Adventures in Rome, Venice and London

For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to Rome, Venice and London in the month of May. My trip was through the Ohio State University’s Psychology and Culture and in Europe program.

The last time I traveled out of the country I was thirteen, and under the protective umbrella of my parents. This trip was the first time I’ve ever been able to be fully immersed in another culture and explore it completely. The structure of this trip forced me to take ownership of my own experience which was strangely liberating. That coupled with meeting new people with so unique stories forced me to think about my life outside the bubble of Columbus, Ohio. Before this trip, I didn’t like to think about life after graduation, and when I did I thought of it more as a series of steps that needed to be taken. Going on this trip and experiencing things outside the realm of Ohio helped me realize how many possibilities there really are in the world. It helped me be excited for what’s to come, for what I can use my degree for, and that even though I many not have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing after graduation, there is so much time to figure it out. I learned that the unknown can be an exciting thing.

The first aspect of the trip that stood out and made an impact, was interacting with our various tour guides in each city. In Rome, a truly passionate and good-humored man named Giuseppe led us around the city he grew up in. He was a terrific and knowledgeable guide, but at some point on our trip he made the comment that he used to be a medical doctor. In the states, physicians are so respected – partially because we’re all aware of everything they had to accomplish in order to become a doctor, and partially because once you are established as a doctor, you make a good living. Giuseppe told us about how his life is so much better since his career change. Not simply because he loves Roman history, but he makes so much better money as a tour guide, which is not what you’d expect. It seems like such an insignificant event when it’s in writing, but I remember being really shocked when he told us this. It gave me and my classmates quite a bit of insight into how standards are so different around the world. The healthcare in Italy is drastically different than it is here in the United States, but the prestige and value placed in these two career paths in each country were very different.

I’ve always been a bit of a history buff, and Italian history always fascinated me. Visiting Rome was surreal and I was floored by the palaces, statues and historical monuments that were in nearly every street. Giuseppe constantly used the word “modern” to describe monuments constructed in the 1700s – which is hardly modern by American standards. The best day in Rome was the day when we visited the Colosseum. It was amazing to stand inside of it and witness where so much history happened. It was mind-blowing and humbling to stand there and think of how much human history has passed since then and how different things were back then. It’s exciting to think about everything that can change in the future, in ways that we can’t even imagine.

Lastly, while we were in London we had the chance to visit the Royal Bethlem Hospital. It was amazing to see one of the longest-standing psychiatric facilities. I’ve always wanted to be a part of the mental health field, and it was fascinating to see how far the field has progressed. We were able to peruse old patient cases and look at historical treatment equipment. For instance the binding jackets patients had to wear, and the restraints they were often forced to wear. It was heart-breaking to see how mental patients used to be treated, but uplifting to know we’ve come a long way. It was so inspiring to see, and it excited me to become a mental health care professional one day.

I found this trip to be inspiring and thought-provoking. A look into the past, and a glimpse into the future. It reaffirmed that there are so many opportunities for growth, particularly within the field of mental health. And it also showed me that I can concoct as many ideas as I’d like, but I can’t possibly imagine how things will change in the my life. I could become a mental health nurse practitioner as I want to right now, but I don’t want to become too stubborn in my ideas, because really anything can happen. That’s not to say I don’t want to make goals and work towards them. But I learned it’s important to be fluid and flexible when planning for the future. I’ve only seen a small portion of the world, and I really have no idea of all the different options that there are. I may not know what’s going to happen in the future, but I know I’m excited for the unknown possibilities. I’m so grateful I was able to go on this trip and discover that.img_0888-1 img_0320-1

Global May Spain Adventures!

The Global May Spain program has been one of the best experiences of my life thus far. This past summer I traveled to Madrid and various other locations throughout Spain. We took part in a lot of different cultural activities along with learning about the culture and history in the classroom itself. I feel that this program has really helped me to grow individually and collectively with my group. Although on the surface the program looks like a series of never ending walking tours, in reality it is a cultural immersion like non other than I have experienced before. Being able to live in the same city for almost a whole entire month, wiped away the glamour of the touristy things and allowed us to see the city as more locals. Towards the end of the program, we were able to navigate the metro like pros and went on numerous excursions to explore the city.

 

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This is a beautiful, panoramic view of Toledo, Spain!

