Reflection: Study Abroad

This past summer of 2017, I participated in a study abroad program that took place in Quebec City, Canada at Université Laval. The program was an intensive French immersion program.

 

This program was something that really shed light on the kind of person that I am. It also revealed to me some of the things that I need or lack in my life. Firstly, the program made me realize the importance of continually trying in anything you want to accomplish no matter what may happen or what obstacle may be in your way. I learned that where talent may fail or be non-existent, determination and persistency always win. Secondly, I learned that I am too much of a serious person especially when it came to academics. I realized I need to let loose sometimes and just have fun, which eventually made me realize some of the things that I enjoy doing. Lastly, I learned how to appreciate and celebrate others, especially those who help or strive for us daily.

Upon my arrival in Quebec City, I was immediately expected to communicate only in French. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise as it was the very purpose of the program, but I however found it challenging as I often struggled to find the words to express myself in speech with others. Also, through my academics, I saw these same challenges as I struggled in my French grammar class. I came short when it came to speaking and vocabulary, but was good enough in writing. I realized that my learning of the French language only in class and from a book wasn’t enough. I rather should have used what I learned and built on them. Despite these challenges, as I was forced to speak French continually, a space was created for me to make mistakes.

The more I made mistakes and the more I was corrected, the more I was learning even though I didn’t realize it at the time. From the onset, I wanted to speak and write perfect French without errors, but I later realized that wasn’t the point. Through extracurricular activities and academic assignments, I came to the realization that the point was in me trying even if I made mistakes. The most important thing was in trying and not giving up. This attitude translated to my academics as I started off rough, but I ended up doing very well towards the end. At the end of the program, I realized how much I have learned and improved learning from the mistakes I made upon my return.

As part of the program, there were extracurricular activities that were designed to give students another opportunity in practicing their French and also serve as an encouragement to continue trying to learn. These extracurricular activities took place every day after classes and we were required to sign up for them if we wished to participate in them. I didn’t sign up for a good member of these activities as I thought my academics were more important, which was true but not always focused on studying. My host family quickly took notice of this and they sat me down one day and had a talk with me about how I need to go out and have fun and not spend a lot of time studying. They explained how it was unhealthy and unproductive for me. I thought about this for a good week and realized not only were they right, but how my entire life had been like that. How I had forgotten the things I enjoy and how I wasn’t even making time to have fun. This dawned on me for a while as I figured out this missing and important piece in my life. I realized how important it is for me to rejuvenate and enjoy life at times. With that, I started participating in activities and going out more to enjoy myself.

I was fortunate enough to have a host family who were very caring and kind. They cared and communicated with me as if I were their own daughter and not a stranger. I really felt at home in their home. In their house, I lived with three other students who would easily give the same testimony about the host family. The host mother went from cooking us delicious meals, helping us with our homework, and trying her best to make sure we had the best experience in Quebec City. It then came her birthday and the other students in the house wanted to do something special for her for they felt very appreciative for all that she had done for them. Though I agree that she is a wonderful woman, I didn’t feel this was really necessary. I felt the thank yous and birthday wishes would be enough. I, however went ahead and participated in making her birthday as special as we could. At the end, I realized how happy and thankful she was when she saw her birthday gift. I felt proud of myself and happy when she thank me. Although thank yous and wishes are good, I realized how thoughtful and beautiful it is to actually take time to celebrate and do something for the ones who adds meaning to our lives.

These things that I’ve learned from my experience have translated to my personal life and academic life. Upon arrival from my program and just realizing how much I have improved my French, has increased my confidence both academically and personally. I now have more confidence in myself in approaching a problem or difficulty and have developed a persistence character as I’ve learned to always give a try even though I might make mistakes. As for my command of the French language, it has increased dramatically. I am now able to speak and write much better. Lastly, the experience has enriched my love for the language and I am even more eager now to continue speaking in order to preserve it. This study abroad program fulfilled my desire of enabling me to better speak the language and also helping me take a step of perfecting my French as I aspire to become an international trade specialist in the near future.

Higher Education in Brazil

1.) For my STEP experience I went on a study abroad trip to Salvador, Brazil.  We studied access to higher education (and education as a whole) especially for Afro-Brazilian youths.

2.) I had a vastly transforming experience in Brazil.  As a white North American, I was really confronted with the privileges I carry just as an accident of birth.  Salvador has a majority of black people, however the university in the city is 90% white. Access to education is not equal based on very systematic racism that has disadvantaged people of color for centuries.  There was a stark parallelism between the situation in Brazil and what we see in the United States today.  For me, it was incredibly eye opening to see the experience that students there have compared to the opportunities I was given here because of socioeconomic status and race.

3.) We visited several schools which really showed us what it was like for students to succeed.  If students can afford private schools, they will have the proper education needed to get into the free, government funded public colleges.  In contrast, those who must attend public K-12 schools are at a disadvantage because they are not well-funded by the government. Students must pass an entrance exam, but it is very hard if they cannot attend a good private school.  They do have an affirmative action policy in place to help level the playing field for students of color.

