After spending close to three months on the road, I have learned so much from so many different people. Naturally the first couple of people you might assume I learned from were my wonderful
professors. Next you might think of all of the professionals and tribal members they arranged us to meet with and listen to. While I do not want to undermine how much those people did teach me, I want to give credit to those you might not think of at first. The people who wrote the numerous articles and books that we based many of our discussions around, the people who had a real heart-to-heart with us in an IHOP, the people who we ran into on the trails, the people working in visitors centers, and most importantly the amazing people also traveling around with me on this voyage also trying to learn as much as they can from each other all contributed greatly to my educational mindset and my view of the American West.
When traveling with the same group of people for an extended period of time, you really get to know one another. If we were having a formal discussion with my classmates on academic things, they would challenge my ideas with their own personal framing and thought, and I would do the same to them. And that is basically repeated when having casual conversations with my friends, because everything on this trip became academic for me, and all of the people became both classmates and friends. After having similar debates with the same people on different topics, I slowly learned to think of new issues from their point of view first before even debating the topic. Then repeat that process with twelve more students and three non-students over many weeks and I think I have really accomplished something great.
Now, though I greatly miss having them around, I can hold my own "class" discussion mentally and really think about something with more depth and variety. I can carry all the other views and personalities with me in that way, which I will forever be grateful for. While understanding that western America was the pointed focus of this trip, there was much more to be learned. A couple of the most important ideas to me are learning to enjoy travel and to make the most of the group you are traveling with. When it comes to these concepts, I learned just as much from every individual because we all came into this having spent time in various different groups in various different places.
There are certain things I have learned from each person that will contribute to so much of my future life. I learned that if you want to laugh, let yourself laugh hard and lift the moods of those around you. I learned to make sure to prioritize games to bring a group together. I learned that calculated sarcasm can be really relatable and lighten the mood when you are dealing with heavy things. I learned that sometimes if you are struggling yourself, sometimes helping others can distract you and let you reevaluate what is important. I learned that sometimes you have to let your artsy side free, especially if you feel like it may be hard to access. I learned that you can give a calming presence to a whole group without even saying much. I learned that energy and happiness is contagious if you wear it proudly. I learned that sometimes it is better to be interested, not interesting. I learned that passion is a good thing and you should not push down your emotions to cater for others. I learned that "real life" is both the wonderful times spent carelessly traveling and the times spent trudging through responsibilities, and that keeping that in mind might help you through hard times. I learned that your past does not define who you are. I learned to challenge and question people more to understand their side of a story, not to push your own agenda. I learned to check in with people and try to understand what they are really feeling. I learned to carry confidence with you wherever I go. And most importantly, I learned that sometimes you just have to blame it all on capitalism.