Studying aboard in Paris was an experience, not a class.

This post is to provide a short description of my project for the Second-Year Transformational Experience Program. This ended up being a lot more than one to two paragraphs, but it is of good quality.

From May 23rd to June 7, I studied aboard in Paris, France. The program I enrolled in was through the History of Art Department. While in Paris, we studied Medieval Paris and looked at many Gothic cathedrals in Paris and in the surrounding cities. To prepare for studying aboard, I attended a class on the Ohio State University’s Columbus campus two weeks prior to flying to France. During those two weeks, I basically took a crash course in Gothic cathedrals. I learned the proper vocabulary used to describe the structure and designs of Gothic as well researching a particular topic to teach to the class while in Paris.

As previously stated, I researched Gothic ivories. I focused on a large statuette of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus that is thought to have been located in the lower chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, but now resides in the Louvre Museum.

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There were three different typical days in Paris.

The first day was when the class went to a museum to talk about a particular object and it’s significance to Medieval Paris and Gothic cathedrals. For example, the day that I presented my research to the class, the first half the day was time for personal exploration of the city and the second half was sent at the Louvre. At first I went to the Grande Palais to see an exhibition on Diego Velazquez, which was awesome because I saw some art by one of my favorite, Jusepe di Ribera, unexpectedly. Then, I met the class at the Lourve Museum. I present my research in front of the ivory statuette and then, Professor Whittington, our professor for the course and program, showed us some of his favorite pieces in the museum. (The Louvre is amazing because the major of the painting and sculptures discussed in the survey course for History of Art are found in the museum. So I was able to see many of the pieces of art that sparked my passion for the history of art.) We would then have the rest of the day to go get dinner and enjoy the nightlife of Paris.

The second day was when the class took a day trip to one the surrounding city that had one of the famous Gothic cathedral. Our first day trip was to Chartres. We left early in the morning and made the hour train ride to Chartres, France. It was awesome (in the sense that the experience inspired awe) to watch as the train approached the city and the cathedral towering over the surrounding buildings. The class would first sit outside of the cathedral and look at the very detailed façade, noticing the aspects that made this cathedral unique and the characteristics that are common among all Gothic cathedrals. Then, after looking at the outside, we would enter the cathedral, and so the same visual analysis. Then, two students would present their research. When we visited Chartres, we talked about the current renovation and restoration of the cathedral as well the importance of the labyrinth in the Medieval era. We would be on our won for lunch. I was so proud of myself because I was able to order and pay for food in French, without needing the storeowners to speak in English. (In Chartres, I had the best lemon tart.) Then we would reconvene at the cathedral and study some more. Eventually, we would make our way back to Paris for dinner.

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The third type of day was a free day. We were allowed to explore Paris on our own. My favorite free day was when I traveled by myself to Rouen, France. It was a two to three hour train trip. I went to go look at the Rouen Cathedral that Claude Monet famously painting many, many times. Though, my favorite part was that I saw a painting by my all-time favorite artist, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. I am a personal believer of the power of viewing art in person and to see Caravaggio’s Christ at the Pillar in person was one of favorite experiences of the entire trip. I also became very confident in myself because I was able to thrive on my own in the unknown.

This post addresses how I saw myself before the experience and how I changed after studying aboard.

The semester before traveling to Paris was a hot mess for me. I was still coming to terms with my mother have breast cancer for the second time, losing an election for the executive board in my favorite student organization, and dealing with my boyfriend breaking up with me. After that semester, I had very little self confidence, I felt like a failure, and looking back, I think I was in state of mild depression. (My mom is in remission, I’m running for a position again this year, and my boyfriend and I started dating again, so things did get better.) The majority of my thoughts were along the lines of “Why am I going to college?” and “This seems so pointless.”

This was my first selfie in Paris. I was so tired from the flight over.

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After studying aboard, I gained confidence in myself and my abilities. I was able to converse with some people with the basic French I had learned in high school. I became happy again. Seeing all this art that I had loved from afar, in person, helped confirm that I was going in the right direction by majoring in History of Art and having the career goals of working in a museum. I like to think that Paris was one giant reminder why life is good.

This was my last selfie in Paris is the airport. It was a weird mixture of “I don’t want to go,” but “I miss home.”

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This post will address my transformational experiences specifically.

