A Food Systems Study Tour of Europe

This summer, I used my STEP grant to help fund a trip to three different European countries: France, England, and Denmark. In each of these countries, I visited farms and businesses of all sizes and models with the goal of learning everything I could about the national food systems. Overall, I hoped to walk away from my trip with a broader understanding of the ways Europeans think about, produce, distribute and consume their food, in the hopes that I could use my findings to propose improvements to our food system here in the United States

My trip was incredibly valuable in that is taught me that there is no one correct food system model. The communities I visited throughout my trip were all so different in their assets, needs, and desires that I experienced so many different food system characteristics. I realized that there is no one-size-fits-all way to produce, distribute, and consume food. Rather, it is up to each community to discover the methods and processes that best provide for the unique needs of its people.

The first portion of my trip took place at La Ferme de Cagnolle, a small farm located just southeast of Bordeaux, France. Here I worked as a volunteer for a young couple who have dedicated their lives to the practice of permaculture. Permaculture is a type of farming that focuses on supporting biodiversity by growing a wide range of crops with the use of animal fertilization. Using this technique, the farm is able to produce a wide range of organic fruits and vegetables. Although the scale of the farm’s production is not large enough to turn a profit, the owners are happy with their ability to sustain their own livelihoods in a way that is harmonious with the natural surroundings of the French landscape. This experience taught me how fulfilling it can be to grow and harvest one’s own food. However, it also made me realize that while this is a viable option for some people, many do not have the means to produce their own food. Therefore they must depend on other ways to access nourishment.

After spending two weeks in France, I departed for a week-long tour of Totnes, England, a small, mostly rural community with a reputation for sustainability. I learned that Totnes is dubbed a “transition town,” as it has embraced the challenges of creating a more resilient community through sustainable initiatives. One of the main goals of this transition is to create an almost entirely local food system, where one person’s expense is another person’s income. Due to this priority, Totnes has a strong network of small business owners and farmers that work together to provide for the needs of the community. Experiencing this food system model was fascinating in that it showed the benefits that can be reaped from building strong local relationships, however, this model also has its limitations. While it is possible for an agrarian town like Totnes to provide for its own food needs, it would be much harder for a city like New York to rely solely on local producers and businesses.

The last leg of my trip brought me to Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. Here I was able to experience the strong national food movement that is focused on alternative agriculture and innovative, sustainable business models. As far as agriculture goes, the country has declared it a goal to eventually grow all of its food using organic methods. This goal is back by national subsidies that will help farmers adjust their practices. Within the city, I got a taste of the vibrant and innovative food retail scene. I visited restaurants that recycle food scraps in recipes so as to avoid food waste, and rooftop gardens that sell produce to neighborhood customers. It was amazing to see how much food sustainability is engrained in every asset of the Danish culture. But while these alternative food models have been embraced in Denmark, the story would most likely be different in the U.S. Here we have a significantly larger population to feed and I would guess a significantly more stubborn population when it comes to adopting alternative food practices.

After traveling for a month or so, I realized I was searching for a panacea for the problems in the U.S. food system. But the problems we face cannot be solved with one food system model! The experiences I had this summer opened my eyes to the fact that we don’t have to decide between conventional farming and urban agriculture. We don’t have to decide between big business and small entrepreneurial pursuits. Rather, we can depend on a diverse mix of models to supplement our food needs. As I walk into my future career in food system work, I will do my best to keep this mind.

Interning for a Member of the Canadian Parliament

I couldn’t have asked for a more incredible experience interning for MP Irene Mathyssen for the last five weeks on Parliament Hill. Before I arrived in Ottawa, I was skeptical. Truth be told, I was hesitant to apply for the program in the first place. I had always been set on interning in Washington, D.C., and I was quick to write the Canadian government off as second best and nearly irrelevant compared to that of the United States. I am happy to say that I my preconceived notions were proven wrong with every day I spent on the Hill. Not only did I form incredible friendships with my fellow interns, I learned a great deal about the Canadian government, and I am more than grateful for the hands on experience I was afforded. This has been, without a doubt, a transformational experience that has given me the confidence I was severely lacking, and allowed me to realize my capabilities within the field I would like to go into (politics).

In my office, I spent most of my time answering constituency mail. I particularly enjoyed this task because it required that I perform adequate research on the topics each constituent discussed. This allowed me to obtain a firm grasp on the political climate in Canada, which issues were prevalent to voters, and the parties’ positions on those issues. I also spent time updating the database, which was tedious at times, but I was happy to help my office get caught up before the end of the session. I also got to attend committee meetings with Irene and my Legislative Assistant. I enjoyed attending Citizenship and Immigration committee meetings, but given my interest in campaign politics, I adored going to the Ontario Caucus meetings (even though they were bright and early at 8am!). My favorite tasks that I got to complete, however, were the QP statement that I wrote for Irene on Elder Abuse Awareness Day and drafting her weekly newsletter. Coming into this program, I was not expecting to get to be so hands-on. I am grateful that the office trusted me enough to contribute to projects and tasks that mattered.

