Sustainability in Queensland Australia

For my STEP project I studied abroad in Queensland, Australia through the Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment program hosted by Ohio State’s Office of International Affairs. During my three and a half weeks in the “Sunshine State” I studied the Australian culture and sustainability efforts alongside my fellow Buckeyes and teachers from OSU’s School of Environment and Natural Resources. Exploring aboriginal sites, Queensland’s various natural terrains, and learning more about the world around me than I ever thought possible proved to be an incredibly informational and transformative experience that I will never forget.

Prior to my adventure in Australia I had never been outside of the continental United States so that step out of my comfort zone in itself was enough to ensure that this experience was one that was truly unforgettable. I learned a lot about my own strengths and abilities as well as a deeper respect for our environment and a culture that is not my own. As a result of being in a new place with new people I had to overcome my tendency of keeping to myself and my own ways. Prior to my experience I was always reluctant to try new things but being in a new country forced me to overcome this. Being surrounded by people different from myself made me open up more and become more confident in my ability to forge new relationships and make new memories. I learned a lot about Australian culture and history and will now have a greater understanding and respect for people who may not look or sound like me and who have different experiences than my own.

This trip opened my eyes to how much of the world I have yet to see and experiences I have yet to have. Being surrounded by such beautiful landscapes and foreign animals and places gave me an appreciation for nature I’ve never had before growing up in suburban Ohio. I had always assumed myself to have an appreciation for our environment but after seeing a culture and meeting people who put the needs of the world before their own and who have made it their life mission to preserve the sanctity of our world I realized I have the ability and motivation to do so much more.

Upon arriving in Australia I was immediately thrown into a group of fellow Ohio Stater’s that I had never meet before. We all had different majors and different years in school. It usually takes me a long time to open up and get to know people but with only having three weeks and spending virtually all of our time together I soon overcame my social anxiety and was all the better because of it. The same can be said for all the people met along the way over the duration of the trip. Every family, tour guide and driver was accommodating and welcoming and truly made me feel comfortable in places and experiences all new to me. I learned a lot about valuing and respecting other people’s backgrounds and cultures during my trip.

A lot of the involved hiking to and from and through many different Australian terrains. From the outback to the rainforest to the Great Barrier Reef, I was challenged physically at every turn and mountain. The first days in Queensland involved a six mile hike through the rocky ravines that lie in the center of the Daintree rainforest. I was pushed to my limits but after finishing the hike I had more confidence in my own abilities and a respect for the roughness of nature.

A big component of the program focused on sustainability efforts in Queensland. From reducing carbon emissions in the mining industry to preservation and conservation projects in the rainforest and Great Barrier Reef. We were introduced to families that used solar energy and fought for protection zone in the reef. To meet people whose mission it was to make the world a better place made me realize how much I can do both in my personal and profession lives to do exactly the same.

I saw a lot of beautiful sights and places that I had never seen before and it concerns me that future generations may not be able to do the same. Seeing the sunrise while kayaking on the ocean, or standing in the middle of the oldest living rainforest in the world truly made me feel connected to the world around me and made all my problems and worries fade away in the bigger picture of the vast world surrounding me.

To experience first-hand the sustainability efforts that are being made to preserve and maintain such a beautiful place gave me new insight to what I could potentially do with my chemical engineering degree after graduation. This trip inspired me not only to continue to personally value our environment and history of Earth but also to shift my career and school focus on environment studies and sustainability efforts within the United States. In addition I will continue to keep an open mind and maintain a sensitivity when interacting with someone of a different culture and background than my own. The respect and awe I have for our natural world is something I will have for the rest of my life and I will continue to make an effort to be sure that future generations get the chance to experience the same awe-inspiring sights that I saw.

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Study Abroad – Florence, Italy

Emily Heyd

STEP Project – Study Abroad

For my STEP Project I participated in a study abroad program in Florence, Italy during the summer of 2015. I flew to Italy, lived amongst other American students for 7 weeks, and I can truly say it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. While there, I took a photography class, through which I was able to further explore and capture the city. I also took a class focused on the life of the famed Renaissance artist Michelangelo, which allowed me to explore many historic sites in Florence as well as in other cities.

While abroad, I was able to become a more confident and independent version of myself, which I am grateful for. There are many scenarios that you may encounter while in a foreign country where you don’t know the language. While scary, the challenges of being abroad often fall on the individual themselves. During my stay, I found that I was able to rely on myself for getting around a foreign city alone as well as navigating a pharmacy and treating a mild illness in another country. I became more confident in the sense that I knew if I was in a sticky situation, I would be able to work it out in the end. As a result, I came home with a newfound sense of self reliance.

During my stay, I was able to observe and participate in various aspects of Italian culture. Some examples include the siesta, full course dining, apertivos, morning cappuccinos, and countless other things. I felt that I got a glimpse of what it is truly like to live in a society different from my own, which had a few effects. First off, I was able to appreciate certain aspects of this different culture, even the more intangible differences such as the slower pace of life that exists in the region. It was a nice break from the more stereotypic fast-paced American lifestyle that many of us are used to. However, while I was able to step back and admire this other culture for what it is, I also came to appreciate certain things about my life here in America. It became more and more clear as my stay went on that there are so many differences between these two culture that I had never thought about, but different doesn’t have to mean better or worse. Sometimes it’s important to just appreciate something that may be out of the ordinary to you.

