My STEP 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, 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 from 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.