This is where, I feel, my internal transformation took place. When you intern in a political office, the assumption is that you will be filing paperwork and making copies. While I spent some time doing typical intern tasks, I was expected and trusted to contribute much more than I was expecting. Quite honestly, I didn’t feel I was capable of taking on meaningful work at the beginning of the internship. I stuck to my main daily tasks, and avoided speaking up to ask to contribute to the speech writing, campaign strategizing, etc. The responsibility and encouragement that I was given by the staff in our office, however, slowly changed my perception of my own talent. I used to doubt my ability to perform in this arena. I seldom voiced my opinions (in classes, in my role in student government, etc.), because I always felt inadequate compared to others in the room. While I have maintained my humble nature and feel as though it is a valuable trait, this internship gave me confidence—confidence to believe that I am intelligent when it comes to politics and capable of making a positive contribution to the field.

Had I not interned in the office of MP Irene Mathyssen this last summer, I would not have undergone a transformative experience that has forever shaped me, and will no doubt have a positive influence on my ability to secure future internships, and most importantly, a job once I graduate from Ohio State. The skills I developed through this experience have been, to put it shortly, priceless.

I could write pages and pages about everything I learned and how much I will miss working for my MP. This program gave me the opportunity to gain genuine experience in working in a political office, and I am sad my times of attending QP, talking political strategy with Tom Mulcair’s staffers at Brixtons, and attending countless receptions with my fellow interns are coming to an end. This experience has been nothing short of unforgettable, and I am so grateful that the STEP program provided me with this opportunity.

OSU interns on Parliament Hill!

OSU interns on Parliament Hill!

 

My STEP Experience: Studying Abroad in Taiwan

For my STEP project I studied abroad in Taiwan in hopes of improving my Mandarin language skills. I attended Kao Yuan University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, which featured six week course in reading and speaking, as well as elective courses in Chinese culture such as calligraphy, poetry, and painting. What was enlightening about this experience were the trips to cultural destinations such as the great Buddhist temple Fo Guang San, the exquisite history museums such as the Chang Kai-Shek Memorial in Taipei, and best of all the great food.

In addition to eating well and improving my Mandarin, I was able to greatly expand my worldview. First, I befriended different people from all over the world. The program consisted of students from all over the world, and despite our limited time together, it felt like we had known each other for years. As I became acquainted to local culture in Taiwan, I realized how advantageous it is to know another language. I knew some conversational Mandarin and was able to help translate for my friends who were less fluent. Finally, this experience has made me realize that even though the world is so big and diverse, people all have the same basic common characteristic of wanting to connect with each other.

Through this program I met a diverse group of people from various countries around the world such as Canada, Denmark, Switzerland, Ecuador, and even different parts of the United States. During the six weeks, we bonded over our shared experience of being in a foreign country. One particularly memorable event was when we planned a birthday celebration for one of our fellow classmates. We split up into two groups. Some of us went to 65 Degrees, a locally renowned bakery, to buy a cake. We had to rush to get the cake back to our dorm because not only was it a very hot day and we were afraid of it spoiling, we needed to hide it and make sure our friend didn’t notice and spoil the surprise. The other group took went shopping for a present and bought him a chess set, which one of the hobbies he was interested in. Despite the short amount of time that we’d known each other, we immediately bonded and felt like a group of longtime friends. Even though the program has ended for several months, we all still keep in touch to this day.

My friends climbing a rope tower.

My friends climbing a rope tower.

 

While exploring Taiwan with my newfound friends, I also realized how amazingly helpful knowing another language is. Even though the de facto world language is English, learning another language makes it easier to connect with locals and makes you appreciate the local culture more. Being at least somewhat fluent in conversational Mandarin, I was able guide my fellow students around the city, acting as a translator. This came in handy when we were exploring the local shops and markets. One weekend, my friends and I were at a night market, which is like a mix between a traditional open air market and evening hangout. My one friend was trying to buy something from a leather goods vendor but did not speak fluent mandarin. Being familiar with how bargaining works at these types of traditional markets, I was able to barter with the shopkeeper and help her get a better price for the purse she wanted.

