STEP Experience Reflection

My Step Project involved a May Session study abroad experience in Morocco’s capital city in Rabat. The experience consisted of classes during the week days as well as homestays. During the weekends I went on several excursions throughout the country to various parts of the country including The Sahara desert, Marrakech and Casablanca.

For the first time I got to experience life in a developing country. I saw lepers, starving livestock, pacts of feral street cats, people begging for food on roadsides and plenty of health and safety standards that would never pass for legal in the United States. All of these things have served as a vivid portrait of the standards of living most people face in the world. These things were hard to digest at times, but at no point did I want to miss any details. Seeing these things have made me a more understanding and less materialistic person.

Each day I had little adventures that led to personal change. For example, during my homestays I learned to shower using only a large bucket filled with hot water and a ladle, in principle it wasn’t so different from a regular shower but in practice it felt much more primitive and took some getting used to. I also learned to navigate the cities in a country where traffic laws were really just suggestions. It was dangerous to cross streets but understanding that pedestrians get opportunities rather than right-of –ways was eye opening in more ways than one. I also had to learn how to identify what street foods were safe to eat and which weren’t. Near the beginning of the experience I got food poisoning which will refrain from getting detailed, but it reminded me that health standards are the responsibility of the consumer to follow.

While there are few recorded instances of terrorism in Morocco, the amount of security had me believe otherwise. Regular policemen were not armed, however, near every major landmark there were heavily armed guards patrolling. They seemed to be passive but their presence alone gave the opposite intended effect. It felt somewhat like a terrorist attack was something that was suspected to happen at some point or another. This was a real possibility there as it is stateside I suppose but unlike in Morocco, the only time one really sees heavily armed police patrolling around is after winning a National Championship.

The last and most important thing that led to my transformation while abroad was the unrelenting presence of orientalism. Everywhere I went, people were trying to sell me the feeling of being in an exotic land. I was horrified when I saw a malnourished camel trained to chug entire bottles of Coca-Cola for tourist’s entertainment. Upon going to hotels cultural appropriation was never far away. Many hotels featured bands dressed in colorful clothing playing traditional music to the drunken western guests. For a country with more than a thousand more years of history than the US the amount of attempts to entertain foreigners  with phrases like “authentic” and “traditional” became somewhat pitiful at times.

Another valuable part was that for the first time, I was a religious, racial and cultural minority. I experienced mild discrimination such as price inflations while shopping at small businesses. I didn’t mind it that much, I understood that none of it was personal or for the purpose of making my life more difficult, just someone else’s easier. I came out of this with a better understanding of the privileges I have being in the majority of my own country. The overall personal impact this experience has had on me is that I’ve become a more global citizen meaning that my world view no longer includes that of what I have experienced in a first world country and what the media portrays of the rest of the world.

Going forward I hope to never stop humbling myself through travel. By many standards, Morocco was not so different from the rest of the Western world and there’s always more to see. I think experiences that would generally be considered unpleasant like visiting a war-torn country or not having access to modern medicinal facilities are the most valuable and character-forming times one can have. In the future I’d like to see more places that can provide more of these life-affirming and down-to-earth experiences. My STEP experience was a great segue into this goal as I got to see what I wanted while still maintaining some familiarity and level of safety.

 

My Month in Greece

Molly Stanford

Study Abroad

Description

This past Maymester, I went abroad with 21 other students to the Greek Island of Corfu to study Western history and tradition. We were taught by some of the most esteemed professors in Greece and we had the opportunity to learn from a professor that came to teach all the way from Oxford, England. Thought this class, we learned about world history from the European perspective.

IMG_4064

The transformation

When I thought about Greece, I thought of the family from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, meaning I had no real concept of Greek culture. I was terrified to be in a place where I did not know the culture or the language. Due to the economic crisis that at the time was hanging over the people of Greece, I felt that the Greeks also lacked a respect for themselves and their culture. Overall, I was just really uneducated about the Greeks and what they believed. When I arrived in Corfu I was truly shocked. Though the country’s economy and political system were in jeopardy, the people were more than welcoming and were so excited to share their culture and their traditions with our group.

Because I put myself in a position where I was unsure of what to expect, I gained more insight into myself and my abilities than I could ever have expected. I learned that I can communicate through more than language. Laughter is truly universal and charades is understood by almost everyone. I learned that my culture is unique and special, but is not the best or most important culture in the world. I learned that I am capable of taking care of myself in a place where I could not even read the street signs. I became a stronger, more vibrant, and more loving person than I ever thought possible. I went abroad to try and prove to myself that I was strong enough to take care of myself. My experience proved that and so much more, most of which I do not think I will be able to ever put into words.