There were many aspects of my STEP project that led to a change in how I viewed myself and the world. Through my experience, I was able to take on journeys by myself. For example, I arrived in Italy a few days before my program was set to begin. I spent this time exploring and getting to know the city on my own, and was surprised with how much I could rely on myself. There were other times where I would choose to spend the day alone, discovering new parts of Florence. These moments are extremely valuable to me as I felt at peace just being by myself. My curiosity and adventurous spirit would take over, and I would always return with a story or two.

While abroad, I met several fascinating Italians who helped shape my experience. There was one woman in particular who offered a lot of insight. Her name is Barbara, and she was born and raised in the U.S. but moved to Italy when she was in her twenties and has lived there ever since. She was the director of our program, and was there to help us with the transition. She would offer up advice, give us helpful tips of things to do during our stay, but mostly she made it feel like a home for us, even if it was just temporary. She would host traditional Italian dinners and it was in those moments when we were all gathered around the table that I felt more comfortable. There were other locals that I met while abroad, and I still think of them fondly.

Another aspect of my STEP experience that I was not expecting was the fact that my roommates would truly become some of my best friends. I can’t imagine having been there with anyone else. The other girls in my program were from all different places around the U.S. and I’ll never forget the experiences we shared. Overall, I knew that my experiences shaped me and truly affected me as I was extremely saddened once it was time to go home. I didn’t want to leave the amazing city that was Florence, the friends I had made, and the people I had met.

The change that came as a result of my STEP experience is definitely valuable moving forward academically and personally. I hope to pursue a career in the health care field. This requires an understanding of people as well as the ability to relate to their problems. Through studying abroad, I encountered several people with different backgrounds than me. I came to appreciate and understand the culture a little more, and I came home with an open mind, which is always a valuable thing. Also, no matter what you choose to pursue in life, there will always be unexpected challenges. In order to face these challenges, it’s important to be able to rely on yourself, know how to get the help you need, and to stay calm in stressful situations. I feel like these experiences have vastly contributed to my personal development and I will forever be grateful that I was able to take on such a project.

Tuscan winery

Tuscan winery

View from the Accademia Italiana

View from the Accademia Italiana

Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica

Gabrielle Ansberry

Study Abroad:  Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica

My STEP Signature Project was a May Term course at Ohio State called Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica.  It had a classroom portion and an in-country portion.  The classroom portion was about two weeks long and involved lectures about geography, biodiversity, natural resources, and sustainability.  Then, the entire class and the professor traveled to Costa Rica for two weeks to see firsthand many of the things we had learned about in lecture.  We were constantly moving during our time in Costa Rica, and we were fortunate enough to travel to several diverse regions throughout the country.

Our entire time abroad was spent visiting new locations and exploring national parks.  The longest stay we made in one location was only about 3 days long.  While exhausting, this constant on-the-go itinerary was also exciting.  Every day was a new adventure – literally.  We visited 3 different volcanoes:  Volcán Poás, Volcán Arenal, and Volcán Tenorio.  We also visited several waterfalls, most notably the Río Celeste Waterfall and La Fortuna Waterfall.  In addition, almost every day was spent hiking through a different elevation level than the previous day.  This allowed us to see how the landscape changed from region to region.  One particularly exciting hike was a night hike through the rainforest.  Reserva Santa Elena, a cloud forest that we got to visit, was also very interesting.  We saw several bodies of water too, including Lake Botos, Lake Arenal, and the Tarcoles River.  We came face-to-face with all kinds of wildlife, like crocodiles, monkeys, iguanas, sloths, and butterflies.  We got to see a hydroelectric dam, windmills, and geothermal hot springs.  Overall, the environmental aspects of this experience were unbelievable.  I could not even find any post cards to send to my family that accurately portrayed the beauty we saw in the landscapes and wildlife of Costa Rica.

Another important aspect of the Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica program was learning about the people and culture of Costa Rica.  We got to stay in the capital city, San José, as well as several other cities, towns, and villages across the country.  These were all vastly different.  Some were lively, popular tourist sites, others were remote mountain communities.  At the beginning of the trip, we got to tour the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica.  Here, we learned a lot about the history and culture of the country – a great preface for the rest of our adventure.  In each region, we got to experience the unique cuisines, traditions, and daily lives of the people that lived there.  One of my favorite days was when we got to visit a tiny school that was up in one of the mountain villages we passed through.  The students performed some of Costa Rica’s traditional dances, and then we got to eat lunch and play soccer, or fútbol, with the children.  I tried speaking Spanish, the official language of Costa Rica, throughout our trip as well.  However, I was surprised by how many people spoke fluent English.

We also got to work on two different service projects – both of which were reforestation projects that benefitted the environment as well as the local community.  These projects, while challenging, were immensely rewarding.  It was amazing to see the integral roles that the environment played in each location and in the daily lives of each citizen.  It was also interesting how important the tourism industry was throughout Costa Rica.  The Ticos (Costa Rican people) took such great care to protect the environment because it was vital to their way of life and to the tourism industry – which supports a large part of their economy.

