Group preparing to leave New Orleans, March 2010.

It is the eve of my seventh spring break trip down to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. I have experienced much and happily I have witnessed many positive changes. My bags are packed and if experience is any guide, I will not sleep much between now and when I leave for the airport. I suspect my students, most of whom have never ventured to the Crescent City are feeling the same sense of anticipation, and to that, you can add fear of many unknowns.

This is the fifth straight year that I have traveled to the Gulf Coast with my New Orleans class; the sixth in which I have worked with UNH students. There are constants to this annual migration, and I gain these from the New Orleans journals that I require of my students. They are my favorite assignment to grade because of the great humanity that they reveal. I fly down, so I have never experienced the 26 to 30 road trip down from New England, but through their journals students have given me some insight into their journey.

Po'boys by the Mississippi, March 2011.

First there is the nervous anticipation: how much money do I need?; I don’t know these people!; work gloves?; do I have to drive? Are there snakes? — followed by Will we see alligators? To this, I must describe trip constants. There will be lifelong friendships created on the way down. Once they arrive, there is an unbelievable amount of collective energy present. There will be new culinary experiences en route — Sonic and Waffle House seem to rise to the top. I’m still not sure why.

So while I am in New Orleans enjoying live music, eating an oyster po’boy, and inhaling the unmistakable fragrance of spring air, there will be other wonderful things happening along south pointing interstates, in nine passenger vans. And while I have never experienced it, I appreciate its importance more and more each year.