We visited a school where the students are completely of color in a small, community neighborhood.  They are a community school funded by donations so not everything is up to date. What they lack in funding or resources, they more than make up in passion and heart.  These students were so happy for the opportunity to learn.  Most of the students don’t eat more than the meal they are given at school they appreciate everything they are given.

Speaking with these children and teachers made me appreciate not only the free public education I had, but the choice I had in school and college.  I had the opportunity to be whoever I wanted and many kids across the world, and right here at home, don’t have that chance.  This has inspired me to go into education and fight for these kids so everyone can have equal access to education.

4.) This is so important because it has inspired me to think beyond myself in my career as an educator.  That means taking jobs in lower-income districts, not working for the pay increases, but the chance to even the playing field and be an advocate for these students.  It was devastating to see this abroad, but knowing that it is in our own backyard has inspired me to go forward and work to help solve this injustice.

Scientific Roots in the UK – STEP Study Abroad Experience

For my STEP experience, I enrolled in the Scientific Roots in the UK course and spent the first half of the spring semester in the classroom at OSU learning about the incredible scientific advancements made overtime in England, the people who made those advancements, and their significance throughout history. Then over spring break, we had the opportunity to travel to some of those places of cultural, historical and scientific significance in London, Lyme Regis and Cambridge that we learned about in class, and experience them for ourselves.

Throughout my experience in the classroom, as well as in England, I really broadened my knowledge of science as an interdisciplinary study. I think because the sciences are an ever-evolving field we often view them in the present and future tenses. Rarely do we get the opportunity to study where these discoveries came from, their social implications and historical context in detail. This program I was able to complete through STEP was unique because of the occasion it offered me to gain a deeper understanding of scientific discoveries and see how the evolution of science throughout history connects to social movements, social conditions and the sociology behind the study and pursuit of scientific knowledge.

Beyond the academic significance of this experience, I also gained a better understanding of myself through completing my STEP Signature Project. This was my first time traveling abroad, and as someone who is at Ohio State University purely on scholarship and coming from a small town in Appalachia, the idea of traveling to another country was as terrifying as it was exciting. Throughout my time studying with my classmates here at OSU and studying abroad in England, I not only gained confidence in myself individually, but also gained confidence in the way I connect with others.

One of the most valuable things gained from this experience was building lasting friendships with fellow students. We had a small group of people from different backgrounds, majors and academic ranks on our trip, and learning from and with one another was a wonderful experience I will always be thankful for. I went into this trip trying to see England all on my own, but found that some experiences in life are best shared with people who are just as amazed as you are.

It is certainly hard to pick favorites but the most memorable part of my trip was probably an afternoon fossil hunting on the shores of Lyme Regis. While talking to one of the few professional fossil hunters who makes his living by finding and selling beautiful pre-historic artifacts to tourists, I was given some sage advice about life. Listening to his stories about why he does what he does, and why he chose to stay in his home town and go into the “family business” of fossil hunting with his father was one of those conversations I will never forget.

While walking through the clay-like sand down the coast, his trained eye saw in a large piece of shale rock the edge of a perfectly preserved ammonite fossil. Normally, I would not have the confidence to ask questions when the answer could be “no”, but this was a wonderful opportunity I could not waste, so I asked him if he would mind if we tried break it open to find the fossil. To my excitement, he said yes. I now have several pictures of me chiseling out a perfect ammonite fossil that I was allowed to take home with me. Needless to say, best souvenir ever.

Beyond all the fun I had, I truly learned so much in the classroom and in England during this experience. As a sociology major, I was a little intimidated going on this trip with so many students who were biology and chemistry majors. But throughout our conversations and learning experiences, it was clear to me that a sociological perspective on science was also incredibly valuable. For example, we visited the Royal Society, which serves as a scientific authority in England, and has since the mid 1600s. While on the surface we learned about the historical significance of the Royal Society Fellows, and their contributions to the advancement of conducts and communications around scientific discovery. But on a deeper level, we were given an inside look at the social structure of this particular scientific institution, and their relationships to other institutions of scientific discovery. Because of my background in sociology, I was able to think further about the social conditions that either serve to further the exploration of science, or hinder that pursuit.

Participating in this trip was one of the best decisions I have made as an OSU student. It is so hard to put into words just how much I learned over the course of a few short weeks in the classroom, and one week abroad. I draw on those experiences often in ways that I was not expecting to after the trip. Sure, I thought that I would be able to return from England with some trivia to impress my friends, but never did I think I would draw on conversations I had with locals about pursuing my passions, or the importance of family. I never thought then that when I now find myself in situations of uncertainty, I remember the way I got myself and my buddy to every single “must-see” we had circled on our map of London in one day to remind myself that even when life is overwhelming, there is always time for tea. This change in the way I understand and view myself really matters in terms of my future endeavors, both personally and professionally. The broader understanding of my field of study in sociology and how it connects to the pursuit of human discovery in the sciences is incredibly valuable. That kind of understanding only comes from in-depth experiences like the one I was lucky enough to be a part of in England.

 

 

European Sustainable Cities

My STEP Project was a study abroad excursion to several European cities, including Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin, and Amsterdam. The goal of the project was to examine the sustainable planning practices that those cities use. As a group, we got to attend lectures from several local architecture and planning firms and conducted case studies on several key urban spaces.

