Engineering the Castles and Cathedrals of England and Wales: My Study Abroad Experience

My STEP project was a study abroad trip to England and Wales, which was my very first trip overseas. As one might guess from the trip’s title, the group was comprised of mostly engineers. Each of us researched different sites in either England or Wales and the aspects of engineering and history that affected their construction and duration. From the day we landed, we, the students, were the tour guides. Researching a site enough to know how to give an hour long tour was a challenge for me, but ended up being so rewarding. It was so valuable to teach myself about what we were seeing, in addition to learning from my peers about their sites and how our research all tied together.

When I signed up for this trip, I knew that my first study abroad would be an amazing and impactful experience—everyone raves about being abroad! And the sites we were going to see were full of such rich history. I couldn’t wait. Of course, the trip was fantastic; the castles and cathedrals were magnificently astounding, the culture and the people were unique and fascinating, and history had had a hand in every place we saw. These were my assumptions that proved themselves true. But there were also unexpected conclusions I reached while on the trip. One of those assumptions was that Wales wasn’t the important part of the tour. I had seen “England” in the title of the study abroad and was sold. I was so excited for London, York, Salisbury, and the other English sites, but Wales, for me, seemed to just be a stop along the way. This assumption about an entire country to which I had never been could not have been more wrong. Wales turned out to be my favorite part of the trip—I experienced a culture, a language, and a nation that I had never seen as interesting, and it changed me. Wales was a country full of small towns, sheep, and breathtaking mountains, and these small Welsh towns and the people in them impacted me and my worldly perspective more than they will ever know.

The most important factor in making my experience so invaluable was the group of Ohio State students that I travelled with. Since I’ve gotten home, I’ve said over and over, “You can go see the most fantastic sites in the world with a group of people that’s barely average, and it will still be a good experience. But I got to see the most fantastic sites in the world with 26 people that became my best friends, and that experience will be life-changing.” And every time I repeated it to a friend or family member that asks about the trip, I meant it. The people I met within my group were a positive force of perspective and curiosity that drove my interactions with the Welsh people and the towns in which we stayed.

The amazing thing about Ohio State is that students are always so genuinely interested in getting to know each other, so I had anticipated walking away with a few new friends. But even our trip director admitted at the end of the trip that we were like no group of students he’s ever seen on a study abroad. Within our first half hour in the airport, we had gathered together and were playing ice breakers of our own accord. We would stick together for our free time. Everyone made a constant effort at including and getting to know every single person in the group. And on the last morning, we figured out the only time we could all have our one last meal together, and rolled out of bed at 6:30 for our final group breakfast. Not a day has gone by since our trip that our group hasn’t been in touch, and we already have elaborate plans to reconnect in the fall.

I never knew that traveling could be such a valuable tool for bringing people together. But learning about other cultures together, making friends with locals together, and hiking up mountains together forged a connection with these people that will not be soon forgotten. The diversity of the group’s backgrounds combined with our mutual passions to learn from our trip and from each other were the catalysts that made my STEP experience the life-changing one that it was. After only three weeks, I had met and befriended some of the greatest people I have ever met, who, in that short time, helped me to grow and change as a person experiencing the world.

The reason that this transformation is valuable to me is multi-faceted. For one, I know I’ll be friends with this group for the rest of my life, and that’s something I never anticipated having at the end of this trip. Second, these people taught me to be open-minded, to be accepting, to immerse yourself wherever you are, and to never pass up the opportunity to try something new. Finally, together we learned that the world can surprise you, that the places that aren’t on everyone’s “destination list” are often the ones that will teach you the most about yourself and about the world. In a way, many people look at life with a “destination list” perspective, with weddings, new jobs, graduations, and having kids as our ideal destinations, the biggest stops along the way. And while the places we know we want to go will be valuable moments in our lives, we have to remember that even at the times where you don’t expect it to be, life can be educational, wonderful, and powerful.

Don’t worry, we’re already planning our Spring Break trip to Caernarfon, Wales for next year.