Throughout the entire trip, I got lost in Paris by myself on multiple occasions. Usually I started my search for the known with a couple of tears. To be lost in a big, populated city where the majority of the people did not speak the same language as you and without the ability to call anybody was stressful. Luckily, the subway was easy to navigate and our professor did a great job of showing prominent landmarks near our hotel. To find your way back after being lost was a validating experience. I wasn’t totally helpless. During an adventure, a.k.a. not knowing where I was, someone approached me and started to speak French. He seemed to asking directions because he started pointing in different directions. I felt really cool because he at first mistook me as French and because I was able to respond back in French with “I’m sorry. I don’t speak French.” (Though, saying that you don’t speak French in French is a little ironic. Multiple French people pointed this out to me.)

Before my boyfriend and I broke up in February, he had introduced me to a band and I liked them. While looking to see if there would be any concerts of bands that I knew while I was in Paris in May, the band discovered through my boyfriend would be playing a show. The morning of the concert, I asked if anyone would want to go with me; I wasn’t going to go to concert by myself. One of my classmates joined me. (We got lost on the way to the concert venue, but I refrained from crying since someone I knew was with me.) The concert ended up being amazing. The music was great. We ended up meeting all the band members. I legally drank alcohol. I cried (surprise). It felt nice to enjoy something that I had lost interest in and also to not miss my boyfriend. (Since we started dating again in October, we went to the band’s concert in Columbus, Ohio. The concert was just as amazing, but even a little better because it was with him.

This is the leader singer of Misterwives and I. She was fun to meet.

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The experience in which I am most proud of myself is when I took a day trip to Rouen, France by myself. I bought my train ticket. I got myself to the train station on time in the morning and I arrived in Rouen mid-morning. I had two goals while in Rouen: I wanted to Rouen Cathedral which had inspired a series of paintings by Claude Monet and I wanted to go the Musée des Beaux-Arts. I went to the cathedral, but that was honestly a let down. I understood why our professor did not take the class to see that particular cathedral. Going to the Musée des Beaux-Arts was the highlight of the trip. At the museum they had a painting by one my favorite artist, Michelangelo Merisis da Caravaggio. There are only four paintings by Caravaggio in the United States, one in Fort Worth, Texas, another in Kansas City, Missouri, one in New York City, and the last one is in Cleveland, but it was being restored when I went to go see it. So, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, I saw my first Caravaggio painting in person and it was somewhat overwhelming experience. Any painting is ten times more beautiful or interesting or thought provoking in person than a digital or printed recreation. (The only exception is the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. It was a very underwhelming experience.) I started to cry because I think that the painting is exceptionally beautiful. Gallery attendants don’t know how to handle crying though. I was just awkwardly stared at for a bit.

This picture is of Caravaggio’s Christ at the Pillar.

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One of the last experiences that was part of my transformation was facilitated by my professor. In Reims, France, took us away from the popular and crowded Reims Cathedral and to a smaller cathedral. There was no one in the cathedral and the light were off, the only light came from the stained glass windows. He asked us to spread out through the cathedral and to sit in silence. It was a great time to reflect on that I had learned, both personally and academically, and to reflect on all of my experiences so far. The peace I felt afterwards was so uplifting. I did not cry, I was too happy.

So why was this trip beneficial to me??

Along the lines of career or professional goals, I feel that my goals are good goals and I will be successful. After graduating from undergraduate school, I plan on attending graduate school and because I studied aboard, this will help me in the selection process. Also, My passion and the time and energy I put into studying the history of art was validated in Paris. I was able to use what I had learned in class. Eventaully, I will be apply to apply this experience in the future.

Personally, Paris helped me to become happy. I’m still happy now because of Paris. I can’t wait to go back.

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Chicago Summer Mission

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Pictures: Top image — full group picture of staff and students from Chicago Summer Mission 2015. Bottom image — a group of students participating in Soularium, a survey used to help facilitate conversation about individuals’ beliefs.

Name: Sarah Thompson

Type of Project: Leadership Experience

Project Overview
For my STEP experience, I participated in a ten week mission trip to Chicago, IL as part of a Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ) Summer Mission. The mission focused on college campus outreach at three campuses in Chicago: Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Chicago, and University of Illinois at Chicago. The trip took place May 29, 2015-August 7, 2015. While in Chicago, I also had the opportunity to work at Shedd Aquarium, so I gained additional experience in the realm of nonprofit organizations.

Personal Transformation
Growing up, my town’s definition of religious diversity was one Catholic Church intermingled with a plethora of Protestant churches throughout my small town in Southeastern Ohio, so prior to coming to college I had to real experience with religious diversity. Even since coming to Ohio State, I know different belief systems and worldviews exist, but I have not fully had the opportunity to engage in discussions on the topic. In Chicago, my eyes were opened to a completely different worldview about individuals’ religions and how this impacts their day-to-day lives. My personal faith was challenged as I was pushed to understand (and articulate) why I believe what I believe and how this shapes my everyday interactions, especially as I look to learn about the religions of others.