 

The trip definitely changed my view on how urban spaces should be planned, in regards to both form and function.  European views on public transportation and housing are quite different from American views, and it was eye-opening to see the many examples of how spaces could potentially be planned in Columbus.  Americans are very much reliant on the car, a very unstainable means of transport, to travel to most places, and I would love to see more public infrastructure being built to sustainably support cities like Columbus.

 

All of the cities that I studied took measures to avoid suburban sprawl, with most of the population living relatively close to the city center. These density levels allow for public transportation to be a viable and sustainable way for people to get around. I had the chance to frequently travel around these cities via train, bus, metro, and bicycle, and I was very impressed.  Amsterdam and Copenhagen also featured canal tours, which also provided a charming, creative alternative means of transport.

 

Copenhagen, ranked the world’s most livable city in 2014, had a very impressive bicycle system, which was separate from both the roads and the sidewalks. The roads, bicycles, and sidewalks all had individual traffic signals, so the potential for crashes was minimal. In winter, the bike paths are paved before the roads, showing their commitment to the city’s bike friendly atmosphere. Measures like parking limitations and zoning have also helped greatly in reducing automobile traffic and emissions, thereby maintaining the city’s impeccable sustainability record.  Using methods similar to Copenhagen could greatly improve US cities.

 

Navigating subway and bus systems was another one of the highlights of my trip. In the cities I visited, there didn’t seem to be a negative stigma about using the bus or the subway, because it was a practice where everyone was participating. In those cites, buses and trams are simply more convenient to use than cars, so it is an all-inclusive activity. The lack of funding in public infrastructure in US has led buses and trains to be slow and unreliable, so the only people who really use them are those who cannot afford private vehicles to get around.  In the European cities, the public interest in bus and train systems allows more funding, which helps maintain the reliable service that these cities are known for.

 

This experience provided me the insight and motivation to pursue transportation planning and engineering, so I can help facilitate, in the United States, the kind of sustainable practices that one can find in European cities.  I believe that walkable cities are the key to a sustainable future, and the cities that I have seen provide remarkable inspiration for future goals that I hope to accomplish.

One of Amsterdam's many canals.

One of Amsterdam’s many canals.

Green space on a mall roof in Berlin.

Green space on a mall roof in Berlin.

STEP Study Abroad Reflection

During the Spring of 2016, I chose to take an independent study abroad trip to Birmingham, England. Most people are surprised that I did not study in London but I have two reasons for opting for the West Midlands. Firstly, I was told that London was must more international and while lovely, I wouldn’t get a feel for typical British life. Secondly, I do competitive Irish Dancing and the school I wanted to attend was in Birmingham.

While studying abroad it became clear to me that I am capable of creating anything I set my mind to. Everyday it was an amazing feeling knowing that this was just an idea I had my sophomore year that I had willed into a reality. The English school calendar also allows for a month long break before finals. I saw this as an opportunity to travel all over which is rare while in America. A majority of my finals were papers so I worked ahead and planned every aspect of my trip beforehand. The lack of major issues I encountered made me realize that I am at a point in my life that I am able to set a goal and take the necessary steps to achieving it without the help of an “adult” (I wouldn’t consider myself an adult just yet).

On the other side of that, when planning was over it became important to enjoy what was around me. I’ve always appreciated my time as a Buckeye but I believe even more so, I realize that this is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is so easy to be overwhelmed by all the errands you have to run and tasks on your to-do list. These moments pass so quickly that it is important to look at what is around you and realize that you will never be in this same place again. That can be obvious when traveling to places that you legitimately may never visit again but even during a seemingly daily routine at no moment will you be in the same physical, emotional, or mental place at the same time.

I gained a new sense of confidence when I traveled through Mainland Europe. When I left, I did not realize the set-up of the British school system so I did not anticipate having an entire month off. I think it is clear that I am quite ambitious when an opportunity presents itself so I knew that this would be my chance to see the world. Until now, I thought I was quite knowledgeable about geography and landmarks but I had to do copious amounts of research in order to create a list of what I wanted to see and how to see it. Next, I had to meticulously plan my trip by finding the right (and cheapest) transportation, places to stay, and the timing of it all. During some of my trip, I was joined by my friends Quinn and Victoria but since I would be traveling alone some of the time I created a detailed itinerary so my family and friends could follow along. I planned all of this and finished my final papers in March before leaving. I ended up never missing my transportation, trying a variety of foreign foods, meeting new people, and seeing more than I planned. My newfound confidence came from being able to plan and execute the entire trip which at first seemed daunting. In the end, I had traveled for 27 days straight, visited 11 countries, explored over 20 cities, and traveled over 5,000 miles.

