Man on The Train

Photo by Antoine Rault on Unsplash

Technically, my time with the Man on the Street column has ended, at least while at Butte; however, because this issue is my last Man on the Street and my final issue of the paper, I wasn’t ready to put the pen down quite yet. So, in addition to my final official Man on the Street, I decided to write “Man on the Train.” 

The Explorer

While Amtrak’s Pacific Coast Starlight train wound its way south through the Oregon mountains, I met someone who might have been one of my favorite interviews ever. Seung Chol is a foreign exchange student from South Korea. Chol’s current college, Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, gave him a weeklong break. What did Chol decide to do with his time off? Chol, accompanied by a friend from the same foreign exchange program, took to riding the rails to experience America.

Chol’s train journey started in Chicago, Illinois, and carried him to Seattle, Washington, despite a nine-hour delay that happened somewhere in Montana. While in Seattle, Chol met a fellow traveler who wished him good luck on his journey and hoped that he wouldn’t have to experience any more eventful delays. Not long after that, Chol’s train was stopped in Washington due to mudslides.

Chol was eventually forced to transfer to a bus that brought him as far south as Portland, Oregon. This, incidentally, is where I entered the picture. That same train that Chol was taking south from Seattle was supposed to carry me back home to Chico. I ended up sitting in the Portland train station for three hours longer than I had planned or wanted, but eventually the train arrived, and I was able to board. Chol and his friend boarded right behind me; however, we wouldn’t talk to each other until a few hours later in the train’s dining car.

On AI 

Chol’s major is artificial intelligence, something he finds exciting simply because, to him, it is essentially science fiction. Chol and I chatted about how cool that was, as well as about his thoughts on ChatGPT. This AI-based writing software has seemingly taken schools and industries by storm. Chol shared that he loves the program, specifically because of the learning opportunities it offers.

“I think the idea of studying is changing,” Chol said enthusiastically. For the 20-something programmer, ChatGPT represents a fundamental change in how learning can be approached. Before the application became popular, it was difficult to figure out how to go about learning a skill or where to find information. Chol feels that with ChatGPT, all the information you could need is in one place.

Chol did acknowledge that no one knows whether the software could spell the end to people’s jobs, but it is a possibility. However, Chol pointed out that people have been comparing this situation to the advent of the combustion engine. Some argue that while there were fears that the engine meant the elimination or decimation of some jobs, it created a whole new, and incredibly profitable, job industry based on the technologies it led to.

The Journey 

Chol’s favorite place has updated with each new city he has stopped in. At first, Chol’s favorite American city was Chicago, then Seattle, and he felt fairly sure that his next destination, San Francisco, California, would also be his next favorite.

While in the city by the bay, Chol plans to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on a rented bicycle as well as spend time in the Sausalito area. After San Francisco, Chol will stop in Denver, Colorado, and then end his train journey back in Chicago.

“I love it so far,” Chol said, both about this railroad adventure and about the United States as a whole. Chol did a bit of math and gauged that, by the end, he would have spent roughly 120 hours on a train.

Chol has seemingly greatly enjoyed what he calls his “USA expedition,” and in reference to the delays and setbacks he has experienced, Chol simply and optimistically said, “It’s a part of the journey.”

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