Exploring Nicaragua

In May 2015, I ventured for my first time outside of the United States to embark on a 3-week study abroad experience throughout Nicaragua. Traveling with the College of Social Work, my group was set to gather insight about the social issues and human rights of the citizens of this developing nation. Through lectures at small, local universities, extensive visits with non-profit organizations, in-home stays with Nicaraguan families, and exploring the historical sites of this country, we were able to develop a greater understanding of Nicaragua and those who work to make this country stronger. It is also important to note that although Nicaragua is a developing country, we were able to identify hardships that affect both Nicaragua and the United States, as well as recognize strengths that Nicaragua holds and the United States lacks. While financial stability and wealth easily defines a country’s success to the rest of the world, the everyday leaders who work to make constant change also shape what makes a poor country strong.

Before this study abroad experience, I was unsure of how capable I was of being put so far outside of my comfort zone, surrounded by individuals speaking a language that I have never known, in an area of the globe that is much less prosperous than the country in which I was born. I have always understood myself to be passionate about the developing world and the experiences of those who are affected by widespread poverty, climate change, and globalism. However, my interest in the issues that affect the individuals in countries such as Nicaragua grew exponentially after meeting so many selfless individuals who work endlessly to provide for the poorest communities of their country.

Aside from being continuously inspired and motivated by the community leaders who work for the betterment of their home country, I was also awed by the resilience of many citizens who faced very difficult circumstances but continued to work to move forward toward a better life. Interactions with individuals of the LGBTQ community, women, pregnant youth, impoverished communities, and HIV/AIDS advocates proved to me that hard times do not have to break you, but rather they can shape your passions, goals, and power. Before traveling to Nicaragua and meeting these strong, resilient, powerful individuals, I might have never considered Nicaragua a place that I could fall in love with. After this experience, I am able to see both: the struggles, economic hardship, and climate effects that have shaped this country, and the everyday leaders who won’t stop working to make change.

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Specifically, I found myself very impacted by my experiences during the 3-night home stay. Myself and two other Ohio State students from my group were assigned to stay with a family who was associated with a local university, and I couldn’t believe that I would be living in a home outside of the United States unable to communicate with my host family. I was incredibly anxious, but also thrilled because this was an experience nothing like I had ever previously done, and I was eager to work through the language barrier. Upon meeting our host family, I knew that they would be incredibly patient, welcoming, and interested in our lives as their American students. While the other two Ohio State students had backgrounds in Spanish, they translated basic conversations for me, while I immediately took to our host mother’s granddaughter, Briteny. All of the challenges of being basically non-verbal in this home and sleeping in a 100+ degree room that my body had not yet acclimated to, were nonexistent when I was able to connect with a child so full of life. While our host mother, Sandra, once expressed to us that she understood that we were able to see how poor they were as a family, they were rich because they have family. This is a lesson that I know I will remember as I grow through college and into my own family life in the future.

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About a week into our trip, our group visited NicaHope, a children’s foundation that offers programs for the communities that work in and around La Chureca, the Managua city dump. This foundation provides educational programs such as technology classes, as well as trains teenagers to make jewelry and art as well while developing their business skills to sell these pieces. The income that these children earn from selling the jewelry and art pieces exceeds the small amount they earned from collecting recyclables from the dump. Here, these children are able to identify with mentors, and recognize the importance of receiving an education in hopes of eventually emerging from poverty. We were able to visit the dump as well as the small community of houses built by volunteers surrounding La Chureca. It was very difficult to see the realities of these children and families, and try to understand the desperation and systematic poverty that forces families into work such as this. NicaHope is a tremendous project that is changing the lives of children in poverty everyday. Without NicaHope and the Fabretto Children’s Foundation, the effects of widespread poverty would continue to grow and steal away the great potential from these children who are capable of so much more.

As a social work study abroad program, our ultimate goal was to understand the effects of systematic, inescapable poverty, and learn about the programs and individuals who are providing services to combat issues of poverty. While HIV/AIDS awareness is lacking greatly and the stigma is enormous in the United States, it is decades behind in Nicaragua. ANICP + SIDA is an organization that supplies individuals with HIV/AIDS with medications, works to give out condoms to the youth and public, holds support groups for those who are fighting this disease as well as families who are coping with the deaths of their loved ones who lost their battle, and spreads awareness and education for HIV/AIDS. The director of this organization told us of his story, and how while he was fighting for democracy for Nicaragua, he lost blood on the battle field and received a contaminated blood transfusion from his friend in an attempt to save his life. He was not aware that he was HIV positive, and lost his wife and daughter to AIDS after transmitting the disease unknowingly. While listening to his story and feeling numb to the fact that these were his realities, I couldn’t look past the strength and resilience that now defined him. Being able to find your passion after such incredible hardships, and working through the strong stigma surrounding him and his efforts, is a story of power.