This trip taught me a lot about myself and the world around me.  Because each day was so jam packed full of activity and traveling, and because of all of the strenuous hiking we did, I was exhausted by the end of every day.  I became more self-aware and I learned that I am a lot tougher and stronger than I initially believed.  The obstacles and limitations that I originally saw before me transformed into new personal accomplishments as I conquered volcanos, mountains, and rainforests.  I also acquired a new love for hiking, and have ventured out to local forest preserves and state parks now that I am back in the United States.  This has shown me even more of the beauty that the environment has to offer, and has taught me even more about my surroundings.  I also became more adventurous in terms of food.  I used to be a very picky eater, but in Costa Rica, I tried all kinds of new and exotic fruits and dishes.  My experience in Costa Rica taught me that adventure is waiting around every corner, and taking advantage of each one is worthwhile.

My perspective of the world also changed dramatically.  While I already had a great appreciation for the environment (I am an Environmental Engineering major), this appreciation grew when I saw so many amazing aspects of the rich biodiversity in Costa Rica, and how vital they all are to the livelihood of so many Costa Ricans.  So many people made a living by sustainably taking advantage of their natural resources.  I was humbled by the modest way of the life that each Tico led.  Each person was so respectful not only of the environment, but of us as well.  Wherever we traveled, we were welcomed with open arms.  People shared their knowledge, food, and traditions with us, and I learned so much from each and every person I met while in Costa Rica.

Perhaps my favorite part of Costa Rica was the phrase “Pura Vida”.  Directly translated, this means “pure life”, but in Costa Rica, this phrase means so much more.  It can be used as a hello, good bye, and an expression of gratitude or excitement – its use is fitting in almost circumstance.  To the Ticos, it means “it’s all good”, and it signifies an eternal optimism and love for life.  Thus, “Pura Vida” was not just a saying, it was a way of life.  We met people in Costa Rica who had next to nothing, but they welcomed us and shared what they did have with genuine smiles on their faces.  Everyone was a friend.  Their humble love for life has inspired the same sentiments in me.  I want to represent the “Pura Vida” lifestyle through my life in the United States and as a student at Ohio State, because I think everyone has something to gain from the optimism and happiness it preaches.

After my STEP signature project, Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica, I learned a lot of invaluable lessons about the environment, the international community, and myself.  By venturing into another country, I was able to take a hands on approach and immerse myself in a completely unique environment and culture.  I want to pass this knowledge on to my fellow Buckeyes and peers, and have continued my involvement with STEP as an ambassador so that I can do this and help other students design their own signature projects as well.  Thanks to my STEP experience, I was transformed into a stronger, more gracious, and more globally and environmentally aware student and participant in our international community.




안녕하세요 from South Korea!

Lauren Szymczak

IMG_1650 Study Abroad – SoIMG_1398uth Korea

안녕하세요! My STEP project was a 6 week teaching experience in the island Jeju in the Republic of Korea. My older brother lives on this small island as an English teacher already, so I already had a place to sleep, a tour guide, and students to teach. I took over two of his classes and taught my own lesson plans with my older brothers supervision. Then with the older classes I observed and helped where I could.

This experience was valuable to my future career, an active member of the global society and my own personal growth. Learning more about the language and culture I intend to live in one day was one of the best experiences in my life. Interacting with the people while speaking Korean (with my given knowledge) and learning about everyday life is something I would have never learned from a textbook.

Being in South Korea for 6 weeks reassured my love for not only the Korean language and culture, but also what I am pursuing as my future career. Since English as a Second Language (ESL) classrooms are not common in Columbus, it was amazing being in several classes that were only ESL focused. This transformed my mindset from I’m pretty sure I want to be an English teacher, to there’s nothing I would rather do than be an English as a second language teacher.

One of my favorite memories while teaching was when I had Parrot class on the reading rug and we were talking about the previous lesson, anIMG_1964d the quietest student who never spoke up said “I get it!” and was smiling from ear to ear. In this moment I felt for fulfilled as if by getting through to this one student was the reason for me being there. I thought to myself, if I can get through to this one student who had been struggling for a while, then I should be able to get through to other students as well. The gift of learning a language and being able to communicate with one another is one of the best gifts in the world. The idea that I can actually help others learn that is my dream job.

While working in my brothers school, I became close with the principal (Mr. Lee) of the school who happened to be a retired superintendent of the district which had over 30+ schools in it. During my last week in Jeju, Mr. Lee took my brother and I out to dinner and he handed me a few signed copies of an amazing recommendation letter. I never thought that within 6 weeks I could make a connection like this with someone who could help my future out so much. This was one of the most rewarding connections I made outside of the classroom.

IMG_3430While outside of the school entirely, my brother and I camped all over the island. For my 20th birthday, with three balloons, a huge cupcake and candles, my bother and I climbed the highest mountain in South Korea. We saw almost every natural attraction throughout the island, and made many traveler friends throughout our camping weekends. Learning so much about a country I love but don’t live in was amazing, and the highlight of my summer. Exploring South Korea turned my dream of wanting to live there into a reality of working hard to make sure I live there one day.

Once I got back to OSU, I became more driven to get the most out of education and experiences here. Before leaving, I was just getting by in my classes, not finding much meaning behind any of the work I did. But after coming back from South Korea and seeing what my end goal can be if I work hard enough, it changed my prospective about my academics. I realize the hard work I put in now will make my dream into a reality in the long run. Also once I get to South Korea, getting the most out of my education here will better prepare me for the real work classroom.

