A Train Model: Building a Global Millennial Generation via Travel
By: Jennifer Connor on Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Following their 10-day voyage across the United States while aboard the Millennial Trains Project’s (MTP) second cross-country journey, five Fulbright non-U.S. Students met with IIE’s President, Allan Goodman, U.S. Department of State staff, and IIE staff for a lunchtime storytelling session. The Fulbrighters traveled with MTP from Portland, OR, to New York, NY, where they were hosted at IIE, and shared their traveling tales, impressions of the United States, and images from the trip—a Special Fulbright Enrichment Activity.
As Anser Shaukat, a Fulbright Student from Pakistan studying Illustration at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, revealed creative canvases the train journey evoked him to use, including a bar of soap—I happened to glance down at the Snapple lid I held in my hand, and gasped.
It was too perfect. As I shared with the room the reason for my exclamation, the five Fulbright-MTP participants, along with MTP Founder, CEO and Fulbright U.S. Student Program alum, Patrick Dowd, joined in appreciating the serendipity of the fact—for these participants, along with 20 other creative, innovating, entrepreneurial American Millennials just worked their brains for nearly two weeks as they crossed our vast, diverse and robust country.
The train journey commenced in Portland, OR, stopping in Seattle, WA; Whitefish, MT; St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN; Milwaukee, WI; and Chicago, IL, and ending at Penn Station in New York City. In each city, local leaders, CEOs, entrepreneurs, artists, business owners, and locals acted as mentors, introducing the participants to their way of life, peppered with lessons from their on-train City Year curriculum becoming a leader.
“Every city had something different to offer—from Venus Fly Traps being sold as an eco-friendly alternative for catching bugs in your home to the surprising amount of opportunities in the small and medium sized cities of America,” Shaukat said of the journey during an afternoon panel at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations on Monday, August 18, 2014.
Overlying the impressions and experiences the Fulbright participants had in each city were the on-train discussions late at night in the glass dome car. These discussions centered on topics relevant to today’s Millennials, such as The American Dream, race relations in America, and the cultures, peoples, and landscapes of each Fulbright participant’s home country.
“I got the impression that today’s ‘American Dream’ is more about creative ways to solve issues for the community as a whole, rather than consumption,” Silvia Tijo, Fulbright-MTP Colombia participant said at the panel discussion at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
As MTP seeks to raise $25,000 to fund next year’s third journey across a Southern route of the United States by participating in the U.S. Department of States Alumni Exchange Innovation Fund crowd-funding campaign, it now has five international scholars who believe in its inspirational power, so much so that they expressed interest in starting similar journeys in their own country.
From one Fulbrighter’s grant year in India inspiring the founding of MTP, to the transformative U.S. journey provided to Five Fulbright Foreign Students as funded by the U.S. Department of State, Shaukat decided to flip our Snapple fact around, saying, “Perhaps electric trains, in fact, power brain waves.”
Fulbright-MTP Participant from Indonesia, Alyas Widita, studying Urban Development and Planning at the University of Iowa, compiled this video of images from the 11 states and 7 U.S. cities the train touched, capturing the essence of the journey.
Jennifer Connor is Social Media Program Officer for Fulbright Programs at IIE's New York office.