 

For a while the language barrier was an issue for me to adapt to. However, you learn to pick up on body language and context clues to be able to effectively communicate in Spain. For example, when we visited the Museo de Ejercito in Toledo, a woman approached me and began speaking. However, I did not comprehend what she had been saying so I panicked and turned to another girl in the program for help. Upon watching the girl and this woman interact, I learned that she had been asking what a certain part of the museum was and if I had paid attention to her body language, I would have understood that. After this scenario, I began paying closer attention to nonverbal cues of communication to aid with my understanding of the verbal words. This really increased my comprehension and helped me to survive in Spain.

In the United States, the language barrier is very seldom an issue that I have run into. Most people that I have interacted with in the States has either fluently spoken English or had some understanding of the language that we could communicate. However, for the few times that I will experienced this issue I feel that I have a new found understanding of what it is like to feel so helpless. I work in a residence hall that has a high population of international students and the language barrier is often an issue. Because of my experiences in Spain, I have become more patient and pay more attention to body language as well.

 

Another change, I noticed in my experience with Spain is the eating customs. In Spain, Madrid in particular, the days are longer and slower and meal times are more spread out during the day. Lunch, being the most valued meal of the day, is around 2 pm and dinner is around 9pm. In addition, people often go out for tapas and drinks after work before they go home and make dinner. This is very different compared to the United States, for lunch is around noon and dinner is anywhere from 5 to 7pm, depending on your own individual schedule. In general, people in Spain seem to value their time with peers and family while they are eating. This is something that I took home with me and I take the time to sit and eat rather than grabbing food and running out the door. I learned that it is okay to sometimes sit and take the world in versus being always on the go, which is common in our culture.

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These are some of the tapas we enjoyed together as a group.

In addition, this experience helped me take a lot of risks both physically and mentally. Being immersed in a different culture and language allowed for me to work on overcoming those anxieties I had going into the program. Also the wonderful peers that went on this trip with me were always there as a comfort and guide, if it was needed. After studying abroad in Spain, I have found myself being much more social with other students in the university both that were in the program and others who were not. The trip really expanded my horizons and allowed me to open myself up socially and emotionally to others. One particular time during the trip in Santander, a group of us went climbing on some rocks along the ocean side. This part of the trip I feel was a pivotal point, for it felt very freeing to take such a physical risk that I never had before. It also allowed me to take other risks in my life and be more open to life in general.

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This is the view from the cliffs that we climbed in Santander.

Overall, I feel like exposure to all these similarities and differences between the different countries, has added a new dimension to my academic experience. Being a psychology major, my study is predominantly focused around studying people and their habits and seeing a new culture has helped to broaden that horizon. As I mentioned earlier, I pay much more attention to people’s body language when communicating and observe that from a psychology point of view to understand the message they are trying to convey. The differing food schedule’s has taught me that different cultures value different aspects of their lives over others and that is an important thing to note when dealing with a diverse population of people within the world. However, the experience has also taught me that despite these differences, people are essentially all connected for we all have an understanding of universal messages. In conclusion, traveling to the different parts of Spain has allowed me to see different aspects of the culture of Spain and compare it to the culture I have grown up in, in a way that adds to my academic experience at The Ohio State University.

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These are some of the great people I met on the trip as we enjoyed watching a soccer game together!

A Lifetime of Experiences

img_3407My STEP experience was a study abroad in Barcelona, Spain during the summer of 2016. I was a student at the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo through ISA’s Spanish Language and Culture Program. Enrolled in two courses, Spanish Cinema and Spanish Art and Architecture, I learned a ton, both inside and outside of the classroom. 

In no particular order, here are some of the things I learned and the ways I transformed abroad:

• I’ve learned how to be flexible. When it’s hot and you’re sweaty 24/7 and there’s never any air conditioning, when living spaces are much smaller than you’re used to, when your family img_2379eats dinner at 10 pm instead of 5 pm, when your bus breaks down on the highway, when the currency is different, etc. You have to be flexible, take everything in stride, and have a positive attitude. 

• How to navigate a completely new city, in a new country, in a new language. If you had dropped me in the middle of Barcelona when I first arrived and asked me to point which way to the beach, I couldn’t. I learned to take the metro (which I had never taken in my life before this trip, public transportation for the win), take a cab, take a bus or train, with confidence. 

• We really take for granted being able to easily communicate ourselves in our daily lives. You don’t realize until you’re in another country that sometimg_2989hing as simple as ordering a coffee with hot milk to go, please, can become a daunting challenge, and when successful, a mini triumph to celebrate (and if not, a learning experience (once a clerk asked me who helped me pick out my bathing suit and I accidentally told him “I don’t recommend” instead of “I don’t remember”)). This phenomimg_2294enon is a reminder to never be unkind or demanding of people in your home country trying to speak your language, because it’s really hard! I’ve studied Spanish since I was 14 and I still made mistakes. But at least now my heart doesn’t beat super fast when I have to ask for the wifi password in Spanish. Making an effort to speak someone else’s language is super humbling and really appreciated. 

