Public Health Perspectives: Japan

My STEP project was a two and a half week study abroad to Japan through Ohio State. There, I, along with 19 other students, studied public health from the perspective of the Japanese through lectures, seminars, and first hand visits to historical sites. Lectures took place at The University of Tokyo and Azabu University, and field trip visits were to Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Hiroshima, Ishinomaki, Toyama, and Sendai.

While the study abroad was pretty short, we learned so much in the amount of time. It would be difficult to explain everything we did and learned, but here are just some highlights from our lectures and seminars: First, we learned about public health nurses that perform house visits and keep record (maternal and child health handbooks) of every child –  our professor from the University of Tokyo actually still has his. We visited an incineration plant and saw how the Japanese treat and burn enormous amounts of garbage and use the energy to provide electricity for surrounding neighborhoods. We also experienced firsthand the detailed trash system in Japan through the complex sorting trash disposals throughout our stay. We gained a lot of knowledge about different challenges the Japanese face, such as the aging population and also about the history of many different diseases such as minamata and itai-itai diseases. At Azabu University, we performed a dissection of a fish to extract parasitic worms while working with students who attend the university.

While there are many things that I learned about public health, there were also things I learned about myself that I wasn’t aware of before. I learned that I was braver than I thought I was. Being a rather shy and reserved person, traveling alone overseas for the first time was a frightening thought. But I made it. There were many times I got lost while navigating the streets of Tokyo. While getting lost seems like a bad thing, it was actually one of the most fun parts of the trip because you discover all kinds of adventures. Steering away from popular tourist attractions and wandering the streets of Japan, I was able to truly experience life as a local. Eating at small tucked away restaurants and conversing with shopkeepers who rarely, if ever, get foreign customers was one of my favorite parts. Having studied a bit of the language before at OSU, I felt like I was able to get a lot more from my experience. Also, as the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Doing so, such as walking on the left side and bowing to show respect helped to not only draw less attention, but immerse myself into the culture.

This study abroad also changed the way I view and think about people; how different, but also how similar we are no matter where we live in the world. There are noticeable differences immediately such as appearance, of course, as well as in the manner in which we are raised and the society in which we live. However, there are also the bonds that connect and bridge all of us together. The feelings and emotions which we all experience that cross any land or language barriers.

I have read about the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in many previous history classes. And it’s easy to think one way or take a particular stance when you just read the facts. But when you’re seeing the actual items from those who died due to the bomb and hearing the story about a survivor, it becomes a whole different ball game. It is no longer about “who”, “what”, or “why”, but that human lives like me or you were taken in an instant. In addition, watching and listening to someone tell their personal story about minamata disease and the emotions that remain after all these years is beyond words. To see and hear with my own eyes and ears the lasting impact of one company’s action that caused pain and heartache to so many. Actually physically standing in the exact location where I watched the tsunami destroy homes and lives through the television and seeing it five years later was very powerful. While I can still only just imagine what it was like for those who were impacted, I now have a better understanding.

This study abroad course to Japan has taught me that learning is not limited to the classroom and can be enhanced by experiences outside. It is one thing to read about something in class, but it is another thing to truly experience it with all one’s senses. While not every course I take will be able to be a study abroad, I will try to apply the same ideas to future classes. By finding ways to learn outside the classroom, such as engaging in real world experiences, I can greatly improve my learning. Finding a way to immerse myself as wholly as I have on this study abroad into each and every class and topic I encounter will be beneficial and priceless for my education. Prior to leaving for this study abroad, I was unsure whether I wanted to go into the medical/health field or continue to graduate school. But after going on this study abroad to study public health in Japan, I can say that I plan to pursue further education in hopes to get a degree in the health field. And even though I am not public health major, this experience really helped me in my decision.

While this study abroad to Japan was only two and a half weeks, the amount I learned and experiences I had were much more than that. Not only did I learn about public health in Japan, I was able to experience things from a different perspective and learned a lot about empathy, strength, and even myself. It was an unforgettable trip that has made me a better and more understanding person. I hope to return to Japan again one day.