While in Birmingham, I felt compelled not only to appreciate my time there but also my time at Ohio State. Although everyone was very welcoming, I was homesick being over a thousand miles from my friends and family. I realized how amazing my time at Ohio State has been which, I could have never anticipated when I accepted my place as a member of the Class of 2017. I had a new sense of wonderment that out of shear luck I met people that share the same heart as me and now are some of my favorite people. Although I missed this while in England, I knew that when I returned, things would be so much better because of this acknowledgement. I quickly learned that having friends on separate sides of the Atlantic would prove difficult. What I really needed was to be able to pick up one world and move it to the other. I understood my time there was limited so I focused on embracing it. A turning point for me was when I was exploring Europe. My tight schedule only allowed a few days in each location so I knew it was important to take a mental image of the cities. One of my favorite things to do was visit a site high above the city in order to get a good view of the skyline and landscape. When presented with such beauty, it was easy to get lost in the moment. When I returned to Birmingham, even more so than before, I was grateful for every dance class I attended (only finals remained at the university) and this amazing opportunity.

These changes have led to increased confidence and awareness. Both of these skills will be crucial as I finish out my time at Ohio State and enter the “real world.” While in school, confidence will be important when I’m feeling discouraged about my workload or overwhelmed about the future. Upon graduation, I will need to be confident in my work and my abilities in order to pitch myself to employers.

On the other hand, gaining a good sense of awareness is an important aspect of aging. The present always seems to pass slowly but it is gone before you realize it. When looking back, freshman year seems much closer than almost four years ago. Taking a moment to stop and smell the roses will help me appreciate the present, de-stress about the future, and create lasting memories that will, hopefully, slow down time.

One of my dance teacher from Birmingham, John Carey and myself

One of my dance teacher from Birmingham, John Carey and myself

Old Joe on the campus of the University of Birmingham

Old Joe on the campus of the University of Birmingham

European Architecture Study-Tour

The STEP project that I engaged in was an OSU study abroad program. I travelled to Europe with the Knowlton School’s European Architecture Maymester program. Over the course of the month, we visited seven countries and studied almost 200 important works of architecture.

Prior to my STEP experience, I was considering focusing on residential or educational architecture in my future career. During the trip, however, I noticed that my attention wandered from these traditional typologies of architecture to factories and landscape architecture spaces. My interest in factories was not surprising; my father owns a woodworking factory and I grew up in the factory environment. The landscape interest was something new. While I had always appreciated exterior spaces before, I now see landscape architecture as a profession which engages with current environmental problems while creating dynamic situational spaces for people to meet, socialize, contemplate, or exercise. As a senior looking for post-graduation employment, thanks to my STEP experience I plan to apply to both traditional and landscape architecture firms.

Over the course of the trip, whether because of room assignments or going out to eat on free nights, I ended up spending a significant amount of time with students that I had previously thought that I had little in common. Through this experience I have come to know some of them as some of the most kind, unassuming, and welcoming people I know. When I started at the Knowlton School, I had a hard time relating to the students in my year. Growing up homeschooled in China tends to put you at a disadvantage when everyone is bonding over awful high school stories, and I assumed that other students wouldn’t like me due to our differences and therefore isolated myself. Spending time with my fellow architecture students in this concentrated environment allowed me to get out of my self-induced social-coma.

One of the most thrilling places that we visited was the Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord in Duisburg, Germany which had been designed by landscape architect firm Latz+Partner. We arrived late in the afternoon on our tour bus and were told to “go play.” However, we had to be back at the bus in two hours. By this point in the day we had already been to a few cathedrals and toured an ancient silver mine (all in the same day), so we were very tired. The park was located at the site of an old iron-working factory which had not been used for many years. The landscape architects were challenged to re-program the site for public use while not erasing the character of the site, creating a living memorial of a former time. The idea was to work with existing site components to the point where grandfathers could take their grandchildren to the park to play and say, “I used to work on that [insert factory department]!” The park was filled with frame after frame of amazing views, from tranquil pools of water in giant vats, abandoned railway structure, to cat walks in the air created from pieces of old building from which I saw a series of delightful tiny “secret gardens” tucked into the half-destroyed cellular storage rooms of the factory. The park registered in me a nostalgia born from growing up hanging around my dad’s factory in central California, pre-recession.

landschaftspark-duisburg-nord_spiess16

Slide from a distance

Slide from a distance

While in Paris, we stayed in apartment-style housing at a hotel, with two rooms and a kitchenette. The suite I shared with three other girls opened onto a terrace, and in the evening we gathered outside with some of our other classmates. It wasn’t a big deal to them, but for me it was the first time that I had hung out with them outside of studio at school. As we sat there, talking about things we had seen that day, listening to music, I felt included as I had never felt in architecture school before. Later that night the others went out clubbing while I stayed behind to relax, take a bubble bath, and catch up on sketching. Out of habit I locked the door and eventually went to bed. In the morning I woke up, surprised and alarmed that my roommates had not returned during the night. They were locked out! Though understandably annoyed, they were remarkably forgiving and didn’t hold it against me for the rest of the trip. These memories are important to me as a remembrance of good times, but also as a landmark of growing up and being able to socialize and feel comfortable in my own skin.

Moving forward in my career I am full of questions as to the direction my path may take due to the unexpected things I discovered about myself in Europe. The library of both architecture and landscape architecture spatial ideas developed during the program is proving to be extremely valuable as I start my senior studio in architecture. As a more confident, well-rounded student, I approach graduation and joining the working world with anticipation and excitement about things to come.