After returning from this study abroad experience, I found myself unable to explain what I had seen and done, whom I had met, and what I had learned to anyone back in the United States. I felt that there were no words that I could use to explain how life-changing my experience truly was, and in no way could they understand the impact that Nicaragua will forever play in my life. While I tried, and spoke of my travels constantly, I know that in order to do the most justice to everything I experienced in Nicaragua, I need to utilize what I learned there in my daily life and professional future. As a future Pediatric Occupational Therapist, I am passionate about the therapeutic healthcare for children with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities. In Nicaragua, we were able to visit La Mascota children’s hospital as well as Cafe’ de las Sonrisas, a hammock workshop/restaurant that is one of the only job opportunities for youth with disabilities (mostly deaf and blind) in the area. Because of these experiences, it was made clear to me that throughout the world, awareness, understanding, adequate transportation and healthcare are not available for people with disabilities. As a Disabilities Studies minor, I was very aware of this fact before my adventures in Nicaragua, but after seeing the issues that persons with disabilities face in Nicaragua, I am firmly responsible for making a change in any way I can as a student, advocate, and citizen of the world.

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A sign at the Cafe’ de las Sonrisas restaruant that provided customers with general sign language words and phrases so to eliminate the language barrier between deaf workers and customers. 

Abigail Baer – Volunteering in Peru

 

 

Name: Abigail Baer

 

Type of Project:

 

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

 

During my STEP project, I traveled to Peru for six weeks during the months of June and July of 2015. During my star I volunteered in both childcare and special needs with other volunteers from around the world.

 

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

 

While completing my STEP project, I was able to learn more about myself while learning about country I was fairly uneducated about. I have traveled abroad before, but nothing has or probably will ever compare to my six week journey. Six weeks might seem like a long time to be volunteering, but my trip brought so much more and every day brought something new and different. I not only volunteered in two different cities, but I spent time in the Amazon in between and spent weekends traveling depending on where I was staying at the time. I practically circled around the country in 6 weeks, being able to see the vast differences Peru had to offer both culturally and geographically.

Constantly being on the move time seemed to fly by, but I always made a point to take time to journal and reflect on my experiences, struggles, highs, and lows. I was expecting major differences in Peru than places I have been before, but I frequently found myself in almost disbelief. I learned how to adjust to difference and more open minded, embracing change as a daily routine. Looking back at my trip, there were so may key events that helped me grow and in my opinion become a better versoin of myself.

 

 

  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? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

 

From traveling to a foreign country for the first time on my own , living with complete strangers, and facing a language barrier, my project gave me numerous opportunities to transform. During my first three weeks of my trip I was volunteering in the capital, Lima. I had originally signed up for childcare, but was asked if I was comfortable switching to special needs because they were running low on volunteers. Without hesitation I agreed to switching because I was just happy to help where help was needed the most. I have had experience working with peers and actually volunteering in special needs before, but nothing in the slightest compare to my experience in Lima.

I was placed at an orphanage with children for special needs right outside of the city. Most of the children were either abandoned or given up because their parents did not have the means to take care of them due to their disability. I would estimate there were about 50 – 80 kids there , and only a handful of them could even communicate verbally. Working with the kids was challenging not only because of the language barrier, but also because of confidentially reasons they were or allowed to tell us what the child was suffering from. I could go on and on about my three weeks here, but I will jump to why it was such a special experience for me looking back on it.

 

This is where I learned to not only jump, but leap out of my comfort zone. The first few days I felt unbearably uncomfortable. I didn’t know any of the kids or the volunteers I was working with yet, I could barely communicate with the nurses who were the ones telling me what to do, and I was not used to being around people who had special needs at that severity. It was not until close to the beginning of the third week when I started to get the hang of things. I knew the majority of the kids names, what they did and didn’t like, and just how to be myself and give them as much love as possible even though there were boundaries between us. I never knew how much satisfaction I could get from someone simply smiling when I walked into the room because I was a familiar face. I realized that love and compassion can be understood even without words, and pushed myself everyday to give as much as possible to those kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?  Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

