Being an exchange student in the United States is a chance not only to be fully immersed in the American college life but also to travel around the country and see how diverse, different and unique is the country itself. Every state has its own personality and lack of time creates a difficult choice of going and visiting only a few of them. I chose to visit Texas particularly in order to foil some of the common stereotypes, which are being spread not only domestically, but also overseas. Cowboys with carrying guns, ranchos, and churches – is that the only things Texas made of? Those questions were appearing in my head as I was landing at the airport of Dallas. Yet at the same time, I was ready enough to go and explore the South Central region of the country.
Where the story begins
Texas joined the United States as the 28th State shortly after gaining its independence from Mexico. That means that Texas joined the United States as already being an independent country. That creates a unique feeling of patriotism in the state itself – people are proud of living and being a part of Texas, of sharing and commemorating its rich history. Furthermore, it is a requirement of the state itself – to study not only the U.S history in schools but also the history of Texas. Texas shares a border with Mexico and that is one of the main factors of the prevalent spoken languages here: English and Spanish. Since the Texan and Mexican are so closely intertwined, Mexican cuisine has become a part of their daily life. My journey started in Dallas, where I had a one-hour layover to Houston. The airport is huge, with having its own skyway trains, which connect different gates in the airport. This made me think about the most common phrase characterizing Texas: “Everything is bigger in Texas”. It might be true, as Texas is the second biggest state in the United States after Alaska and it takes a while to drive from one city to another – no less than three hours. Also, public transportation is not the ideal way to travel in Texas itself, so the best option is having an access to a car. My trip included several major cities: Houston, San Antonio, and Galveston.
Houston: place to live and build a career
Houston is one of the largest cities in Texas with the population over 5 million in total. It is a big and diverse city. “You might think that Houston looks not that pretty in comparison to the other towns: there is not a beautiful downtown, where you can walk and enjoy the coziness of the buildings and small cafes. But it is a great place to live and build a career” – said one of the locals when she was introducing Houston to me. In fact, this city is worldwide known for its medical centers and hospitals and for one of the best places to treat cancer. The downtown actually does exist and full of restaurants; most of them are B&Q places and Mexican food. Houston also has a lot of parks, where people can walk; interesting fact is that a lot of wealthy people donated their money to the public facilities, so that is why there are so many pleasant green spaces in Houston to spend time just being outside. One of them is the Hermann Park: with the Japanese garden, lake and the train, which takes you all over the park. Houston is diverse, yet two-faced. Luxury houses in one district are connected together with the streets full of homeless people. Two faces of one coin – two different streets of the one city. “Houston, we have problems”. Remember this phrase from the film “Apollo 13”? The old and the new Mission Controls for The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are located in Houston. Nowadays visitors have a chance to do a tour around NASA, visit some facilities and have fun watching videos and installations about space and astronauts daily routine.
San-Antonio: history and culture diversity
Only in three hours from Houston I took a route to San Antonio – one of the oldest cities in Texas, full of different historical events. “Remember the Alamo…” This saying is not just famous in Texas. It is the beginning of a chapter in history and the memory of the brave people in 1836, which were fighting till the end toward gaining its independence against the Mexican troops under President General Antonio de Santa Anna, -that is what made Alamo so special. The Alamo battle was lost, but the Texans took their revenge over the Mexican Army afterward, successfully ending the revolution. One defeat preceded the triumphant victory. Besides its remaining historical heritage, San Antonio has a beautiful Riverwalk, where you can discover local restaurants, cafes, and shops. This city is also very diverse and has a big Marketplace, where you can shop souvenirs and things, containing the cultures from different sides: Mexican and Texan.
The town to explore the Gulf of Mexico
Vacation in Texas would not be complete without experiencing the Gulf of Mexico. One of the known places to enjoy the wonderful view is driving all the way through Houston to Galveston. On the way to the city I also made a stop in a small town called Kemah. This town is also located right on the Gulf but has no access to the beach. Galveston was devastated by the hurricane in 1900 when most of the buildings were completely destroyed and more than 4000 people died. Nowadays it is a pretty town with seafood restaurants and candy shops, beachfront apartments and coastline.
Breaking the stereotypes and defining unique identity
While writing this article, I noticed that I did not even mention any stereotypes, which typically tend to describe Texas in general. Yes, there are a lot of ranchos between the major cities because it is historically one of the most common things to do in Texas. There are churches, there are religious people. Yet isn’t it common to have religious people all over the world? Yes, the Texans carry guns, but it is mostly used for hunting, which is also common in other places in the world. The family values are prevalent here, but those values are one the main construct toward building a strong society. This is Texas: strong, independent and proud. It is about diversity and differences, history and national heroes, patriotism and respect. And to me, as being a young Russian visitor in Texas, most of the local people were very hospitable, nice and open to any discussions. One of my local friends said to me: “Texas is not only about conservative deeply religious people. Look, these people are actually nice. They want to be friends with everyone” Overall, there is only one advice left about visiting Texas: Turn on the country music, put on a hat, jump into the car and go on exploring Texas.
As a young traveler from Russia, I am willing to explore as many cultures as possible. I grew up in a small rural Russian town in the Ural Mountains and AM currently living and studying in St. Petersburg–one of the most beautiful Russian cities in the world.
I love traveling and volunteering/ studying at the same time and exploring the culture through talking to the locals and hanging around with them.
So far I have lived & visited Germany, Denmark, Iceland & some European counties!
I am currently doing my exchange year in Washington DC, United States
I speak fluently Russian, German, English & learning French