Engineering the Castles and Cathedrals of England and Wales: My Study Abroad Experience

My STEP project was a study abroad trip to England and Wales, which was my very first trip overseas. As one might guess from the trip’s title, the group was comprised of mostly engineers. Each of us researched different sites in either England or Wales and the aspects of engineering and history that affected their construction and duration. From the day we landed, we, the students, were the tour guides. Researching a site enough to know how to give an hour long tour was a challenge for me, but ended up being so rewarding. It was so valuable to teach myself about what we were seeing, in addition to learning from my peers about their sites and how our research all tied together.

When I signed up for this trip, I knew that my first study abroad would be an amazing and impactful experience—everyone raves about being abroad! And the sites we were going to see were full of such rich history. I couldn’t wait. Of course, the trip was fantastic; the castles and cathedrals were magnificently astounding, the culture and the people were unique and fascinating, and history had had a hand in every place we saw. These were my assumptions that proved themselves true. But there were also unexpected conclusions I reached while on the trip. One of those assumptions was that Wales wasn’t the important part of the tour. I had seen “England” in the title of the study abroad and was sold. I was so excited for London, York, Salisbury, and the other English sites, but Wales, for me, seemed to just be a stop along the way. This assumption about an entire country to which I had never been could not have been more wrong. Wales turned out to be my favorite part of the trip—I experienced a culture, a language, and a nation that I had never seen as interesting, and it changed me. Wales was a country full of small towns, sheep, and breathtaking mountains, and these small Welsh towns and the people in them impacted me and my worldly perspective more than they will ever know.

The most important factor in making my experience so invaluable was the group of Ohio State students that I travelled with. Since I’ve gotten home, I’ve said over and over, “You can go see the most fantastic sites in the world with a group of people that’s barely average, and it will still be a good experience. But I got to see the most fantastic sites in the world with 26 people that became my best friends, and that experience will be life-changing.” And every time I repeated it to a friend or family member that asks about the trip, I meant it. The people I met within my group were a positive force of perspective and curiosity that drove my interactions with the Welsh people and the towns in which we stayed.

The amazing thing about Ohio State is that students are always so genuinely interested in getting to know each other, so I had anticipated walking away with a few new friends. But even our trip director admitted at the end of the trip that we were like no group of students he’s ever seen on a study abroad. Within our first half hour in the airport, we had gathered together and were playing ice breakers of our own accord. We would stick together for our free time. Everyone made a constant effort at including and getting to know every single person in the group. And on the last morning, we figured out the only time we could all have our one last meal together, and rolled out of bed at 6:30 for our final group breakfast. Not a day has gone by since our trip that our group hasn’t been in touch, and we already have elaborate plans to reconnect in the fall.

I never knew that traveling could be such a valuable tool for bringing people together. But learning about other cultures together, making friends with locals together, and hiking up mountains together forged a connection with these people that will not be soon forgotten. The diversity of the group’s backgrounds combined with our mutual passions to learn from our trip and from each other were the catalysts that made my STEP experience the life-changing one that it was. After only three weeks, I had met and befriended some of the greatest people I have ever met, who, in that short time, helped me to grow and change as a person experiencing the world.

The reason that this transformation is valuable to me is multi-faceted. For one, I know I’ll be friends with this group for the rest of my life, and that’s something I never anticipated having at the end of this trip. Second, these people taught me to be open-minded, to be accepting, to immerse yourself wherever you are, and to never pass up the opportunity to try something new. Finally, together we learned that the world can surprise you, that the places that aren’t on everyone’s “destination list” are often the ones that will teach you the most about yourself and about the world. In a way, many people look at life with a “destination list” perspective, with weddings, new jobs, graduations, and having kids as our ideal destinations, the biggest stops along the way. And while the places we know we want to go will be valuable moments in our lives, we have to remember that even at the times where you don’t expect it to be, life can be educational, wonderful, and powerful.

Don’t worry, we’re already planning our Spring Break trip to Caernarfon, Wales for next year.

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for a video of my experience: https://vimeo.com/129748053

Annie Greer, May 2015