I knew I would be stepping out of my comfort zone when planning my STEP experience, but had no idea the lasting impact it would leave. My favorite quote hanging in my room reads, “Great things never came from comfort zones”, which probably has to do something with my six weeks in Peru. Reaching outside of comfort zones is difficult for almost every body, but I know it is something needed to be done to reach success. I now push myself more, having more confidence and better self-esteem. We all have moments of feeling uncomfortable, but in my opinion the most successful people are the ones that can push themselves to hide that feeling even if it is there. Comfort zones are inevitable, but I am more likely to leave the more easily. This helps me currently to be a more active student in and out

Mexico Global May: My Experience in the Yucatan

For my STEP signature project, I participated in the Mexico Global May study abroad program. I stayed with a host family in Merida (the capital of the state of Yucatan), studied Maya culture and the history of the peninsula, and toured the city. Our group also went on tours to Maya ruins and to Cancun.

Upon arriving in Mexico, I was greeted by my host mother at the airport. I introduced myself and figured I’d practice some of my Spanish, though I hardly had used it since my class last year. She smiled as I spoke and we exchanged a few simple sentences. The rest of the students started to exit the terminal and I asked my host mom in English where we were going now. She didn’t understand my hastily spoken sentence and I realized that my Spanish would have to suffice for most of the time. While my host parent’s knew much more English than the other families, the majority of the time we communicated in Spanish (with English as a fallback if something wasn’t understood after a few attempts). My Spanish skills quickly improved, and by the end of the trip I could easily hold a conversation.

Many in the United States view Mexico as a desert war-zone thanks to high profile stories about Mexican drug cartels and their brutal killings. While some parts of the country are dangerous, I was shocked at how safe Merida was. My host parents assured me that it was perfectly safe to walk in their neighborhood late at night. There was a nice mall and restaurants that we visited that could be mistaken for places in the Easton shopping center back in Columbus. Though you couldn’t drink the tap water and some rural areas are still destitute, Mexico was more developed than I thought it would be. Many expats have moved to Merida and I can see why!

Merida is a great colonial town with much to offer any visitor. Our group heard lectures at Marista University from speakers on a wide range of subjects, from ancient Maya culture to the biodiversity of the Yucatan peninsula. We took a cooking class from a chef who is considered the world’s foremost expert in Maya and Yucatecan cuisine, and made homemade corn tortillas. The city is home to one of the oldest churches in North America, a towering cathedral that was once visited by Pope John Paul II.

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The study abroad program also consisted of two different multi-day trips in the region. Our first one was to the colonial walled city of Campeche. This Spanish port city is home to beautifully colored houses, stone-paved streets, and a fort that overlooks the ocean. We also visited the ancient Maya ruin of Uxmal and a village where traditional hats were hand-woven in caves underground. Our tour guide was born in a Maya village and was incredibly knowledgeable about the ancient inscriptions and traditions. The second trip included stops at the famous Maya ruins of Chichen Itza, a hotel in Cancun (to see how globalization and tourism had impacted the area), and Xcaret, which is sort of like a Disney World for nature. Here we swam in an underground river, saw many exotic animals, and attended an excellent show on the history of Mexico.

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During this trip, I grew in my self-confidence. It was daunting at first to live with a host family who primarily communicated via Spanish, but the vocab I had learned in previous classes quickly came back to me. It was such a cool feeling to be able to communicate with my host family and local college students entirely in a foreign language. Being in a new environment with people I had never met before and travelling around made me a little nervous at first. However I quickly felt comfortable around everyone and tried to go out of my way to meet new people and learn/experience as much as I could in the couple of weeks in Mexico.

A few of the nights we hung out with some college students from the local university we were studying at. Instead of just talking in English with the students I already knew from OSU, I decided to practice my Spanish and get to know some of the other students. Despite many repeated sentences and incorrect pronunciations, I enjoyed meeting the students. I learned that though we speak different languages and have different traditions, there is still a lot we can relate to. We discussed how stressful classes could be, how we enjoyed getting to see our families during the holidays, and our favorite hobbies.

Living with a host family in Mexico gave me a great feel of what it would be like to live in another country. My dream job is to work in either international business or international development, especially in a Spanish-speaking country. This trip was a great experience and makes me want to travel and learn more about different places and cultures. I still stay in contact with many of the friends I made in Mexico and I hope to return to Merida one day!

This study abroad trip to Mexico was one of my favorite experiences ever. I made great new friends, learned about the cultural and ecological history of Mexico, and experienced incredible ancient ruins, underground rivers, and lively town squares. I was able to practice my Spanish skills and hold conversations with people who didn’t know English. It was an incredible feeling to be able to communicate with people in a different language. Traveling to and living in different countries is an education in and of itself! I’d highly encourage everyone to study abroad sometime during their time at OSU!