Another time, we were exploring the city around the University campus and unexpectedly encountered some of the most kind-hearted locals. It was very late in the evening by the time we were ready to head back to the dorms and we did not realize that the busses and public transportation had stopped running for the day. At first we decided to just walk back since we were not far from the dorms. I stopped a local to ask for directions on the quickest way back, but got into a conversation with him. It turns out the local was also a student waiting picked up by his parents. We bonded over student life and compared our experiences exploring Taiwan and Taiwanese culture. When his parents arrived, he told them our situation and they were kind enough to give all of us a ride home

The most personally significant experience of my study abroad trip was during the last week of classes. While the first few weeks were straightforward studying and cultural lessons, the last week had an optional a speech and singing contest the students could enter. My friend Ziru and I were the most fluent speakers in our class, so after much pressure from both my classmates and the teacher, Ziru and I decided to enter the speech contest together. The teacher picked out a funny skit and we set off to prepare for it. We practiced every day but as the contest drew closer, I felt more and more nervous. I was not very confident in my overall speaking ability and was afraid I would mess up and embarrass us. However, Ziru along with several of my friends sat me down that day and offered me a lot of encouragement. They reminded me of all the work I had done in preparation and how it would be sad to see it all wasted. This gave me the confidence to go through with it, knowing that no matter what happens my friends will support me. As I walked onto the stage with my partner, all of my friends cheered and we were able to perform the best skit of the day, winning first place. I felt so lucky to have been able to make such good friends, especially since we were all so different and had only known each other for such a short time.

Speech contest performance with my friend Ziru.

Speech contest performance with my friend Ziru.

This experience has taught me that having a broad worldview is not only about knowing the differences but also finding similarities between seemingly different peoples. The connections that my fellow students and I formed on this trip will be with us for a lifetime. With my newly improved language skills, I’m now regularly practicing mandarin conversations with my Chinese friends here at Ohio State. I hope to one day work in a field that will allow me to travel and work in different countries. Now knowing that there will always be people willing to help and connect with others, I feel more prepared and will be ready to face the challenges that lie ahead.

The famous Dragon and Tiger Pagodas in Kaohsiung.

The famous Dragon and Tiger Pagodas in Kaohsiung.

Kenting National Park, site of one of the scenes filmed in the movie Life of Pi.

Kenting National Park, site of one of the scenes filmed in the movie Life of Pi.

At the Peak of the Seven Star Mountain in Taiwan.

At the Peak of the Seven Star Mountain in Taiwan.

Agricultural Communications in the United Kingdom

This summer I had the chance to spend two weeks traveling through the United Kingdom and learn about the impact of agricultural communications. It looked at problems facing the agriculture industry in England and Scotland, and how media responded to them. Views of both people involved in agriculture and those that weren’t are explored and the ways to communicate with these different groups is shown to students as they engage with industry professionals.

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Growing up  removed from agriculture and then coming to Ohio State as a student of  the College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Science I have learned so much. I saw through this program the many problems that are facing the industry today. I learned why dairy farmers are fleeing the industry, how farmers are working to feed a growing population, how the public is reacting to these changes, and how the media and our communication efforts impact all of these.

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             This experience changed not only my outlook on how I view agriculture, but it really impacted the way I approach others in regards to agriculture. I learned to always try to make sure that people are given all the information, but that you have to approach each communication effort with passion and direct it to my audience.

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This program was incredible in every way, but my favorite part by far was the people I met.  I got to experience a new country with 25 people I didn’t know, all of whom are passionate and extremely incredible people. Then we met farmers who took us out to lunch at their local pub and talked for us for hours about their work with passion shining through in every word. The strangers that we struck up conversations with that informed us of the local traditions, and the writers that explained their life stories, made each moment an adventure. The sights and itinerary were incredible, but the people made the experience.

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Getting to see their education system was also an incredible experience. The Royal Agriculture College showed how similar the agricultural training we receive in countries with vastly different agricultural systems can be. While our systems vary, we have the same goals of producing safe food, creating a healthy environment for animals, and sustaining the Earth to the best of our abilities. As our goals are the same, we learn around them and therefore, we learn many of the same ideas and ethics. Though the way we interpret these ideas can vary, this is what leads to new ideas that help change the world. It was great to see a brand new perspective on the same things I have known all my life, and it has helped me to remind myself to reach out and find new perspectives on everything, no matter how long I have known or believed something. It is helping me to make sure that I am learning and trying to do the best work I can.

The other thing about this experience that greatly affected me was learning about and participating in a completely different culture. From the fact that cars drive on the opposite side of the road, to the not tipping of wait staff, there was a whirlwind of things to learn upon arriving in a new country. Even though the United Kingdom is probably one of the most similar countries to the United States, the differences are vast. Having to adapt and learn quickly while there was something we were tested on each and every day. From adjusting to language difference, and trying to remember that chips were fries, to making sure we looked the correct way when passing the street. It is hard to adjust to all the small changes that there are, but it was also a wonderful learning experience. I have often traveled, but this was the first time that I really embraced the culture and looked at the beauty of the country. I have never seen anything like the sights I saw there, and I believe myself to be a much more prepared traveler and more open to new ideas and experiences after this study abroad.