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La Vita Bella: 24 days in Italy

I spent 24 days in Italy through STEP. The first 2 weeks was in the region of Piemonte with the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), a foundation that takes students to Italy to help them learn more about their heritage and culture. Afterwards, I traveled the rest of Italy and visited where my family lives to put my learning into context and truly immerse myself in my roots. Before this trip, I had never spent time abroad. Going to Italy taught me so much about my family, my heritage, and myself. Although I had taken Italian classes before and dabbled in the cultu re, being in the country taught me so much so quickly about Italy.

While abroad I learned so much about Italy’s history and how it shaped their current culture. For example, the region I stayed in was extremely mountainous: most of the land was farms or vineyards rather than picturesque Italy where streets are narrow with shops and fountains everywhere. The land in the north creates a pathway for them to take extreme pride in their fresh, homegrown food. While I knew before the types of food Italians ate (which was delicious and amazing), I learned abroad just how high quality all of their products are and how strongly that differs from the United States’ quality and diet where fresh food is not as accessible or cheap.

My time in the NIAF program let me experience Italy in a way that I never would have been able to do on my own. We toured the Borsalino hat factory, the most prestigious and admirable hats in Italy since 1847 where they still use the same methods and machinery. We saw how rabbit fur, water, and steam made the nicest fedoras only made-to-order. At the end I bought a hat to bring home to my dad since he recently started loving fedora’s and looking like the same Italian man my grandpa used to be. Although it was just a hat, he loved it – that simple tour in a small Italian town let me bring a piece of his father and what he loved most about Italy back home. We toured royal palaces, churches, the Ferrero chocolate factory (home to Nutella, Kinder, Tic Tacs, and Ferrero Rocher), ate at farm-to-table restaurants, and even spent a day doing service with 100’s of kids in the city. Through these experiences I learned so much in a dynamic, fun way that I could not have found in a classroom.

The 10 days traveling after my program was extremely meaningful too and gave me so many different experiences in a short time. My most memorable visit was the three days I spent with my family in Southern Italy. My grandpa grew up in small town called San Mango D’Aquino – a small city built on a mountain. Although he immigrated to the US and passed away when I was in 8th grade, some of our relatives stayed. It is hard to imagine his life in another place, but I saw the church where he got married and took his wedding photo that has always sat on my dad’s dresser and even met some people in the town who knew my grandpa and attended his wedding. It is interesting learning more about someone’s life after they die, but seeing where I am from was a really memorable, inspiring experience.

In those extra days, exploring so many different parts of Italy was very transformational. The landscapes of the country are widely unique and accessible. I was able to hike in the mountains, swim in the ocean at a rock beach, take a waterbus around Venice, and visit some of the world’s oldest ruins all in ten days. I have never learned so much about history and religion in such a short time, but this trip emphasized how important family, history, and food are to Italy. Through all of these experiences I gained such a better perspective of the world and new, different ways that I want to live my life after returning (like eating more fresh foods).

What I did not realize before this trip is how important it is to look at other countries and their culture and history. I now have a newly found motivation and desire to travel to more countries around the world outside of Europe. I want to see their history and how their social justice issues play a role in their country and shape their current struggles or victories. I think that through that we can better understand ways to address the same struggles going on in the US and possibly find more innovative solutions. Academically and professionally, this trip put a lot of things into context and really educated me on many things that I was very ignorant to before (like Italy’s historical beef with the French, but mostly Napoleon). Personally, it has shown me so many ways to carry on my Italian heritage here in the US that I did not necessarily grow up with. I feel inspired, motivated, and excited to continue my life post-graduation, which in many ways was fueled by my time abroad. Had it not been for STEP, I would have never had the funds to go abroad and gain a new perspective on life.