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Service Learning in Choluteca, Honduras

Monica Mueller:

Study Abroad/ Service Learning:

For my STEP signature project, I participated in the annual Choluteca, Honduras Engineering Service Learning Trip.  The May semester trip required a course to be taken in the spring semester so that we could thoroughly plan our project.  During the spring semester I planned with my team members a clean water initiative to be implemented in Choluteca, Honduras.  The Clean Water Initiative Team planned to test various water sources in the surrounding villages of Choluteca and provide the public with clean water pamphlets.

The trip to Choluteca helped me gain more confidence in my Spanish language skills, not only improving my vocabulary, but also how I am able to use my vocabulary in Spanish that I already have.  This confidence will not only apply to future Spanish studies, but also in any language I study.  Being able to understand that even if you do not have a broad range of words at your disposal, you can think of creative ways to use those words and overcome that communication barrier.  I also was able to gain experience with rolling with changes, and being able to adapt our schedule. In addition to these two things I also gained a new appreciation for life.

I found it to be a lot easier to communicate in Spanish with the kids as oppose to the adults, and this could be contributed to a variety of factors.  Overall, however, over the two weeks I was able to gain experience and confidence in communicating my message with my limited vocabulary.  I also added to my Spanish vocabulary.  In the future, when learning new languages I will be able to more confidently use and build upon my vocabulary.

While in Honduras, we had to coordinate our project with the other two teams that came along with us.  Due to the amount of projects going on our schedule was subject to change, but our deadline was not.  We had to work with our allotted time while still changing our time table.  At first, our team struggled with this but we quickly learned the value of adaptability.

Traveling to Honduras was one of the first times in my life that I was able to experience a very new culture. While I found many similarities between their culture and our culture, I noticed how extremely little the people complained.  Many people I talked to enjoyed life as it was, and if they did not like something they worked to change it.  For example, my group worked with a group of health promoters from each village.  These health promoters were highly esteemed women in their villages who saw what their water was doing to the health of their community and decided that they wanted to change it.  So they worked with us in order to come up with a plan to fix the issues that may be causing unhealthy water.

Learning how to use what I have as far as a language vocabulary will be extremely helpful in future language endeavors.  Also, it will also always be useful in any project I work on to know how to roll with the punches that comes along with any attempt to accomplish something.  However, I think the most important lesson I learned was from the health promoters.  Enjoying what you have in life is an important thing to understand if you want to be happy, but equally important is knowing that you always have the power to make something better.

Summertime in Shanghai

With the help of my STEP funding I spent the month of May studying abroad in Shanghai, China. From May 9th to June 6th I lived and studied at East China Normal University with eight other Ohio State students. At ECNU I took a “survival” Mandarin course as well as a class on the history and urban development of Shanghai.

Prior to my study abroad in Shanghai I had not studied any Chinese history, culture, or language. I chose to study abroad in Shanghai because I wanted to immerse myself in something entirely unfamiliar and challenge myself to embrace something new and adapt. After spending a month in Shanghai I learned that I am not only capable of adapting to new surroundings, but that I really enjoy experiencing new cultures, seeing new sites, and meeting new people. My experience in Shanghai gave me a lot of confidence because it showed me that I can live and endure anywhere. It’s freeing to realize that if I ever choose to, I can pack up my bags, settle somewhere entirely different, and still be perfectly content.
There were a lot of aspects about life in Shanghai that took some adjusting to, but by the end of the trip I felt very at home in Shanghai and in particular at ECNU. In the beginning however, the hardest thing to cope with was the language barrier. I had never studied Mandarin before, and knew absolutely nothing upon my arrival in Shanghai. Additionally, nearly all the food was very foreign and I was extremely wary about what I ate. I don’t like seafood and unfortunately, much of the food contained it. Lastly, the sheer number of people everywhere we went was overwhelming. Shanghai is the largest city proper in the entire world, with an estimated population of more than 23 million (more than 27 times larger than the population of Columbus)!