 

 

Saudade: Eu sinto sua, Salvador

My STEP experience allowed me to go abroad to Salvador, Bahia, Brazil with ten other undergraduate and graduate students and engage in cultural exchanges rooted in dance. This trip took place from March 8-March 21st 2016, over Spring Break.

 

This trip was exciting for me because it was my first time going out of the country, travelling to a country that I have always wanted to go to, and also being able to dance internationally. I really had no prior assumptions on how the trip would go or what to expect because the thought of Salvador was so foreign to me, so my anticipations were high. From flying over Salvador, I immediately knew I would love it there. The sun glistened, the sky was so beautifully blue, the clouds covered the sky like clumps of cotton, and the warmth hugged me as I exited the airplane. As we waited for our program director (Clara Ramos) to meet us, we learned a Portuguese phrase that we used often, “com licensa” or “excuse me”. When she arrived, we came into our first contact with Brazilian love. She gave us hugs and told us how excited she was that we were there.

 

That experience opened my eyes to the friendliness, love, and acceptance that Brazilians share. I realized then how much that I was willing to open my view to the wonders of the culture that I would be in for the next two weeks. It was so easy for me to do so because I felt so welcome and Salvador so quickly felt like a second home to me. I’m glad I had no prior assumptions of Brazil or the experiences we had because everything I experienced was so amazing, there was no way I could I have dreamed it to be true.

 

The main reason we were in Brazil was for dance. We had spent several months planning repertory, rehearsing, and learning about the culture all to prepare us for our experience there. We spent our time performing in various school locations and theater settings, learning dances native to Brazil, such as Afro-Brazilian dance and dances of orishas of the Candomblé religion, and learning about the history and dynamic of Salvador.

 

We spent our first couple days going on tours around the area around our hotel and historical Pelourinho. Our tour guides, Fred and Simone, were awesome tour guides and keyed us into traits that would lead us to really be immersed in the Brazilian society, such as using a thumbs up to thank someone letting you walk across the street. Although we performed many times in Brazil, people’s reactions were always the same. They would be so in tune with our dances and would be so interested in who we were in person that we would get swarmed with people, love, and appreciation for the performance we just gave.

 

We took a variety of classes while in Brazil, including classes in capoeira, Afro-Brazilian, and more. We got a first hand experience on the types of formal dance that Brazil has to offer by taking these classes and also going to a performance by Balé Folclórico. This allowed us to not only share how we dance in the States, but also to admire and even try the types of dances that Brazil has to offer. There was a real sense of cultural exchange that took place in Salvador.

 

Through these practices we were able to establish relationships with many people ranging from the hotel employees, students at every school, teachers, and random people on the street. We were easily able to create friendships and connections with people that influenced our time in Salvador greatly.

 

This experience of travelling to Salvador changed my life. It allowed me to see the world differently, engage with people I never thought I would, and perform internationally. I was able to have a sense of home outside of the U.S., which was so special to me. I was able to see a different part of the world, take classes from amazing teachers, analyze cultural appreciation from cultural appropriation, and even got to enjoy the beauty of Brazil. I have never felt more at home in a place outside of my own, and to feel that in Salvador was amazing to me.

 

This trip lead me to want to continue service and outreach activities this school year has increased my want to go back. I plan to go back to further study Afro-Brazilian dance and also be able to teach dance genres that aren’t accessible in Brazil, such as contemporary. I felt very connected to the Afro-Brazilian dance style and feel that it would be great for me to study more in depth. Also, since travelling to Salvador, I am currently enrolled in a Portuguese language course this semester so I can be well versed, if I do in fact return.

 

In conclusion, STEP allowing me to study abroad in Salvador was by far the best experience of my life. I know being in Brazil has shaped who I am as a person today. It has also influenced my future studies since I now want to learn more about Afro-Brazilian dance. This trip was an honor to have been chosen to go on and learn as much as I did about company, cultural, and social experiences.

 

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Intensive Chinese Language in Suzhou (China): STEP 2016

For my STEP project, I spent seven weeks in Suzhou, China studying Mandarin Chinese at Suzhou University. This trip was through Ohio State’s Intensive Chinese Language in Suzhou program, through Ohio State’s East Asian Studies Center.

 

Spending two months in China reinvigorated my deep interest in, and appreciation of, Chinese language and culture. I started studying Chinese in 2013 during my freshman year of high school, but until this past summer, had not traveled to China. Spending seven weeks in China greatly boosted my confidence in speaking Chinese with native speakers, and daily exposure to Chinese people and culture in and outside of the classroom gave me a new perspective on China as a developing nation. Discussing the rapidly changing economic and political climate with Chinese nationals made me realize how drastic the economic, political, and cultural transitions within the country have been in recent decades, and made me consider the issues China faces in coming years as rapid economic growth continues to transform China’s cities.