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Moving forward in my life, this experience will always be a part of me, and I hope to carry it with me in everything I do. I have learned to be a more effective communicator, and that is important with schooling and any career in the future. Also experiencing new people and learning how different other places are has opened my eyes to what the world has to offer. It has made me a more understanding person and has helped me to learn how to invest in others and learn from them. We all have something to offer the world, and if we just take a few minutes, we can learn so much. That’s the most important thing I learned and that I am working towards implementing in my life each and every day.

Madison Montgomery

STEP Study Abroad May 2015

 

STEP Reflection- World War II Study Abroad Program

 

For my STEP project, I studied abroad during Maymester 2015 with the World War II Study Abroad Tour.  For the tour, we went to London, Bayeux and Paris, France, and Berlin in the span of about three and a half weeks; we saw sites and museums relevant to the course of the Second World War every day of the trip. We also had time to explore the places we traveled to as well.

For the program, we had to take several pre-requisite courses relevant to the Second World War.  While I am a history major who had studied a lot about the Second World War even before the start of these pre-requisite courses in addition to the trip itself,  having to take multiple classes on the subject was still eye opening.  I was forced to learn about multiple perspectives of the war, especially perspectives I had not previously learned that much about, especially in relation to the Eastern Front and the German perspectives. I also would say that I have been forced, as a student and an (albeit, an amateur) historian to be more aware of the ways history gets written and the ways it can be told in order to benefit certain groups of people as events fade into the past. The politics of history are serious, and the politics of memory in relation to World War II are no exception, especially because the ramifications of the war have shaped a lot about the world we live in today.  I would say the program taught me to, as a whole, try to avoid making assumptions about historical events, especially because many of the assumptions I would tend to make are probably shaped in some way by the way the United States has tried to paint history.

For myself, I would say that the program and the course I have taken because of the program, have taught me in fact that I do not want to go into history for some sort of career as I initially thought. While I enjoy history, I don’t know that I could spend my life doing it; rather, I would prefer to use my knowledge of history in another field pertinent to modern occurrences, such as politics or international relations.

My classes certainly forced me to acknowledge these views of history, as did seeing different perspectives about the Second World War as we went to different places.  I especially found the German museums about the war and the Nazis to be eye opening; how does a culture cope with the collective guilt and blame?  During the trip, we also went to the concentration camp called Sachsenhausen, and watching the place be preserved in the way which it was was also enlightening.  There really is no right answer to the question as to what must be done with places which were once places of destruction.  My research about genocide in Croatia during the Second World War, which I started because of this program, is something that I enjoy and I believe has taught me a lot about genocide as well as systemic oppression, has done a lot to teach me about myself and why I may not want to go into history after all.

I, instead, want to take more time learning about history, which is why I have kept my history major, and still plan on doing an honors thesis in the field of history about genocide studies in the Soviet Union.  I have found in the program, as well as my other interests, that my larger interest is within the study of oppression and how and why it exists.  I have been exploring other options about my life after graduation, but I think a lot of them will have a lot to do with the material I learn now.

I think this program taught me that I still have much to see and learn, and while I can read all I want I will never be able to understand the struggles humans have made other humans face completely.  Going to see these places, as we did with this program, revealed much books never will be able to reveal; it still taught me about my own ignorance regarding many topics about recent human history.  I felt that the program has forced me to take a step back and analyze my own progress, or lack thereof.

What I learned during the program was significant to me and my life because it has helped me to realize that I have many opportunities and options after graduation, but also that I may not continue with history as an older person. Even so, the program has taught me invaluable things and has given me an invaluable look into the events that created the world we live in today, and I will always consider understanding this context invaluable, as well as the context behind the context. (In other words, the question of “who is the one creating the books you read and why is that good or bad or neither?” Is constantly on my mind. ) I have been forced to take steps back, to listen, not act.

 

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For my future plans, I am hoping to intern with the United States Department of State in Cyprus, because I am a modern Greek major. I want to use my lived experiences such as this and others in order to branch out, I have learned to see my college experience as a place where I learn what there is to be learning so that I can go out and try to do it.  (I might seriously attempt going into comedy though, but I still don’t regret doing any of this).

Public Health Perspectives: India

This past May I traveled to Karnataka, India with 19 other fellow Buckeyes. This trip lasted 4 weeks and we learned a lot about Indian culture, religion, and of course, public health. Since this trip was focused on public health, we took many field trips to primary health centers, AIDS clinics, women’s health clinics, and children daycares. However, when we had free time our professor took us to a variety of temples, beaches, and old palaces. My study abroad experience has transformed my perspective as an individual and as a student studying Health Sciences. I learned so much while also having fun.