Despite these challenges, I was able to adjust and learn how to live comfortably in Shanghai. As I said, being unable to communicate and express myself was very challenging. In the beginning, whenever I went out in public I felt as though I was trapped inside my own head. Not only was I unable to ask simple questions like, “Where is the restroom?” but I couldn’t even articulate an apology if I bumped into someone. Thankfully, we were tested and placed into “survival” Chinese classes right away. I of course was put into a beginner class, along with two of my fellow students from Ohio State. Our teacher was incredibly patient and kind and we were able to start learning and using Mandarin right away. Our language acquisition was extremely accelerated because we were surrounded by people speaking Mandarin all the time. By the end of the trip I knew enough to say thank you, sorry, excuse me, what I like and don’t like, order food, and most importantly ask where a restroom is (along with much more). I was really excited about the progress I made and I loved being able to immediately go out and put what I had learned to good use.
Once I knew a little more about the language, I was able to start finding and trying food that I liked. I learned how to read enough characters to decipher some basic menu items and most importantly I learned how to ask if something had seafood in it. Once I was able to better control what I ate I felt free to try a lot of different foods. I discovered so many dishes that I love! Even today, one of the things I miss most about Shanghai is the food. Chinese food here is nothing like real Chinese food, and I wish it was possible to eat some of the wonderful things I had in Shanghai without traveling half way around the world.
Finally, I learned to go with the flow… literally. While at first the large population and the population density in areas like the metro station and shopping centers was overwhelming, eventually I grew to feel comfortable being part of an ever-present, ever-moving crowd. There are many great things about being surrounded by people: there’s always someone new to meet, there’s always someone to help, there’s always something exciting to watch, and you never feel alone! Shanghai is a city that never sleeps; there are enough people that you can find a friendly face at all hours of the day or night. Returning to my suburban hometown after the end of my time in Shanghai was quite jarring because even major roads were empty of cars by about 11PM. There are certainly things to be said for both settings, but I would argue that there’s no city as lively as Shanghai.

My time in Shanghai was really significant to my life because not only did I learn more about myself, but I got to learn about and experience a whole other culture and area of the world. I’ve known that I love traveling ever since my parents started taking my sisters and I on summer camping trips in northern Ontario when we were little girls. Since then my wanderlust has only grown. My love of traveling prompted me to major in International Studies, to minor in both French and German, to teach English as a Second Language, and to seize every opportunity that I can to see another part of the world. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to live somewhere so unfamiliar and make it familiar. The ability to adjust and adapt is priceless and I know that I’ll be honing and using those skills for the rest of my life, as I plan to continue picking up and setting down all over the world.

A Reflection of My Travels Across Eastern Europe

My STEP Signature Project was traveling across Eastern Europe starting in Rome and ending in London. Though I was technically a solo traveller, through G Adventures, I traveled with 15-17 other people. We visited 14 cities in 9 countries in 23 days.

As a child, my family and I would go on a family vacation/road trip every year to a different part of the country: Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Orlando. Furthermore, I had the chance to travel to Chicago and Washington, D.C. with my high school and visited my sisters in Minneapolis and participated in a summer program in New York City. On these trips, I began to notice that I didn’t get homesick as others did and loved experiencing new places as much as I could. In a way, my heart yearned to see places I’ve never been more so than being home as if traveling was my home. This, also, may because I’ve been known to make my home in people rather than in places and objects. Anyways, it came as no surprise to me that finally traveling outside the country didn’t scare me or make me nervous as others thought it would. It did somewhat surprise me though that this adventure intensified my desire to travel as much as it did. Now, I want to travel all the time and possibly even make it my life.

Furthermore, this experience transformed my views and assumptions of the world from what they used to be. First of all, I didn’t realize how much English people knew and was very nervous at first that there would be a huge language barrier. I was very surprised to find that practically everyone I came in contact with knew some English and was very helpful when I was confused, granted we went to “touristy” cities. Additionally, I am a very guarded person and sometimes like to keep to myself. This project made me more open and trusting of others as I had to trust practical strangers to be concerned about me and my safety, just as they had to do with me. This trust came from being open with them and letting them into my life and vice versa and so I made a lot of friends from around the world. Coming across some cultural differences made me realize that these things dictate social norms in certain places and how free Americans can be in the way they dress and act and also, how Americans aren’t as free too.

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During my travels, I had the chance to get to know people from around the world such as the people I traveled with and the people I met in each city and while traveling. They all had apart in my transformation that this experience brang. One lady in particular, though, had a great impact on me. Irmante Sungailaite, better known as Jumanji, was the Chief Experience Officer (a fancy word for tour guide) of our tour across Eastern Europe. She was from Lithuania, went to university in London, and had been traveling since she was 17 (she lives in a different place about every six months). Her love of traveling and general peppy demeanor is one of the big reasons that has intensified my desire to see and experience the world. Every place we went, she had several random stories about the history of the place, some I doubt I would’ve discovered if I went on a tour with anyone else.