• You live a different life for every language that you speak. Learn as much as you can!

• I realized how young of a country the United States actually is. Barcelona is a city so rich in art and architecture that each marvel I learned about made me appreciate the city more and more, whether it was one of the many beautiful works of Gaudi or the elegant and well-preserved Gothic and Romantic churches and cathedrals. Everywhere you turn in Europe, there seems to be a different legend, story, art or architectural feat, or a piece of history to marvel at. Try to get to know more about your surroundings and where it comes from. 
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• Life really begins at the end of your comfort zone. Be smart, but do things that at first intimidate you. Do things on your own. Push yourself to grow.

So, of course my Spanish improved, which is amazing because I dream of being fluent one day. But I learned so much about myself and my place in this world during my time in Europe. The world now is a much less scary and unattainable place than I thought previously. I met so many young people traveling and growing with no reservations. It was truly inspiring. There were so many moments during my time abroad where I would have to remind myself that it was really happening, that I was 5,000 miles away from home, that I was the luckiest girl in the world. I now live for the moments that I look back on and can’t even believe were real. I want to live every day of my life like the adventure that it wimg_2395as each morning waking up in Europe. Through this experience I have fostered a deeper understanding of myself, an appreciation for people from all over the world, and a lifetime love of travel and novel experiences. And that is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.


Public Health Perspectives: India

This May, I traveled to Manipal, India through the College of Public Health as part of my STEP Signature Project. While abroad, I took a global public health class taught by an Ohio State professor and went on various field visits to learn more about the Indian culture and healthcare system.

As cliché as it may sound, this study abroad program was a perfect reminder to me to “never judge a book by its cover.” img-263584827Having only little experience traveling outside of the United States, my views of India had been shaped entirely by things I read online or saw in the media. Preparing for the trip, I envisioned polluted cities, poverty-stricken streets, crumbling buildings, and dirt roads. What I found when I arrived in the country was far different than anything I had expected. Sure there were unhealthy levels of pollution and impoverished neighborhoods, but there was also so much more than that. The country was beautiful and far more developed than I anticipated. There were newly paved highways (better than many roads here in Ohio), beautiful temples, and ongoing efforts to improve life for the Indian people. Everyone I met was friendly; and, most asked questions to learn more about the United States. My study abroad experience showed me a whole different side of India that is rarely portrayed in the media.

My study abroad experience also changed my understanding of the role I play as a global citizen. Although we may identify with specific nationalities, we are all citizens of the world. My time in India was an eye-opening experience that allowed me to learn about a culture very different from my own. Through my interactions with the individuals I met, I also had an opportunity to teach others about my own country and culture. As global citizens, we must be open to new experiences and cultures, but we must also be willing to teach others about our own. We also have a responsibility to advocate for the health and well-being of all people and support the development of new innovations that are beneficial to everyone.

As part of the class component of the study abroad program, we went on daily field trips to various locations in order to learn more about the Indian healthcare system. Some of the places we visited included health clinics, a hospital, a water treatment plant, and an impoverished neighborhood. During these field visits, we learned about public health efforts currently underway in India and made comparisons to the United States. I was amazed at the various programs that have been implemented in India to improve health. Not only are public health professionals working to treat various diseases, but they are also actively working to educate individuals and prevent the spread of chronic and infections diseases. We also had the opportunity to meet and interact with different individuals during these field visits. Their national pride and willingness to help one another was truly inspiring and showed the importance of working together to improve life for all.

In addition to the daily field visits, we also had the opportunity to explore the area where we stayed and immerse ourselves in the culture. 20160529_185753One day, we visited an ancient Jain Temple and I can remember being amazed not only by the architecture of the temple, but also by the view from atop the mountain. Another day, we visited a beautiful white sand beach and danced with locals while riding the bus back to the university. We also shopped in the city, attended the circus, and went on a train ride through a more rural part of the country. These trips allowed me to see another side of India that is often not seen in the media and gave me a far greater appreciation for the country’s beauty and culture.