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Hiking in Cinque Terre

 

A video of time spent in my family’s town San Mango

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Day of Service in Torino, Italy

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My dad with his Borsalino Fedora

Higher Education in Brazil: Access, Equity, and Opportunity Study Abroad– STEP Reflection

For my STEP Signature Project, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Bahia, Brazil for the duration of Spring Break in 2016 through Ohio State’s Office of International Affairs and Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The main activities of this program included learning directly about Brazilian culture and the Brazilian education system at two of Salvador’s educational institutions: the Insituto Cultural Steve Biko (Steve Biko Cultural Institute) and the Associacao Cultural Brasil-Estado Unidos (ACBEU). I also had the opportunity to visit historical, cultural, governmental, and non-governmental sites.

Through my enriching STEP experience, perhaps the most important transformation that occurred for me was that I learned was the value of education. Growing up in the United States with an educated family, I never had to worry about going to primary or secondary school. I lived in a city which provided transportation, resources, and passionate teachers for me and my classmates to succeed. I considered that going to school was a right, not a privilege. As the time for me to attend college came around, I always knew that not going to college was not an option for me. I knew that skipping college was not an option, but I did not know why. I had just assumed going to college would get me a good job. But now, after studying abroad in Brazil, I understand the value of a solid education, and I know that there is much more to life than having a good job.

One event that led me to this realization of the value of education was when we visited a primary school in the favelas (Slums of Brazil). The students were so bright and so eager to learn; However, the resources were lacking. There was no air conditioning in the school, the teachers were underpaid, school supplies were very limited, and even classrooms environments were not conducive to learning. Despite these hardships, students came to class everyday to learn. It made me think about the inequity because some schools in America can provide their students with ipads, whereas many students in Brazil do not have enough pencils or paper. This struck a chord with me and made me feel very thankful for the resources I was given throughout primary and secondary school.

Another event that led me to this realization was when got to visit a secondary school. We sat in a classroom and listened to a presentation (in English) led by some of the students who attended the secondary school. From this presentation, I learned about the inequities in the education system in Brazil, and how factors such as race, socio-economic status, and gender can impact an Afro-Brazilian’s access to education. This presentation was important to me because it showed me how several of the students had to worry about racism at such a young age, whereas I did not even know about the concept when I was their age. It made me upset that something such as race, a concept no one has control over, has such a strong and prominent influence over students’ access to education. This conversation and presentation made me want to become more aware about myself and the people around me.

Lastly, one specific relationship I made with my peer during my STEP Project helped me come to the realization of the value of education. Through this relationship with my peer, we had several open conversations about our past. I learned more about her family life and her life at home growing up. It was very different than mine. I also learned a lot about her relationship with her mom and her dad. Learning about someone who is different than me helped me appreciate what I have in life, and it also helped me realize what I took for granted, such as my access to education. Moving forward, I plan to always try to acknowledge what I have in life and to be happy with my blessings.

This change/transformation is significant and valuable to several aspects of my life such as my academic, personal, and professional goals. For example, because now that I have a better appreciation for my education, I feel more motivated to study. Because I am more motivated to study, this can help me achieve competitive scores. By obtaining competitive scores, I believe I could get into graduate school, which would help me accomplish my dream career of becoming a mental health counselor. Had I not had the opportunity to gain international exposure and experience, I would not have the same perspective on education that I do now. I am grateful for this opportunity, and hope to be able to give back one day.

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Australia Study Abroad May 2016 – STEP Reflection

Erica Savin

Study Abroad

In May of 2016 I studied abroad in Australia for my STEP signature project. While in Australia, I studied sustainability through human societies like the European Australians and Aboriginals, as well as unique ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef and the remote outback. I traveled to eight different locations in North Queensland, Australia being taught by well-known, knowledgeable Australian Lecturers with a group of 20 Ohio State students, a professor, and a teacher’s assistant.

The understanding I have of the world and myself transformed during my experience abroad. My love for travel grew, and so did my desire to try new things and be taken out of my comfort zone. Traveling has always been an important aspect of my life because of the new experiences and cultures it entails. My time in Australia, however, taught me the many harmful impacts tourism can have on the environment. Thus, I plan to travel more sustainably in the future and participate in eco-tourism to help the country I am travelling in. My view of the world and how humans are effecting it has transformed through the knowledge I gained while in Australia. The impacts of fishing, farming, and global warming are harming the earth and something needs to change. I believe governments, business, and people are not doing enough to protect our planet. I care more about sustaining the earth than I ever did before my time abroad. I learned that I can make a difference to the environment and therefore, I practice sustainable living everyday. Overall, my values for traveling and sustainability has changed for the better, and my understanding and knowledge about the world and how humans are effecting it has grown.