Events and Interactions

On my first full day in Corfu, several friends and I went out to lunch at a place just down the street from the hotel where we lived called George’s. George was an older man who spoke broken English and showed me some of the most genuine kindness that I have ever experienced. The first few days, I was terrified. Classes had not started yet and I had not had the time to really get out and meet people. George took the time to create a meal for me that evening, giving me my first taste of Greek hospitality. I had never had the food that was on the menu, and being a vegetarian, I had no idea what would be ok to eat within my diet. This small gesture truly made me feel like I was safe.

IMG_6230

During my first week of classes, I began to buy my lunches from the same Spinach Pie stand every day. The woman who worked there taught me what it meant to befriend someone with whom there was no true verbal communication. She learned my name, we acted out stories from our day, and she took the time to compliment my extremely broken Greek. This woman taught me what it means to laugh harder than you have ever laughed and what it feels like to smile larger than you have ever smiled. She helped me to see that in my everyday life, I can make someone feel the joy of our interaction. She showed me that even in the darkest and hardest parts of life, it is possible to share joy.

In the middle of the month, we got to celebrate Ionian Independence Day, the day when the 7 Greek Islands in the Ionian Sea were given to Greece by England as a peace offering. It was through this celebration that I got to see the pride that the Greeks have in their culture. As I sat in the town square watching the parade go by, I noticed children running around waving Greek flags and parents fussing over the children as they prepared to do a traditional dance. It was in this moment that I saw my own culture. It reminded me of Independence Day in the United States. There was such an evident pride in their country and their people. I could see that even when their country was in trouble, they still loved and were proud of their country. I realized that this is no different than how I would act if my country was in trouble.

IMG_4877

Significancy and Value

Through this experience, I was able to develop skills that will be important to me in my future profession. I am a pre-med student and I want to work in hospital pediatrics. This means that I will not always be dealing with people that are of the same nationality as I am, meaning that we may speak different languages. My experience has allowed me to develop the skills necessary for non-verbal communication as well as how to put a person at ease without words. Putting myself into an uncomfortable situation has pushed me to work harder and to think out of the box.

IMG_4326  IMG_4461

STEP Experience: MEDLIFE Trip to Cusco, Peru

Rachel Bohrer

Study Abroad/ Community Service

 

Project Summary

My STEP project consisted of traveling to Cusco, Peru and engaging in community service through MEDLIFE at OSU. We set up a mobile clinic in the rural villages, working alongside Peruvian medical professionals. We then triaged and offered health screenings for the people of the communities.

 

Transformation

I do not think words are able to explain the type of transformation I experienced during this trip. Going into the trip, I thought I would know what to expect and was prepared. II tried to brush up on some simple Spanish terms beforehand, and I began to mentally prepare myself. As our airplane began to descend in Cusco, I was shocked. Surrounding us was colorful clay homes, stacked on top of each other on the mountainsides. I knew it was a third-world country, but I had no idea what it truly meant. People crowded on the sidewalks of streets, selling their homemade goods and foods. They arrived early in the morning, and left late at night. They worked so hard to just get by in life. These people were so grateful for the little, everyday things, and this transformed me.

I had no idea how rural the communities we visited would be. Each morning, we rode up high into the mountains about two-four hours away from Cusco. We ventured to areas without roads. On one instance, we actually got lost, because there were no maps available to get to this particular village. There were about 100 people per community. I did not think these people would be happy to see us, for most of them do not have access to healthcare and have never seen a doctor in their lives. These people changed that, though. They did not speak any English or Spanish (they spoke Quechua, an ancient Incan language), but their smiles and handshakes conveyed how appreciative they were for this experience.

 

Events and Interactions

The first day out on the mobile clinic proved to be transformational. We were three hours outside of Cusco, traveling in a coach bus up the side of a mountain through fields. We had to stop in a small village along the way to ask for directions. I did not think we would make it up the mountain, or even to the village. We finally arrived, and I was blown away. We were on top of a mountain surrounded by fields. Farm animals were wondering around, just grazing. We got off the bus, and heard a siren noise, then a voice speaking rapidly in another language rang over some loudspeaker. Our guide told us that this was them announcing to the community that we have arrived to help them. I had no idea that communities would get by like this. People out in the fields came to their community building we were set up at. These people were worn from the sun; their feet were dry and cracked, and they all wore sandals. They saw I had some major sunburn on my face, and laughed and pointed. We were so culturally different, but I found it funny they were able to poke fun at me. Some lady put one of their traditional wide-brimmed hats on my head, as it protects them from the sun. We were so culturally different, but I found it funny they were able to poke fun at me.

That same day, we had to go into the village’s school to get tabled and chairs to use at the clinic. I have grown up in the educational setting, as my mom is a teacher, so I was really interested in seeing what the school system was like there. I was completely heartbroken with what I saw. The entire school system for the community was a one long The rooms were plain, with a few educational posters scattered on the walls. One of our guides later explained the education system in Peru. He told me that most children only go through elementary school, then have to return home to their families to work and provide for them. Majority of children work in the fields after that, therefore missing out on higher education. The teachers in public schools are underpaid in schools too, so they are not required to be trained, therefore many people decide to send their children to expensive private schools. For those who do not have the money, they are stuck in a lower quality education system. The illiteracy rate is extremely high in rural areas. . I am so glad they had education there, but was saddened by the conditions.

