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Students immersed in new culture

Geography and the French language came together as ten UW-Eau Claire students embarked on a journey to Cajun country in Louisiana as part of a watershed and intercultural immersion trip to break down barriers and explore another

culture during this year’s spring break.

Cajun country is a place where people of French-Canadian descent live or migrate to along the bayous, marshes, and prairies of southern Louisiana.

Jessica Miller, associate professor in the foreign languages department, teaches French and is a native of France. Miller, along with the geography department, wanted to create a course that would meet once a week for an hour and then take part in a domestic intercultural immersion experience over break.

She said she wanted to open students’ minds and help them see past stereotypes.

“Before the trip, we talked a lot about things that people would ask Cajun (people), things that people would ask Wisconsin people, based on preconceptions,” Miller said. “And during the trip then students could see what was true, what wasn’t.”

Miller said they also wanted students to realize Wisconsin and Louisiana are connected environmentally even though they seem like two different worlds.

Sophomore Carly Murray said it was an incredible experience that drew her closer to her major in French and was a way for her to become more involved in geography.

In Eau Claire, she said people are environmentally conscious, but people in Cajun country might feel as if they have more to lose since most of their livelihood comes from the environment.

“I think they see it differently,” Murray said. “I think they are more aware of it. People there are on the river canoeing, crabbing, shrimping; they are working to preserve their coastline.”

Murray said the students came into this trip wanting to mainly focus on their area of study, but over time people began to learn more about the other side of things. She said in the end, the immersion trip taught everyone how to appreciate all aspects of geography and culture.

Murray also said the bonds and ties they gained during the trip was invaluable and they gained an appreciation for those people in whom they were in contact.
“They have gone through more than I have heard many people go through,” Murray said. “Pretty much they won’t let themselves be Americanized, they have really retained their culture.”

Just like Murray, the chair of the department of geography and anthropology at Eau Claire, Douglas Faulkner said the main thing he personally took away from the trip was how approachable the people were.

“I don’t know if I have ever met a group of people in an area like this that were genuinely friendly,” Faulkner said. “And so for me it showed this is still a willingness to accept outsiders still, it can still exist out there, that was an eye opening experience for me.”

Senior Mariah Dorner said the students experienced exactly what the professors wanted. Dorner said she now better understands how Wisconsin and Louisiana are connected.

“A lot of people don’t realize the impact practices up north have,” Dorner said. “It’s really all connected to the entire Mississippi River system and watershed.”

She said she thinks the university should have more opportunities like this for students because it was a great way to learn so much in a short amount of time.

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