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Building More Than Community – A Recap of the Communication Department’s Appalachian Project

Written by Katie Thieman (Communication undergraduate student)

“I’m going on a spring break trip for my Intercultural Communication class.” Many hear that and think of distant places like Mexico or Africa; however, for this class we traveled to Kentucky. It was hard to imagine what cultural differences I would be learning about in Kentucky, since it’s so close to Ohio, but M.J. Woeste confirmed this truth on the first day. We would be spending the week in Martin, Kentucky, helping to rebuild houses for some of the underprivileged families.

Many of our classes before the trip were spent researching different cultural features of the area before we headed on our way. We researched everything from folktales, such as the Tailypoe, to drug impact rates of the area. We were prepared for the trip to Kentucky and compared to other groups, we felt a lot more informed on the culture; however, there are some things research cannot prepare you for. I was aware of the poverty we were going to experience, the family bonds, and how religion played a major role in their lives, but it was much different to experience in person.

I would say this trip played a vital role in how I learned throughout this class. It was one thing to research how drugs have impacted the communities there but it was another thing to hear the stories in person. The family whose house I was helping rebuild, talked about how drugs had affected the life of their friend in such a way, he ended up committing suicide. Most of the group members were able to sit down with the families we were helping and listen to stories of what it’s like living in Appalachia.

We were also able to speak with a panel of CAP volunteers about their experiences living in Appalachia and what it had been like working with these families. Through the family I was working with, I was able to get a firsthand feel of just how big a role family and faith plays in their lives. I knew this going in but again, it’s completely different to see it in person.

One of the daughters in this family was in a car crash in her mid-teens, which left her legs completely paralyzed and her arms nearly so. She still lives with her parents and siblings, and her cousins live across the railroad track, so family support is not hard to come by. Many people would see this as a reason to become bitter with the world. It was obvious to me; the support of her family is what kept this young woman so motivated to continue living life to its fullest.

In the end, this class and trip not only taught me a lot about differences in culture, but also taught me how different it is to have these experiences yourself, rather than just sitting in a classroom learning about them.


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