Elephant Ride

At the beginning of my Sophomore year, I was a biology major. However, after watching a video on AIDS in my Sociology class, I began to rethink my career path and what I really wanted to do with my life. I realized that even though AIDS is no longer an epidemic in the United States, it affects millions of people in third world countries and they have no idea what the disease is. Unfortunately, India is one of these countries and health care is not a universal right. After this idea hit me was when I decided to change my major to health sciences in order to learn more about health care and health promotion/disease prevention throughout the world. Shortly after changing my major, I found the public health trip to India. I knew right away that this experience would change my life.

When I first arrived, I had a very limited perspective on healthcare since I live in the United States and have access to primary physicians and medicine. You don’t realize how truly fortunate you are in regards to your health until you go to a third world country like India. I’ve only seen India through movies and documentaries, however, when I arrived there I was shocked. The streets were crowded with no safety rules in regards to helmets, seatbelts, or crosswalks. There were piles of trash all along the road since there is no garbage removal system. The water isn’t safe to drink from the sink and you weren’t allowed to smile at strangers because it would give off the wrong vibe to the opposite sex. Throughout the next 4 weeks, I can honestly say I transformed as an individual. After witnessing so many sick people who had absolutely no resources to get treatment, I knew I had to come back here in the future to make a difference, big or small. This is why I am currently studying to become a Physician Assistant. Once I have medical training, I am determined to travel to third world countries and become a part of Doctors Without Borders or the Peace Corps.

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The experience that had the most impact on me was when I went on a field visit to the slums. This area was about 15 minutes away from the main village and we had to take back roads to get there. Since my 19 classmates and I traveled by a bus, it was very hard to get around because the roads were very small, muddy, and surrounded by shrubbery. The whole purpose of this field visit was to gather information from the community members about their knowledge on AIDS and Tuberculosis (TB). We also wanted to see how they lived day to day. When we first arrived, we automatically started getting bit my mosquitos. We traveled up a winding, muddy road where we saw several children playing a ball game. We approached a little house and began talking to a woman around age 30 who lived there with her children. We asked her if she knew about the signs and symptoms of AIDS and TB. It turns out she did know about these ailments, however, this was not the case for the next house.

The next “house” we went to was merely a house to begin with. The walls were aluminum panels, the ceiling was made from blue tarp, and the ground was straight dirt. Six people lived in this tiny house. When we approached the parents, we saw them with their children. One little girl in particular stuck out to me because she was naked and had a rash all over her body. Yet despite her obvious health issues, she always had a smile on her face. At that exact moment, I felt a little devastated. Growing up, I had multiple skin problems. I kept thinking about how uncomfortable she must’ve been, especially living in an unsanitary, humid environment. This exact moment was what solidified my goal to become a Physician Assistant with a specialization in dermatology. Aside from my own personal experiences, this little girl had a huge impact on me.

As we were finishing up the interview with the parents, we found out that they didn’t know the signs or symptoms of AIDS or TB. They also told us about their lifestyle and how they had no sewage system in the slums and they engaged in open defecation. This lack of knowledge and unsanitary living is a huge problem. I didn’t understand the severity of this situation until this field visit. People will do anything to get by living here. We passed a woman making cigarettes from tobacco and leaves. We also saw a house that had an indoor oven that blew smoke inside the house. The fumes are actually very hazardous and can cause major health complications or even death.

Ultimately, this experience made me realize that I need to study hard and go to Physician Assistant school in order to help people, especially children with skin problems. I would love to go back to India and travel with a small medical team and help people in rural areas. Hopefully, by the time I graduate Physician Assistant school, the circumstances in India will be a little better. However, until then, I must keep striving toward my goal.

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As mentioned before, my goal is to be a Physician Assistant. My transformation helped me realize that I cannot be confined to solely work in a hospital in the United States. My future medical talent will be helpful to so many other communities throughout the world. My experience in India truly has changed me as a person. Ever since I came back, I have been restless and have the constant urge to travel. Next May, I plan on going to Vietnam in order to shadow doctors in a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

Academically, I am more excited to learn in my classes. Professionally, I am determined to achieve my goals. Personally, I have made some amazing friends and mentors on this trip. I am beyond grateful for everyone that helped me have this opportunity. There are no words to truly describe my experience in India. I hope the future students that go on this trip learn, grow, and have the time of their lives.