Our last day for the mobile clinic was the most life changing. Only about 30 people came to the clinic. We were told many people in this area were more concerned with their fields than their health. I do not think this holds true to our ideals in America. We were frustrated and bored, until three little boys from the community showed up. They had brought a small ball to , and wanted us to play with them. There was such a language barrier between us and them, but that did not stop us at all. We played for hours with them. Their smiles and laughter brought us such joy. Although there were few patients, we still were able to bond and connect with the community. At the end of the day, two of the community’s leaders gave small speeches expressing their gratitude for us and our help. One of the little girls who was playing with us was standing next to me, and she saw I had my lunch in my hand. Malnutrition is so common in Peru, and I do not think she had eaten all day. I gave what was left of my lunch: some chips, a chocolate bar and fresh fruit. She was so excited, and I will never forget her smile. She gave me a hug before we left. Although we did not treat many patients, we still left a mark on that village, and they left a mark on us.

 

Significance and Value

This experience changed how I viewed the world around me. Before traveling to this developing country, I had not been outside my “bubble”. I come from a small, suburban, middle class area and have never really left it. I used to think that I knew what the world around us looked like, but I was completely proven wrong after this trip. I think this has made me much more broad-minded than I previously had. This will help in terms of my professional goal of becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist, as I will be working with many different types of individuals and will have to be accepting of each and every one. This trip has also intensified my love for helping and working with others. I am so thankful for this opportunity and all that it has done for me, and I will always hold the people of Peru close to me.

 

IMG_3232 Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset  IMG_3017

STEP Experience: Canadian Parliamentary Internship Program

IMG_0146IMG_0915IMG_0035

My STEP project was a study abroad internship coordinated by the Office of International Affairs at The Ohio State University. The Canadian Parliamentary Internship Program was based in Ottawa, Canada. During this internship, I interned for a member of Canadian Parliament. I researched various topics for my MP as well as did typical intern tasks such as answer phones and emails.

My understanding of myself changed because I found out that I was more interested in politics than I originally thought. This was almost my first internship so I learned about how I react in a work environment. I learned that I have a lot to learn when it comes to how governments work and the issues that are important to them. During my project, I also learned a lot about Canada. Americans always take Canada for granted. However, Canada is America’s largest trading partner and close ally.

An event during my STEP study abroad trip that was transformational was our road trip to Quebec. It was my first ever road trip without my family as well as the longest road trip I have ever been on. On the drive to Quebec, I saw what Canada’s farmland and forests looked like which was new since I have only ever been to cities in Canada. As we drove into the province of Quebec, I really felt like we had travelled to a different country. During my time in Quebec, I realized the independence I had in a different country and that I was quickly becoming a responsible adult.

The interactions that changed me during my STEP experience were the ones I had with the people who worked in my office. The two permanent office workers for my MP’s office were both very passionate and committed to their jobs. They worked late hours and always made sure they did the job right. They were also more than happy to answer my questions. My Member of Parliament was even more inspiring. She worked with constituents in her riding in Vancouver during the weekends but spent the work week in Parliament in Ottawa. Her children lived in Vancouver but she made a point to spend as much time as she could with them. She was also very dedicated to her job. She worked long hours, always putting her constituents before herself and her wants.

One meaningful relationship that I developed while I was on my study abroad trip was my friendship with the other girl from Ohio State who also worked in my office. We were the only two students from Ohio State who worked in the same office. We walked  to work together every day, helped each other out with our assigned tasks, and went to receptions after work together as well. We spent a lot of time together and became good friends during the time that we were there. If it wasn’t for this STEP experience, I probably would have never met her.

The activities that were the most transformational that I participated in were the receptions after work. There was an average of about three per week. Different members of parliament and senators went to these events and I enjoyed meeting some  of them. I learned about a lot of different charities as well as businesses who were interested in communicating with the elected government officials.

 

My Step experience was more beneficial than I thought it would be to my future. I learned many valuable skills that I would have never had the opportunity to learn elsewhere. I experienced what it was like to work in a professional environment for the first time and I know my experience anywhere wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable or educational. I am so grateful that I was able to participate in this program because of STEP.

 

Social Issues and Human Rights in Nicaragua

Name: Kelly Haller

Type of Project: Study Abroad

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

For my STEP Project I traveled to Nicaragua for a three-week study abroad trip through the College of Social Work.  I learned about social issues and human rights in Nicaragua by interacting with the communities of Managua, Granada, Leon, and Matagalpa.  In addition, I participated in a four-day home stay with a family in Leon.

