Editor’s note: In April 2017, twelve Fulbrighters engaged in a week-long service learning project in Williamson, West Virginia, an Appalachian community with valuable lessons to share about sustainability, perseverance, and revitalization. This is the first in a series of blog posts from the Fulbrighters who visited Williamson. The Fulbrighters were asked to focus on their experiences in Williamson, as well as their engagement with local American community leaders. Visit the Fulbright Amizade 2017 Storify for more details on their journey.
There are many stories to be told about Williamson, West Virginia. About Coal Country. About Appalachia. There are stories of drug abuse and diabetes and poverty. Of unemployment and government regulation and presidential elections. Those stories have been told for decades. Those stories continue to be told today by media outlets around the country. They are stories that can be found throughout the country.
Laura Robinson (right), Fulbright U.S. Student alumna (2014-2015, India), talking with Shane from the Williamson Fire Department. Photo by Marcus Cederström.
There are other stories too. Stories of health and wellness and entrepreneurship. Of resilience and revivals and recreation. Of people working to make their communities just a little bit better. Because throughout the country there are groups of engaged citizens identifying problems and finding solutions. These are stories that must be told as well.
Having had some time to reflect on my Fulbright Millennial Trains Project experience, I have to say that it all seems like a blur. If I had to choose one word to describe it, I would say overwhelming, in the best way. It was overwhelming (and incredibly inspiring) being around so many people with so many ideas and plans. It was overwhelming to travel such a long distance in such a short amount of time. It was overwhelming to process so much new information each and every day. Even off the train, I continue to be overwhelmed by the experience, and hope to eventually be able to process and digest it, bit by bit. I know that many of the lessons I learned, and the advice I received, will continue to come to mind whenever I need it; I know that it will be stored in there for years to come.
One day, while on the back vestibule of the train, I spoke to some of the other participants about how I wished I could keep some moments alive forever so I could replay them when I needed to recall the way I felt that day, in that moment. Several of them agreed, but someone spoke of the importance of letting go, about how what makes these moment precious is the fact that they don’t last forever, because they are not meant to. I think that is important advice in trying to process this experience. I had so many encounters, so many conversations, learned so many lessons, that I know I will not be able to remember everything that happened. So, I have to trust that the right things will stay in my consciousness, and that they will be there when I feel the need to look back on them. As for the rest, I feel comfortable letting it go.