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Jordan Study Abroad

My experience was a 10-week study abroad in Amman, Jordan. I studied Classical Arabic and the Jordanian dialect at the Qasid Institute while living in Amman for the summer. The Qasid Institute is an excellent place to learn the Arabic language affiliated with training people from the U.S. Department of State in Arabic.
I recommend time abroad to anyone. It seems like a fairytale or dream come true at first but it wears off and you learn how to become comfortable in unfamiliar environments. I am much MUCH more travel savvy. I can figure out public transportation or housing. I think it was goof that I didn’t study abroad in the Western world as well. The Middle East and Near East lead such different lives than what we are accustomed to. I had Muslim roommates and was in Jordan during their holy month of Ramadan, and it was awesome seeing such a huge shift in cultures. I went from waking up to the Call to Prayer at 5 in the morning to stopping my homework in the evening to listen to it and stare out of my window at the city. I learned our society is much less friendly and more paranoid when it comes to interacting with strangers.
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I suppose lot of my assumptions were shattered upon arrival. I just imaged your standard image of the Middle East depicted in 1001 Nights, but was shocked by how modernized Jordan is. Jordan is the most liberal of the Arab countries so I can only judge by what I saw. But there were plenty of people wearing blues jeans and eating at McDonalds. They were very liberal when it came to their women. All most girls wore were their hijab (head scarves) which came in many elaborate styles and bright colors to show off their own unique personalities. It was way ore hilly then I expected and a lot less organized. There were streets signs but no one used them. You gave direction strictly by landmarks and directions like left or right. All in all it was a major shift in my view of the Middle East. I think the most important thing in life is empathy whether it be with friends, family, strangers, or enemies you need to understand their situation and unique views in order to react to situations responsibly. Arabs get a terrible reputation in America mostly due to the media. There’s an enormous level of Islamiphobia. They really aren’t bad people some people I met in Jordan have been some of the most, noble people I’ve met in life. Of course there will always be those who judge the many by the few which is unfortunate.IMG_7322

My experience just meeting and speaking with people is really what caused this shift in perspective. To how scholarly, bright and energetic my professors were to kindnesses from strangers. When I walked through Amman it felt no different than walking through Columbus. I had this same realization when I went to France when I was younger. You go to countries having these tourist fueled romantic views of romantic countryside views or cultural experiences. Once you realize these people are just like you they have their taxes, family troubles, and traffic delays it really makes you wonder why there’s so much tension between us and the Middle East. All it ever is, is people fighting people there’s little attempt made at mutual understanding from either side. Which is why this experience was so valuable.
I think one of the most important things in life is empathy and I went in with hopes of understanding a culture and people I had little exposure to growing up. One of the greatest events was being able to attend Qasid while it was the holy month of Ramadan. The entire month I essentially had to fast with the populace because no restaurants were open and it was illegal to eat in public. I grew a lot of sensitivity to the religion throughout that entire month. I attended a prayer and breaking of the fast with a few Muslim friends in order to see what it was like. During the days the city was asleep and it looked like a ghost town. Everyone was inside sleeping, but at nights the capitol seemed to erupt with energy. The nights of Ramadan were awesome families visiting each other, children firing fireworks in the street, and all the feasting that was done at sunset was definitely something I won’t soon forget. Being in a predominantly Islamic country as opposed to a predominantly Christian country you understand the feeling of being an outsider at least to the priorities of the nation. It feels as though you are living in an organization not built for someone like you. This helped me realize the disenfranchisement and segregation many Muslims must feel in the United States especially when another terrorist attack occurs and the media tries to fear monger and blame the entire Muslim community.
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I also witnessed the corruption of the Jordanian government. The royals of Jordan have some absolutely ridiculous laws such as a 100% tax on cars. All luxury items are heavily taxed but this one in particular makes it difficult to get around Jordan. It’s almost like you are at the whims of public transportation and taxi drivers in order to get around. Which is extremely difficult if you cannot communicate where you want to go as directions are given by landmarks rather than by street names and addresses. Something like this really makes one thankful of the United States. Our political system isn’t perfect but we’re lucky to be in a country where our needs are taken into account instead of taken advantage of. The back and forth bickering of our politicians may make it seem like we can’t get any work done quickly but the same time this helps prevent corrupt and damaging laws from flying through our Congress.
These transformations have been valuable to my life as they have made me thankful for what I have. Sure travelling is often romanticized and don’t get me wrong I learned a lot of valuable information on a people that I had never really met before. But by the end of my experience I was happy to come home. Although I still have that spark of exploration and travel in my heart I am much more thankful for all that we have here in the United States, from personal liberties to ice cream and rain. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to travel again in the near future. For now I will finish up undergrad and grad school and hopefully when I have a stable job and way to support myself I can travel abroad again. For now I have finished all the requirements for my Arabic minor at Ohio State and plan on continuing with Arabic studies beyond college privately.

