My STEP Signature Project consisted of a study abroad trip called The British Invasion. I spent two weeks in Columbus learning about British pop music of the 60s, as well as the socio-cultural influences and interactions that occurred between the U.S. and Great Britain during this time. The second two weeks of May were spent traveling in London and Liverpool, England, which allowed me to see the iconic music and cultural monuments that we spent many days learning about.
During my study abroad experience I learned a lot about the cultural differences between the past and present in regards to music and expression. I love music and I always have, but before this class I never really stopped to think about how has music changed and how has it been shaped by the events of the world. I just assumed that people wrote songs based on how they felt at the moment or about a trendy topic of the time. While sometimes this is true, I also learned that songwriting and the creation of music is so multi-faceted. Every major event, time of heartache or new band created, can lead to a new song or even a new genre of music. What I learned during my four weeks of study is that music is an outlet for the most complex interactions of the human race. It was amazing to see that Blues artists from the Deep South directly influenced the works of teen pop bands from Great Britain. This made me realize just how small our world really is, because even in an age where cell service and texting and high-speed internet didn’t exist, people were still able to find others that inspired them and use this intercultural connection to breakdown barriers to become innovative artists and positive change makers.
This realization and the deepening love I began to feel for the connection between music and culture has taught me to open my eyes and see the possibilities that are available for me, personally. If The Beatles could hear about Muddy Waters in the early 1960s and use his soul and musical passion to spark their incredibly successful career, why can’t I reach out across the ocean and find something that inspires me? The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and every other band that crossed over to American stardom also brought with them messages of love and peace and cooperation. They started, or at least supported, movements that helped give recognition to black musicians, movements that supported equality and love, movements that wanted to stop wars and so much more. Their ability to connect internationally with other and share their beliefs has changed my view of the world today. This class taught me that it’s okay to fight for something you believe in and its okay to pursue your passions and its okay to be different and its okay to connect with others around the world.
Many things I experienced in both the classroom setting and during my travels abroad solidified my transformation. First and foremost was my interaction with and exposure to new students. Going into this program I knew no one. I found out along the way that I had some mutual friends with a few of my peers on the trip but for the most part, these were fresh new faces to me. To many people, not knowing a single person that you’ll be spending two weeks abroad with seems scary, but I was excited. I knew that I could be an open book, a clean slate, with these people. I knew that they could teach me something or expose me to new things, and I was right. Being surrounded by 21 strangers allowed me to be open to new stories, ideas, opinions and backgrounds. Only 4 people in our class were music majors but talking to them gave me a whole new perspective on college. Very few of our academic experiences such as general electives and major class requirements, overlapped until this trip. While I was in a chemistry lab, they were practicing every instrument that the music school owns, trying to become a master in each musical section. This was very special to me. I used the differences that I noticed to help me gain a better understanding of the musical world. These 4 music majors were some of the most intelligent and history-savvy students I’ve ever met. When I wanted more information about a band or a musical movement or even the meter and tempo of a song, I went to them. They became my source of extra knowledge and I can’t thank them enough for listening to my questions and for engaging me in musical conversation. Without them, I would not have gained nearly the same amount of insight as I did from this class.
The second experience that shaped my transformation was simply being in England and comparing the different English and American cultures. London felt a lot like the States, which makes sense if you think about it. London has the big city feel like LA or NYC, they speak English, there are many of the same department stores and so much more. However, these large scale similarities allowed me to pay more attention to minute differences. I noticed that although they have very few available public trashcans, they also had minimal litter and garbage on the street. I noticed that their population of overweight or obese people was extremely small. I noticed that being loud and wild on the tube was not acceptable and that if an elderly or handicapped person comes onto your train, you give up your seat immediately. These things may seem unrelated to my transformation, but in fact, they are not. These small details reminded me that different lifestyles, customs and social norms exist. They reminded me that the American way isn’t the only way. Sometimes it’s easy to become ethnocentric but being exposed to different cultures helps me to learn and grow. By being exposed to culturally diverse areas, I can learn different approaches to problems, different ways to have relationships with others, different ways to be a good person. London and Liverpool gave me a new outlook on connecting with others, especially others who different than me.
The final aspect of my experience abroad that shaped my transformation was learning more about past and present fights for freedom. While studying music, we also touched on civil rights, voting rights, the slave trade and so many other social justice movements. Getting a more in depth knowledge about these events was troubling because of their inherently inhumane nature, but also empowering. Seeing musicians help social rights activists overcome oppression, and vice versa, made me think a lot about the kind of change I want to make in the world. I want to do something positive and beneficial for the world and this class gave me a little extra confidence that I’ll use to achieve this. If people like The Beatles, and Martin Luther King, and the whole crew at Woodstock could make a statement that the whole world heard, who’s to say I can’t do the same? As my friend Emily so wisely said while we were walking around London, “the world is your oyster”, and I couldn’t agree more. I can do anything that I set my mind to. All I need is support, drive, passion, and maybe a little bit of music along the way.
I feel as though my transformation after this class was very broad – and I think that is a good thing. The new things that I learned from this experience can be applied to every aspect of my life. Becoming more culturally and personally aware can help me interact with new students, teachers, employers and friends who may have different backgrounds than me. Learning that music can connect almost any two people was amazing to see and I’m sure that I will use that in the future as well. Whether it is with networking, dating, working with clients or presenting new research findings, music could be a great, internationally accepted, form of communication and bondage. And finally, becoming more connected with the past will help me plan for the future. After getting a lot of insight about musical and social changes over the years, I can see myself working to avoid repeating mistakes and also use the successful techniques that I learned to make a positive change in today’s world. This experience was incredibly valuable to me and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn and grow as much as I did this past month. I will cherish the lessons I learned and the memories I made for a lifetime.
Check out this link for a day-to-day description of my experience: https://saratakestheworld.wordpress.com