More than just lighting a fire in my academic drive, I believe I grew as a person in the 6 weeks I was in South Korea. I came to the realization that after 15 years of being a student, that will soon be coming to an end and I have to have a game plan after I am no longer a student and join the real world. This made me grow personally because I changed my mindset from focusing on my social life to focusing on my future, which is closer than I realized. Im glad this transformation happened because it was needed in order for me to be prepared and successful after I leave OSU. My STEP experience was one of the most impactful experiences in my three years at The Ohio State University.



May Session: Architecture Study Abroad in Central Europe

During the May session of 2015, I studied abroad in Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic as part of the Knowlton School of Architecture’s study tour. Through the month of May, we travelled through Europe, visiting important architectural sites and learning about different architectural styles and theories.
This experience was transformative because it allowed me to immerse myself in an academic discipline that I knew very little about. Of the forty students on the trip, I was one of only two non-architecture majors. This was initially intimidating, as all of the other students had skills and knowledge that I did not. However, I worked through this intimidation and learned to be open and honest about what I did not know, as well as willing to put share what I did know. I continually asked the students and professors around me questions when I was unclear on things, and tried hard to share my knowledge of history an politics (my majors) when it applied to the architectural matters that we were learning about.
This change occurred gradually throughout the trip, but there were a couple of key events and interactions that aided the transformation. On the very first day, we toured a house in Prague designed by Adolf Loos. For most of the students, this was incredibly exciting, but I didn’t really know what I was looking at, and found myself feeling a little lost. That afternoon, we had some free time, so I wandered around Prague. I remember feeling a little bit frustrated about my architectural ignorance, and wondering why I was there. I struggled with these feeling for most of that afternoon. At the end of the day, I made a promise to myself that I would make the best of my time in Europe, and would think positively from here on out. After all, I was lucky enough to be traveling through Europe and had a unique opportunity to learn about architecture, something I would not have had the time to do through my coursework. In the weeks that followed, I would remember making that promise to myself, and worked hard to maintain a positive attitude. This ultimately helped me enjoy the trip, and allowed the overall experience to be incredibly enriching.
Another key event was my first building presentation. In preparation for the trip, each student had completed five small research projects, each on a specific building that we would visit. Through the trip, students gave presentations on their assigned buildings as we visited them. I was slightly nervous for my first presentation, as I was aware that my information was mostly historical rather than architectural. When I gave the presentation, it went surprisingly well, and some of the other students told me they were really impressed. I drew a lot of confidence from that moment, as it validated much of my positive thinking.
Finally, I was fortunate enough to have a series of very positive interactions with Carla Trott, one of the supervising professors on the trip. Carla gave me a lot of assistance with the sketching component of the trip. I had no experience with drawing, so I desperately needed assistance. Through all of the sketching exercises, Carla was always willing to help me out, taking time to coach me on various skills and techniques. While I did not become a sketching master by the end of the trip, I can say with confidence that my abilities improved, and I cannot thank Carla enough for this. Through gaining confidence in my sketching, I was able to further immerse myself in architecture.
This experience continues to be relevant in my life. When I am ever feeling low on confidence, or a little out of place, I think back on my experience traveling through Europe. The experience reminds me of the value of positive thinking and an open mind, and I have since drawn on my time in Europe to motivate me to try new things and to maintain positivity.
Additionally, the experience reinforced my love for travel. I now know that I can get a lot out of a trip, even when it is a study tour oriented around an academic topic I know very little about. This further motivates me to take advantage of any and all travel opportunities that I encounter.

The Spirit of Rome

My STEP experience was a 10-day study abroad trip to Rome through The Ohio State University. It was a three-credit hour course over winter break in 2015 with an in-class component during autumn of 2015 that was also three credit hours. The class focused on the topography of ancient Rome, but the class touched upon some of the Late Antiquity period.

I learned that Rome as a city is just as alive and thriving as when it was the center of the Roman Empire. Rome as a society and as a people has not changed much since the time of the ancients; the same spirit lives on in the city today. The Roman mentality is something that has continued from the ancient Romans, to the early Christians, and is still alive in the city today. Rome is a city that is very much in the present, but there are echoes to the past in everything that is done there. The appropriation of materials, buildings, and even aspects of religion made this very evident while I was engrossed in the city and its people.

The trip also exposed me to a culture that was entirely different from what I’ve been exposed to my whole life. I grew up in Ohio, and have never even left the country before this trip. The experience revealed that there is a larger world, and I was even exposed to some of the issues that occur in Italy. I was given a new-found appreciation for the society I live in. Overall, it just made me more conscious that there is more to the world than what I knew before.

One of the main events of my experience that lead to this change was meeting my uncle Brian for the first time. He is a priest who works and lives in Italy. He came to Rome about half-way through the trip and greed to meet up with me. He showed me around a few churches in Rome, and then he took me to his favorite bar, The Abbey Theatre. Everyone at the bar knew him and was happy to see him. After a bit, he took me along with his friend Richard to a restaurant called Memo’s. This restaurant was the highlight of the trip for me because of the time I spent with my uncle there and the restaurant was authentically Italian, not a tourist’s Italian. The meal was very traditional, and I felt like I was experiencing the culture from the perspective of a Roman.

