Spring Study Abroad in Tel Aviv, Israel

 

 

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

I studied abroad in Tel Aviv, Israel at Tel Aviv University from January to June of 2016.  While there I took Hebrew ulpan classes as well as regular semester classes in English and toured the country.  Though I lived in Tel Aviv, I had the opportunity to travels to all areas in Israel both through my university and in independent travels with my friends and family.

 

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

I went to Israel, but I am not Jewish and that was really weird for a lot of people.  I never really had a clear picture of why I wanted to study abroad in Tel Aviv; even when I boarded the plane at JFK with the most Jewish people I had ever seen in my life I still didn’t know why or really where I was going.  Twelve hours later when I stepped off a bus and onto a clean, safe and entirely misrepresented campus, I realized that I was in for something so special I could have never begun to anticipate it.  Because of the network I developed while at Ohio State, I feel that I went to Israel with an understanding of the situation on the ground better than most.  I knew that it wasn’t a war zone, I knew that people weren’t laying in the streets dying and I knew that I will still terrified because of a terrorist shooting in a bar in Tel Aviv which occurred just weeks before I went.  I did not have an understanding of the history of the Jewish people, Zionism or the Palestinian experience.  I did not understand why people act with such vigor in regards to Israel – harsh disgust or blind devotion were the only sides I had ever seen.  While I can never say that I am literate in these ideals and questions, I am confident in saying that I am on my way to becoming culturally competent.

I come from an affluent, white background and have not experienced real persecution in my life nor have I really ever seen it.  In Israel, I began learning about the Jewish people – a people I have studied in my Sunday school classes since I can remember – and pushed myself to empathize with them to learn why things are the way they are.  I now understand that while I will never know what it’s like to be outside of myself, it’s good to cry my eyes out on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) for people I will never have the chance to know.  It’s good to believe that what so many educated and capable people say to be true, is a sad expression of age old anger and bigotry.  It’s good to feel passionate about reconciling a problem which does not and likely will not ever impact my day to day life because if I learned anything in Israel, other than the difficulty which is speaking a Semitic language & that it is possible to eat that much hummus, it’s that this little tiny hot bed of problems is worth all my efforts to protect and revere.

Western Wall

  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?

Going to Israel, I was extremely unfamiliar with Jewish culture.  I knew some of the high holidays and that men wore little hats, but that’s really it.  I had taken some world history classes so I knew that Jews played the role of the scapegoat throughout history.  I knew that 60 years ago, this idea was still very prevalent and that Anti-Semitism was alive and well throughout our world.  While thought I knew these tidbits, I quickly learned that I knew absolutely nothing.  Upon meeting my Jewish roommates – two from the US and one from the Netherlands – I learned that all three of them had connections directly to the Holocaust and my roommate from Amsterdam lived in a situation where she was threatened because she exercised her culture at a Jewish school and camps.  I was immediately amazed that I had come this close to such a dark place in history.  Little did I know, that my roommates were far from unique in the community of which I had just asked to become a part.

I enrolled in a Middle Eastern studies which focused on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and quickly became rapt in the ambiguity, and lack there of, which enshrouds “Eretz Israel.”  I began attending lectures hosted by StandWithUs, an international Israeli education organization based in Jerusalem with a mission of educating people about the situation on the ground so as to avoid Anti-Israeli sentiment and support a reasonable resolution to the struggle for land.  After a semester of being heartbroken and then immediately put in joyful awe by people and their beliefs about this jubilant little country I felt like I discovered, I had the opportunity to go for a walk with the man who changed my view on everything.

I took a tour of the Security Barrier with the chief architect, Danny Tirza.  He had met with president of many nations, Secretary of State Clinton and Senator Obama (when they each had the roles), as well as much of PLO leadership including Yasser Arafat.  He talked about the 400-some mile long barrier and all the misconceptions associated with it.  My favorite he “de-bunked” was one held by most likely every American – the idea that the security barrier is a 9 meter tall concrete wall like the one shown constantly on TV when they talk about it.  It is actually so only for ~5% of the 400+ miles.  The concrete wall is only in densely populated areas where there are not 200 meters on the Israeli side of the boarder – the amount of space required for the barrier.  The barrier consists of a smaller fence (really, not that tall) with barbed wire and 15 meters of sand on the Israeli side next to a road where only Israeli security forces and licensed individuals can drive.  After this there is a large “dead zone” of nothing.  This is there because if someone touches the fence or gets metal close to the fence, an alert goes off and security move to respond.  If the fence was crossed, the direction of travel can be seen in the sand and there is enough time to find the individual before he reaches the other side of the dead zone.