Many opportunities and experiences in Australia led to these transformations I just discussed. My love for travel grew as a result of the people I met and the amazing new adventures I had. The 19 other Ohio State students and the Australians that I met along the way made the month unforgettable. I loved traveling with new friends, which I never would have met without this opportunity. The new adventures I participated in added to my love for travel as well. Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, hiking to amazing places like Wallaman Falls and Balding Bay, and camping in the outback all brought me out of the comfort zone and forced me to experience something new and amazing.

My new goal to save the planet and live sustainably is a direct result of my experiences in Australia. I saw the impacts that farming, fishing, and global warming have on the Great Barrie Reef first hand. For instance, I witnessed the bleached and dyeing coral in the Great Barrier Reef which is a result of human impact and global warming. After completing research with my classmates and a team of marine biologists in Port Douglas, Australia, we found that overfishing is extremely harmful to the health of the reef. The Great Barrier Reef is divided up into several zones. We discovered that the yellow zone, which allows the most fishing activity, is the most damaged area of the reef compared to the blue zone, which only allows tourists. Farming is another major cause of the declining reef health. My farm homestay and several lectures about farming taught me the harmful effects farming has on the Great Barrier Reef and waterways all over the world. The pesticides and herbicides used in the soil are increasing the nutrients in the waters causing coral to die and algae to bloom. Other ecosystems in Australia are being damaged due to more human causes. For example, the koala population is declining due to the deforestation of eucalyptus forests for buildings and roads. While on Magnetic Island, off the coast of Townsville, Australia, I participated in a study to see how many Koalas are on the island using a fecal crop standing method. I found that the number is declining, as it is throughout the rest of the country as well. Due to these tragedies that unsustainable practices are causing, I have become much more aware of my impact on the world.

I believe I can make difference in the world through sustainable endeavors, traveling, and everyday activities. In Australia I was involved in several eco-tourism service projects. With marine biologist Dr. Adam Smith, my classmates and I were the first to participate in a reef rescue program on Magnetic Island. Small groups of students would go into the water and collect seaweed that was overgrown and covering the coral in hopes that it will not grow back. My classmates and I also planted trees at Mungalla Station, an Aboriginal land with waterways connecting to the Great Barrier Reef. Finally, we cut down she-oak trees in order for the forest to be burned under control and animals like the wallaby and other small marsupials to thrive in the area. Several lectures like the one given by Dr. Smith taught me many ways that I can live my daily life sustainably through shorter showers, carpooling, riding my bike instead of my car, recycling, and more. I traveled sustainably in Australia by staying in accommodations that used alternative energy. For instance, two of the places I stayed at were Hidden Valley and Tyrconnell Outback which were both solar powered. Through living sustainably in my everyday life, participating in sustainable projects, and supporting alternative energy use, I can make a difference.

These transformations are significant to my future personally, professionally, and academically. As I mentioned, I met many Ohio State students that I never would have without this opportunity. I am a business major with a specialization in marketing. As a business major, networking and who you know is very important, therefore, meeting more students and professionals on my trip can be of potential importance in the future. Also with my future job I am very interested in doing marketing or sales for an environmentally sustainable company, and promoting sustainability. As for my personal goals, the transformations that occurred will be particularly valuable because they changed my daily routine like biking more, advocating sustainable living, taking shorter showers, and recycling more. Although this class was not required for my marketing major, it was the most memorable and impactful class I have taken at Ohio State thus far. Being immersed in a brand new culture and ecosystem broadened my understanding of the world, and will forever effect my behaviors and outlook on life.