Seeing the monuments and churches throughout the city were also critical to acquiring my new perspective of the world. The grandeur and massive scale of it all was something that pictures cannot capture. The thing with Rome is that there are fantastic pieces of artwork strewn all over the city in the most remote churches. They aren’t stuck in some museum. They are being used for the purpose they were intended to be used for. You can stumble into any random church and discover art, history, and a story that is unique to that place. The whole city is just abundant in so many events that have occurred over time, and it still is adding to that to this day. I fell in love with the city. I fully intend to return to the Ancient City one day.

Personally, this experience was incredible for me. As a Roman Catholic, being able to visit the center of power for my religion was incredibly powerful. It also gave me a new appreciation for it. At times it seems like religion is something that is at odds in modern society, but Rome’s unique blend of the past and present reinvigorated my perspective. It was also incredible to see the history of my faith come alive in the city.


My Uncle Brian and I


The Tiber River at night

Experience of a Life Time :)

Peru 6

Have you ever had one of those experiences that profoundly changed your life forever ? I had one of those experiences this summer. I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Peru for 2 months. I spent the 1st month taking classes in Spanish grammar and Peruvian culture and history. The 2nd month I volunteer at one of the main Children’s hospitals in Lima with a program called Aprendo Contigo. 

The two months in the beautiful country of Peru truly changed my life for the better. 3 major things that I learned after my experience was you do anything if you choose to believe yourself, laugh off mistakes and never stop discovering who you are. One of the biggest challenges for me while learning Spanish was my incredible fear of making a mistake while trying to speak, read or write the language. I had always struggle in language classes because I had never had the courage to step out of my comfort zone and really do what is necessary to truly learn a language. Peru and the experiences I had while there really helped me get over those fears and advance forward in the Spanish language. I gain more in the 2 months in Peru than the previous 6 years I had spent learning Spanish.

Having spent 10 of my 21 years abroad I have always considered myself a global citizen. Being in Peru only helped to confirm that. This was the first time I had really traveled abroad by myself and that gave me a whole new appreciation for the world we live in. Traveling alone really allows a person to truly learn about themselves, cultures, languages and people. I learned to really appreciate the small things and the little moments that take your breath away. Little things like being in awe a beautiful stand alone flower glistening in the sunshine. Little things that in everyday life I would have not pay attention to.


One of the most important relationships that I had while in Peru was the relationship I had with my host mother. My host mother did more for making my experience in Peru a positive one than any other person that I met while there. Her warmth, kindest, understanding and positive energy helped me in so many facets. My host mother was my biggest supporter and was one the reasons that I got so much more comfortable speaking Spanish. My host mother spoke no English, and she had no intention of learning. She believed that the best way to ensure that her students advanced in Spanish was if they were required to use Spanish as much as possible while at home. That is what we did. The first week was intimidating as I hadn’t spoken Spanish regularly for almost a year and I had to get back into the swing of things. With my host mom’s support, encouragement and love I was able to not only start understanding Spanish much better but also I became much more comfort stepping out of my comfort zone and really improving my speaking ability. Two other factors that greatly affected my improvement in Spanish; the classes I took at Universidad Del Pacifico and the month I spent volunteering at a Peruvian Children’s hospital. While in Peru I had the opportunity to take two Spanish courses, Advanced Spanish Grammar and Peruvian History and Culture. While I knew that there was a possibility that could receive elective credit for these courses at OSU, there was no guarantee that I would be receiving credits towards a Spanish minor and since I had dropped my Spanish minor a lot of pressure was off my shoulders and I could just focus on enjoying my time in Peru and learning Spanish. Instead of stressing about exams I could really appreciate the beautiful language I was learning and the amazing country I was in.

Working at the Children’s Hospital was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Not only did it help my Spanish abilities, it made me a better leader and helped widen my interest in the field of public health (which is currently my minor). Children are far more understanding when you are learning a new languages than adults typically are. Children love that you are trying to learn their language and think your mistakes are hilarious. That fun loving attitude made speaking Spanish with them far more enjoyable. Additionally, these children wanted to learn English and that gave me the awesome opportunity to teach them English as I learned Spanish. The placement, called Aprendo Contigo (I learn with you), was listed in the ISA catalogue as no Spanish/Beginner Level Spanish. That wasn’t exactly the truth. A large majority of the volunteers, besides myself and 3 other ISA students, spoke only Spanish and we were lucky if one of the head volunteers spoke and understood a little English. To top it all off a majority of the children spoke no English. This complicated things for the other ISA Volunteers working with me as their Spanish abilities ranged from no speaking, writing and reading ability to very basic level speaking ability. Of the group I had the best Spanish abilities. By default that made me the “leader” of the ISA group of volunteers. Not only did that leadership ability improve my Spanish speaking abilities but it also increased my confidence and overall leadership capabilities.Peru 3

Another key aspect of my study abroad was the people apart of my program that I had the fortunate of getting to know while in Peru. My study abroad group was composed of students from all over the country and none of us knew each other prior to the start of our study abroad. That turned out to be to our benefit. By not knowing each other prior to the experience it required us to step out of our comfort zone and get to know each other. And that allowed us be get closer than we possibly ever would had a fraction of us know each other prior to the trip. These people had an incredible impact on my life and I am so grateful that I now have them in my life.