I learned that in making the barrier, many Arab neighborhoods asked to be on the Israeli side, which I thought was interesting until I learned more – then it just made sense. Building the wall took a very long time because Tirza and his team had to be so particular with each and every fence post placement, finding a location on which both Israel and the PLO could agree – which they did, on every fence post.  I learned about the technology behind security checkpoints and watched people living in Bethlehem, a now almost totally Arab city, cross into Jerusalem to go to work and about their daily business through a checkpoint which had already stopped 12 individuals with explosives strapped to their bodies this year (at the time of my tour).  The architects had taken care to ensure the safety of all individuals, not just staff but also each individuals going through the checkpoint.  It was immense and greatly satisfying to know that the people wanted it and it had been done for them in a way which was not at all degrading or overly time consuming – a huge misconception in our part of the world.

Seeing this was painful for me both because there is such need for the security barrier to exist and because there are such misunderstandings around its existence and the intentions of the Jewish State.  Only a short time after, I had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem where my feelings about Israel were solidified and my heart once again broke for the lies surrounding her people.  This tour gave me, for the first time, I a true glimpse into what was the lost.  It was so much more than lives.  I have never felt like this affected me too much; I was, of course, mad at the Nazis and sad for the Jews, but that never really meant anything outside of the history class.  But then, being in Israel, it meant something totally different and not just because you may see a man or woman with their number tattooed to their arm walking down the street or because your friend’s grandparents were murdered by Nazis.  It has to mean something totally different because during the Holocaust, when the Jews were being targeted and Israel was not yet a state, the Jews were cut off from coming to the land of Israel.  It was forbidden from them through White Papers restricting Jewish immigration and while some made it, million and millions did not.

There have been many controversial comments about Jews not fighting back and if they had had guns it wouldn’t have happened and whatever – what I have learned this past week is that many did fight back, within their ghettos and in the camps. Today it is a very proud thing in Israel for the Jews to be able to defend themselves as a people for the first time in thousands of years.  As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “The purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future. That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, against any threat.”

Tel Aviv Museum of Art

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

This experience was valuable for a number of reason – from preparing me to live independently after graduation and exercising my mind in learning a new language to making new friends I would not have otherwise met and testing the relationships I have a home with such a distance.  Since coming back to the US, I have continued to engage in Israel advocacy and study Hebrew.  I have accepted a job offer with an international consulting firm and plan to pursue the opportunity to work in their Herzaliya office, just north of Tel Aviv.  After going to Israel, I feel much more connected the people I before knew nothing abou t.  I now understand the conflict in the Middle East so much better and am more prepared to recognize and fight bias, be it Anti-Semitic, Anti-Islamic or Anti-Eastern.  I believe that this study abroad has set the tone in which I desire to live my life.  I look forward to returning to Israel soon and learning more about such an entangled part of our world.

 

For more information, check out the blog I kept while I was there: A Studying Broad Tumblr

Service Learning and Cultural Exchange in Ecuador

Alli Puncha Mashi!

Good Morning Friend!

Nukaka  Lauren Esselburn shutimi kani.

My name is Lauren Esselburn.

STEP Project: Study Abroad

Through my STEP Signature Project I was able to participate in the Youth Engagement and Service-Learning: Partnership with University of Cuenca, Ecuador study abroad program. Through this program I had the opportunity to engage in cultural exchange and broaden my perspectives of the world by assisting in teaching English in a 3rd grade classroom and completing community defined service projects.

New Perspective of My Identity:

From the very beginning of this program, the ways in which I perceive my identity began to change. As a prerequisite of the study abroad program I had to take a Leadership in Community Service course during my spring semester at Ohio State. Through this course we studied how identity plays a part in community service, both ours and the people being served. As a part of this course I had a service placement at the Northern Lights Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library where I would go each week to put what I was learning in the course into practice. During my time at this placement I began to gain new perspectives about the privilege of my identity as a white, English speaking American. Many times as I assisted students in the Homework Help Center I found that their homework assignments were not supportive of their need for additional English language support. As I worked with these students I began to think about the privilege that knowing the English language holds not only in the U.S., but around the world.