 

 

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STEP Reflection: Belize

Name: Kristen Behrens

 

Type of Project: Study Abroad

 

I worked as an intern at the Belize Zoo.  The zoo was more like a wildlife conservation site that the zoos we’re used to here in the US.  At the Belize Zoo, I worked with the other keepers to take care of the native animals housed there.  We fed them, cleaned their exhibits, and provided them with enrichment

My view of the world was transformed while completing my STEP Signature Project.  First of all, the Belize Zoo was very different from any zoo I had experienced in the past.  Even after working at the Cincinnati Zoo, I could not have predicted exactly what this zoo would be like.  For example, all of the animals were native to Belize.  Unlike the US, they did not bring in animals from other countries to put on display.  They only rescued animals from their own country who were injured or threatened.  In addition, the exhibits were very loosely enclosed.  Multiple times during my stay there, animals would get out and had to be chased back into their enclosures.  It was truly eye opening to see how things that I thought I fully understood worked in another country

Secondly, it was my first time out of the country, so I was afraid and felt intimidated by what I thought was the poverty of the country.  I feel bad now for thinking that way because even though their houses were not huge and grand like ours, that’s just how they lived.  Yes, our country is a little better off but it was certainly not the case that everyone there was poor.  I learned that the majority of people mean you no harm.  Like I said, I was afraid when I first arrived because I had been warned to keep a close eye on my belonging and never go anywhere alone.  I was convinced that everyone was out to get me, particularly because many of them were speaking Spanish, a language I didn’t know.  However, everyone I came across while in Belize was very kind and very clearly wanted to help me rather than hurt me.

Several events, interactions, relationships, and activities during my STEP Signature Project led to these transformations.  My understanding about the differences between their zoo and ours came almost immediately.  Walking around the zoo on the first day, it was like walking through the savannah.  And essentially that’s what it was.  They hardly had to change the landscape of the zoo at all to accommodate the animals since the animals were native to the land.  They simply built loose enclosures for the animals to stay in.  Once I began meeting the animals and hearing their back stories, I learned that virtually all of them were rescues.  None of them had been brought into the zoo solely for the entertainment of the public as many have been in the United States.

These differences affected me in a profound way.  They made me realize that the way we run zoos in the United States is not the only way to do it.  Their methods were very different and yet very successful.  It seemed like the animals thrived by living in a captive environment almost identical to their native environment.  It made me wonder if the U.S. could possibly learn some things by looking to the Belize Zoo.

Other events, interactions, relationships, and activities during my STEP Signature Project led to my transformations were my interactions with the people who ran the zoo and the Tropical Education Center.  Like I said previously, I was very anxious about what the people were like in Belize and whether they meant me any harm.  However, after only a single day with these people, I realized they were truly very kind and were only looking for my companionship.  Each night we would sit in the dining hall and play cards and dominoes.  On the weekends, they would give us rides to different tourist locations, even though it was not their job to do so.  During the entirety of my time in Belize, I never felt threatened by anyone.  I travelled the country and met many people who were extremely willing to help me in any way they could.

These events affected me by teaching me that cultural differences do not have to be scary.  I feel more prepared to travel the world now.  I know that I can be aware but not scared of the differences I may see.

Learning more about foreign zoos will most definitely be beneficial when applying to vet school.  Any experience with animals is valuable, particularly when it gives you another viewpoint on something you’ve already seen.  I not only got to work with exotic animals I had never even heard of before, but I got to see an alternate view into zoos.

MEDLIFE- Riobamba, Ecuador

Name: Reed Franklin

Type of Project: Service Learning/Study Abroad

During spring break, I went on a volunteer trip through MEDLIFE to Riobamba, Ecuador. MEDLIFE is an organization that works with underdeveloped communities throughout South America and Africa to provide medicine, education, and development to the people of the community. During my week in Riobamba, I was able to travel to several rural Andean communities and aid various healthcare professionals with caring for the people of these communities.

My trip to Ecuador was absolutely life changing. This was the first time that I have ever been on a volunteer trip, and the first time that I have traveled to a destination that was not meant to be touristy. Before traveling to Ecuador, I was aware that native Andean communities face high levels of poverty. But, I was completely oblivious to the harsh realities that these communities face on a daily basis. My viewpoint on how fortunate I am to live the life I live, with easy access to proper healthcare and education, became extremely clear during my trip to Ecuador.