 

While in China I also had the opportunity to become acquainted with the program’s coordinator, Xiaobin Jian. Professor Jian also happens to be the coordinator for Ohio State’s Advanced Chinese Language and Culture (Flagship) program, OSU’s master’s program in Chinese language and culture. Although all of my classmates in China were OSU undergraduate students, we also had daily contact with the current Flagship students. From talking with the Flagship students, I realized that there are a lot of opportunities through the master’s program to continue Chinese language studies while pursuing academic studies catered to each student’s interests. The underlying theme of researching in Chinese allowed for the actual topic of research to be open to nearly all subjects. Furthermore, I was thoroughly impressed by the Flagship students’ conversation Chinese. I quickly realized that the Flagship student’s conversational Chinese skills were far more advanced than that of just Chinese majors. During one conversation I had with a Flagship student, she admitted that my current level of Chinese was better than hers when she was participating in the undergraduate program I was a part of while in Suzhou. This sparked my interest in applying for the Flagship program after graduation, realizing that during the two-year program I could greatly improve my conversational Chinese. Since being back in the U.S., Professor Jian and I have already begun discussing potential thesis topics to research if I get accepted to the Flagship program.

 

 

Living in Suzhou for nearly two months provided my classmates and I the opportunity to get involved in the Suzhou community through activities such as dining at local restaurants, riding public transportation, shopping, and going out on the weekends and meeting residents of Suzhou. These experiences helped me become comfortably acquainted with many locals, such as a now good friend of mine, Longfei Li, who is a waiter at a high-end restaurant in Suzhou. Perhaps the bridging gap between my classmates and I, and Chinese society, was that OSU’s partner-school in Hebei province had sent a group of Chinese university students to Suzhou to tutor us every day after we were let out of class. Because this program’s intent was to provide us an environment where we would be forced to communicate in Chinese, many of our tutors had very basic knowledge of English, and those that did almost never spoke to us in English. The hours that we all spent together in the library on weekdays and the times that we all hung out together, whether it be over dinner or at karaoke clubs, these interactions contributed to our Chinese progression immensely, as the learning we were experiencing was engaging and personable. The relationships we built with the tutors, many of whom I still maintain contact with today, has helped bring a part of the immersive Chinese experience back with me to Ohio. I know that the next time I return to China, I will have many places to travel to and many friends to see.

 

Being immersed in Chinese society–especially in Suzhou, a city with much less of a foreign presence than larger Chinese cities such as Shanghai–not only forced me to use Chinese to communicate with everyone other than my classmates but also provided countless opportunities to learn about Chinese culture in a historic Chinese city. There were many instances in which I was required to step out of my comfort zone, but all of these experiences ultimately contributed to a very positive experience in China. For example, the lack of foreigners in Suzhou brought about many situations where people on the street would ask to take my picture, or ask me to hold their child while they take my picture. Although the first few of such experiences felt a little uncomfortable, I quickly understood how peculiar my classmates and I must have seemed to the people of Suzhou.

 

Besides classes, Xiaobin Jian organized a few field trips for us to local spots to learn about Chinese culture. These trips included a day of hiking in mountain town, where we helped local fruit farmers gather Yangmei fruit. Afterwards, we shared lunch with a local family in their home, where they served variety of local seafood dishes. We also had the opportunity to go to a tea school, where we learned the traditional Chinese way to prepare and serve tea; and go to a calligraphy museum and school, where we saw ancient calligraphy scriptures and were able to use an ink brush to create our own calligraphy.

 

One weekend, I traveled with some classmates to Shanghai. The trip only took about 30 to 40 minutes on a bullet train form Suzhou. Although we were only in Shanghai for about two days, and many people were staying indoors due to a typhoon warning, I was able to meet people from all over the world, including various regions of China, Europe, and Africa. On the second day I met a Chinese man, James Sun from Nanjing, who was staying in our youth hostel. After helping me find medicine for food poisoning I had acquired, James invited me to go along with him to his office, which happened to be down the street from the Shanghai Stock Exchange. I brought my camera and was able to interview him about his perspective on Chinese businesses and their rapidly changing role within the international community. This experience left a large impression on me, as I realized how different the Chinese domestic market is compared to the American domestic market, from marketing to the types of products available, I realized that many Chinese industries are just beginning to step onto the world stage.

 

While in Shanghai my classmates and I also met up with recent graduates of the OSU Flagship program who have been living in Shanghai either working, or doing independent research. Listening to their experiences of living independently and working in China made me realize that finding work in China may not be as far off as I initially had thought.

 

A few of the flagship students told me that they had put in more time studying, and attended class more, than the other flagship students that year. I noticed that the differing skill level between those students indeed very evident when observing them interacting with Chinese speakers. In a way, this made me realize my potential in being a Mandarin speaker, and furthered my drive to build and maintain contact with Chinese people. My study abroad experience in China put me much closer to my goal of becoming conversationally fluent in Chinese, and helped me realize that the work I put aside now to study, will undoubtedly pay off down the road once I return to China.

 

Since having returned from China, I have continued taking language classes and have sought out opportunities to practice my Chinese outside of the classroom. I have been able to befriend multiple Chinese international students who have been willing to speak with me in Mandarin rather than English. I have also begun brainstorming research ideas for the Flagship program, and meeting with Xiaobin Jian about how I can narrow down topics, and where I should go to begin collecting materials and sources. Since being back, I have been told on multiple occasions of how much my Chinese has progressed over the summer, and have personally noticed an increased motivation towards my studies. I have begun filling out the application for the Ohio State Flagship Program, and am committed to being an outstanding student if accepted. I look forward to future opportunities to not only return to China and build a career, but also be engaged with Ohio State’s Chinese program.

