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The Alaskan Experience

Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management major Taylor Richardson spent her Spring Break in Hoonah, Alaska for an Alternative Service Break. While there, she provided educational assistance to the Alaskan children, and engaged in historical and cultural experiences with Native Americans.   

After we settled into our bunkhouse in Hoonah, we met Owen, Mary Beth and Leah. Owen grew up in Southeast Alaska and was Tlingit, Mary Beth once worked in Glacier Bay National Park as a Natural Resource Specialist, and their daughter Leah was a student at the school we would be at throughout the week. Mary Beth showed us a slideshow about Tlingit cultural and history.  The next day, we met them all again to go on a nature hike throughout the forest on the Icy Strait. Owen showed us edible and medicinal plants, and told us stories.

On Monday, we went into the school system. They have one school in the town. Throughout the week, there was one student that stood out the most to me. I met her during breakfast on Monday. She was sitting by herself, so I went to join her. At first, her replies back to my questions were short and straight to the point. Once she grew more comfortable, she began asking me questions. She then showed me one of the books she had rented from the library, an almanac (which is my absolute favorite type of book). She showed me her favorite pages, and I was able to show her specific pages and explain topics to her. Throughout the week, I continued to sit with her at breakfast and lunch. By Thursday, I was thrilled to see that went from a two person table to a full table of students, and she was walking around and talking to different students at the table. It was a moment that made me proud to be an NC State student, blessed that I was able to be there, and delighted that I was there to witness her moving out of her comfort zone.

In the school system, I was able to help many different students in grades K-12, including, middle-school mathematics, elementary students with reading and preschool students with their soil unit. One day, I was in the middle school classroom, we had free time and I was able to show them pictures of North Carolina. In exchange, they were showing me pictures of Alaska and taught me about their home Tlingit culture- including the clans, language and various events celebrated in previous years. Throughout the week, I was able to gain so much knowledge about the Tlingit community.

On the first day, Mary Beth came to our bunk house to teach us about the history and culture, including Glacier Bay National Park. The Tlingit people have always traditionally occupied most of Southeast Alaska. The oral history and scientific research findings indicate that the Tlingit occupied Glacier Bay before the last glacial advance. What is now Glacier Bay National Park, was once their home and was known as S’e Shuyee, or “Edge of the Glacial Silt.” On Tuesday, we went to Owen’s shop and were able to see the totem pole he carved, and what all the symbols signified. We were then invited back on Wednesday to help flip over his 40 foot canoe. It had been used the year before to travel 30 miles north to Glacier Bay National Park for the opening of the Huna Tribal House Project. Thursday, our group bundled up, grabbed our tribal oars, and loaded into the canoe together. Owen asked me if I would like to sit in the back of the canoe and help him steer, and I was able to. It was very somewhat confusing and strenuous, but it was a great experience. On Friday, we had a final lunch with the seniors and were able to try various authentic foods. On Friday night, we had dinner with members and teachers from the community which consisted of more authentic food. Afterwards, we ended the week with a dance at the boys and girls club with the students.

When going into this experience, I never expected to get such a fulfilling experience. I gained so much personallybut even more professionally. This Alternative Service Break with CSLEPS was absolutely memorable. Everything was so well organized and handled, from the team to the small details of the trip itself. The team worked diligently together and I was able to make lifelong friends from the experience. I am truly blessed to have such an amazing experience learning and serving in Hoonah, Alaska.