Embarking on the actual trip to Ecuador, I wasn’t sure how my knowledge from the Leadership in Community Service course and how wrestling with my identity was going to look on the trip. Was my perspective of my identity truly going to change just because I left my own country? It wasn’t long after we arrived at the airport in Quito, Ecuador that I found out the answer to that question would be yes! Shortly upon arriving to Quito I went to order some food at a coffee stand in the airport and I, mostly out of habit, somewhat out of privilege, began speaking English to the woman running the stand. We both awkwardly smiled as she replied to me in Spanish, asking if I could speak Spanish. Cutting myself a break and realizing that this was my first time out of the country I quickly settled on the fact that it was just my initial reaction. But as the trip progressed I began to realize the privilege I have knowing English within the context of traveling to a new country. Being a white, English speaking American in another country shows a lot about your privileged identity. For example, many times on this trip people automatically associated us this tourism, instead of service learning. I even got asked if we were going to the Galapagos Islands while in the airport by a flight attendant. While Cuenca, Ecuador catered a lot to tourism, I experienced many situations where my privilege was not catered to, but almost brought annoyance to the people around me. When I went into to stores or restaurants people would get very annoyed when my Spanish was poor. I remember wishing that everyone could speak English so that it would be easier for me. Now isn’t that a privileged thought! I also remember thinking before I left for the trip that as long as I knew a level of conversational Spanish I should be fine because I was sure other people would be able to speak at least conversational English. Gaining new perspectives on my identity as a white, English speaking American really pushed me and challenged me on this trip. This trip and these experiences gave me a new perspective that even thought my identity comes with privileges that I can experience both in and outside the U.S., that doesn’t mean I have to expect people to cater to me, even though many places in the world are forced to do. This also doesn’t mean that just because I benefit from the privileges of my identity that I have any less responsibility while traveling to respect the people and culture of the areas I am visiting, whether visiting through tourism or through service learning.

As I was going through this program I also gained a new perspective surrounding my identity as a woman. Many times in the Leadership in Community Service course we talked about how woman often don’t see their identity as a group that experiences oppression. In my case, I often struggled to see my identity as a woman as unprivileged mostly because I often felt so privileged by my other identities. Through my time in Ecuador however, I began to see how my identity as a woman is an unprivileged group and that no matter where you are in the world women can and have experienced this oppression in very similar ways. During one of our community defined service projects we served and visited Maria Armor, a safe place and refugee for women and children who have experienced domestic violence and abuse.

Group picture at Casa de Maria Amor, a refuge and safe place for women and children who have experienced domestic violence.

Group picture at Casa de Maria Amor, a refuge and safe place for women and children who have experienced domestic violence.

While serving and touring this facility I was amazed at all that they do there and disheartened at the high level of need for this facility in Ecuador. While we see and hear in the U.S. about many similar situations we often have many different avenues for seeking help during or after experiencing domestic violence and abuse. Maria Amor however, is a very special facility for Ecuador and is very important to the community of Cuenca. While we were there one of the directors of the facility told us that 7 out of 10 women in Ecuador experience domestic violence and/or abuse. That number truly shocked me and made me realize the high level of oppression that women face in Ecuador. At the same time it made me take a new perspective on my own identity as a woman and made me think about how I experience oppression through this identity even if it’s not in the same way other women do.  Upon returning to the U.S. these new perspectives on my identity have offered a lot of light into situations happening in our own culture that I may not have been open to understanding before going through this program.

New Perspective of the World:

The focus of this study abroad program on cultural exchange really allowed me to experience a new perspective of the world and learn from the people I encountered. During the Leadership in Community Service course we learned about intercultural competence, meaning the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in a variety of cultural contexts (Reitenauer, Cress, & Bennett, 2013, p. 68).  While I got to practice this through my service site at Northern Lights, I really never adapted a new perspective. Through serving Unidad Educativa Quilloac, the school in Quilloac, Ecuador, I was able to gain a new perspective of the world through cultural exchange and was able to practice what it means to have intercultural competence. Even though I struggled to communicate through language my group members and I were able to communicate through a variety of other cultural avenues. For example, on the first day we decided we wanted to play Duck, Duck, Goose with the kids during free time. So one of my co-teachers began to try and explain it to the kids and the kids immediately go Pato, Pato, Ganso!

Playing Pato, Pato, Ganso with our students during free time!

Playing Pato, Pato, Ganso with our students during free time!

The kids knew the game and they loved it so much that we continued to play it every day for the remainder of our time there. It was so amazing to see how we could still communicate and make cultural connections with the kids and build relationships without really needing a similar language. This was really the beginning of how my perspective of the world began to change. I believe my initial assumption about leaving the U.S. was that everything was going to be extremely different, but so often on this trip I found comfort and joy in the similarities, which really gave me room to learn about the differences between cultures. By finding similarities between cultures and being open to learn about the differences, this experience gave me a new perspective that the world is a balance of comparison and experience that doesn’t require an answer or explanation.

The part of cultural exchange that I enjoyed the most was being able to learn from our classroom teacher Rosa, who taught us about their language of Kichwa. It was so amazing to take the learning side of cultural exchange and to be able to just sit and interact with the students as we learned. A lot of the students even wanted to help us learn and did not hesitate to correct us when we were wrong. The students were also very excited to learn about our culture and they loved learning the Itsy Bitsy Spider in English and in Spanish. This experience reinforced my belief in the power of learning from others and gave me a new perspective on the world that people want to learn from one another and value the opportunity to tell their own cultural narratives.

