One morning last November, I was searching the internet in the school library when I came across a post on our school’s website. “A New Look at Study Abroad: 40 States in 40 Days – Taking Applications,” it read. The course was offering six hours of credit—three hours for writing and three hours for sociology. Immediately, my interest was piqued.
I’m not an inexperienced traveler by any means. Between the ages of 6 and 16, my family traveled to 16 countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. I’m pretty sure I had been to more countries than I had states.
This left a gap in my heart—I had always yearned to learn more about and see more of this country I call home. No matter where I went in the world, I always loved home the best. So, call me a homebody. Or maybe just call me an American.
After an extensive application process, I found out in December that I had been accepted. My parents were in full support and the planning began. But I don’t think reality hit me until I was standing on the tour bus and it began to move. This was really happening.
So, here’s how the trip works. We travel on a tour bus and wake up in a new city almost every day. If we are lucky, there is a shower scheduled. If not, we go straight into our day’s activity.
Each of the ten students on the trip is assigned to be an ambassador for three cities. It’s the ambassador’s job to come up with the day’s schedule in each city. We try to arrange things that are stereotypical of each city—the big attractions—while also trying to find places that are off the beaten path.
At the end of each day, we convene—in a local park, over dinner, or in the back of the bus to have a conversation about what we observed that day. Ultimately, our goal is to see how each place fits into the American landscape.
In every city, we ask locals the question “What does it mean to be an American?” Ultimately, the goal of the class is to answer that question in an extensive research paper that encompasses the opinions of all the citizens we’ve talked to.
So far, the city I’ve enjoyed the most is the one that was the biggest surprise, but also the one that felt most like home—the Navajo Reservation in Arizona.
The host for our day was Leland Silversmith, a full-blooded Navajo who lives with his parents in a small, but loving home, just off of I-40.
We sat down for several hours and listened to Leland’s father, Pastor George Silversmith tell stories of his childhood and working life on the Reservation. He had such great pride for his land.
Fanny, George’s wife, cried when she spoke of how much she missed her children and grandchildren and wished that they would come back home. Of course, the visit wouldn’t have been complete without showing us some newspaper clippings and photographs.
The whole visit reminded me of my grandparents—and how they’d probably treat and react if put in the same situation. There is something to be said about the beauty of finding something that feels so comfortable and familiar while out on the road.
It was remarkable seeing how a place over a thousand miles from home made me feel like I had never left.
So, as this trip progresses, I’ll be thrust into unusual, if not uncomfortable, social situations. But I feel like the stops that I will remember the most are the ones that make me feel at home.
Pierce Greenberg is a junior journalism major at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. This summer, Pierce is in a group of 10 students and two faculty members from Belmont that are taking a 40 states in 40 days bus tour across America. The trip is part of a sociology and writing class that is attempting to rediscover America.