|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
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
"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
"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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