When I was informed of my selection to participate in the Fulbright Amizade service-learning program in Williamson, West Virginia, I was very excited to share the news with my friends in the United States. To my surprise, their reaction to what I thought was great news was rather negative. They said that West Virginia is like a U.S. version of the developing world, and told me to get ready to see a completely different face of America than what I had seen since I began my Fulbright grant. Having worked with people from rural areas in Mongolia, who struggled to find drinking water, and Aboriginal Australians, whose livelihoods are almost completely dependent on mining, I wasn’t sure what to expect from West Virginia.
On our second day, we drove to Williamson and enjoyed the beautiful scenery all throughout the trip. When we arrived, it was nothing like my friends had described. It was small, yet well-organized and unbelievably clean. We were welcomed by the former Mayor Darrin McCormick, who showed us around and spoke about how Williamson is rebuilding its economy after their coal production had plummeted. It seemed to me that Williamson is headed in a positive direction and has great potential to diversify its economy.