The Oberlin Stories Project

On getting to New Orleans

Cria Kay ’16

“Navigating time commitments and cost restraints, I was surprised by how many opportunities appeared in front of me.”

Volunteers paint a wall

I started last school year intent on traveling. I didn’t know how I could do so, but I was feeling restless. After my first year in college, returning to an old pattern of living at home during the summer felt strange. It was comfortable and full of people I love, but I had that nagging feeling that I had not seen much of this world beyond Ohio. So, I arrived at school and immediately started looking into opportunities to travel without spending copious amounts of money. ObieOpps (an Oberlin sponsored website that directs users to opportunities available in their field of study), meeting with the study abroad office, and talking with peers who have studied away from Oberlin led me in the direction I was searching for. Navigating time commitments and cost restraints, I was surprised by how many opportunities appeared in front of me.

Starting at the beginning of the year, a few friends and I talked about our dream of living in New Orleans for the summer. I was attracted by the prospects of working with some of the incredible organizations that sprouted up post-Hurricane Katrina. Some of my friends in the Conservatory were drawn towards the ever-exciting jazz scene in the city. I began researching organizations operating in New Orleans that do social and environmental work that aligns with my interests and found Common Ground Health Clinic. This organization began directly after the Hurricane in response to the lack of health resources available to the community of New Orleans during the disaster. It continues to function as a free health clinic and a center for social justice through food outreach programs, youth engagement, and wellness programs. Their motto “Solidarity not Charity” encapsulates their approach to engaging with the people they work for and with. After being accepted as an intern at the clinic, I was immediately hit with two feelings: wow, I am seriously lucky and so excited to have this opportunity, and how am I going to pay for this? I was stuck in the dilemma that working at Common Ground would be an amazing experience to participate in an inspiring movement and solidify my education from Oberlin, but my bank account and tuition bill desperately needed me to make money for school bills.

Lost, I turned to the career center. Before this endeavor, I viewed this place as an obscure center that people spoke of but never quite explained to me what went on there. I went in for a meeting to find the nicest people who genuinely wanted to help me get to New Orleans. Here I learned that Oberlin awards grants to people who are working unpaid internships during the summer to help pay for the cost of living. I went through the application process after receiving much help from Assistant Director of Career Services Donna Russell (many thanks!) and received a grant that paid for all my rent and food for the summer! Josh, my fellow New Orleans traveler, also received a grant for his portion of the trip to work in a recording studio and for Make Music Nola, a nonprofit that offers summer music programs. Finding out that we were awarded the grant felt like winning a thousand dollars on a game show as balloons and confetti fall around us during those closing credits.

So with Oberlin’s funding and after much anticipation, Josh and I loaded his car up and began the trek to Louisiana at the start of the summer. Although I am still in the midst of this adventure, I have learned so much about this community, myself, and how I relate to the world. Working with people who are involved in social and environmental justice has allowed me to apply the knowledge I gain through my environmental studies and comparative American studies classes. In this way, I have processed my thoughts and opinions much more thoroughly than I am able to during the semester. Processing has made me realize how much I have learned at Oberlin and has made me very grateful for the way that Oberlin has taught me to think deeply and analyze every situation I enter from a multitude of angles. The experience working with Common Ground, not to mention learning how to live in a city independently, is life-changing. For the ability to travel and learn from the amazing people and organizations within New Orleans, I am grateful to Oberlin.