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Other people, also, had a great impact upon me such as Becca from Canada, Alex from Canada, Claire from the UK, Charlie from the UK, and Jeff from New York. These were some of the people I traveled with and befriended along the way. In the G Adventures group, I was usually on the younger end of things and these five people were definitely older as they had graduated from undergrad or grad school and already had careers. They taught me a lot about being an adult and, also, didn’t treat me as a little kid though I was 3-10 years younger. They were all so supportive and kind and hilarious. Getting to know them was awesome, to say the least and they helped me open up and trust practical strangers. We all looked out for one another, almost as if we made a little family within G Adventures.

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Along our travels, I noticed many cultural differences such as in Italy, the church is much more sacred than in the US because women had to cover up their shoulders and knees, which is also why I believe America is a little more liberal in their social norms. Another big differences in our cultural as compared to that of Europe, is the taboo on drinking. In America, it is seen as bad to drink and it is construed that many college kids binge-drink whereas in Europe, drinking alcohol is very casual. Furthermore, I feel as if Americans have restricted themselves because of language. Everywhere we went, I had very little problem communicating since many people were at the very least bilingual, whereas many Americans can only say that they speak English fluently. There were many more cultural differences I experienced, but these were the main ones that peaked my interest and tweaked my assumptions about the world.

Going on this adventure has opened up my eyes to other possible roads that my life could go on and has given me some new goals. I now know that I would love to have a job that allows me to travel the world or maybe even have my main goal in life be to travel and live like Jumanji. Academically, this trip has made me want to take a semester abroad, possibly to Italy and to get a minor in Italian, to further immerse myself in one other culture instead of only getting a taste of several such as I have done in this month of travelling.

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Public Health Perspectives: India

My STEP Signature Project entailed travelling to Manipal, India on a four-week Ohio State-led study abroad experience. The focus of the trip was public health and the classroom and fieldtrip experiences were tailored to this subject area.

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In addition to broadening my scope of public health knowledge, I learned about myself through this trip. This travelling was the first time I went out of the country without my parents. Being able to successfully travel and function in a different country was exciting and something I was unsure I would be capable of. Additionally, this was my first experience truly being a minority. It made me reflect more deeply about the minority experiences in the United States and how I can more appropriately and respectfully interact with everyone I come into contact with.  As someone who was clearly an outsider, I felt my actions were more scrutinized by locals. Through this trip, I increased my independence while critically reflecting on my behaviors.

 

There were several specific events that I believe led to these transformations. The first event was travelling from Dayton, Ohio to Manipal, Karnataka. Although my tickets were in a group of more than twelve others, nine of the students missed their connection so I was left unprepared with just two other students and without my professor. However, by having confidence in ourselves and being very aware, my two companions and I were able to safely arrive through three connecting flights at our final destination.

 

One event which happened frequently was eating in the dining hall. This was the main occurrence when students from my trip could interact with other students at the university. There were students from Singapore, China, and many more countries. In this situation, we were not the special foreigners; rather, we blended into the crowd. The contrast between this situation and being stopped on the street for pictures really made me think about being someone who is clearly different in a group. I hope now to be making other people comfortable when they are in that situation.

A final event was visiting the nearby temple. Unlike many of the other sites we visited, this temple was actively used by the local people. It was my first personal experience with the religion of Hinduism. Before this experience, I had different ideas of what it meant to be Hindu or what Hinduism valued. After being invited to dance in a group of celebration outside the temple, I felt I understood better the joy of life central to this religion and so many others.

 

In the future, I hope to work in health care. It is easily evident how the transformations I underwent through this trip will be beneficial to me and also to any patients I might treat. By being in a different environment and a different place in society than I am usually, I hope I will be better able to empathize or put myself in the shoes of others in the future. Additionally, through the course content, I learned so much about global health. This knowledge will be directly applicable to my career path. Through this trip I gained both tangible knowledge and intangible personal growth which will help me be more compassionate and in turn a better healthcare provider.

STEP Study Abroad to Budapest 2015

This past May I participated in the Global May Hungary study abroad program to Budapest, Hungary. The program focused on studying the history and culture of central Europe through lectures at the BKF (University of Applied Sciences in Budapest) as well as trips to Poland and Austria. The program concluded with a week-long video project which allowed students to show what they learned about the city of Budapest.