Transformational Interactions
Because one of the main goals of this mission was to interact with college students and just hear more about their views (particularly on religion), I met a lot of great people who helped bring about shifts in my worldview and challenges to my personal belief system. One of my favorite conversations that shaped the transformation discussed above was with a student on Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT’s) campus named Vidhiya. Using tools to help facilitate conversation, I learned that she had been raised in a practicing Hindu family in India, but after moving to the United States and doing extensive research on a wide variety of religions before deciding to identify as Agnostic. This was one of my favorite experiences because she was extremely knowledgeable and open to sharing her beliefs and listening to my personal opinions/experiences, and she gave me a lot of insight into other worldviews while challenging/affirming my personal beliefs.

Also during the course of my time on IIT’s campus, I spoke to a fraternity advisor who described his beliefs to me — and it was quite a unique perspective that I had never heard before. After being raised in a predominantly Muslim family and studying religion independently in college, he came to the conclusion that the God(s) of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are all the same God. He described his belief system as “the faith” and cited scriptures from the Torah, Qur’an, and Bible to support his findings. Although I can’t say I personally agree with the conclusions he came to after studying these religions, it changed my worldview and personal definition of religion. I previously assumed that mainstream, large religious movements were the only legitimately observed religions, but this was proven wrong in his case. He was very certain of his beliefs, and “the faith” played a very large role in his day-to-day life although he was unable to be involved in a community of people with a similar belief system.

Finally, a lot of my personal transformation took place with my peers who were also on this mission from all over the country. All in all 68 college students spent 10 weeks together in Chicago. I learned more about myself in community with this group than I probably have during my first 2 years of college combined. Although there was not one major point of revelation with this, it is still extremely significant — from meeting others with similar experiences, to gaining knowledge and clarity about my own belief system by not being afraid to ask questions, to just gaining confidence in myself and in making decisions as an adult — this group was there through everything. Working through challenging conversations and personal struggles with a group of like-minded individuals was extremely powerful and allowed me to greater develop my personal belief system.

Lifelong Transformation
With more short-term academic goals, this experience helped to prepare me for a Comparative Religions course that I am currently enrolled in this semester. The experience gave me a tangible basis for applying the religions I am learning about it class, which allowed me to understand complex/supernatural concepts with greater ease. Additionally, this experience working with nonprofit organizations (both Cru and Shedd Aquarium) gave me real-world experience into the world of nonprofits and allowed me to put into practice what I was learning in my courses.

In terms of personal and lifelong goals, my experience on Chicago Summer Mission helped me gain confidence in talking about my personal faith. It also broadened my knowledge of religious diversity, which opened my mind to be more empathetic in working with religiously diverse individuals, especially for my future career field. In looking towards my future and career goals, it allowed me to compare the role that religion plays in people’s lives. More tangibly, it also provided great experience and networking opportunities in the city of Chicago. Finally, this experience gave me a better idea of what career path I want to take within the field of social work and has led me to look into pursuing graduate school for social work with a focus on counselling.

Stanford Summer College Worker Program

During the summer of 2015 I worked as an intern for the Summer College Student Worker Program at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. I spent my time with Stanford working as a vertical coordinator for the hospital’s Emergency Department, gaining experience interacting with patients, collecting vital signs/diagnostic tests and performing necessary duties in the fast-paced environment of the ER. By collaborating with the unit secretaries, medical technicians, nurses, practitioners and physicians of the Stanford healthcare team, I obtained knowledge regarding how the operations of an ER function through the positive work environment the Stanford ER possesses. As a nursing student interested in emergency medicine, this program helped broaden my perspective of the responsibilities and situations an ER nurse encounters daily, and I was able to participate in implementing a plan of care for patients.

The summer program was not only enjoyable and informative, but also a transformational experience I will never forget. From the experiences I encountered as an intern in the Emergency Room that improved my emergency medicine and trauma nursing skills, to the relationships I was able to build with co-workers on my unit, to the incredible people I had the opportunity to meet from all over the globe, all of this truly made the experience life-changing. As a first-year undergraduate student I developed an interest in emergency medicine, and this past summer reinforced this genuine interest, as I was able to learn from a team of positive, knowledgeable healthcare professionals that created an ideal learning environment. Before interning at Stanford I was unsure how I would react to the fast-paced, high-stress environment of an ER, however, after shadowing the nurses and gaining hands-on experience by working with patients in critical situations, I learned how to focus in on the tasks I needed to perform, while allowing other providers to perform tasks they needed to complete simultaneously. Since this work environment is very fast-paced, I learned how to prioritize nursing care, performing essential duties first then collecting crucial assessment data and diagnostic tests immediately after. The skills I developed as a nursing student were much needed in these traumatic situations, and I learned how to quickly apply the nursing knowledge I obtained in school to the various emergent situations I faced throughout the program. Many of the patients I encountered were Spanish-speaking as well, allowing me to practice my Spanish language skills. The Spanish language has been a passion of mine since high school, and while I am unable to pursue Spanish courses as an undergraduate in nursing, I was able to regain a majority of my speaking skills this past summer by conversing with patients. This professional transformation was accompanied by the personal transformation I encountered, as I lived in a culture that was unfamiliar to me and learned how to live independently in a new area.

