“It’s been a great ride so far, but rest assured, the best is yet to come,” said Patrick Dowd, founder and CEO of the Millennial Train Project (MTP). I couldn’t agree more. Even though the train journey came to an end, our individual journey had just begun.
It feels so good to be home again. It feels so good to take a long shower in a non-moving bathroom. It feels so good to be back in my own bed. But, why do I feel so nostalgic for strangers I spent just 10 days with, places I spent less than 24 hours in — and the uncomfortable top bunk, where I continuously hit my head on the ceiling?
It all began with an email offering me a spot on the Fulbright-Millennial Trains Project 2015 journey. One of my 2015 New Year’s Resolutions happened to be traveling to at least 10 cities across America, but being so busy with school barely afforded the time for it. Knowing that I got to travel to six cities across the United States on a train made me jump for joy.
When I first boarded the train with about 30 strangers, I felt we were so different because we were from all different parts of the world. But then I realized we are similar – we all want to make the world a better place. I was so inspired by how much those on the train were willing to help in whatever way they could.
MTP gave me the opportunity to grow personally and professionally through the fellowship, mentoring, and workshops by industry experts aboard the train, all while having the opportunity to discover the natural beauty of Southern America by rail.
My project during the journey was to look for “Faces of Women in Tech” across the Southern United States and gather their stories to share in an effort to inspire more young girls to enter the technology field. Over the course of the journey, I met with many influential women in tech in each of the train’s city-stops.
Their stories of entering the technology field varied from challenging to smooth sailing. Audrey Bellis, founder of StartupDTLA, works to build the centralized tech startup community in downtown Los Angeles. She is also solving Downtown LA’s office space problem by providing co-working space, private offices, studios, etc. I had a great opportunity to learn from her about how she came up with the startup idea and how she got to where she is now.
“You need to believe that you are worthy of it or you never achieve it,” said Audrey when asked what advice she would give to young girls.
Another young, humble and passionate woman in tech I met in Los Angeles was Murriel Grace Perez, Managing Director at Girls in Tech Los Angeles. I enjoyed talking to her so much that I ran late to the Union Station to meet up with other MTP participants. Murriel believes that technology should function as a tool for empowerment rather than a source of frustration and together we can create positive change in the world.
While traveling by train from Los Angeles to Austin, I met two amazing girls from Electric Girls NOLA, Flor Serna, 21, and Maya Ramos, 19 who teach young girls and women skills in electronics, programming, and engineering, while giving them the competence to teach their new skills to girls of their generation and the next. Their young spirit and passion in electronics inspired me.
While in New Orleans, I met with Wendy Dolan, founder of Get Online NOLA. Wendy said exposure to applications achieved by coding can intrigue more women to join the field. You can find fuller lessons learned from my interviews with various tech women in the American South on the “Faces of Women in Tech” website.
I would like to express my gratitude to the Fulbright Program, The U.S. Department of State, the Institute of International Education (IIE), Patrick Dowd and MTP staff for making this possible. To all the passengers on the train, it is truly an honor to share my journey with all of you. As a Fulbrighter from another edge of the world, I learned so much about American cultures and people from your free spirits and open minds. Even more, I became familiar with countries I have never been by getting to know the other five Fulbrighters aboard the train.