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Kali, a student from our 3rd grade classroom correcting my spelling of a word in Kichwa.

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I am learning how to say numbers 1-5 in Kichwa. (Shuk , Ishkay , Kimsa , Chusku , Pichka). Photo taken by the teacher of the 3rd grade classroom, Rosa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing I didn’t think about until I experienced it on this trip was the idea of cultural disconnect, where as we were engaging in cultural exchange we would have some areas within our cultures that we could exchange but not be able to truly understand. For example, on the last day of our service the school and the community wanted to honor us with a healing ceremony. As the leader explained what each aspect of the ceremony was portraying, it was still very hard for me to understand what the purpose of the ceremony was or what each symbol truly meant to them in their culture. After experiencing that however, I feel that the importance of this area of cultural exchange was not to try to understand it all, but to respectfully participate and appreciate the value that this holds in their community. Cultural exchange and experiences may not always reveal clarity in understanding or knowledge learned, but it gives you the opportunity and privilege to experience something that is completely outside your own world, to experience someone else’s world and give them the voice and power that allows you to do so.

Our 3rd grade class from the Unidad Educativa Quilloac in Quilloac, Ecuador.

Our 3rd grade class from the Unidad Educativa Quilloac in Quilloac, Ecuador.

New Perspective for the Future:

The change in my perspectives through my experiences on this trip has so much value for my life and future goals, both personally and professionally. It has always been a dream of mine to travel the world and immerse myself in cultures different from my own. So this trip was a first step in that journey for me! From the new perspectives I gained on this trip I got to practice the skills needed to engage in cultural exchange in a way that provides learning and gives voice to both sides of the exchange. Through the challenges I experienced related to language, I feel a new sense of responsibility when it comes to preparing for trips and acquiring a good sense of the language and how it works culturally. As I went through this trip I also believe that I learned a lot about the role identity plays in traveling abroad, but also what role it plays in any situation of cultural disconnects or differences. This trip truly equipped me with a beginning perspective on how to be true to my own culture while experiencing and immersing myself in a culture different from my own.

Professionally, this trip opened my eyes to the differences and similarities in education in different parts of the world. It has always been a professional goal of mine to teach abroad and this trip really offered me a new perspective on how that may transpire and gave me thoughts about what kind of challenges I may encounter by doing so. Overall, I believe this trip opened a door for me to be more willing to take my new perspectives and continue to do the work of learning from others, giving voice to those who don’t have a voice in our world. This trip let me see the value of allowing other people to tell their own stories of their cultures and what it means to set assumptions and stereotypes aside. I hope to continue in this work as an overwhelmed explorer who perseveres with joy through the challenges that come with identity, cultural exchange, and disconnects.

Hiking at Cajas National Park

Hiking at Cajas National Park

Standing over the equator at the equator museum in Quito, Ecuador.

Standing over the equator at the equator museum in Quito, Ecuador.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

Reitenauer, V., Cress, C., Bennett, J. (2013). Creating Cultural Connections: Navigating Difference, Investigating Power, Unpacking Privilege. Learning Through Serving (p. 67-79). Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing.

Buck-i-Serv and the OAC Costa Rica trip January 2016

 

With the money I received from STEP, I went on a ten day backpacking and service trip in Costa Rica. The first half of the trip focused on hiking and getting to know the local people by staying in homestays. We also participated in service activities along the way such as painting a school in Uvita, Costa Rica.

While I had been on service trips prior to my time in Costa Rica, this was the first time I participated without knowing anyone. I was really nervous going into it but established strong connections right away due to the format of the trip. It made me realize that going out on my own in other areas of my life is very doable and I should dive in to other opportunities. It also showed me that the best way to connect with others—even through a language barrier—is through face to face contact. We were without phones and most technology which allowed us to be present and in tune with one another throughout the entire trip.

I became more confident and ready to try new things after my backpacking experience in Costa Rica and I felt my worldview shift as well. I have traveled in Central America before, but never been immersed in a culture like I was in Costa Rica. We stayed with families who were a part of a network of households that gave student groups like ours places to stay while they traveled. Because of this, we were lucky enough to get to know several families along the way, each of which shared their culture and language with us. We learned how to make cheese, how to harvest sugar, where the best parts of the river to swim were, and even how to slaughter a chicken. I think I had assumptions about the trip and the region before I went but having the opportunity to get to know the local people and live with them showed me just how valuable sharing different cultures with each other is.