 

Link to a video I made about the trip: https://youtu.be/jTvk1urebpY

World War II Study Abroad Tour-Katie Holman

Name: Katie Holman

Type of Project: Study Abroad

For my STEP signature project I participated in Ohio State’s World War II Study Abroad tour. Through this program I was able to travel through Europe starting in London, followed by a tour of France, a stop in Krakow and ending in Berlin.

This trip was the highlight of my time at Ohio State. I have always had a passion for history, however I was only able to follow this passion through studying in books, listening in lectures and watching documentaries. This program allowed me to add a whole new dimension to my historical study. It is one thing to be able to study a country’s specific attitudes and cultures, its completely different to be able to experience these things for yourself. Through this program I learned how British’s view of the war seems to match that of the United States. In France they try to cover up for some of the collaboration they participated in the war. Krakow takes on a heroic narrative to try and cover the painful memories of the war years. Finally Germany offered a more apologetic narrative of the war.

Being able to visit Normandy was really where I began to see a differences between the United States view of the world and another countries. Obviously, the beaches of Normandy are famous as the location of the D-Day invasion. These beaches are a powerful component of American history, even though they are thousand of miles from the United States. That being said American heroics were not nearly as celebrated as they are here. The town of Bayeux where we stayed celebrated the American liberators, however many of the French museums we visited in Normandy offered an interesting contrast. They really played up the French involvement with the liberation as well and the resistance unit. While this doesn’t really follow the narrative we learn in America, it can be easy to see why the French wouldn’t want to be associated with German collaboration.

The most powerful place we visited on our study tour was Auschwitz death camp. It is one thing to read about the camp, and to see pictures, but it is a completely different one to be able to experience it in person. Here was a site where millions of victims lost their lives to indescribable evil. The camp itself doesn’t look like anything special. However, there is a dark mood hanging over it. It would be impossible to be able to fell the mood of the camp without actually having visited the camp itself.

This trip expanded my horizons far more than I could ever imagined. I learned about new people, experience new foods and saw new things. However the biggest thing I took away from this trip is how similar people throughout the world really are. Europe to me always use to seem so foreign, yet after having visited it, I realize it is not so foreign after all. Learning about how similar the human race is, while still appreciating its difference will help me in my future career. I hope to become a lawyer and learning to be empathetic toward new cultures and new people will serve me well in this career field.

link to my blog: http://u.osu.edu/wwiihistorytour/author/holman-120/

Francophone Africa: Between Tradition and Modernity

For my STEP signature project, I participated in the Francophone Africa: Between Tradition and Modernity study abroad program in Senegal, a West African country that many people would have trouble spelling or locating on a map, for five weeks. While there, I learned about a culture and lifestyle that greatly varied from my own by staying with a host family in the country’s capital Dakar, attending lectures that were taught by nationally and internationally renowned intellectuals and historians, and going on field trips to cities that are culturally rich and play an important role in the country’s complicated history.

The first day I spent in Senegal, we drove from its capital to an arts compound 45 minutes away and I was stricken by the small towns and villages we saw on our journey: the restaurants, barber shops, and clothing shops were dilapidated, clearly hand-build by inexperienced civilians, and very small; mass amounts of litter covered the ground; and dogs and cats covered in scabs roamed freely. These observations of my surroundings differed so greatly from the towns I grew up in and visited in the United States that I had no idea what to expect from the rest of the trip. Would the people be just as different? Would I be able to bridge what I then thought of as an enormous historical and cultural gap? Was I in danger? Would I be judged? Would I fall into the trap of judging others based on my own Western standards? I soon found out that I had made the wrong assumptions already by judging a very diverse group of people based on where they came from and what I thought of their living conditions, and that although the Senegalese people and I may have grown up in differing environments, we were much more similar than we were different. As an anthropologist, I am familiar with the concept of cultural relativism and the temptations of judging a culture by how much it deviates from my own, but learning this first hand while conducting my own interviews, forming my own observations, and personally participating in rituals and daily routines forced me to form my own perspective on the world as a young adult. This trip also served as an opportunity to confront any previously unknown biases or prejudices that formed within my previously ethnocentric-based perspective. Why had I thought I was in danger simply based on my surroundings without ever having contacted the people who I feared, and why had I thought they would not accept me? This trip allowed me to question these Western thought processes and ideals, and not only correct them to reflect the diversity of the World’s population and cultures, but also be humbled by the vast majority of what I did not know.

