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Katrina Survivor: Psychology Student Plans to Become Counselor
Josh Hurst, who escaped Hurricane Katrina with just a few items of clothing and a backpack of textbooks, has found a new place to stay on campus while completing his studies for a psychology degree.

February 16, 2006
by Mimi Ko Cruz

Josh Hurst escaped the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina when he left New Orleans Aug. 28 — one day before the cyclone hit.

With three pairs of jeans, two T-shirts and a backpack full of newly-purchased textbooks, the Delgado Community College student — who thought he'd be able to return home in a few days — found himself jobless and school-less at his father's home in Alabama. The New Orleans apartment building where he had been living with his mother was flooded and his carpet-cleaning job disappeared.

"I was expecting to go away for three days and come back for school," said Hurst, who now is a Cal State Fullerton psychology major. "I kept thinking the storm will turn, and it won't be that bad, but it was. I just sat there watching TV and seeing the streets — that I drove just a day
before — under water."

The 21-year-old student said he repeatedly called his mother, only to hear this message: "Due to the storm, cell phone circuits are not in service now."

Three days after Katrina dissipated, Hurst heard from his mother, who had sheltered in her second-floor apartment while the Category 5 hurricane flooded the first floor and ripped the roof off the three-story complex.

"My mom said she was OK and on her way to Houston to stay in a hotel until she could return to New Orleans," he said.

The relieved Hurst then went to the Red Cross, where he was given $300 cash and some toiletries. With that, he drove his Dodge Neon across the country, finding refuge at an aunt's home in San Diego. His plans to eventually move to California to attend Cal State Long Beach or Fullerton to finish his bachelor's degree were accelerated by Katrina. Since Hurst had not completed a couple of prerequisite courses for admission to Cal State Fullerton — where classes had already begun when he arrived — he attended Cal State Los Angeles and lived there last semester.

"If I had gone back to New Orleans, I would have lost a semester of school," said Hurst, who has found work as a Disneyland parking attendant. "It's crazy how everything has happened."

Hurst said he wants to become a college counselor to help freshmen cope with college life and living on their own.

When he first went off to college, at Clark University in Massachusetts, Hurst said he felt lonely and started "partying" too much. Instead of going to class, he began drinking and using drugs, a habit that led to health problems. He said his condition was so serious he had to drop out of school and spend a semester recovering.

"I ended up paying for it with my health," he said. "My family was upset and I ended up losing a lot of friends."

It was a hard lesson, but one that Hurst said will help him be a compassionate counselor.

It is common that people enter the counseling profession because they have overcome some personal adversity, said Jeffrey Kottler, chair and professor of counseling.

"When someone faces and overcomes some catastrophe or trauma, oppression, racism or emotional or family problems, we see that as a strength and resource," Kottler said.

Hurricane Katrina also taught Hurst a lesson about overcoming obstacles, something he hopes to pass on to others: Meet life's challenges by thinking of them as "stepping stones."

"Otherwise, you just linger on the problems, become stagnant and waste time," Hurst said. "You have to set a goal for yourself and pursue it. That's what I'm doing and I'm much happier."


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Josh Hurst
Josh Hurst

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