There were several aspects during my trip that allowed me to feel a positive shift in my life. There were moments that challenged me both physically and mentally on my trip to Costa Rica. The main elements that contributed to the importance of my trip were going out of my comfort zone socially, on adventure excursions, and having the opportunity to immerse myself in the Costa Rican culture.

A major challenge for me before ever leaving for Costa Rica was coming into a new group of people without knowing anyone at all. There were a few people who knew each other a little bit, but mostly we all signed up for the trip by ourselves. We had meetings before to learn about the trip and get to know one another, but nothing can really prepare you for ten days with strangers. While I was nervous to introduce myself and was pretty quiet at first, I quickly opened up because of our trip. During the hiking duration of our trip, everyone bonded very quickly because of the unique circumstances we were under. It taught me not to be afraid to go out on a limb and be more outgoing in other parts of my life and I definitely noticed a change in myself when I returned home. I noticed that I was more talkative during my day to day life at home like in class or meeting people at work. Costa Rica made me a more confident and outgoing person overall.

Beyond meeting new people, the adventure aspect of the trip as well as learning about the local culture made me more confident. We backpacked, went repelling, rafting, showered in a river, and did so many other things I would have never had the opportunity to do at home. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone was essential to making the most of this trip, and I would not know how much I love most of those things without my time in Costa Rica. A lot of our time was spent interacting and living with local families as well. We stayed with our guides’ friends and families who opened their homes, fed us, and taught us things like harvesting sugar and making cheese. It was awesome to get to know people from Costa Rica as closely as another trip would not have allowed us to do so. The hospitality and importance of family was truly amazing to see and definitely contributed to the shift I felt after the trip of feeling more confident and accepted.

Trying to describe what my trip to Costa Rica meant to me is next to impossible in four paragraphs. To try and sum it up I vividly remember a moment of reflection I had on our longest hike of 8 miles. We stopped and took a break and I had been thinking about my previous year, one that had not been easy (part of the reason I wanted to go on this trip in the first place). I looked around at the mountains and lush green jungle surrounding me and felt so small, but in such a way where it was comforting. I felt at peace and really happy and confident in my decision to spend the first part of 2016 off the grid in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Without the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica with the funds from STEP I would not have made the strides I did to become a more confident, happier person.

After returning from Costa Rica my future goals of law school and working in a nonprofit one day were solidified for me. I had a lot of time while hiking to reflect on what I want to do with school and knew I was on the right path as an English major.

A real example of this is when I was awarded a trip to New York City to a Human Rights conference and film festival through the department of English. We often get emails detailing opportunities for students to apply to and I never applied because I thought I would not get them anyway. Shortly after returning home for Costa Rica, I realized I had nothing to lose and applied for the trip to New York. Without the confidence and “Why not?” mentality I gained in Costa Rica I would have never applied and been able to go to an eye opening conference, film festival, and site see all for no cost to me. My backpacking trip in Costa Rica has opened up other educational opportunities for me because of a newfound level of self-assuredness in my goals.

CR3 CR5

A Semester at the University of Westminster

My STEP FullSizeRender (2)signature project was a semester-long study abroad program in London. I spent the semester taking classes the University of Westminster, a school in central London, and exploring the UK and  Europe. Spending an entire semester in another country meant that I had to learn to be much more independent and rely on myself a lot more than I had in the past. I went in to the program knowing no one since my program was through Arcadia University, not Ohio State. Also I could not just call home or text a friend for help with something because international cell phone rates are insane. Instead, I had to problem solve on my own or with people I had just met in London. This also meant that I learned I could do a lot more on my own than I had known before. Things like finding my way around a city I had never been to before or planning trips to other countries were just a couple things I had never done at home. Being in London was a sort of trial by fire in terms of how well I could handle living somewhere completely new all on my own.

Studying in London also gave me the opportunity to see how higher education in another country works, and in the end I gained a much greater appreciation for the US college system as well as Ohio State. In the UK, students have to choose their major immediately, and it is virtually impossible to change it. They take classes with the same students for the three years they are undergraduates. I have three minors, so I cannot imagine being able to only study one topic for my entire university career. How students are assessed is very different as well. Instead of having assignments throughout the semester, there are maybe one or two papers or exams that make up your entire grade. The difficulty of these assignments really was not much different than what I have experienced at OSU, and overall I think that I like having more assignments because it is easier to keep track of how much I have actually learned. These differences were not really positive or negative, just different what I have experienced at OSU, but they did make me appreciate the nature of US college education.