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for a video of my experience: https://vimeo.com/129748053

Annie Greer, May 2015

Canadian Parliament Internship Program –A reflection by Louisa Edzie

STEP EXPERIENCE PROJECT: Internship

Canadian Parliamentary Internship Program –A reflection by Louisa Edzie

On May 9th 2015, I embarked on a groundbreaking experience made possible by STEP. I went to Canada to work as an intern for Senator Mobina Jaffer through the Canadian Parliament Internship program.

The Canadian Parliament Internship program is a five-week program during which interns work in the office of a Member of the Canadian Parliament. Students choose which party and what area of expertise the Member represents. Students are asked to assist in writing and editing materials, research issues of importance to the Member, write a statement/question for Question Period, write speeches, and conduct tours of Parliament and general office work.

The program was challenging because it required a lot of the interns. I aided my senator in numerous ways essentially whatever ways they ask, and, thus, every day came with a different task. Alternatively, I was told to work intensely on one task over several days which was my research project about Boko Haram.

I relished the opportunity to learn by coming up with appropriate responses to the challenges I encountered. Working directly with a Member of Parliament gave me insight into and perspective on practical politics that my formal coursework did not provide. I used the research knowledge acquired from my formal coursework. This helped me in understanding and processing matters of practical politics.

Career-wise, this experience helped broaden my knowledge in Politics as political science major especially in the field of legislation. This experience also built on my resume as I plan on going to law school to learn more about Government after my undergraduate education. I wrote statements which senator Jaffer read in the senate on Bills. I did a statement on Bill S-227, a bill about respecting national sickle cell awareness day. Part of my job was also answering calls at the senator’s office and filing binders for committees the senator sits on. I also followed the senator to senate committee meetings and caucus meetings. This was a really transformational experience I had never imagined. Essentially this program transformed me into a senator for the short period I was in Canada.

My time in Canada though short was well spent. On my first day as intern I was given a warm welcome, introduced to a couple of senators and shown around the office by my senator, Senator Mobina Jaffer. I had a meeting with Senator Jaffer, senator informed me about what I will be doing at her office.

I was entrusted with a research project on Boko Haram an extremist Islamic group in Nigeria. The research topics ranged from the history of Boko Haram to the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls by Boko Haram. I also gathered information about the looming threats of the insurgency and possible ways to curb the insurgency.

Together with my senator, we came up with a new initiative about embarking on a new campaign to rescue the abducted Chibok girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram. Working on Boko Haram opened my eyes to the atrocities and the damage of Boko Haram related violence. Before I worked on Boko Haram, I had read in the news about their infamous kidnappings. However, I did not had a vast knowledge about this terrorist group -how it was formed and all the atrocities they have committed since their creation.

As part of the program on May 15th, we had a trip to Quebec, a province in Canada. We were given a tour to the Quebec National Assembly and a tour of the old city of Quebec. The Quebec national assembly is an equivalent of a U.S. State Legislature.

Interns met with Senators White (Conservative) and Ringuette (Liberal) as part of the program package, on May 26. The senators talked about the mutual relationship between the Canadian government and the U.S government. They also briefed us about their experiences as senators and reasons for their appointment.

We again had a session with the Speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Sheer on May 27. The Speaker briefed us about his appointment by the Prime Minister as the Speaker in the House and how he combines his work as a Speaker and at the same time represent his riding.

We also met with the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, His Excellency Bruce Heyman and his wife Mrs. Heyman. After parliament resumed from recess, I followed my senator to Chamber meetings. During that time, I got a firsthand experience on how bills are introduced in the senate and eventually passed into law or defeated, debates, rebuttals and all the tensions that goes down in the Senate of Canada. I realized it takes a large amount of time for legislators to make laws especially when the opposition party is not in favor of a bill. It also takes a great deal of time for bills to be studied by senate sub-committees and brought back to the senate chamber to be discussed and voted on.