The most important interactions I had that brought about this self-discovery and humility were those with my host family, who guided me through this new way of life and cultural philosophy. My parents taught me how to eat, be respectful towards elders, welcome visitors in their native language Wolof, wear traditional clothing, cut fruit properly, and cook, basic tasks that even my four-year-old host niece had mastered. My host brother Sodaty taught me about transportation systems, education, politics, dancing, and music, and how to wash my clothes, serve tea to my parents, and barter with shopkeepers. Being a foreigner is like being the most naïve learner, like being a small child trying to navigate a world that s/he is familiar with, but ultimately unknowledgeable about. Learning about basic knowledge and how to perform everyday tasks as a twenty-one year old from children was certainly humbling, and coming to terms with my ignorance made me a more willing learner, but observing how my family interacted with each other also taught me a great deal and was what ultimately lead to my most revolutionary discovery: humans, whether they come from New York City or the most remote towns in Senegal, are much more similar than different. Sodaty would constantly be annoyed with his nieces and nephews, and would argue with his mom over money or his curfew. My nieces loved their stuffed animals and playing pretend. My mom was devoted to her children and grandchildren, and she loved to laugh at my awkwardness and ineptitude, then correct my mistakes. They all suffered from the death of the oldest daughter in the family who died a year earlier in a car accident. My connection with Sodaty reminded me exactly of my relationship with my brother; we argued with each other, made each other laugh, and learned new things together. My connection with my nieces and nephew reminded me of my relationship with my best friend’s younger sister, who I consider family. We would tell each other about our day while eating dinner and say good night to each other before going to bed. These small actions and relationships came naturally to me; I did not have to learn how to connect with them or force this connection, and I was not confused by their grief over their lost daughter and sister. We all experience the same emotions, find joy in meeting and learning about someone new, and seek human connection. Through this experience I discovered what it is to be human, not just in Western terms, but what we have in common cross-culturally, and this discovery is essential to my furthered appreciation and respect for my brothers and sisters living in all parts of the world, walking on all different paths of life.

Outside of my host family, I was also able to observe and talk with other Senegalese citizens, leading me to another very influential and powerful discovery. Firstly, I observed the behavior of the Senegalese towards my other group members and me, which was always very pleasant, warm, and welcoming. Before the trip began, I attended several information meetings with Dr. Thiam, who lead our trip, and our study abroad coordinator, and both felt the need to remind us during every meeting of the troubled history between the United States and Senegal, which may in turn negatively affect the way we would be treated by those who live there. I never experienced a problem of this kind with anyone I came in contact with or any sort of mistreatment because of my skin color or my ethnicity. This fact, which I realized within the first week of being in the country, immediately dispelled any fears regarding my safety or my acceptance by the community and told me that the Senegalese do not judge someone’s character based on his/her skin color or his/her country’s history, which also told me a great deal about America. The second observation I made concerned the interactions between the Senegalese, and how their attitudes contrasted with the environment in which they lived. Juxtaposed with the dilapidated small shops and restaurants, the Senegalese were always smiling and laughing with each other. I never heard my host family talk about being stressed or complain about work, I never saw a customer argue with a shopkeeper or waiter, and whenever I ran into someone who I had briefly met through my host family they hugged me and wanted to know about my day. This way of living was very new to me and being immersed in it allowed me to appreciate a new way of life that does not revolve around stress, but rather around community.

The lectures were another major contributor to the reconstruction of my world perspective, considering that prior to this program I was limited by an Americanized education system, with all the biases and misinformation that comes with being taught by mostly white, male, and American teachers. During this program, I was taught by Senegalese intellectuals, artists, and historians who were not tainted by the Westernized perspective that I had become used to. They taught us about the hold France maintains over their country, about the vestiges of ancient African religions found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and about places like Gorée Island, the last piece of African land that enslaved West Africans would be taken to before crossing over the Atlantic, and Touba, a city built in protest of colonialism. These professors taught us from the perspective of experience, as descendants from those who were colonized and as people living in a country still very much controlled by Western influence. From these lectures, the true weight of slavery, globalization, and greed was unloaded onto me and I was finally felt the pain that Senegal and other formerly colonized countries endure. Nevertheless, the Senegalese did not envy me nor did they wish me harm, and it was naïve of me to think this would be the case. The Senegalese are a welcoming, joyous, and hardworking community, and to see them building themselves up while still hurting from their present and past afflictions put me in my place and helped me to realize that they do not need my pity nor my help, they need our recognition, acceptance, and support.

Traveling to Senegal was my first time out of the United States, so I had never completely immersed myself in any culture other than my own and had no idea what to expect. As a white American, I rarely feel like the “other” in any situation or group of people I find myself in because my skin color and nationality give me a certain favored distinction. Before this trip, my world-view was limited to that of a person who always felt comfortable, represented, and confident that my skin color did not identify me with an expectation or idea that is not true to who I am. In Senegal I became the “other”, the one who was prone to feeling awkward and out of place, and the one who had to learn how to fit in, an experience that I could not find in a Western, predominantly white country. I believe the cure to racism and many causes of violence in this world can be found in understanding and experiencing peoples and situations that are “foreign”, because the result is almost always coming to the realization that humans are more similar than different, that our skin colors tell us nothing about our characters, our beliefs, or our pasts, and subsequently, that this inequality that we struggle with in our society makes no sense. My passion has always been to help people, and with this trip my passion has only grown stronger and evolved into a goal: to promote social progress and uproot social institutions that promote racism and ignorance by researching underrepresented populations, educating others, and advocating for the respect and love of humans by humans.

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