There were many experiences and people that contributed to these changes in me and in my perspective on education. One of the things that helped gain the most independence and confidence in myself was how the study abroad coordinators expected us to get around the city. The first full day I was in London, they handed us very poorly detailed maps of a section of the city, a map of the tube, and told us to be back in 7-8 hours. At this point, everyone had known each other for about 12 hours and no one had any cell data. So using Google maps was impossible. But we made it work and managed to navigate around without getting too lost. We were back to the study abroad office in time for orientation. At first, it was a little scary being let loose in an unknown city, but as the day went on it got a lot easier. Obviously, I was not totally confident in my ability to get around the city after just that one day, but it definitely made it much easier to keep going out into the city on my own. After the first couple weeks,FullSizeRender (3) I had no problem getting around London. I am so glad the study abroad coordinators sent us out on our own that first day because it really helped set the tone for my entire semester.

Another experience that influenced my whole experience was being able in Europe very easily. Two of the places I went were Amsterdam and Paris. I went to both over the course of ten days with two friends I had met in London. We were surprised at how easy it is to go between countries and how easily we found our way around. Amsterdam is a much smaller city than London or Paris, so walking everywhere was no problem. We were able to see so many interesting places like the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. Paris was more difficult to navigate, but we were able to figure out the Metro and get around with ease, seeing iconic sights like Notre Dame and the Louvre. Simply being able to plan a trip like that and then actually go do it is something that does not really happen at home because it is so much more difficult and expensive to travel in the US. It was awesome to be able to trust the planning I had done and trust my ability to navigate in another country, and it really helped boost my independence.

With respects to education, the people that influenced that changed in perception were some of the professors I had in my classes. Hearing them talk about the differences in the education systems and actually seeing them play out helped me to appreciate how college is in the US. Two classes had group presentations, which in the US is hardly notable. It is just like any other assignment, but in these classes we spend significant time talking about what makes a good presentation. Talking to my professors later, they told me that almost none of the UK students to any sort of presentation in school until they get to the university level. They also said that the study abroad students always have the best presentations. I have never like public speaking, and I am never excited to see that I will have to present in a class. However, over the years I have gotten much better at presenting simply because I have had to do it so often. Before London, I had not realized how much my presenting skills have improved, but seeing how much the UK students struggled with presenting showed me how practice really does pay off. My professors also commented on how they wished local students had more practice with it because public speaking is such an important skill. Now I also have a greater appreciation for all those presentations I have had to give and for the US university system in general.

Since going to London, a lot has changed and many of these changes have been in me and the way I view the world. My greater independence and self-reliance as well as appreciation for Ohio State and US education are just a small part of this. Just because these changes are very specific and developed in the context of study abroad does not mean that these changes will only affect me in similar circumstances. They can be generalized beyond where they originated. Being more independent than before means that I will be able to do trust in my own abilities more, be it in exploring somewhere new or deciding where I want to go to graduate school. As I have been looking into graduate programs, I have expanded my search much further in terms of distance than I had planned on. After London, I know that physical distance f20160224_153821393_iOSrom home really will not be a hindrance to my success. Even before London, I had planned on working in the education system in some capacity. Now that I am back and have developed a greater appreciation for the system as a whole, this decision has only been further cemented. Getting to live in London for five months was a great opportunity, and I am so glad I was able to go. The things I have learned and the experiences I had will continue to influence me, even now that I am back home again.

Global May Britain: A month in London

In May 2016, STEP gave me an amazing chance to study abroad in Great Britain. For four weeks, I lived in central London and studied British history, politics, and culture while taking the Arts and Sciences 2798.03 class Global May Britain. Four times a week, I and other thirty-nine students from the US had morning lectures at Anglo-American Educational Services Study Center and then afternoon excursions at various famous historical an20160509_164713d cultural sites in London. I also traveled to a couple of big British cities like Liverpool and Edinburgh and made a lot of new fiends.

This month abroad has changed my perception of diversity and European cultures a lot. Before going to London, I imagined Great Britain as a pretty conservative thousand-years-old country with strict etiquette and traditions represented by predominantly white nation. However, from the very first day British cities were impressing me with their huge diversity and proving that my images of old and wealthy European countries were outdated. I have realized that social and cultural diversity is more than just a feature of big American cities – this is the image of a perfect world recognized by many developed countries nowadays.

As soon as I arrived to Heathrow airport in London, I realized how wrong I was when imagining Britain as a predominantly white country. In the airport, in the underground, on the streets, and even in the supermarket, I was surrounded by people of all colors, clothes, and languages. Kilburn, where I lived in London, was a mostly Muslim area with busy street markets and friendly people. Our class had a walking tour around bright and vibrant Brixton – the home of thousands of Afro-Caribbean emigrants since early 20th century; and of course, London Chinatown located in Soho was my favorite place to walk, have food, and enjoy the busy night life. London and other big cities I visited during my stay in Britain turned out to be as bright and diverse as New York and other huge cities in the US.