Going straight to Canada’s capital on my first visit was a lovely experience. Aside the official work as intern, I got exposed to Canada by visiting the old city of Quebec which still has fortification and a citadel- the city’s two main defensive works. I met great friends and formed great relationships with them. Even more lovely and greater an experience was working on Parliament Hill.

Through this internship, I got to meet and interact with Canada’s legislators and dignitaries which was a firsthand experience for me. It is not every day that an individual get to experience what it feels like to be a senator. The aura around the Hill is superb. The feeling that I was contributing to something great by working on issued with senator Jaffer was surreal. Parliament Hill attracts hundreds of tourists daily.

I could not have embarked on this trip to Canada without STEP. STEP fellowship funds made my first internship and study abroad possible. I am very grateful that through STEP I am now acquainted with much knowledge about Canada’s Parliament and much prepared for the next chapter of my life.

Sitting on the chair of  Speaker of the Senate of Canada.

Sitting on the chair of Speaker of the Senate of Canada.

With the Senator I interned for Senator Mobina Jaffer

With the Senator I interned for Senator Mobina Jaffer

 

My Study Abroad Experience

Kieran Tebben

Study Abroad in the Galapagos Islands

 

During my STEP experience, I lived with a host family in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. While there, I had the opportunity to learn Spanish through immersion and teach English to students ages 10-15. I was able to learn a lot about the language and culture through my teaching, my host family and my exploration of the islands during my free time.

 

I’ve never pictured myself as a person who has the ability to stand up in front of a classroom and teach, but in the Galapagos, I didn’t have a choice. From the very first day, even though we had only gotten three hours of sleep on the plane, the other volunteers and I were placed in front of 15 students and instructed to teach a lesson. Not only did I have to work on my fear of public speaking, especially to a group of middle to high school children, but I also had to recall the Spanish I had learned a year previously and plan a lesson. It was incredibly challenging to stand up in front of a classroom and teach them in a language in which I am not fluent. After this experience, I am far more confident taking charge of a large group of people or speaking in front of a room in Spanish or in English. I think the trip really allowed me to work on my public speaking skills. Speaking to kids is in some ways even harder than speaking to adults. Adults will at least be polite enough to pretend to be interested, but children, especially ages 10-15, will not have such manners. I am better able now to hold people’s attention, speak with confidence and communicate effectively.

 

I also was able to work on communication skills in both English and Spanish. In Spanish, I had to struggle to remember vocabulary and grammatical structure as I was speaking, which was had for the first week, but I was able to settle in. I think struggling through the Spanish communication took a lot of determination and perseverance and helped me grow as a person. It would have been easy to ask others to translate, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to fight my way through it on my own with both the kids and my host family. Because I needed to communicate effectively with a language barrier, I feel that my communication skills in English have grown as well. I am better able to judge whether or not I am speaking clearly, making sense or staying on one topic from speaking to the children in English. I am more confident communicating with anyone now, with or without a language barrier.

 

As was briefly discussed in the previous two paragraphs, I think my position as an English teacher primarily led to my personal change and growth. For 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, I was a leader, a teacher, a friend and a foreigner. I had to blend these in a way that made me approachable and likeable to the children, but also in a way that they could learn from me. As an assistant in the first two classes of 6-7 year old students, it was really a challenge to communicate in an age appropriate way and lead them in a way that wouldn’t decay into chaos 15 minutes into class. Beginning my placement and each day with young students allowed me to grow as a leader and practice my public speaking in a less threatening setting before moving to older students.

 

The most challenging part of my placement was my first class of the day – a class full of 10 year olds who very apparently did not want to be there. Kids are so critical and they could tell from the start that my Spanish was less than great and that did not earn me any respect. I had to really focus on communicating to them in Spanish and in English what we were learning and why and overcome my public speaking fear as I went. As middle school students whose parents likely enforced their presence in my class, they were not exactly the friendliest bunch of children during class. They were critical; they would stop paying attention if they didn’t understand what was going on; they would refuse to do things that they didn’t think were fun. Looking back at a classroom full of blank stares is not an easy thing to do when you are not entirely confident to begin with. As time went on, though, the kids warmed up to my co-teacher and me. By the end of my four-week placement, the kids respected us and were sad to see us go. Not only was this a confidence boost and made teaching them less scary, I think it can be attributed to better communication and better leadership skills.

