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Students travel to Appalachia for immersion trip

| Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Students in the one-credit Appalachia seminar hosted by the Center for Social Concerns took part in an immersive trip to the Appalachia region over fall break. A total of 140 participants were spread out across 13 different sites in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Adam Gustine, director of the Social Concerns Seminars program, said the trip focused on how students could use Catholic social tradition to engage with social issues within the area and members of the community.

Courtesy of Casey Leimbach
Wheeling, West Virginia, was one of many sites students traveled to in the Appalachia region over fall break.

“I think one of the highlights is the way that students get a chance to not just lend a hand, but learn from folks on the ground, and [about] ways that people are trying to build flourishing communities in all kinds of different creative ways across the entire region,” Gustine said.

The program is fully immersive and focuses on connecting with the community while learning about issues regarding labor, the economy, sustainability and more.

“I think it’s a great space to join with your peers and ask important questions about the world and our role in it,” Gustine said. “It’s a great opportunity to get out of the Notre Dame bubble and learn from people who are attempting to make the world better in their community.”

Senior Casey Leimbach said that, to her, this trip was a way to connect with a previously unknown region while learning how to make positive change in communities.

“The entire goal of the seminar is to learn about Appalachia and to overcome some of the misconceptions and generalizations that [people] had going in,” Leimbach said. “How is that their home? What sort of things do they wish that they could see change in their home? And how could we possibly learn and bring that back to our own communities?”

Leimbach visited the West Virginia site and said that her group met with partners in the community to work on different projects together while engaging in fruitful conversations with local laborers.

Sophomore Martha Castellini was a first-time participant in the program and left the week with her expectations exceeded.

“I found that I had a deeper appreciation for a part of our country that I knew nothing about before,” she said in an email.

Castellini also traveled to the West Virginia site over break, which focused largely on the economy of the region and its dependency on coal mining. She said that the trip revealed new connections between labor and politics, pointing out the intersection of voting for a certain political party and prospective job availability within the region.

Castellini highlighted the harmful effects of coal mining on the environment of the region and members of the community.

“We saw a coal mine that was operating in a residential area and were told the people there will definitely have health problems when they’re older,” she said.

Leading up to the trip, students participated in on-campus preparation classes. After completing the trip, the students will continue to gather as a class until November 15, reflecting on their experiences and what they learned.

“It could be a really cool new experience, get you outside of your comfort zone. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about [the seminar],” Leimbach said.

A series of seminars are being offered in the spring semester, with some immersion trips over spring break.

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