I learned a lot about British history, politics, and culture at our lectures and excursions in London. We were talking about the rise of British Colonial Empire, the kings and queens, and development of quintessentially British traditions. However, we also discussed the multiple waves of emigration to London and all British Isles, the age of slavery, and racial riots in the 20th century. We read a lot of literature describing the life and struggles of separate ethnic groups in different periods of British history. At our classes, I have realized that Britain also has spent a lot of time and effort to build a diverse and harmonic society.

However, the greatest surprise for me was to learn at our excursion to London Tower that although all generations of kings and queens till today had pledged to protect the Anglican church, Prince Charles who was supposed to become the next British king was going to pledge to all churches and religions in Great Britain. For centuries, the monarch has been the head of Anglican church and this important tradition will be saved, but the twenty-first century monarchs realize the necessity to recognize other religions as well. It is fascinating to see how in Great Britain old traditions are mixed with new ideas to create a harmonic and diverse society.

When going to study abroad in London, I hoped to see a different life-style and immerse myself in a different culture bIMG1711839710ecause I thought this would help me better understand my patients especially foreigners when I become a doctor in the future. However, this trip to Great Britain has taught me much more than just to understand foreign cultures – it has created an absolutely new picture of a perfect world for me. Now I believe that every place can be bright, diverse, and welcoming for everyone while saving its unique traditions and features. In the future, where ever I go and whatever I do I want to create such environment around me and I believe that my new foreign friends will help me with this.

I also have a blog describing my adventures in London https://u.osu.edu/wiseadvicefromchristina/

The Bonn Program: A Semester in Germany

From March to July 2016, I participated in the Junior Year Program at Bonn University in Bonn, Germany. During my five months abroad, I continued studying the German language, history, and culture to complete my major alongside both international and native students.

Studying at a foreign university in Bonn, Germany for an entire semester could most likely be categorized as the most adventurous and nerve-wracking decision I have ever made. As a self-described homebody, I was completely overwhelmed by the transition and had rather a rocky start. However, throughout the course of the five months, I noticed a dramatic change within myself, my confidence, and my ability to connect with others. This was a new level of independence and I was suddenly faced with a very important choice of how I wanted to spend my time abroad: either allow myself to remain closed off because of fear and nerves or really try to push myself out of my normal comfort zone to truly make this experience worthwhile. I decided to take advantage of opportunities and also spend time with other students from both the US and other countries. I noticed that I became more courageous when it came to traveling, confident when practicing my German, and outgoing when meeting new people. My time in Germany emphasized the importance of pursuing my aspirations and showed me that I am capable of taking charge of opportunities.

My personal growth in independence and confidence stemmed from becoming involved in the Bonn University and city community and from finding ways to immerse myself in the culture. Through finding activities and ways to challenge myself, I felt less like a temporary study abroad student and more like a thriving citizen of Bonn. I found new ways to practice my German outside of class, including having weekly speaking meet-ups with two native German students to practice my German while they practiced their English. These meetings not only served as an excellent learning experience, but also as a way to create connections outside of my study abroad program. I also enrolled in a native-level University class about sexuality in the media. The weekly readings and class discussions challenged me to learn new vocabulary and prepared me to write a final graded paper in German.

Within my specific study abroad program, I formed friendships with other students through traveling outside of Germany together and spending time outside of class exploring the city of Bonn I pushed myself to work hard in my classes specifically designed for study abroad students and successfully gave three presentations in German. At Ohio State, I work as a fitness instructor at the university recreational centers. In need of a way to fulfill my workout craving, I joined a weekly indoor cycling class through the Bonn University gym. I also signed up to be paired up with a “Bonn Buddy,” or a helpful guide to aid me in my transition to the university and life in Bonn. I created a close bond with my Buddy, Katharina, and even traveled with her during a break in the semester. Outside of the university, I volunteered with a nearby Catholic church to help teach an introductory German class to refugees resettled in Bonn. Through this experience, I learned to use my German in a new way and collaborated with a native German to create a weekly lesson plan.

Throughout my semester abroad, I made the most of the outlined program that I had signed up for. However, I also took part in various extracurriculars and opportunities of immersion which catapulted me outside the basic study abroad program and made it a truly personal experience for me. I used the resources given to me to create an identity in Bonn and home for myself for five months. With a busy schedule of enriching experiences and strong connections, my homesickness and nerves lessened greatly. I became more excited to discover how I could maximize my short time abroad and less worried about the possible negative outcomes or what I would be missing out on at home in the USA. I slowly grew into a global citizen who is  now excited by a challenge and ready to chase new opportunities.