 

Living with my host family was another exercise in communication and cultural acceptance skills every day. From the time I woke up to the time I went to bed, I had to communicate with them. Not only was it hard to communicate with them in Spanish at the beginning, but it was a challenge to remember all of the things we needed to let them know. At school, I’m not used to answering to anyone – I come and go from my apartment as I wish. I had to remember in the Galapagos to ask for help if I needed something, tell them where I would be going and when I would be home, let them know if we liked or disliked the food or living arrangements. As someone who tends to fear confrontation and shys away from it, I’m glad I had the opportunity to live with strangers so I can grow as a communicator. By living with them for four weeks, I also really had the chance to grow in Ecuadorean culture. I got to embrace every aspect of the culture every day, giving me a much stronger appreciation for different ways of life than I would have gained in a hostel.

 

In the future, I hope to be a physician and a researcher with an MD/PhD duel degree. Throughout my career, I will always be a leader, a public speaker and a communicator. I hope to teach classes and also work in a teaching hospital. If my career does take this direction, I will always need to be able to stand in front of a group of people and teach them in a way that will hold their attention and convey exactly the information I want them to know. Even if I do not end up a teacher in the literal sense, as a researcher I will constantly need to teach others about my research. I will need to present results to other researchers, teach students about my projects so they can assist me and teach funders about the projects so I can receive grant money. Communicating for so long with a language barrier just adds another layer to my communication skills. In a rapidly globalizing world, I will need to present to collaborators or others who will not necessarily speak English. I have confidence that I wouldn’t shy away from those experiences now.

 

In addition to the ability to communicate, having cultural appreciation is incredibly important for any wordly person, especially a physician and researcher. I will encounter numerous different cultures in my career path. The ability to understand a culture, not judge a person by their culture and be sensitive to their different values or customs will be invaluable. Being culturally sensitive will make me a better physician, a better researcher in epidemiology and at the very least a better traveler. By living in a new culture for a month, I have confidence that I could adapt and accept a culture if needed to help someone in my future career. I am so grateful that I had the ability to gain these skills now.

 

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My Study Abroad Experience

Name: Josephine (Josie) Darr

Type of Project: Study Abroad

The Buckeyes take on the Olympic Stadium where Jesse Owens made history

The Buckeyes take on the Olympic Stadium where Jesse Owens made history

 

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. 

I participated in the History of World War Two Study Abroad program, designed to create first hand experiences with significant places in World War Two history. By traveling through related country’s museums and battle grounds, I was able to see how World War Two helped shape contemporary issues as well as had the opportunity to grow leadership roles that can be carried on into future opportunities.

 

The infamous gate outside of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

The infamous gate outside of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

Before this trip, I had only seen foreign countries in the form of film and pictures. I had never left the country, and only had been away from the state of Ohio, where I had been born, for no more than days at a time. I had to navigate myself through foreign country’s chaotic public transportation networks and then around the cities when I am someone that can get lost in my own backyard. I had seen more people from other cultures all together in a way I had never seen before. Each person on a bench would speak a different language and would be wearing traditional clothing from different countries, and all would smile at each other and acknowledge others.

I had left for Europe afraid of the horrors humans could inflict on each other, for I watched in the airport, news of terrorist attacks in other airports in Europe. I did not see this and felt safer in Europe as a whole than I do alone in the city of Columbus, and now I feel that I can take care of myself here if need be. I proved to myself that I am capable of making decisions on my own and finding what I need if I do not have it, such as a place to stay for the night and food to eat in foreign countries. I saw that people are good and that I am a stronger and more capable person that I had previously believed.

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  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? 