But what would a study abroad be without a little fun and exploring? Climbing Macchu Picchu, Swimming in the Amazon, Fishing for Piranhas, Dune Buggying in the Sand Dunes. The Experiences are endless. Being able to explore Macchu Picchu, one of the 7 wonders of the world, was truly breathtaking. I cannot put into words the impact these incredible sites and experiences had on me. They were truly breathtaking. These experiences have made me hungry for more. I have an immense love for Spanish speaking countries and I want to be able to see and experience as many as I can.

Peru 2

From this experience I have learned to truly appreciate the importance and value of education. While education is something that I have always highly valued, being around children who don’t have the same opportunities that I have and yet still have the same youthful energy has inspired me. Moreover, I have always concerned myself a life long learner and this experience has only invigorated that drive to learn. From this experience my educational goals now include:

  • Pursuing a Masters or PhD abroad
  • Pursuing a PhD.
  • Spanish Fluency
  • Learning a 3rd or 4th Language (Possibly French, Mandarin Chinese, Hindu and/or German

As I mentioned in the other section this experience truly changed my life. I couldn’t be more grateful for the people I met and the incredible experiences I had. Additionally, this experience helped me realize how much I appreciate being abroad and the incredible benefits that being abroad gives a person. My personal and life goals now include

  • Trying new things every chance I get
  • Learning to embrace mistake and the benefits they can provide.
  • Continuing to learn and appreciate the different people and culture in the beautiful world we live in.
  • Being a life-long learner
  • Appreciating the little things in life
  • Living and Working Abroad
  • Traveling to ½ of the countries of the world
  • Helping make positive change in the world we live in
  • Encouraging those that surround me to travel the world and keep an open mind to the many experiences that come their way.

I could spend DAYS talking about this amazing experience. These 1400 words barely do it justice. I am grateful for the amazing experience I had and wouldn’t change it for a minute.

Peru 4Peru 5

Shakespeare and London – May 2015

Tailor made for a literature major, this study abroad program was a month long venture, during which a group of twenty students accompanied by Prof. Christopher Highley spent a week in Stratford upon Avon followed by three weeks in London. Stratford upon Avon is the birthplace of Shakespeare, and also the site for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s many performances. Since OSU is in collaboration with the RSC, we had the opportunity to watch three plays from the Renaissance period being performed by professionals as well as visit Shakespeare’s grave, his birthplace and the house of his wife Anne Hathaway. In London, we attended class in the mornings four days a week, and the afternoon generally consisted of sightseeing as a group. Evenings and weekends weren’t covered in the official itinerary and so we were free to explore the city of London as well as the UK as we chose.

I expected a Shakespeare oriented program and was hence perplexed by the relevance of the city of London to him during the 17th century, but the course dealt with not only him and his contemporaries, but the history that London has been steeped in through the centuries. Getting exposed to that culture and the development of it through time gave me an acute sense of what it means to be a fighter. Not in terms of a war and a perpetual struggle for power, but the inherent quality to overcome the adversities that war and fire and plague perpetrate. I came to the realization that reverence for a common cause, faith in a common entity and the desire to better one’s status in an existing society is what makes a community thrive. At the same time, getting lost in a mass of bodies is easy in a city like London, and I learnt to value true independence in thought and actions, realizing that unconventionality and a healthy level of agency is rewarding in itself.

Our first weekend back from Stratford, we planned to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral, since the imposing structure that defines the London skyline was minutes away from our lodging. I had a separate itinerary for the day because I was going to make a solo trip to the Kingston pier and visit my cousin (which in my mind was an ordeal in itself) so I set our early, alone on my first touristy expedition in a foreign land. And I did have a regular experience, taking selfies and photos of the facades, listening to the headphone guide, climbing all the way up the rickety steps to the very top and staring in awe at the gaunt marble effigy of John Donne. However, the incident in the two hour long sojourn that truly captivated and moved me was my descent to the lower crypts of the cathedral, when I carefully perused the wall containing the history of the cathedral. Burned down twice, destroyed by bombs during the war, having undergone multiple changes in architecture, the church stands, regal and resplendent as ever, solely due to the faith of the people in the church. It is hard not to be awed and humbled by the tracing of humanity over twelve hundred years.

A fifth of the Shakespeare memorial in Stratford upon Avon                                                                 A classic London day under the Waterloo bridge

A fifth of the Shakespeare memorial in Stratford upon Avon                                    A classic London day under the Waterloo bridge


A similar feeling was aroused in me when I visited the museum of London and witnessed the rebuilding of the city, mirroring life all over the earth, as they picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and proceeded to rebuild their lives after the harrowing experience of having lived through a population wipeout. Closer to my heart and more relevant in terms of my interest was the theater in the city through the ages. The Globe theater, the Swan, the Blackfriars and the Rose were the popular ones during the sixteenth century and despite the social structure disallowing and sneering down at the profession, people thronged to watch plays, crossing the river Thames, paying a significant amount of their weekly income to stand in the pit, come rain or shine, and standing up for the spirit of entertainment. Having a benevolent monarch helped, but the idea that people working for a common cause despite the disapproval of influential members of society is a heartening one. My friends and I too participated in a similar cause to a certain extend. The site of the Rose theater is currently an abandoned parking lot with slight flooding at the base. Since adequate funds aren’t available, a group of people are raising money by performing in those spaces, using reusable no-nonsense tickets and making do with a bare minimum of stage and lights. We watched Macbeth being performed by an amateur group of theater enthusiasts, and their creativity in modifying the script as well as their extremely judicious and innovative use of stage space was inspiring and moving at the same time.