Budapest

Before I left to study abroad, I knew next to nothing about Hungary and Central/ Eastern Europe. This program allowed me to learn about a different part of the world through firsthand experiences. It became clear to me that many of my assumptions about this part of Europe were not correct. I had always imagined Hungary as a places of farmland and factories. While Hungary does have much of this, it also holds a rich history of culture and knowledge. Instead of the factories and fields I had expected, I saw grand buildings full of history and countless monuments to the proud and sometimes regretful history that Hungary has. The study abroad program allowed me to understand the colored history of Hungary and the surrounding Eastern European countries through museums, monuments, and interactions with locals. The stereotypes and assumptions that I held about the people from this region of the world were all proven wrong as I met people who were really not all that different from myself.

The understanding that most Hungarian are just like me and are more similar than different caused me to question my view of the world. I had always assumed that with different regions of the world and languages comes different cultural norms and behaviors. Though Hungary does have different social norms than the United States, many of the people I met generally behaved similarly to me and the other students on the trip. The students I met at BKF still deal with the same stress from classes and life that I deal with. Besides the language barrier and geographical differences there is not much of a difference from a Hungarian university student and myself. This view of the world prompted me to learn more about myself during this study abroad experience. I learned that love to travel to new places and I enjoy the feeling of being uncomfortable with a new experience because the feeling of finally overcoming one’s uncomfortable-ness and insecurities makes it worth the challenge. Additionally, I came to the conclusion that I am not happy simply visiting a new places for a day or two just to say I visited it. I need stay and explore a new place and city for at least of few days to get to know the city. To me, I no longer see value to visiting a place if I cannot learn about its culture and take something away from the city and the experience.

Overlooking Budapest

The experience I had learning about World War II in Budapest was the most pivotal part of the changing of my world views. It is one thing to learn about WWII in the United States, but it is a vastly different story to learn about it in Budapest, Hungary. My first exposure to WWII on this study abroad experience was on VE (Victory in Europe) Day and it was not in the way I had expected. Previously, I had planned to look for WWII VE Day souvenirs for my family; I could not find any. In one of my first class sessions it was made know by a native Hungarian lecturer that WWII is not something to necessarily be celebrated in Hungary. This stems from guilt, among other emotions, of Hungary being a part of the Axis powers in the war. Furthermore, the end of the war did not mean great peace in Hungary as the end of the war led to the Soviet occupation of Hungary. The experience I had learning about WWII in Hungary was something that I could never had received in the United States nor would I have understood the emotions that Hungarians still feel about their history in WWII that I learned from locals.

Although Hungary has a deep history intertwined with WWII and the soviet occupation, the country overall has managed to rebuild itself and move into the 21st century. This same level of recovering during the post-Soviet occupation cannot be said for another country that I was able to visit, Romania. While in Hungary, there was a free weekend in which I traveled to Timisoara, Romania. The weekend trip to Romania was one I will never forget because I was able to see a city and country still recovering from the Soviet occupation. The occupation was not a piece of history that is simply talked about; the evidence of the occupation still remain all around Timisoara. The odd thing about traveling to Romania was that it was the only place I visited on the entire trip in which I truly experience culture shock.

There are Soviet-era apartment buildings, museums to protests and massacres that occurred less than twenty-five years ago, and a general “run-down” feel to many parts of the city. It was shocking that the third largest city in Romania would have graffiti on the base of almost every building and that facades would be falling off of numerous buildings in the city center. The most eye-opening part of the trip to Romania was listening to a local in her late twenties talk about how her parents sent her away from Timisoara to a relative in the countryside when she was four years old because the city was unstable and there were many protests that ended violently due to a repressive communist regime. Her stories made me realize why the city is in the less-than-ideal state that it is in; violence and repression are not simply history, but rather something that everyone over the age of thirty experienced and remembers. I now understand that it is not quite so simple for a country to recover itself, its government, and its economy when many members of the country still live with memories of distrust of a corrupt and repressive regime. This is especially true considering that Romania had one of the most repressive regimes in the entire Soviet Bloc. This first-hand learning experience gave me a clear understanding of the history of the region because I never understood how history could still be so relevant today and how it could influence the behaviors of a country. I now understand how powerful history can be, especially when it happened only a quarter-of-a-century ago.

