the one-credit course. With 203 students enrolled in the seminar this fall, trips were made to 20 different sites across the region.

Adam Gustine, assistant director of social concerns seminars, said the immersion program stresses meeting communities where they are and learning from encounters with members of the community.

“We just try to talk about what it means to go to another place to encounter another kind of community to learn from a place that might be different than the place we grew up,” Gustine said. “All [sites] have this common thread of encountering people and learning to be good question-askers in someone else’s home.”

The trip centers around the history and culture of the Appalachia region with an emphasis on the social and economic challenges each site faces.

“[The Appalachia region] has been a significant source of Catholic social teaching,” Gustine said. “Every time we have a seminar, we are thinking about the Catholic social tradition and our own individual responsibilities and different things that we might see and learn.”

Courtesy of Caroline Myers
Notre Dame students paint the bathroom of the David School in David, Kentucky. The David School, which specializes in assisting disadvantaged youth, is one of 20 sites across the Appalachia region that students visited for the Fall 2019 Appalachia Seminar.

Sophomore Maria Teel said in an email she saw the Appalachia seminar as a gateway for greater involvement in the Center for Social Concerns (CSC).

“I had heard a lot of great things from people who went in the past and felt that it was a good introductory way to be involved with the CSC,” Teel said. “I also wanted to learn more about poverty in a different area of the country that I’d never been to before and didn’t know much about.”

Over the midterm break, Teel traveled to David, Kentucky, and visited the David School to experience firsthand the challenges the community faces in the local education system.

“This site gave me perspective into the education system, challenges to education in Kentucky and alternative education strategies,” she said. “We spent half of every day shadowing a student in their classes and the other half of the day doing a project around the school. Because of the format of this site, we were able to form connections and spend time with students.”

Senior Julia Cogan, a leader for one of the immersion trips this fall, is in her second year of the seminar program. Cogan said both of her experiences within the Appalachia program allowed her to gain a unique service perspective on the region and its challenges.

“Appalachia was a really good way for me to focus in on a whole area and whole group of people that often get forgotten in America, and I think that’s really important because you can easily look to other places that are foreign service trips,” Cogan said.

Over break, Cogan’s group served at the Binns-Counts Community Center in Clinchco, Virginia. Cogan spoke to the tight-knit community she encountered in Clinchco.

“One thing that was cool was that we got to meet with different members of the community, and we stayed at a center that has bunk beds and different stuff,” Cogan said. “They also have a really good relationship with the people who live in the community because it’s founded and run by community members.”

Leading up to the immersion trip, students in the Appalachia program attend class once a week. The course continues after the trip. Cogan said the class sessions allowed her to gain insight on Appalachia while getting to know her fellow students going on the trip.

“I read a couple books before I went this year and felt like I’d learned a lot more about the region,” Cogan said. “But the class is mostly just really good to spend time with your team … and as a leader, I really liked just seeing everybody that was going to be there with me.”

In class meetings following the trip, the students reflect on their trip and create a final project to share their personal Appalachia experience. Cogan said her group’s project from last year holds significance to her.

“Last year, my group made a video with short clips and pictures,” Cogan said. “Watching the video over makes me sentimental, but it’s a great way to be able to look back and remember the experience I had with the community and my small group.”

The Appalachia seminar will also be offered for the spring semester with an immersion trip during spring midterm break.

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About Alysa Guffey

Alysa is a junior pursuing a major in history with minors in digital marketing and journalism, ethics and democracy. While she calls Breen-Phillips her home on campus, she is originally from Indianapolis. She currently serves as the Notre Dame News Editor.

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