 

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

This trip greatly affected and impacted my life.   I have gained a new perspective on a culture both similar and different to our own.  As a pre-med student, my knowledge of international healthcare has greatly increased.  My views of volunteerism and community service have also been impacted through being in Nicaragua.  I have been touched by the kindness and patience of the Nicaraguan people.  Finally, I have learned, and gained a new interest in, social work and human rights in general.  

The physical journey I took to Nicaragua is a metaphor for the inner journey I experienced by participating in this travel abroad experience. As I have never been out of the United States (except for a childhood trip to Niagara Falls), I was nervous about traveling abroad. Would I understand the people? Could I eat the food? How different would the culture be? As I became more comfortable with the physical experience of traveling abroad, I also grew to appreciate the many new opportunities to learn about and participate in the culture of Nicaragua. I also came to truly appreciate the cultural differences while also realizing that human nature makes us all one people.

 

  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?  

Participating in the home stay with a family in Leon allowed me to gain a new perspective on Nicaraguan culture and being in a different country in general.  On the first day of the home stay, I experienced some culture shock due to the differences in culture and homelife.  Though I speak some Spanish, I am nowhere near fluent, which also proved difficult when surrounded with people who did not know any English.  However, I began to appreciate and understand their way of life after spending more time talking with the family members, sharing photos, and discovering similarities in our lives and interests.                 

  One place we visited that impacted me significantly was The Jubilee Center, an organization that serves a community called Ciudad Sandino.  One thing that really affected me was a presentation by the organization’s leader who told us how she and other volunteers wanted to come in and create a library for the community.  However, while that would be nice, the community had larger, more urgent needs than having a library.  I think this resonates with all volunteer and community service work in general.  When helping a group of people or serving a cause, volunteers should not be going in with an idea of what they want to do for the community. They need to see what the community actually needs, and work to provide or help with that issue.  Finally, something that the leader of the Jubilee Center said on the bus really resonated with me.  She said, “People come to Nicaragua and say they’re going back to reality when they leave. Actually, this is reality and they’re heading back to wonderland.”  This statement, along with everything else I learned at the Jubilee Center, resonated with me for the remainder of the trip and allowed me to have a better perspective on my study abroad experience.  

As a pre-med student, our visits to the clinics and community health centers were naturally of great interest to me.  Though some of the students felt these visits began to get repetitive, I was captivated by the differences in services provided and the similarities and differences to comparable organizations in the United States.  In general, the health centers and clinics we visited were quite similar to family or neighborhood clinics in the United States in terms of services provided.  However, differences arose due to the variance in medical needs, available equipment and personnel, populations served, and funding.  There were certain things about these clinics and health services that I found extremely surprising.  Many locations only had one doctor and one or more nurses, though they served large neighborhoods or areas.  La Mascota, the sole children’s hospital in Nicaragua, only has four doctors, even though the capacity is 310 children.  I was shocked by the limited medical equipment in all of the facilities we visited.  Having worked and volunteered in many hospitals, I felt strange being able to enter patient care rooms, a ‘sterile’ environment, with my ‘unsterile’ clothes and belongings.  In addition, patient information was sitting openly on desks, something that could result in termination and lawsuits in the United States due to HIPAA and similar policies.  I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to visit medical facilities in a country very different from our own and to have gained more knowledge about Nicaraguan healthcare and medical services.  

 

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

Before coming on this trip, my knowledge of the field of social work and the human rights situation in Nicaragua was extremely limited.  However, though I spent a significant amount of time reading articles and watching videos about the country prior to the trip, I still learned very little compared to actually being in Nicaragua and seeing and experiencing things first-hand.  Through this trip, I gained significant knowledge and exposure to Nicaragua’s culture, politics, and social issues.  Some of the lectures I attended made me aware of topics and ideas on which my personal knowledge was very limited, sparking new interests and curiosity.  I had the opportunity to meet inspiring people such as Juanita Urbina, a transgender woman, who was the first transgender person to join the feminist movement as well as attend a public university in Nicaragua.  I learned so much about the transgender movement, and Juanita’s incredible journey to becoming a transgender woman who dresses as a man.  

Maria Lopez Vigil gave us an update on Nicaragua’s current political and economic situation on our first day in the country.  A talented speaker, Lopez Vigil introduced us to many issues facing the country, as well as how the United States has been involved in Nicaragua.  Each lecture attended introduced me to inspiring people making a difference in Nicaraguan society. Having the chance to meet these individuals and hear their stories has inspired me to continue to learn more about Nicaragua and follow up on these issues.

Though I am not a social work major, I appreciated the opportunity to learn about the field of social work for the first time from a unique perspective.  Being on this trip allowed me to learn about social work primarily in Nicaragua, and secondarily in the United States.  It was very interesting to be able to attend a lecture or visit a location and first hear a Nicaraguan perspective, and then later discuss it with a social work student from Ohio State.  I was very impressed by the group discussion we had with a mixture of Ohio State and UNAN-Leon students.  Being able to hear different perspectives and experiences created a distinctive learning environment and truly sparked my interest in this field.

