Learning how to use Lexington’s public transportation system is one of the first steps refugees can take towards self-sufficiency, and the bus system is integral to our clients’ resettlement and employment processes. When you’re new to a country, things like learning the bus system are complicated by language and cultural adjustment. For a native Kentuckian’s perspective on riding Lexington’s bus system, we asked KRM intern Morgan Whitehead to report on her experiences as a bus rider.
Adjusting to life in Lexington is similar to riding a bike; it’s all about balance and momentum. Learning how to get around is one way of gaining momentum in a new city, and for someone without a personal vehicle the most efficient way to do that in Lexington is by bus. However, at first this is easier said than done.
I am one of those Lexingtonians who relies on bus and bike to navigate the city and, as a daily bus user, I can say that the Lextran is not intuitive. Learning the routes and the timetables takes practice and, often, a lot of luck. Waiting around at the transit station for a bus that might not come for another hour is a test of patience.Under the overpass, all the buses lined up along the sidewalk make the air heavy and stifling; it’s easy to find reasons to not ride the bus, even as a native English-speaker. But perhaps it is equally easy to find reasons to ride. It may be only way to get to a job, to an appointment, or to a favorite grocery store that reminds you of home.
As a summer intern at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, each morning it is nice to see the friendly face of Sarah* who is also going to the KRM office on my morning commute. We cannot communicate very effectively, her language being Arabic and mine English. However, we bond over the mutual comfort to sitting next to someone who won’t invade your space or ask you a lot of questions you cannot yet understand. She freely gives words of affirmation and I let her ride my bike before we go into the office. These small motivators can provide the momentum to keep going and exploring Lexington using the bus system as a tool, rather than as a setback.
Although refugees have experienced much worse than a new bus system, learning to use Lextran is definitely an added stressor for someone new to the country. For anyone, much of adjusting to a new city is finding a balance between your “normal” and what is the expected in that new place. In some cities, public transportation is used by people of all walks of life. In Lexington, this is not necessarily the case. Lexington is definitely a city made for cars. Only people without cars find it convenient to ride the bus, which brings a less diverse rider demographic. People on the buses may demonstrate behaviors that may frighten or upset someone new to the city. While the inside of the bus is generally clean and well lit, it is not safe to leave your things unattended for any amount of time. It may be difficult for older people to get on and off of the bus, and seating is limited.
In spite of these things, riding the bus is a good way learn how to balance some personal comforts with the ability to participate in a new lifestyle. It teaches you how to be prepared for the bus, to be late or early or right on time, and how to figure out ways around this unpredictability. It creates an environment where effective communication is necessary to succeed, and serves as an introduction to becoming average, everyday person in Lexington.[Name has been changed to protect the client’s privacy.]