A Summer in Paris

I participated in a six-week study abroad language and cultural immersion program through IES Abroad. Through IES we went on several excursions in and around Paris, as well as exploring and travelling on our own time! I lived in a homestay with a local Parisian in the Bastille district in the 11th Arrondissement, just a 20-minute commute (via metro and walking) to the IES Center in Montparnasse, in the 14th Arrondissement. At the center I took two courses in French: 19th and 20th French Literature and Impressionism and Post-Impressionism Art History.

Studying abroad in Paris, was the first time I’d ever travelled anywhere entirely on my own. The gravity of this predicament really hit me when I landed at Charles de Gaulle International and realized I was in a foreign country where I wasn’t accustomed to the culture, where I had very little confidence in my ability to communicate in their language, where I had limited (basically none) cellular data, and where I knew no one.               IMG_6680IMG_6649

It may seem silly to mention not having cellular data, but in this day and age it can have a frighteningly strong impact on how we conduct ourselves, and ever since I got my first iPhone I have been one of those people whose entire life revolves around my phone. However, during my time in Paris I had a pay-as-you-go disposable cell phone, with which I was able to communicate with the IES staff as well as my fellow students, as well as my iPhone. However, I was really only able to use my iPhone when I was connected to Wi-Fi; I primarily carried it with me to take photos.

Having extremely limited access to internet forced me to disengage with technology and find new ways to solve my problems. I learned to navigate my way around Paris, on the metro and by foot, without Google Maps. The lack of technology also helped my language skills; I was forced to communicate with people without having my phone as a crutch to translate with. I won’t go to say that I stayed off social media completely while abroad, but it wasn’t constantly present in my mind, and it didn’t distract me from all the amazing things around me. Within a few days, I already drifted away from technology without even knowing it. I was constantly exploring the city and the culture; the museums, parks, monuments, cafes, shops, foods, and people! There was always something new to experience.

I didn’t really notice the transformations as they were happening, but by the end of the program, I had a level of confidence both in my ability to be independent in a foreign city, as well as in the French language itself. When I first arrived in Paris I was terrified; terrified of being alone, terrified of not being able to communicate; terrified that my French wouldn’t improve while I was there; terrified that my life would be the plotline of the next ‘Taken’, and terrified that I’d get lost on the metro. I was scared of everything.

I absolutely butchered my first conversation with my host mom, and when we finally gave up trying to understand each other, she gave me a French-English dictionary. When I first purchased my burner phone I had to call into their automated service to load credit onto the phone and I couldn’t understand a word of the instructions. But somewhere along the lines, my host mom and I began having real conversations with one another, and at the end of my trip when I went to recharge my phone for the last time, I realized that it couldn’t have been clearer that the instructions were asking me to enter the code on my receipt and then press pound. It occurred to me that not only had my comprehension and communication skills improved significantly, I was confident in my abilities and I was comfortable in the city. I could walk into a cafe and order a coffee or an aperitif without being nervous or uncomfortable. I could carry on casual conversations with vendors and taxi drivers; I was so comfortable, Paris had even begun to feel like home away from home.

The true value of my experience far outshone my expectations. I enrolled in this program as a stepping-stone towards finishing my French minor and an opportunity to improve my language conversation skills. But my abroad experience not only improved my French language skills astronomically, but also led to significant personal growth. I was faced to numerous obstacles and fears, and was able to overcome each and every one. I feel confident in my independence and my capability to conquer whatever challenges lie in my future.

Global May Great Britain

For my STEP Project, I went to London on a May semester Study Abroad trip. We did a lot of traveling around London and got to experience London as true Londoners. In addition, we traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland for a weekend.

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Before my trip, I have never really been out of the country. I have taken a couple family vacations to Mexico, but I have never went overseas for a month long. Not only that, but I went without really knowing anyone. I meet my flat-mates a couple times before we arrived, but I did not really know them. This trip was really focused on English culture, something that we were all just thrown into.

Upon arriving to Heathrow Airport, we were all expected to make our way to the train, tube, and flat, all on our own. There were no tour buses that took us places, my classmates were forced to adapt to the London lifestyle, and that we did. It was amazing to me how adaptable I was. I fit right in with my classmates, and I am still good friends with a lot of them. Every day we hustled on the tube to get to class or our excursion. We took trains to Scotland and France, something vastly different than my life in Ohio. Leaving London, I became a completely different person than who I was before.

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Luckily for me, I was able to travel with a few of my fellow classmates to London. Once we got off the plane, we really did not have any directions on how we needed to get to our flat, our home for the next month. We all relied on each other and worked together to figure out where we needed to go. Most of us have never really met before this experience, and it was really neat that we all trusted each other so much in another county.