On our second day in Riobamba, we went on a “reality tour” which was essentially a tour of some of the communities that MEDLIFE has worked with in order to prepare us for the communities that we would be traveling to throughout the week. We traveled to a notorious hacienda that has been employing Andean natives for centuries. We were able to see the types of labor that are required to run a successful hacienda. Also on this day, we visited Maria’s casa, the house of one of our MEDLIFE nurses. This was my first real eye opening experience of the week. Maria owns several animals including cows and donkeys, which she is solely responsible for tending to. Unlike in the U.S., Maria’s farm did not have machinery or tools. The climb up and down the hills necessary for tending to her animals was treacherous. Many of us struggled, while Maria was totally unaffected. This was the first of many times that I saw first hand the hardships that these people face everyday, and have become used to.
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Day three in Riobamba was the first day of our mobile medical clinics, and was my favorite clinic location of the entire trip. This clinic was extremely busy because we stationed it at a local elementary school. The school was extremely small, and was more of an indoor-outdoor facility. Stray dogs were in and out of the schoolyard while the kids were in class. For the majority of the day, I worked with the dentist, Dr.Pedro. Most of the MEDLIFE staff surprisingly spoke little to no English. This made communication pretty difficult and patchy for some people who had little or no Spanish knowledge. At this point I was glad that I am a Spanish minor. Dr. Pedro allowed us to be his dental assistants for the day at this station. We were very hands-on and assisted with filling cavities of the young children and adults of this community. Many of the children did have cavities, as many of them have never been taught the correct way to brush their teeth (and many did not even own a proper toothbrush). At the end of the day, every kid was sent home with a better education on proper dental hygiene and a new toothbrush. This clinic day was hectic, but ended in a way that I will never forget. One family from the clinics invited us into their home and prepared our entire group dinner. This was a very emotional experience because this family had almost nothing, but still graciously invited us to share a meal with them. This act of kindness showed the heart and the graciousness that the people of Ecuador showed us each and every day.

The rest of the clinic days went almost the same. Every clinic had an ample number of people who came to us from all over the community for help. Most of these people had not seen a doctor in years and were in serious need of medical attention. We encountered many cases of parasites, due to the lack of running water. Every community had a small community restroom that all the people shared. The condition of these restrooms was atrocious. We also encountered a woman who was immediately transported to the hospital in the city for surgery because she had over 30 cysts in her stomach that caused her body to enter into stages of sepsis. The twisted irony that I realized while in Ecuador was that healthcare is free for all citizens of Ecuador, but those who need medical attention the most simply cannot access it.

I experienced so many emotions throughout my entire trip. I felt sad for the people of the Andes who are suffering everyday without access to proper healthcare and education. I felt pride in knowing that, while we could not help everyone, we certainly did make a difference and actually saved at least one life during our visit. I felt happiness being surrounded by a group of people that were so dedicated to helping others that they had never met. All of these emotions led me to consider steps I could take after the trip to help others to the best of my ability.

The lessons I learned, and the people I met during my trip to Ecuador will stay with me throughout my entire life. I have officially decided to pursue a career in public health after receiving my bachelor’s degree next spring. I am drawn even more now to helping people overcome their circumstances. I have seen firsthand how kind and giving people can be that live everyday with minimal possessions. This trip was so important to me because it allowed me to give back, but I did not realize how much I would also gain from the citizens of Ecuador. I hope to be able to participate in another MEDLIFE trip soon!

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(pictured above: Rodrigo’s family. We built them a sustainable house complete with indoor plumbing and electricity in order to create a stable environment for Rodrigo’s recovery. He suffered from cleft pallet and OSU’s MEDLIFE chapter raised money for his corrective surgery. This day, we presented the family with their completed house, which we had painted and built furniture in. Previous MEDLIFE groups aided in the construction of the house. For more on Rodrigo’s story visit https://www.medlifeweb.org/blog/item/412-eet-the-patient-rodrigo-caranqui.html)

Study Abroad in Geneva, Switzerland

  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.

