Throughout my time as a Fulbright Student, I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to interact with other Fulbright Students from around the world. Each time it is eye-opening and a learning experience to learn about places I’ve never seen, and people I’ve never met. Joining the Fulbright-Millennial Trains Project (MTP), I knew the experience would be similar and I would have an opportunity to learn about new places and different American cultures through the stories of the Millennials I would travel with by train.
When the trip began in Los Angeles, I experienced culture shock unlike the first one I experienced when I arrived in the United States in August 2013. I’ve been living in Ohio for the past two years, and it’s now my home. I compare everywhere I travel in the U.S. to Ohio and my home country, South Africa.
When I arrived in downtown Los Angeles, I instantly started looking at the differences in the architecture, people and cultures. This made me realize, again, that there is more to the U.S. than I thought. When I met the other MTP participants, I was taken aback by the various regions of the country they came from and their different accents. I felt a sense of accomplishment being able to identify the different accents from various U.S. regions because I realized how much I’ve exposed myself to American cultures.
As we left Los Angeles and headed east towards Texas, I noticed Hispanic cultural influences in both San Antonio and Austin – which I loved. This is my first time in the American South, and it’s exciting because it’s so different than my expectations, which were based on “Wild West” movies with cowboys and their large hats and well-decorated boots.
When we are not in one of the MTP cities, carrying out our projects and exploring the cities in our free time, we spend much time sharing experiences and having discussions on the train while observing the lovely landscapes outside. This is my first opportunity to interact with so many different young Americans and to learn more about them, share the different cultures I’ve seen and the places I’ve visited. I am learning firsthand from my peers and it is truly my moment of cultural exchange that I hope will help encourage further mutual understanding between the people of the United States and of South Africa, whom I represent.