As I traveled to California on my own, without knowing anyone prior to my departure, I knew this experience would be eye-opening and transformational, as I attempted to make an unfamiliar environment somewhat familiar. Upon arriving in California, I immediately seized the opportunity of getting to know the countless number of researchers, interns and students that Stanford University attracts from all over the world. From different parts of the United States, to France, Belgium, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Spain, Norway, China and more, I enjoyed learning about the unique cultures of my new friends, and together we traveled around California, learning we all had much more in common than our internship programs, despite the fact we were all from different parts of the world. With my new amazing group of friends I embraced the culture of the Bay area through traveling pursuits—together we visited nearby national parks such as Lassen Volcanics National Park and Yosemite, biked the Golden Gate Bridge, visited Alcatraz, explored Carmel Beach and Monterey, toured countless times through the city of San Francisco, kayaked the San Francisco Bay, went skydiving and ventured around Palo Alto and the Stanford campus area as well.

Along with traveling, I was also able to pursue external opportunities beyond the internship program, which also contributed to my overall transformation. At Ohio State I have been actively involved in service and volunteer events around the Columbus area, primarily those that cater towards the under-served and homeless populations. I brought this passion to California, where I got involved serving lunch to the homeless and under-served populations of the area at All Saints Episcopal Church in Palo Alto. Every Thursday and Friday morning I biked to the church to serve for two hours, spending my time passing out desserts and mingling with the families that came in. I learned so much from hearing their stories and greatly appreciated all the life experiences they chose to share with me. The other volunteers I worked with were wonderful, and I was able to apply the knowledge and experiences I obtained through volunteer work at Ohio State to this unique opportunity in Palo Alto.

Beyond interning in the ER, traveling and volunteering, I also seized the opportunity to get to know my co-workers and fellow interns. I had the opportunity to get lunch with one of the nurses on my unit, who served as a mentor to me throughout the entire program, and she shared her nursing background and readily gave advice to me and the other intern on the unit. I also formed a strong relationship with the other intern, Faith, as we were able to collaborate throughout our shifts to ensure all necessary tasks were completed for the safety of our patients. Faith and I also shared ideas we had for the future, and together, we built strong relationships with the nurses on our unit, taking their advice into consideration and gaining their support. We also had a ‘Strength Finders’ workshop day, where all the interns from multiple areas of the hospital came together for the afternoon and got to network, talk about our individual strengths and discuss how we could utilize these strengths to create a hospital environment that is productive and positive for the well-being of staff and patients. I also spent time collaborating with the nurse manager of the ER, discussing ways we could improve the quality of patient care on our unit. I had the opportunity to partake in a small portion of an ongoing research project for the unit regarding the topic of patient telemetry monitoring during transfer between units. As an undergraduate researcher at Ohio State partaking in pediatric asthma education research through the College of Nursing, I spent time at an asthma clinic collecting data via survey distribution for my independent project, allowing me to gain research experience as well.

This experience has undoubtedly altered my perspective on emergency medicine and hospital operations as a whole in a positive way, and will serve as the catalyst for several future goals I have developed. Participation in this program showed me what it means to take a risk, set high expectations, and to have the experience be everything you could have asked for and more. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Stanford and out in California, and while I hope my career path and life someday leads me back out there, this experience has taught me that I should never fear the unknown or the unfamiliar regardless of where I end up, as there is so much learning to be done through taking a risk and exploring something new. While I am not sure where my life path will lead next, I know that I will keep an open mind and always be on the search for new opportunities to learn and enhance my nursing skills, wherever that may be, as every new experience can offer something to broaden one’s perspective. This past summer was transformative, and I will seek to continue with this transformation via future opportunities that unravel throughout my career path and life journey.

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I Was Young When I Left Home

During May 2015, I traveled across the U.S. and Canada on Amtrak railways. By documenting my experiences with people and landscape, as well as by writing a narrative that combines folklore research, travel literature, and journaling, I explored my identity as citizen and artist in 21st-century America.