 

My STEP Project was a semester study abroad in Geneva, Switzerland. While in Geneva I took classes at Webster University, a sister school to Kent State University and I took part in an internship at World Vision International, an international development NGO.

My little sister and I outside the UN

My little sister and I outside the UN

 

 

  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.

 

This experience in Geneva helped me grow in various ways throughout my 4 month stay. Some of the few major changes and understandings that immediately come to mind when I think of my experience are; the real look of humanitarian work in Western countries and my ability to become more independent as a traveler.

The main reason that I chose this study abroad experience was because of the internship opportunity in Geneva, Switzerland, a capital of peace and neutrality where some of the most important work in my field (International Development) is done. I did my internship with World Vision International, an international NGO that does development work, child sponsorship and disaster relief. Working with this organization and simply living in a city like Geneva was very eye-opening for my perspective on the work being done in development. My day to day work involved sitting in an office, working on reports and having Skype meetings with people in countries around the world and while I greatly valued my experience I felt a deep sense of disconnect between the work I was doing and the people that World Vision served. It is hard to sit in an office in one of the most well-off countries in the world while writing a report on the lives of people who survived and struggled through a hurricane or earthquake. Geneva is also home to UN headquarters and I spent some time visiting there and other major organization headquarters like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. What I found is there is a distinct hierarchy in this system of NGOs and a slow moving bureaucracy that is even marked by where NGOs are located. My office at World Vision was about 20 minutes away by public transportation from the UN and its major subsidiaries like the International Organization for Migration and the World Health Organization; those closest to the UN seemed to be the biggest actors who got the closest access to the action while other NGOs were spread throughout the city. I also got to learn about how other organizations worked because I had friends working at places like the WHO and UN systems; they were often overworked and somewhat underappreciated and while they were grateful for their experience I felt that my experience with an NGO outside of the UN systems was much more relaxed and reasonable for a student. It’s not to say that working hard isn’t what I came for, I put in a lot of hours and was expected to do my work well but I also wasn’t expected to work 40+ hours a week and come in on Sundays as an unpaid intern. Essentially, I found that a system that I thought was incredibly well-planned, influential and powerful is in fact incredibly flawed. It is not to say that all of the major NGOs out there are doing poor work because in many cases they do important to people in countries all over the world but there is certainly a sluggishness and lack of productivity in the UN systems that I didn’t expect to find. Before coming to Geneva I did know that there were some problems with the field but I realized after living in it that I could never be a part of that system-which was a bit disappointing but also important to understand as I move forward in my career. While this may seem like an overly negative perspective I think it was important to get the real picture of how things work at that international level; I recognize that some of that office work like I was doing needs to be done and that the UN (while slow and bureaucratic) does provide a unique space for nations to come together until something better comes along. But I have learned for myself that I do not want to be in an office and that I should be in the field working with people on day to day tasks- so it was a very important learning experience for myself and my future job search.

The second major change I observed was that I felt myself become more independent when it comes to traveling and searching for entertainment. I have always enjoyed travel but it is a whole different experience in Europe where the mentality about travel is that it is normal and accessible rather than rare and expensive (as it seems to be in the US). While I was in Geneva I was able to travel to 9 countries; we would take weekend trips either out of the country or to different parts of Switzerland almost every weekend. These weekend trips were always fun and interesting and allowed me to learn how to travel with an open mind. Even planning the trips allowed me to grow a bit because I learned how to book flights, hostels and plan out a whole weekend completely on my own. I also learned how to travel with new people who have different interests- this often involved a lot of compromise and flexibility so that everyone could enjoy and get what they wanted out of an experience. I was not expecting this part of my study abroad to have such an effect on me when returning to the US but I have found that since I came home I am much more interested in exploring what is around me and using my time as best I can to meet new people, have new experiences and find new places.

Weekend trip to Ireland with a classmate.

Weekend trip to Ireland with a classmate.

 

  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.