The part of the trip that was most interesting to me, personally, was visiting the different clinics and learning about healthcare in Nicaragua.  I plan on attending medical school with the goal of becoming a family physician/pediatrician.  As a result of the trip, I have begun researching the possibility of doing a residency in a country in Central or South America, gaining exposure and experience in a medical system that differs from our own, while helping communities similar to those we visited.  On this trip, I had the opportunity to visit and learn about a variety of health systems and clinics which was very fascinating for me.  I learned about the healthcare situation in Nicaragua, and how that affects private organizations as well.  It was shocking to visit the children’s hospital and see the minimal equipment and medical staff they had.  I was inspired by the different services and programs neighborhood clinics had created in order to best serve and treat their patients in both preventative and curative medicine.  I also enjoyed learning about and seeing the connection between the fields of medicine and social work.

Finally, this trip has reignited my passion for the Spanish language.  I am determined to become fluent before I return to Nicaragua, or any other Spanish-speaking country.  Though it is possible to communicate without knowing the language, I feel I would gain so much more if I were well-versed in Nicaragua’s language, culture, and customs.  Even in my short time there, my conversation skills significantly improved.  I still find myself listening to the popular music heard on the trip and craving gallo pinto.  I believe this trip was everything I could want for my first time out of the United States.  I have been permanently impacted by the people, ideas, and culture I encountered while in Nicaragua, and I cannot wait to continue learning about this country.

 

To see my blog posts during my time in Nicaragua, visit https://u.osu.edu/nicaragua2015/

cathedral prison pic

Life as Gaeilge: Irish Language Course

By Sheila McMahon

My STEP Experience was a four-week intensive Irish language course through the National University of Ireland, Galway. I lived with other students in an Irish-speaking home in the village of An Cheathrú Rua (Carraroe), and took part in hours of daily language classes, lessons in cultural elements such as sean-nós (old-style) singing and dancing, and excursions to various sites in the region.

My experience in Ireland has affected me in many ways which I am only beginning to discover. The most obvious way that the post-Ireland me differs from the pre-Ireland me is that I can now speak (some) Irish. But the real transformations go much deeper than a new knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. The consequence of being immersed in the culture of the Connemara Gaeltacht (a region where Irish is still spoken natively) is that I have observed firsthand the complicated and fraught situation that surrounds the Irish language. I have been present on the battleground for its survival, and learned that although my role is not on the front lines I can still help the cause.

Through this experience I have learned better the tremendous value of living in a particular community to get a firsthand understanding of their way of life. I now understand more thoroughly the historical forces that contribute to the formation of an Irish person’s consciousness. I have also become more aware of the way in which different sections of the population have evolved culturally in response to major political and economic changes. As the nation forges ahead in the 21st century, it appears that the majority of its people are encountering profound changes in their relationship to the traditional culture that pervaded Ireland until quite recently, which some are relieved to disengage from and others are anxious to preserve. These observations prompted reflection on my own society, the strong affinity among many Americans for their ancestral heritage and the factors that act on Americans’ consciousness and culture.

By studying the Irish language, I was entering a struggle of huge significance. The language is one of the most controversial entities in modern Ireland, dividing the Gaeltacht from the rest of the country and caught in the center of debates about modernization and tradition. The Irish language is at the heart of the culture of the Gaeltacht and is of fundamental importance to their identity. They face great challenges in trying to maintain that identity while adapting to the modern world, preserving their traditions in the face of cultural homogenization without fossilizing them. The Irish-speakers I talked to, in particular my host mom and teachers, commented on how big changes had taken place in Carraroe in the last 10-20 years, such as the arrival of new people and the unrelenting encroachment of English. But in response to those challenges, there has been a renewed interest in the language and the establishment of programs such as the one I attended.

It was a great privilege to stay in the home of a community member, and I learned a great deal from my interactions in the home. Seeing my host mom and her husband speaking with their 10-month-old grandson drove home the point that he and his generation constitute the future of the language, and that every parent’s decision to speak Irish or English to their children determined the language’s life or death. It demonstrated to me how every single personal and seemingly small decision affects the course of history.

The course also included guest lectures on sociolinguistic aspects of the Irish language and these played a huge role in opening my eyes to new information, presented by experts who had devoted their lives to studying and fighting for the language and were inspirational in their passion for it. Discussions with my fellow students of Irish further deepened my interest, and through these I discovered that I have an important role in the language’s survival as well: although I cannot directly ensure the transmission of the language to my children, by attending the program I contributed to a community where that can take place, and I can make it more likely by raising the profile of the language and drawing attention to it.