I am not one with directions, so I had to rely on my classmates for help, and offered what little help I could give. The people that I lived with in my flat became a little family. Every week night, we would take turns making dinner. Over the weekends we traveled to France and Ireland together. Living with 8 girls, definitely was a challenge, but we all got through it and still have dinners together whenever we can.

I learned so much about myself. Generally I am a person who always has to be in control. I like to plan and lead the way. In London, I became a completely different person. All the planning was not important anymore. All I was concerned with was having fun. I took advantage of every opportunity to explore the city and meet new people. I had the time of my life on that trip, and every day I wish I was back in London with those people seeing everything London has to offer.

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I am planning on becoming a Nurse Practitioner, so the culture class did not teach me anything that would directly relate to my field. However, it did teach me a lot about myself and the world. London has so much diversity, and I had the opportunity to experience it. In just one night I met people from all over the world, an experience I could probably not achieve in Ohio.

As a NP I will be working with people every day. I could be working with people from all over the world, and from my trip, I have gained some insight as to what their lives consist of. Hopefully, this knowledge will help me become more understanding, thus a better NP. London also taught me how to be more flexible, a lesson I will forever cherish. I try to apply this to my everyday life as best as I can. Wherever I end up, I need to be more adaptable. Life was more fun that way, and in a career in the medical field is always changing, something that I need to be ready for.

Culture and Life in India

For my STEP Project, I spent two weeks in Delhi, India with the Ohio State University International Affairs Scholars. Along the way, I learned about religion, family, education and overall, everyday life in India. I also worked on daily reflections and journal entries that allowed me to fully understand my experience.

My trip to India was my first time traveling outside North America and it allowed me to grow into a better student and member of the global community. Life in India is so different from life in America. Some of the wealthiest people in the world live there, as well as some of the poorest people. India is also one of the most populated countries in the world. During my time there, I saw slums and hunger everywhere I turned yet most of the people I met were joyful and polite. They were happy to teach us about our culture and welcomed us into their homes. Of course, this did not apply to everyone. Through these experiences, I learned that happiness is a choice. Though many families worked all day just to put food on their tables, they were still happy to be together and to show us how they live. My time in India taught me to be grateful for the things that I had and the opportunities I have been provided with. I also appreciate my education more now. Many children in India have to fight to go to school. School can be expensive and families must make it a priority in their homes.

During my time in India, I learned to be more understanding of others and their cultures. I have learned to keep an open mind and expect the unexpected. While there are many ideas in the west about what life in India is like, it is important to realize that these may be generalizations. The only way to truly understand India is to go and experience the culture and even then, one may still have things to learn. The trip showed me that while the idea of everyday life may seem simple, there are many things that influence life and culture.

Over the course of my trip, I visited locations for many of the major religions in the world. At each stop, people were very open to teaching and sharing about their beliefs. They allowed me to take part in their customs and made me feel welcome. I believe that this approach allowed me to better understand religion in India and showed me that religion does not need to divide us. Instead, the world should allow religion to make them stronger. After seeing people of all religions interact peacefully and happily, I know that it is possible. I also noticed that people on the streets were very welcoming and helpful. Numerous times, taxi drivers or shopkeepers would provide advice and even look out for the students well being. It showed me that mutual respect for each other can go a long way. One thing that was hard to experience was mothers and young children begin on the side of the roads. I wanted to help every person but I knew that it would not truly make a difference. This was a very hard idea for me to accept and I’m still not completely comfortable with it.

Education is very valued in India because it is the means to a better life, including more economic opportunities and job prospects. During my trip, I was able to talk to some parents about their families. I learned that education is a way to keep the children off the streets and to ensure they have a better life than their parents did. I also visited a school in a rural village and learned that the children love to learn and enjoy going to school. The village made the education of their children a priority and though there was work to be done on the farm, they all came together to ensure that the children could stay in school. It also helped that the village elder was educated and understood the value of educating the next generation. After seeing how hard these people worked to send their children to school, I learned how lucky I was to grow up in a place where education was provided for every child. I see now that much of my opportunities came just because I was lucky enough to be born in the United States. I will always remember this and be thankful.

Before this trip, I had never traveled outside of North America. My time in India opened my eyes to the infinite possibilities that other countries have to offer. I have learned so much about culture and life and I am looking forward to learning about other countries as well My time in India will be very helpful in the future as I would like to become more involved in global leadership and development. As a City and Regional Planning major, I am interested in how the developing world will grow and evolve. I would like to be involved in planning for a more sustainable future and India was a great place to go to see a developing country in the middle of becoming a global one. My trip taught me to be more understanding and open to others which will help if I travel to a different country to work after graduation.

Traditional cooking styles in a rural village.

Traditional cooking styles in a rural village.

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Foods of India

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Neemrana Fort Palace