 

I met all kinds of people during this experience that had important effects on how I viewed my time there and how it affected me in the long run- both good and bad. A few of the most important and influential parts of my experience were my internship, my classes, and the other study abroad students.

For me, the internship was my main reason for choosing to study in Geneva, Switzerland and it was an incredibly formative experience. I worked in a very small office with less than 20 people which meant I got to know a few people, my supervisor and office mate in particular, very well. It was incredibly intriguing getting to know these people and their journeys up to that point. My main supervisor was Swiss, my office-mate was Scottish, the office manager was German, the head supervisor was South African, the accountant was British, the IT guy was Italian and my fellow intern was Chinese; I could not ask for a more diverse office space and I loved that part of this work. Everyone had different stories and paths and it was encouraging to know that there are so many opportunities out there. My supervisor, for example, is Swiss but worked with a nonprofit in Guatemala for a number of years after college and then went to Burkina Faso to get her Master’s degree- most of them had interesting backgrounds like hers. These people and their experiences in the field were very encouraging to me and helped me realize that I should and would like to get more time out in the field working closely with people because many in the office felt a bit cramped having to do day to day work in an office (most of them traveled at least three times a year for extended times) but enjoyed the work they did. So getting to know the employees and their journeys was very encouraging.

Classes were another important part of my time in Geneva because while the courses themselves weren’t very challenging or time-consuming, the professors teaching the courses were very interesting and talented. Most of my professors there were experts in their field who worked closely with the UN or other organizations, were very worldly and had so much insight about how the world works (none of them were actually Swiss). They were also very critical of the systems (like the UN) that exist on the international level and that was interesting to hear. One of my favorite professors was a Frenchman who spoke at least 4 languages and had worked closely with the UN human rights council who taught two of me international relations courses. He loved talking to me and a fellow study abroad student after class about politics, living in Geneva and the US in the overall world system and these conversations were incredibly valuable to me as a student. But one particularly unpleasant experience I had in Geneva was when we visited the World Health Organization for a class and the woman presented on how to get involved and employed by the UN systems. She spent much of the time discussing how you essentially need multiple degrees (which are expensive), tons of experience at a high level (often unpaid internships like the three law students helping her make powerpoints) and good connections (which as she put it meant you needed to get lucky enough to meet the right people and hope they like you). For me and my classmates this was an incredibly off putting experience but wasn’t completely new to us as we spent more time in Geneva; this was one of the main reasons I was left with a particularly negative outlook on that whole system. So my classes were important on multiple levels.

Finally, my fellow classmates and my relationships with them were very important to my time in Geneva. As I mentioned earlier, I felt that I developed a greater since of independence in my travels and a great deal of this stemmed from having to interact with people I have never met before and learning to adapt to new people and new surroundings. I learned who I could travel with and how to deal with people who have very different travel styles. It was a very unique situation to be stuck with a group of 40 people who you have never met before but who are very like minded in their interest in travel and the world. It was very encouraging to be surrounded by ‘my kind of people’. It was very motivating to get to spend 4 months with my classmates because I saw the amazing experiences they were having and felt motivated to move forward in my field even more just as they were doing.

 

  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.

This experience was very valuable for my personally and professionally. Before this experience I felt a bit lost in my field and I didn’t know what a future in this field could look like but I believe that Geneva really helped make my expectations more concrete and exciting. As I mentioned before, the employees at World Vision had such diverse and interesting experiences which helped me understand that there are tons of options available for someone in my field. Much of what I learned also had to do with finding out what I don’t want in a career like sitting in an office all day, or working with the UN systems. While my experience was overall a very positive one I think it was also important to recognize the things that I didn’t enjoy because it helps narrow down that I am most interested in.

Personally, this experience really helped to expand my independence and sense of adventure. I feel much more prepared to do things on my own and work in new environments. During my time in Geneva and my travels there I was pushed to be open minded about new experiences and willing to take some risks which was not always easy but was also rewarding. I feel much more interested in the world around me and I think it reignited a sense of wanting to explore and experience the world. I am much more excited at the idea of travel knowing I can do things independently and it is very exciting getting to think about the possibilities that exist before me.