It is one thing to read about the state of the language and efforts to revive or preserve it, but it is quite another the witness its reality. I have still only begun to see just how complicated and messy the situation is, not nearly enough to fully understand the mindset of Irish-speakers, but I am better able to empathize with the people of the Gaeltacht in their concern for the tragic plight of the language: an aching at the idea of its loss, a sadness and anger at the apparent indifference of the world and the rest of the country, an incredible frustration at the circumstances that seem to offer hope but keep it just out of reach, and underneath all of that a grim and determined resolve to press on towards that hope because something that is held so deeply is worth fighting for.

The experience has confirmed that linguistics is definitely the right field for my skills and passions. It has stirred my passion for minority languages in general, and the Irish language in particular, to a greater and more emotional height. It is not now merely an academic interest, if it ever was. Looking forward now, I could see myself continuing to study some aspect of Irish or of other minority languages, which will be informed by my experiences in Ireland. My career path is yet to be determined but I know that even if don’t work with Irish or other minority languages professionally I can still devote my time and interest to it in other ways. In the meantime, I am also eager to continue practicing this beautiful language that I so enjoy and raising awareness of its existence and value.

I have learned and grown much more from this experience than I could begin to describe here. From singing and dancing to traveling to walking around town, the month was incredibly rich and full of wonderful experiences. I will forever treasure the memories I made during my time in Carraroe, and none so much as the people I shared it with. The language’s essential value is its relationship to people and community, and I am extremely grateful for the friendship of my fellow students and the welcome we received from the community of An Cheathrú Rua. This, more than anything, is what I will carry with me into the future.

IMG_3221

The British Invasion Study Abroad May 2015

My STEP Signature Project consisted of a study abroad trip called The British Invasion. I spent two weeks in Columbus learning about British pop music of the 60s, as well as the socio-cultural influences and interactions that occurred between the U.S. and Great Britain during this time. The second two weeks of May were spent traveling in London and Liverpool, England, which allowed me to see the iconic music and cultural monuments that we spent many days learning about.

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

During my study abroad experience I learned a lot about the cultural differences between the past and present in regards to music and expression. I love music and I always have, but before this class I never really stopped to think about how has music changed and how has it been shaped by the events of the world. I just assumed that people wrote songs based on how they felt at the moment or about a trendy topic of the time. While sometimes this is true, I also learned that songwriting and the creation of music is so multi-faceted. Every major event, time of heartache or new band created, can lead to a new song or even a new genre of music. What I learned during my four weeks of study is that music is an outlet for the most complex interactions of the human race. It was amazing to see that Blues artists from the Deep South directly influenced the works of teen pop bands from Great Britain. This made me realize just how small our world really is, because even in an age where cell service and texting and high-speed internet didn’t exist, people were still able to find others that inspired them and use this intercultural connection to breakdown barriers to become innovative artists and positive change makers.

The Casbah Club

The Casbah Club

This realization and the deepening love I began to feel for the connection between music and culture has taught me to open my eyes and see the possibilities that are available for me, personally. If The Beatles could hear about Muddy Waters in the early 1960s and use his soul and musical passion to spark their incredibly successful career, why can’t I reach out across the ocean and find something that inspires me? The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and every other band that crossed over to American stardom also brought with them messages of love and peace and cooperation. They started, or at least supported, movements that helped give recognition to black musicians, movements that supported equality and love, movements that wanted to stop wars and so much more. Their ability to connect internationally with other and share their beliefs has changed my view of the world today. This class taught me that it’s okay to fight for something you believe in and its okay to pursue your passions and its okay to be different and its okay to connect with others around the world.

Many things I experienced in both the classroom setting and during my travels abroad solidified my transformation. First and foremost was my interaction with and exposure to new students. Going into this program I knew no one. I found out along the way that I had some mutual friends with a few of my peers on the trip but for the most part, these were fresh new faces to me. To many people, not knowing a single person that you’ll be spending two weeks abroad with seems scary, but I was excited. I knew that I could be an open book, a clean slate, with these people. I knew that they could teach me something or expose me to new things, and I was right. Being surrounded by 21 strangers allowed me to be open to new stories, ideas, opinions and backgrounds. Only 4 people in our class were music majors but talking to them gave me a whole new perspective on college. Very few of our academic experiences such as general electives and major class requirements, overlapped until this trip. While I was in a chemistry lab, they were practicing every instrument that the music school owns, trying to become a master in each musical section. This was very special to me. I used the differences that I noticed to help me gain a better understanding of the musical world. These 4 music majors were some of the most intelligent and history-savvy students I’ve ever met. When I wanted more information about a band or a musical movement or even the meter and tempo of a song, I went to them. They became my source of extra knowledge and I can’t thank them enough for listening to my questions and for engaging me in musical conversation. Without them, I would not have gained nearly the same amount of insight as I did from this class.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

