I built a website that coincides with this STEP project. It has nearly all the pictures I took as well as my interviews, video reflections and journals from the trip. Please enjoy them at this URL: https://kalmbach11.wixsite.com/rail-experience
The main purpose of this STEP Project was to help create and strengthen interpersonal skills through one-on-one interactions and increase my ability to understand and relate to others on projects and recreationally by expanding my mindset about the world around me. These objectives were achieved by traveling the country by train and interacting with the people on each leg of the trip and those encountered in each city center. Interviews were conducted with several people to firstly talk with each individual and secondly to discover more about who they are, where they come, and how they view the world.
As I traveled around the country there was one particular comment that I heard from nearly everyone that I interviewed concerning their home town. When asked to name one thing about their home town they wish more people knew about I heard, almost universally: people from blank town are some of the nicest people around, they are really given a bad reputation and no one is that distant or cold hearted towards their neighbors. It seems that everyone has their own community to be ingrained in and feels a need to protect it. This commentary was very reassuring while traveling as I felt more confident in my questioning of those I encountered and helped me more fully appreciate the similarities we all share as people. Everyone is trying to define themselves in the crowd while trying to find some group to be a part of.
It would seem strange how the two ideas of defining oneself and finding a group to be a part of would be such close bed fellows but from the conversations I had with people on the trains and in the cities, I have to say that it is actually quite fitting of a pair. The short version is that they complement each other quite well. When looking a little deeper you see people coming and going, looking to identify with a new place’s culture or carve out a place for themselves to truly express themselves. Perhaps there is a slight bias in the people I talked to as they were all trying to get somewhere on the trains but there were a large number of individuals who were moving to a new place to call home. The majority of those were moving within the same state (I went through some really big ones: Montana, California, and Texas so again there may be some bias) but still looking to start fresh.
I bring all of this to your attention because of the implications that arise, primarily that most people want to maintain some level of familiarity when they have to make a great change. For the individuals moving there is a new community that they can come and assimilate with but there is still some familiarity with the land, the lingo, and the societal expectations. The framework for who you are as an individual does not need to be stretched and reformed until after you have worked on who you are in the group. Once they have accomplished this they can move on to finding oneself.
The remainder of people on the trains who were not there for work were there for a vacation of some kind. Here you see the opposite occurring where the destination is a long way away from home and the people they know just as distant. These people want to discover what’s out there to better themselves and bring more to the communities they belong in. With these travelers they are way outside their comfort zone and use that as a way to refine themselves or discover something new in their lives never before seen. This separation from the support of those around you requires that a person pulls from their own well and it is with this that people learn more about themselves and what they can do for the people in their community. Both Ideas, it appears, feed back into each other and encourage the growth of individuals to the benefit of the larger whole to allow the individuals be the best they can be.
As with any type of travel, once you are introduced to something new and different your entire understanding of the world is altered. Sometimes these revelations are small, such as the clarification to why an object or location has the name it does, to the sudden realization why an event is so heavily weighted in a local culture. Whatever the discovery, it is not possible to return to a state where you haven’t learned that knowledge. In many of these cases you are responsible for spreading that new information as a way to expand the views of those around you.
Moving forwards, the experiences that I have acquired by participating in this project are not just my own to take. Others should and will learn about the things I have discovered coming across the country and how unique each corner is as well as how all of us are looking for the same things in life. Each place I visited had its own unique vibe and style to present but none ever disregarded or negated the others. The people I met who were “professional travelers” were the ones with the most wisdom and the most to talk about in a conversation. They felt in many ways that they were ambassadors and had a duty to reflect what they had discovered into their everyday lives for the benefit of all. I now feel that I have a similar obligation to bring this new understanding to the attention of others in the hope of making this large world of ours not seem so foreign and unknown.