During my travels I reflected often upon the sense of individuality and self-reliance I was forging through planning and executing this big trip alone. For the first time, I got to be alone in not only a new place, but almost every place I got off the train. As I walked and talked my way across the country, the random happenings of life forced me to adjust my schedule often, visit different cities than planned, and stay in places I did not expect. Adjusting my STEP budget, travel itinerary, and lodgings, all without an advisor or parent to guide me or offer their experiences, gave me the opportunity to trust myself in a new way for the first time and believe that I could make safe, responsible, and meaningful choices on my own.

While I explored this new independence, I also felt the ways in which this trip was offering me an experience not exactly unique to me as a young person. Countless narratives I have read in my Literature education follow young people setting off for the first time to a strange place and – unsurprisingly – discovering similar things about their self-reliance, independence, friendships, etc. While I have read my whole life about travel opening peoples’ minds and offering diverse experiences, actually experiencing those changes for myself became the way these lessons from literature made sense and instilled themselves in my being.

During the first leg of my travels, an Amtrak train in Philadelphia derailed, killing some and injuring many. The stretch of track damaged by this accident is a vital passage between the NYC / Northeast US area and the rest of the contiguous US. The night of the accident I was in North Dakota traveling towards Chicago to head towards New York the following day, but the Philadelphia crash forced me to reroute nine of my twelve train tickets and take an alternate route to New York and Montreal which I was intent on visiting. Family, friends, and even people I met on the trip who heard about my long odyssey texted, called, emailed, while I was out of cell range and had no WIFI, so responding to all my worried relations was a different kind of challenge. Lacking WIFI also made documenting parts of my experience and researching new questions that arose from my explorations difficult, so I learned to re-value the analog world of pen-and-paper writing, which has impacted my writing experience as an English major.

I fell in love on the train. As silly as that sounds, one of the first people I met was an Afro-Anglo-American design student from California who was visiting her mother in San Francisco. During the 18 hours we spent together in the observation car of my first Amtrak train, we talked to strangers, shared our lives, goals, and dreams with each other, discovered a mutual passion for poetry, and exhausted ourselves playing cards and trading stories with about ten other people under 27 who were all on the train with us. During the previous school year a significant relationship in my life ended, which sent me into a bad place for the rest of the school year, heavily complicated by my Seasonal Affective Disorder. Meeting Anicka in the liminal traincar space was such a restorative experience for me, because we both knew that this relationship would pass away as soon as we split for different cities, but that made the experience so much more impactful for me. I was uplifted by the fact that there are people in completely surprising places where I can find meaningful connection, romance, and experience with, and it didn’t matter that this person was not able to be a romantic partner for me, because people like her were in fact out theresomewhere.

Lastly, seeing brand new landscapes stimulated my aesthetic and spiritual wellness. Bob Bierkenholz asked me to take a camera along for selfies of all the new places I would see, but instead I had more fun. My freshman year roommate and I bought a toy in the Short North as a gag over winter break — a five-inch tall green wooden robot which we named Dennis. I took Dennis along with me and, instead of instagramming pictures of myself, took pictures of Dennis doing very basic tourist things — trying new foods, posturing in front of monuments, meeting new people — all in miniature. Dennis gained a small following of my friends, as well as studios and art galleries in the cities I visited, museums, as well as the official Instagram page for the company that produces toys like Dennis. I learned to be comfortable looking totally silly, squatting, kneeling, laying down on the floor, to take pictures of a toy in otherwise very serious places, to make me and my friends back home (plus throughout the US) laugh. Almost too many times to count, I encountered a beautiful coast, park, building, felt myself rejuvenated after a painful and taxing school year, and after a tearful joy passed through me, found a way to make it goofy with Dennis. As this current school year has progressed, I have found myself marrying this serious joy with silliness, which has benefitted my relationships, as well as uplifted me more through these various outlets for self-help.

My STEP experience taught me to prioritize travel as a way to rebalance, explore, and relax. The amount of logistical and financial planning to earn these meaningful experiences has allowed me to cultivate time management skills, detail-oriented planning, and communication skills with a diverse range of people and mediums. I have since begun to plan a trip to Paris with my best friend, as well as another larger-scale solo trip for the summer of 2016, using my student employment and various side hustles like church choir singing and selling plasma to fund my adventures. In addition, I have found several options to make a career out of travel and writing through organizations such as AirBNBs, hostels.com, and Discovery Channel, which I am pursuing throughout the next semester as I plan my post-graduation plans.