The second experience that shaped my transformation was simply being in England and comparing the different English and American cultures. London felt a lot like the States, which makes sense if you think about it. London has the big city feel like LA or NYC, they speak English, there are many of the same department stores and so much more. However, these large scale similarities allowed me to pay more attention to minute differences. I noticed that although they have very few available public trashcans, they also had minimal litter and garbage on the street. I noticed that their population of overweight or obese people was extremely small. I noticed that being loud and wild on the tube was not acceptable and that if an elderly or handicapped person comes onto your train, you give up your seat immediately. These things may seem unrelated to my transformation, but in fact, they are not. These small details reminded me that different lifestyles, customs and social norms exist. They reminded me that the American way isn’t the only way. Sometimes it’s easy to become ethnocentric but being exposed to different cultures helps me to learn and grow. By being exposed to culturally diverse areas, I can learn different approaches to problems, different ways to have relationships with others, different ways to be a good person. London and Liverpool gave me a new outlook on connecting with others, especially others who different than me.

The final aspect of my experience abroad that shaped my transformation was learning more about past and present fights for freedom. While studying music, we also touched on civil rights, voting rights, the slave trade and so many other social justice movements. Getting a more in depth knowledge about these events was troubling because of their inherently inhumane nature, but also empowering. Seeing musicians help social rights activists overcome oppression, and vice versa, made me think a lot about the kind of change I want to make in the world. I want to do something positive and beneficial for the world and this class gave me a little extra confidence that I’ll use to achieve this. If people like The Beatles, and Martin Luther King, and the whole crew at Woodstock could make a statement that the whole world heard, who’s to say I can’t do the same? As my friend Emily so wisely said while we were walking around London, “the world is your oyster”, and I couldn’t agree more. I can do anything that I set my mind to. All I need is support, drive, passion, and maybe a little bit of music along the way.

Abbey Road

Abbey Road

I feel as though my transformation after this class was very broad – and I think that is a good thing. The new things that I learned from this experience can be applied to every aspect of my life. Becoming more culturally and personally aware can help me interact with new students, teachers, employers and friends who may have different backgrounds than me. Learning that music can connect almost any two people was amazing to see and I’m sure that I will use that in the future as well. Whether it is with networking, dating, working with clients or presenting new research findings, music could be a great, internationally accepted, form of communication and bondage. And finally, becoming more connected with the past will help me plan for the future. After getting a lot of insight about musical and social changes over the years, I can see myself working to avoid repeating mistakes and also use the successful techniques that I learned to make a positive change in today’s world. This experience was incredibly valuable to me and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn and grow as much as I did this past month. I will cherish the lessons I learned and the memories I made for a lifetime.

Check out this link for a day-to-day description of my experience: https://saratakestheworld.wordpress.com

Buenos Aires, Argentina

My study abroad experience took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The focus of the trip was on the history of Buenos Aires as a port city and the influence the capital of Argentina has today. By visiting different parts of the city, museums and landmarks, I learned the importance of Buenos Aires in a historical, cultural and economic way.

By completing this study abroad STEP project, I learned a lot about myself. I didn’t experience a lot of cultural shock when I arrived, but I think that has to do with my open mind. The entire experience further emphasized my belief on how important it is to have an open mind. Just because something is “different” doesn’t mean that it is better or worse. This was an important concept to remember when adjusting to the culture. Being open minded allows me to further learn about myself. Due to this trip, I was able to find an inner passion for traveling. Emerging in Buenos Aires inspired me to plan more trips and see as much of the world as possible. It taught me the importance of taking advantage of the presented opportunity and truly embrace every moment.

11282070_1403316079995631_166068429_n

Additionally, the world seems like a smaller place due to this experience. I used to say I wanted to travel the world, but that sounded so impossible until I took a step forward in achieving it. Being on the Southern hemisphere for the first time really made me realize that anything is possible and to believe in myself and my dreams. Buenos Aires is also a city full of passions, and the city taught me to further develop my passions.

One event that made me realize the importance of taking advantages of presented opportunities is attending a Fútbol game in Buenos Aires. While talking to Guido, a worker at the front desk at the hotel, about soccer he mentioned an upcoming game with only two tickets left. My friend and I decided to get the tickets without knowing anything about the game or transportation. Buying those tickets ended up being extremely rewarding because I got to experience a REAL Fútbol game in a country where Fútbol is everything. The game made me realize that how one small decision, to say ‘yes’ to a new experience, allowed me to have an incredible memory.

11330576_1606419422975912_14964054_n

Buenos Aires is passionate about Fútbol. Many porteños  (Buenos Aires natives) told us that in Argentina Fútbol and politics are the most talked about subjects, and that some family members even stop talking to each other due to opposing Fútbol views. After the Fútbol game I attended, a group of us went to dinner while still wearing our River Plate jerseys. Little did we know, River Plate’s biggest rival team, Boca, was playing a game at the time. The rivalry between River Plate and Boca is extremely intense and gets violent sometimes. The Boca game was on the TV as we walked into the restaurant for dinner, and the restaurant was full of Boca fans. As my friend and I walked in the restaurant wearing the rival’s jerseys, there was a lot of angry stares. The waiters sat us away from everyone in the restaurant and cursed at us under their breath. Something as simple as wearing a rival’s jersey provoked a lot of passion and emotion. What I took from this is that if you ever have a passion, you have to be fully committed to it and always give it your all.