Landing in London and finding the way to the hotel was one of the most stressful experiences I had ever encountered. I had flown with my boyfriend (who had a severely broken ankle at the time and was on crutches throughout this entire program), and we landed in an airport different than the one we prepared our navigation for. We expected that there would be WiFi in the airport and we were sorely mistaken, so we did not have the navigation system that we relied on at home. After claiming our heavy and over-sized baggage, we went and exchanged our currency from Euros that we had in Ireland all to pounds, to my dismay. I had not intended on converting all of my money since we were only using Pounds for a few days and would rely on Euros the rest of the trip. The amount of money I lost in fees was in the double digits, and I was almost panicked since this was the very beginning of the program and I had already thrown away so much money on accident. We then had to try and navigate public transportation that we do not have in the States, and ended up at a chaotic intersection of stations. We went above ground and had absolutely no idea where we were or where we needed to be, and we were over an hour late at that point. It was hot, our bags were incredibly heavy, and we were exhausted. We walked aimlessly in circles around a giant block of identical buildings and ended up following an older British couple who we had commiserated with in the Underground. They just so happened to be going to the same exact hotel we had been searching for to no avail. After dragging our bags and ourselves all the way back to where we began searching, we made it just in time for our group to leave to explore.

This event was long and drawn out like this description of it was, and it was nerve wracking since it was the very first experience of the program. I was nervous for the rest of the trip, but later came to look back on this series of seemingly unfortunate events as critical growing points that we used the rest of the program. We felt like nothing else could go wrong and more would, but we ended up just fine. This was something I had needed to experience and am now grateful that it happened because it made me stronger and more resilient for inevitable unexpected turns.

Overall, I got to work with people from my school that I had little else in common with. I got to learn and grow with these people and already miss their company. I got to work closely with professors but be primarily independent throughout the majority of the program.  I got to try and interact with strangers who had as much of an idea of what I was saying as I did them, and see that it is possible, though sometimes very difficult, to communicate when there is no common language. I got to see cultural similarities and very drastic differences and see that one was not necessarily better than the other.

 

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?  

Before this program, I had had a strong indication that I was not as capable of things as I wanted to be, and I let my small stature and naivety dictate my capabilities. I was scared to go anywhere on my own because I was afraid of other people, and because I wasn’t sure if I could honestly get there. I changed this on the very first day of the program and only grew after that. I saw that I can get things done, academically as well, even when things were not how I was used to them being. I could work with significantly limited resources and do well and even enjoy myself. It showed me what I truly need to get by and how much I have extra and take for granted.

After this program, I have been eager to learn more and see more. I am no longer scared of people and know that there are more good people than bad and that there is even good in bad people if you look hard enough. I learned that differences are okay and not as scary as I thought they could be, and that even if things seem impossible they are probably not and I just need to take a breath or a quick nap. I cannot wait to use these new outlooks in my upcoming years that I have been afraid of since they are going to be filled with rigorous and stressful courses and experiences to grow me into the prepared Veterinarian that I want to be. I no longer feel like the little naïve person that I had been before, but now I feel capable and more independent and self-sufficient than ever before.

I was also able to grow with the history that I had been constantly digesting. I was able to grow from the horrible atrocities that I had seen in museums and feel the magnitude of human action at places such as Pointe du Hoc, where the ground was permanently marred by heavy artillery. I got to see just how impossible what our soldiers had miraculously accomplished, and begin to comprehend why so many were lost. Each experience a person has throughout their life changes how information is filtered and processed, and I will now forever be changed in how I look at our history, our country, and our soldiers. I now see how flippant it is to take things for granted, even though they may be slightly inconvenient to deal with at the time. I got a taste of just how brief life is and how easy it is for everything to change and how important the consequences of each action is.

I will be forever grateful for what I have learned, and what I haven’t even realized I have learned yet. I realize more and more each day how much I have taken from this program, and hope that I can travel again in the near future to see what else the world has in store for me.

A memorial inside the personal and honorable British Cemetery in Bayeux France

A memorial inside the personal and honorable British Cemetery in Bayeux, France