I now about to begin my senior at Ohio State University, which is naturally a time of transition and important decisions. I will be completing degrees in both German and Strategic Communications and preparing for life after university. My personal transformation I underwent in Germany has helped me become more excited for what lies ahead instead of fearful for the future. I also have a newfound interest in working for an international office as a study abroad coordinator at a university after I graduate. My study abroad experience created such a positive change within my perspective of myself and what I am capable of. I would be thrilled to serve as a resource and guide to students searching for a similar opportunity or way to grow as a global citizen. I look forward to continuing to lead my life with ambition, fearlessness, and a craving for adventure.

 

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Sheila Smith

London Theatre Study Abroad

Our flat in Conway Hall overlooked Waterloo Road and Waterloo Station

Our flat in Conway Hall overlooked Waterloo Road and Waterloo Station

For my STEP Signature Project I participated in the London Theatre Study Abroad Program. During our month long visit, we were required to keep a thorough journal of our experiences, whether it be performances we saw, museums we went to, parks we strolled through, or restaurants we dined in, an entry was required. All together we saw 24 performances, I saw two on my own, and completed our assigned Learning London Menu experiences—ranging from parks & gardens to places of worship & palaces.

Westminster Abbey's Court Yard

Westminster Abbey’s Court Yard

Of the many plays we saw, museums we visited, restaurants we ate in, tube rides we took the three most important experiences of my London Theatre Study Abroad were my meeting with Dr. Richard Hougham at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, my meeting with Dr. Anna Seymour at the University of Roehampton and attending Groundhog Day: The Musical.

The Hampstead Theatre Fountain, across the street and over a hill from Royal Central

The Hampstead Theatre Fountain, across the street and over a hill from Royal Central

After I visited two of the four universities I am considering for my masters in drama therapy, I decided that I would need at least a year between completing my undergraduate degree and starting my graduate degree. Both Dr. Hougham and Dr. Seymour recommended that I take time off so I can experience the world as a person and not a student. It is common for recent graduates in Europe to take a gap year before attending university because the experiences available to individuals being out in the world can help inform what they decide to study. The areas of drama therapy that I have experience in, mainly children with autism are more developed than treatments for adults with, for example, mood disorders. As drama therapy is more popular in the United Kingdom than it is in the United States I need to broaden my horizons to more diverse populations. Drama therapy programs for adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia do not exist in the U.S. but they do in the U.K. and thanks to my meetings I now know that I will need to work with these populations before applying to either program.

Visiting these graduate schools also revealed some innate characteristics of myself that I wasn’t aware of. I thought London would be too overwhelming as a place to live, both of these universities are in London, but I was surprised how quickly I found my way in the nonsensical streets and sprawling neighborhoods. Since University of Roehampton resides more on the outskirts of London I figured I would feel more at peace there. Whether it was the professor I met with or the school or neighborhood itself, Roehampton did not feel right to me in the same way that Royal Central did. Being more in central London, Royal Central feels like a faster paced place and I was not expecting to feel comfortable in that environment, but it suited me. Even though the curriculum moves quicker and the people speak at speed, I had no issue keeping up—whereas at Roehampton it felt like I was digging my heels through sand trying not to move too far ahead. I guess I do not prefer small towns and suburbs as much as I thought I did, another realization I would not have had without this trip to London.

The stage at the end of Groundhog Day: The Musical

The stage at the end of Groundhog Day: The Musical

To change gears rather dramatically, Groundhog Day: The Musical transformed me more than I would like to admit. I have typically enjoyed musicals, despite not performing in many myself, but never loved seeing them because I find the lyrics difficult to understand and there typically isn’t much of a plot. Perhaps the low expectations I held walking into the Old Vic allowed me to enjoy this particular show. Theatre can do so much as long as the audience is willing to suspend their disbelief and embrace the story they are being told. I am glad I did just that, because I felt a change in my soul after the shows final song “Seeing You.”

The only song from the musical that I can find on YouTube, thankfully, is “Seeing You,” and I am happy to report that it still makes me cry even out of context of the emotional rollercoaster of a musical. Without getting into too many personal details I can say that song brought up many of the choices I know I’ll have to make this coming year and reassured me that I am doing what is best for me. Some of these choices have already taken place and I am lighter and freer to be myself because of them. Listening to the lyrics themselves again I cannot pull out which part of the song made me feel all the feels but it doesn’t matter because music is magical that way. That song, that performance, gave me the conviction and strength I needed to move into this next intimidating chapter of my life. I am more sure of theatre’s power to help and heal than ever and am on the right path to make my dreams a reality.