Psychology and Culture in Europe 2015

Hayley Esterline

Study Abroad

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For my STEP Signature Project, I visited the cities of Rome, Venice, and London through the Psychology and Culture in Europe Program. After the program ended, I also visited the city of Paris. During my experience abroad, I visited dozens of sites of psychological, historical, and cultural significance.

Through my project, I found a deeper understanding of both myself and the world around me. I learned how to navigate unfamiliar cities and how to stay calm when I found myself lost inside of them. I grew in physical and emotional perseverance each time I climbed hundreds of stairs to see the city around me from a different perspective. I discovered how cultural differences can extend beyond human behavior. I learned how deeply rooted sexism and mental health stigma is in cultures beyond my own. I grew to appreciate the privileges I have much more strongly — everything from getting free water at restaurants to being able to see hundreds of years worth of artwork in a single day. I fell in love with live theater, espresso, and painting. Most of all, I fell in love with exploring the world around me.

In each city, one or two small experiences stands out as playing a key role in my growth during the trip. In Rome, our hotel was near a dog park.  Every day, we would walk past dozens of calm, happy dogs playing with their owners. Consequently, as our trip progressed, I began to notice dogs all over Rome. Rarely was a dog ever on a leash. None of the dogs ever barked or behaved in any aggressive way at all. After taking note of this, I realized that culture extends to more than just people – it extends to animals as well! In fact, culture is a part of everything we interact with– our pets, the environment around us, anything and everything that forms our experiences.

Growing up, I took many art classes and developed a love of drawing, painting, and photography. However, over the past two years in college, I’ve had less time to devote to making art. Venice, the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited,  brought me right back into my favorite hobby. Beauty was everywhere — from the canals and gondolas to the thousand-year-old paintings to the people wrapped up in it all. I felt so lucky to experience this beauty and spent most of my time there trying to capture it. After my return home, I painted my first painting in over two years–a picture inspired by a photo I took of a canal in Venice, surrounded by colorful building and clotheslines.

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The photo that inspired my painting.

In London, we had the opportunity to climb to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The catch: the climb involved 528 spiral stairs, some of which did not look particularly safe. I’ve never been a huge fan of heights, so climbing up over 500 stairs was definitely scary. It took a long time, a lot of strength, and plenty of encouragement from my friends, but I made it to the top. The 360 degree view of London was absolutely worth it! I felt proud that I had conquered my fears and felt myself become a more courageous person. Later in the trip, I completed an equally terrifying 674-step climb to the mid-level of the Eiffel Tower!

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London, from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

In every city, I noticed that sexism and gender dynamics played a role. In Paris, three of my friends and I had a run-in with a overly-flirtatious waiter who tried to hug us against our will. In Venice, we were catcalled daily by men who tried to get us to eat at their restaurant. We also noticed how the jobs in Italy were highly gendered according to gender roles- men were often servers and glassblowers, while women sold clothing and made lace. Gender was not not a huge issue in London, except perhaps in the city’s sex work industry. I also noticed a large racial disparity in London theater, as the production of Wicked we saw had few to no actors of color.

The transformation I experienced through my travels increased my global and cultural awareness. It gave me the confidence to dream of working abroad someday. The beauty of the architecture and artwork helped me to rediscover my love of art-making and reestablished my goal to involve the creative process in my future career. The relationships I built with my fellow Psychology majors and resident directors during the trip are incredibly valuable to me both personally and academically. I feel so lucky to have been given this opportunity and will treasure the memories forever.

One thought on “Psychology and Culture in Europe 2015

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience – I was really impressed with the way you described your appreciation of the beauty you experienced while abroad. It sounds like an amazing opportunity!

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