The longer I spent in Budapest and the more locals I interacted with, the less I felt like a tourist and more like a member of the city. I spent three weeks solely in Budapest during the trip and even after that I realize all of the things that I failed to visit and failed to learn about. This sparked the knowledge about myself that I cannot just visit a city for a day; I need at least several days to explore and experience a city. For me, seeing the tourist sites, visiting some museums, and eating the local cuisine does not constitute experiencing a city or a country for that matter. Many days are needed to fully understand a city’s/ country’s culture and to interact with locals. This knowledge became clear after I visited Vienna on this study abroad experience for one night and I left feeling as if I could not even say I truly experienced Vienna. In addition to learning about the cities, interacting with locals was fundamental in feeling a sense of belonging to a city. The pinnacle of my interactions with locals was be mistaken for a different country of origin and mistaken for a local of Budapest. This was so important to me because I was no longer just a tourist; I was someone who could blend in and be a part of the city. To me, this is what Ohio State’s goal of Global Citizenship should look like. A global citizen is someone who can learn about a foreign place and learn to integrate into that society. I felt that I reached this point when I was mistaken for a Frenchmen by a local and mistaken as a local twice by tourists. To some this may not seem like much, but to me this showcases that I learned how to be a Global Citizen in a city thousands of miles away from my home.

Old Town Warsaw

Possibly one of the most fundamental transformation gained from this experience abroad was that money should be used to fund experiences rather than material possessions. A train ticket is a onetime cost for experiences and memories that one will never forget, or the same money could be used to purchase material goods that will not enhance one’s life or teach lessons through experience. My future plans now all acknowledge that money should be spent on experiences and that adventure is always waiting if you have the desire to pursue it. I will be open to new experiences and will not be afraid to interact with the locals because I now understand that everyone feels the same emotions and experience similar things once one can see past the cultural differences. There is so much to be learned from locals and other travelers that it is a disservice to oneself not to interact and learn about other people.

In terms of academics, this experience did n ot transform, but rather solidified my academic pursuit. I am more motivated than ever to get my degree and take it wherever I can around the world. My degree from Ohio State is my tool to blend work and travel into one. This leads into my professional goal which this experience confirmed my desire to work abroad at some point in my life. Personally, I realized my love of traveling and experiencing new things no matter where I go. In some ways this experience did not necessarily transform my goals for life, rather it took some loose ideas I had for my future and set them in stone. It allowed me to see that my goals are not simply dreams, but something that can be turned into a reality if I apply myself in the correct ways. This is what I find to be the most significant part of the STEP experience; it has allowed me to define a concrete path for my future and shown me what I need to do to follow that path. The new knowledge is invaluable going forward and something that could only have been discovered through the combination of self-reflection. traveling, and new experiences.Danube

Global May Britain: The Great Adventure

Taylor Tolley  

My STEP project consisted of a study abroad experience, Global May Britain: The History, Politics, and Culture of Great Britain. While living in London for the month of May, my classmates and I went to class each day and experienced the culture of Britain on nights and weekends. Our trips included many museums, landmarks, and even Edinburgh, Scotland.

While studying abroad, I quickly learned that maybe just maybe I would be perfectly okay living in another country. Experiencing life as a London citizen was truly eye opening and I learned what it was like to actually be a resident somewhere other than the United States. Seeing that other countries are different, but not so different that you can’t adapt to the lifestyle, was exactly what I hoped would happen; my view broadened tremendously. It is kind of scary how sheltered I truly felt after realizing that there is so much more outside of even just Columbus, OH. Quite honestly thinking about lifestyles other than my own makes me feel as if people outside the US live on a different planet.

During my time in London I had my classmates and “flat mates” to thank for the amazing experiences that I incurred along the way. While the excursions we went on as a class surely opened my eyes, it was more of the relationships I developed and the out of the classroom time that meant the most. The many events we attended and adventures we embarked on changed my experience completely.

My favorite part about living in another city was the fact that I got to make some lifelong friendships with other OSU students, 36 of the 40 that I had never met before. It is crazy to think that it took traveling by plane, train, and tube to create relationships with students I already went to school with. Seeing this new country for the first time with these people was the most meaning experience I could have asked for. We learned together and lived together; it honestly opened my eyes to the fact that there is so much more out there in world for me.

That being said, I do have to give some credit to the excursions planned and class time spent for my revelations and transformations. Without the help of Ohio State and the Anglo-American Center, we may never have visited the places we did or learned about all the other places we could go. The city of London truly seemed like another dimension before the trip, so I am happy I had the opportunity to be exposed to what life is like to live in another country.

With the help of both professors, my classmates and the activities planned, I had the amazing opportunity to experience London first hand and learn about a new place.

This change was truly valuable for my many goals because it allowed me to live outside of the small cities in Ohio. I would like to be an event planner for either a university or large corporation, so this experience allowed me to see that I could live other places than Ohio; I could even live in another country. From here on out, I have many plans to travel outside of the US and find out what else the world has to offer.

tower of londonLondon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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