I also ventured out by myself to performances at the RADA and the Barbican, to Tate modern for a special exhibit and to the open air used bookstore in the muggy weather under the Waterloo bridge. The fact that nobody else but me was interested makes it all the more special because these were experiences that added to my perception of the world and had I been bogged down by the lack of company, I would have missed out on some superb professional acting as well as the chance to see a six foot long collaborative poem in the flesh.

I think that the month long experience of living with friends, being able to responsibly drink at pubs while playing Jenga and discussing ideas, of exploring one of the biggest cities in the world and witnessing the soap opera like qualities of the English monarchy through the ages was undoubtedly the best in my life. It opened my eyes to the fact that the world is and has always been a much bigger place than my imagination had allowed for it to be. It helped me understand, revere and value society and culture without losing oneself to its shackles. There were several moments of poignancy and revelation that have firmly situated themselves in my memories for the rest of my life. The moment when I found out that Robert Browning wasn’t buried with his wife made my heart stop, while the knowledge that Ben Jonson was buried standing up perplexed me into laughter. The time when a tour guide in an aristocratic house in the English countryside told us about the WWI poppy memorial in London filled me with a sense of poignancy. Riding the tube by myself for the first time filled me with elation and so did the discovery of a Sherlock Holmes themed pub. London and Stratford upon Avon helped me grow as an individual, and it will shape the way I perceive things in the future.


St. Pauls and Millenium Bridge in all their glory                                                             The fabulously experimental production of Merchant of Venice by the RSC

St. Pauls and Millenium Bridge in all their glory                                            The experimental production of Merchant of Venice by the RSC


Irish Human and Animal Interactions

While abroad, I created a blog page! Go check it out at for pictures and more information from each stop.


Over winter break this past year, I had the opportunity to travel to Ireland with 55 of my closest friends from the CFAES college. Our trip focused on Human and Animal Interactions as we toured around the Irish coast; we stopped at many farms and production facilities as well as several tourist destinations. Through lectures and discussion at each stop, we compared and contrasted American animal agriculture with what we were able to observe in Ireland.


As we went through the process of traveling with so many people, and so many people that were girls, I learned that I personally would have rather traveled with a far more intimate group. It was difficult to coordinate activities and find locations to support so many customers at once when we stopped for meals, however, our trip leader was a heroine and the trip ran incredibly smoothly for the majority of the time. What surprised me the most, and what felt the most exhausting, was simply having to plan every aspect of my day by the time I woke up. I had to remember to schedule time for myself to eat in between stops at tourist attractions and farms, and coordinate with friends what activities we could do together in the time we had at each stop. It was also incredibly disconcerting to be unleashed upon the city of the day with no map, no knowledge of what the area had to offer, and no plan. I’m a big planner, and knowing what’s next is my comfort zone. If I ever decide to travel abroad again, I certainly will do far more research ahead of time so I can relax more!

I surprised myself on this trip by making a few more friends than I thought I would, and by actually going out to places and restaurants and talking with complete strangers that would later become good friends. I’d like to think that I conquered my fear of traveling abroad without my parents, and my reservation about the strangeness of another country has lessened significantly. The Irish speak English, so luckily there wasn’t a language barrier, which I think significantly improved my first experience in another country.


The fact that Irish culture is not too different from Scottish (I am Scottish by heritage and have researched Scottish culture on my own) made the lectures and experiences about Irish culture very interesting to me. I loved being able to compare what information or preconceptions I already had to what we learned in country. Hearing traditional stories and participating in song and dance truly made the experience immersive. The Irish are so proud, and their country has been downtrodden for centuries that their anger with the English is visible even today. I felt safe the entire time I was in country, however, I did watch what I said extremely closely. There were definite places that I would not have lingered long after dark if I proclaimed myself loudly one side or another.


With the variety of pubs and excellent restaurants in every city, I found myself going out to dinner with many people from the trip and enjoying myself quite a bit. Irish food can be pretty bland, but the cider makes up for it. Pubs are also an excellent place to people watch, and I found that there really isn’t much difference between one country and another in how their populations spend their leisure time.


Irish agriculture is not all that different from American, at least from what I could observe. The farms made me feel more at home because of the interactions we were able to have with the animals. I was extremely impressed with Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture authority that helped run or monitor many of the farms we visited. This organization helped farmers to manage their facilities with the best practices and they performed quite a bit of research on turf and feed and genetics. I think that seeing the success of this institution in Ireland makes me curious to see if there is a way I could get involved in a similar program here in America.


These changes I’ve seen in myself have definitely sharpened my appetite for travel to other countries. I wish that I had more time and money left in school to pursue more programs, but I think that if I am able to go on to professional school that this experience will help me stand out if I apply for international programs. I also believe that next time I travel in such a large group that I need to pace myself with how much time I spend with the group as a whole, and to allow myself to be open to new friendships. I’m very glad that I did allow myself to befriend the people that I had, but next time I think that I should be open to more people.

Overall, I am very pleased with this experience, and I am glad that I applied. Studying abroad I would highly recommend, although I firmly believe that anyone traveling abroad should educate themselves on the political, religious and social issues of the country before they even pack their bags. Our travel abroad instructor held an informational session for us beforehand and I think it prevented quite a few dangerous situations from happening with careless students saying the wrong thing in the wrong place about Catholics, Protestants, or the English.