The reason I see the world as a smaller place now is not only because I simply went to the other hemisphere. My senior year of high school I went to Las Vegas for a business convention and made a friend named Shen. Shen lived in Hawaii and after Las Vegas, we never anticipated on seeing each other. Flash forward to the summer after my second year in college, I am studying abroad in Buenos Aires, and so is Shen! Our plans of meeting up failed, but one day while walking near the Congress building, I saw Shen walking on the street. Buenos Aires is a very large city and the odds of me running into the one person I know in the city was bizarre and showed me just how small the universe is and how anything truly is possible.

11326641_666145513520536_1671128234_n

The STEP Program allowed me to take a step forward in my journey of exploring the world. Going to this trip really sparked an interest within me and made me realize that our time is limited on this Earth and that we should do everything to make every moment count. As for my future plans, I’m looking into other study abroad opportunity in order to see more the world.  Academically, studying in a Spanish speaking country made me appreciate the language and has shown me the importance of getting a minor in Spanish.

river ba view

Toledo, Spain Study Abroad

IMG_1356 IMG_2817 IMG_3051 IMG_3094

For my STEP project, I studied abroad in Toledo, Spain through the Fundación Jose Ortega y Gasset summer intensive program. I took a course on art and architecture in Spain and interned at El Hospital Nacional de Parapléjicos (The National Hospital for Paraplegics). In my free time, I traveled to other cities in Spain including Valencia, Granada, Córdoba, Madrid, Segovia, and many more.

My time spent living and working in Spain was definitely a life-changing adventure. First and foremost, I found that when a challenge arose or when things didn’t go exactly as planned, I was able to quickly adapt and solve the problem without much difficulty at all. As someone who likes things very organized and planned, this was a struggle for me at first, but I could see a change in myself throughout my journey. I was also surprised just how easy it was for me to assimilate into the Spanish culture and adapt to a new way of life that is very different from what we are accustomed to in the United States. Finally, I learned first-hand that people from cultures all around the world have diverse opinions and handle situations differently, yet we all, more or less, come to the exact same result.

During my time abroad, I had many opportunities for problem solving as my traveling rarely went as planned. Many times alone, I had to figure out my way around new and confusing modes of transportation and communicate with others in Spanish, not my native language. My job at the hospital was also very difficult as I had many responsibilities that were very new to me. I worked primarily in the physical therapy department and almost all of the patients that I worked with were wheelchair-bound with serious physical disabilities caused by diseases and accidents. Many of the patients had mental disabilities as well, which was a challenge as many times it was difficult for them to communicate their needs. I also found it very difficult at first to communicate with many of the people in the hospital due to language differences and accents- it is the largest and most prestigious hospital of its kind in all of Europe so there were patients from many different countries there. I was able to overcome each of these obstacles, making many mistakes, by being open to criticism and learning as much as I could about the culture and way of life and being open to new ideas.

I was able to adapt to and assimilate into the Spanish culture mainly by getting out of my comfort zone and trying new things no matter how uncomfortable it felt. I met many local Spaniards and we would go out to eat occasionally and discuss current events and whatever was on our minds. This was a great way to learn about the Spanish culture in a way that I never could have in a textbook. Working at the hospital, virtually no one I was around knew how to speak English so I was completely immersed into the Spanish language and culture, which was very challenging but rewarding. I tried my best to live like a Spaniard in every way- always using public transportation, listening to Spanish music, watching Spanish movies, and eating Spanish food.

Throughout my trip, the differences between Spain and the United States were very evident- mostly in the schedule, education system, and general way of life and attitude. At first I thought that some things we did in the United States were better and that certain things done in Spain were better and made more sense, but then I realized that there is usually more than one way to do something and that one way is not better than the other- just different. For example, in Spain, students who want to be doctors can start down that path at the age of 18. They start studying medicine right away instead of going through undergrad first. This is very different from the process in the United States, but in the end, Spanish doctors provide the same quality of health care as our doctors in the United States.

Being able to understand and work successfully with people of another culture will greatly benefit me in the future. I plan on becoming a doctor and would like to work primarily with the Spanish speaking population in the United States while traveling to aid underprivileged populations in Spanish-speaking countries around the world. Just like in the hospital in Spain, I will undoubtedly come into contact with people from other cultures on a daily basis throughout my career, and it is important that I am able to understand and respect cultural differences among people. Furthermore, in life in general, it is extremely important to be able to adapt quickly to new and changing situations. This experience has taught me to “go with the flow” more and has enhanced my ability to approach new and difficult situations in a more effective manner. I am so grateful for this adventure and I know that it will be one of the highlights of my college career.