STEP Reflection: Human and Animal Interactions in Ireland


Name: Alex Russell

Type of Program: Study Abroad

My STEP project was a study abroad trip to Ireland over winter break of 2015/2016.  The theme of the trip was human and animal interactions, so we visited many different farms to compare the agricultural practices of Ireland to that of the United States.  We also learned about the culture of Ireland and Northern Ireland while visiting many of the different landmarks throughout the country.


This trip to Ireland was my second study abroad experience, having traveled to Ecuador two years previous.  With each experience, I have come away feeling like I have a slightly better understanding of the world.  Each culture I have experienced has been different, but yet humans are all still the same in many ways.  One reason I transformed from studying abroad from an academic standpoint, is because it allowed me to see things first-hand that I could only imagine or see in pictures in a classroom setting.  This was very beneficial for me because I do not come from an agricultural background like many of my classmates.  While many of them grew up on farms and had that first-hand experience, I had very few interactions with farm animals before coming to Ohio State. 

Traveling to Ireland not only helped me learn about the farming techniques and agricultural practices of their country, but it also helped me learn about that of the United States, as each day we had discussions comparing and contrasting the two countries.  I not only learned from the Irish people, but I also learned from the other students who may have had more hands-on experiences with livestock than me back home.  I feel that I have transformed from my STEP experience because I learned so much about the animal industries and animal sciences, which is my area of study at Ohio State, and I also have a better understanding of a culture different from my own.


During my trip to Ireland, I learned a lot about the agricultural industry of Ireland and how it is different from the United States.  For example, when visiting a dairy farm, we learned that grazing animals in Ireland are typically fed a much different diet than grazing animals in the United States.  Ireland is known for its endless pastures and lush, green grass from the consistent amount of rain they receive and a climate that almost never reaches below freezing.  The Irish take advantage of this because it is more economical for them to feed their animals grass when they have it in abundance.  In the United States, cattle are typically fed a grain-based diet rather than a grass-based diet.  Corn is in abundance in the United States and fresh grass is not always available in the winter time.  Also, animals grow much faster on a grain-based diet, which is why farmers in the United States prefer it.  They are able to grow their animals to market size much faster than those in Ireland who feed livestock mainly grass.  This enables the United States to export more meat and make more money, especially on meat that does not have to be as lean, such as hamburgers.  Just one simple trip to a dairy farm helped me learn a lot of information, furthering my academic transformation.

Another major part of the trip that impacted me was traveling to Northern Ireland.  In previous years, American tourists were not allowed to travel to this area because there was so much hostility.  Northern Ireland is technically a different country than the Republic of Ireland because it is considered a part of the United Kingdom.  There has been a lot of violence between the two sides because of political and religious beliefs.  We visited the city of Belfast, which is one of the biggest areas of dispute.  There is a “peace wall” located in Belfast separating the Unionists from the Republicans who chose to remain in the North when the country split.  We were told that the violence is still so great that people who move to the other side are often killed.  Although the two sides are becoming more peaceful, I still noticed a much different feeling when in Northern Ireland.  We were told to watch what we said so as to not offend anyone.  It felt more dark and sinister in comparison to the Republic, where people seemed to always be happy and welcoming.  This led to part of my transformation because I gained some insight on a cultural dispute that I previously had no idea existed.

Ireland has a rich history and I enjoyed learning about it through some of the stops we made while traveling the country.  For example, there are many castles in Ireland that can be seen just from driving down the road.  The majority of them are completely or partially destroyed, but we were able to visit a couple that are still standing.  Dunluce Castle was one of the castles held by the MacDonnell’s from Scotland and was also used in filming the TV show Game of Thrones.  We also visited Blarney Castle, the iconic castle holding the Blarney Stone.  The legend says that kissing the Blarney Stone gives one the gift of eloquent and persuasive speech.  The presence of all of these castles is an indicator of the war ridden past of Ireland.  Another one of the landmarks we visited is Giant’ Causeway, which contains thousands of hexagonal columns that form stepping stones along the ocean as a result of a volcanic eruption. We also visited the Cliffs of Moher which stretch for five miles and drop off into the Atlantic Ocean.  All of these landmarks contributed to my transformation because I feel like a more knowledgeable person after visiting them.  Experiencing these “wonders of the world” has helped me better understand the history of the country.


Everything that I learned and experienced while in Ireland will be beneficial for my future career and growth as a person.  I am planning to go to veterinary school upon graduation, so this experience was helpful for me in many ways.  For example, I learned a lot about animals and got some first-hand experience that I would not have had in the classroom.  Becoming a veterinarian is an intensive process because of the large amount of knowledge required.  Coming in with a good knowledge base is important for success and I feel that my study abroad trip will aid me in that aspect.  Also, just getting in to veterinary school is difficult because it is very competitive and admissions committees have high standards.  The fact that I have had the opportunity to study abroad twice will definitely look good on my veterinary school application.  I believe that it shows that I care about what is happening around the world and I have some insight on how the animal industries work in other countries as compared to the United States.  I feel that I can talk knowledgeably about the things I learned while abroad, which will aid me in the interview process as well.  All in all, I believe that a well-traveled person has the ability to be more understanding of the different ways people do things.  Since the agricultural industry and medical practices are always changing I am excited to give my input in my future career.