On our final night in Manipal, we attended a banquet hosted for our group by Manipal University. Faculty and students from the university were in attendance at the event, which featured traditional Indian performances, local cuisine, and presentations by two members of our group on their experiences in India. img_4177For me, the most memorable aspect of the banquet was the presentations by the two other members or my group. It was amazing to hear what my group members’ favorite experiences and how the trip had changed their lives. One of my group members described how her experience in India helped her recognize her role as a global citizen; and, this really resonated with me. The banquet was a perfect way to end our time in India and helped me reflect on my experiences. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to travel to another country and spend over three weeks with an incredible group of people.

This study aboard program and the experiences I have gained are very relevant to my future. The program allowed me to improve my knowledge of public health and connect my classroom experiences with real-world experiences. For much of the program, we explored sociological issues as they relate to health, a field I hope to further explore in the future. Furthermore, my experience in India reaffirmed my desire to pursue my Masters in Public Health following graduation. Beyond my academic goals, the program also served as a starting point for my personal goal to explore new places and learn about new cultures. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to study abroad in India and for the STEP program that made the trip possible.

Panama Study Abroad, May 2016

In my project, I travelled to Panama for two weeks with a group of undergraduates enrolled in EEOB 4420: Tropical Field Studies. Our day-to-day activities included hiking through nature, observing the biodiversity, attending research seminars with Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute affiliates, as well as learning about the culture, subcultures, and history of Panama.

Until completing this project, I had never travelled anywhere outside the United States, let alone to a developing country. Even though parts of Panama are heavily Americanized due to the construction of the canal, my experience in Panama was my first time in an environment where my native language, skin color, and mannerisms made me a minority. In addition, Panama is home to some of the greatest biodiversity in the world due to its geographic location. Thus, the truly transformative aspect of this experience for me was being immersed in this environment where everything surrounding me was unfamiliar.

One notable aspect of this experience was having to adjust to English not being the primary language spoken in Panama. Often we take for granted the luxury of residing in a country where our native language is the normal, accepted language. However, when non-English speakers travel to America, they have the extra step of translating what they want to say before they speak, rather than being able to just speak the language fluently. For the first time, I was able to understand what that was like. While most of the STRI staff and researchers spoke English as well as Spanish, whenever we were not interacting with researchers, we had to call upon our basic knowledge of Spanish, and have the extra step of mentally translating our sentences before we spoke. Thus, this experience was transformative in that I knew for the first time what it is like to be in a country where the primary language spoken is not my native language.

Another key aspect of this experience was being able to conduct field-based scientific research. I currently work in lab with the department of EEOB, and my experience working there has been very valuable. However, my day-to-day activities in the lab cover only one side of the biological research coin: bench work, with the other side being field work. As a requirement of Tropical Field Studies, we had to divide ourselves into groups, choose a study species easily found in Panama, and form a hypothesis that we could easily test in our time at Panama. My group studied the behavior of leaf-cutter ants, which, as the name suggests, cut leaves for farming purposes. We were interested in the relationship between the toughness of leaves cut by the ants and the sizes of the cuts, and while our results were inconclusive, we still had the experience of going through the scientific process in the field

As mentioned before, Panama is home to some of the greatest biodiversity in the continent. The reason for that is not only due to the fairly constant year-round temperatures, but also the formation of the isthmus of Panama which joined North and South America. The two continents already had a fair amount of biodiversity, but when you combine the species richness of both continents, the potential for migration, coevolution, and divergence skyrockets, with Panama being the literal hotspot for it. The point is, being in Panama exposed me to a wide array of biodiversity that I would not have been exposed to if I had not traveled there, from the aforementioned leaf-cutter ants, to the many species of toucans and humming birds, as well as howler monkeys. Therefore, my experience in Panama was transformative in that I was able to see with my own eyes the results of evolution in the tropics.

Overall, my STEP experience has helped me grow as a scientist and a citizen of the world. I got to be immersed in another nation’s culture for the first time in my life, as well as examine unfamiliar biodiversity. I also was given the opportunity to conduct field research, which will help me in my life, as I intend to continue doing research throughout my life. All in all, being in Panama for two weeks is an experience I will hold onto throughout my life, as I have never had a comparable experience. Needless to say, I can’t wait to go back.

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Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment – Australia

Description

13244682_10209701299268199_3206965747928197979_n     For my STEP Signature Project, I travelled throughout North Queensland, Australia in May 2016 to study sustainable development and the relationship between human societies and the environment. My study abroad trip focused on The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, the Great Barrier Reef, Aboriginal culture, the Outback, and the current states of the Australian environment and society. The majority of my time in Australia was spent exploring these environments with local experts and conducting field experiments.

Transformations

     I experienced a change in my attitude towards being open to new experiences and meeting new people. When I have traveled in the past, I rarely sought out outdoor activities or planned trips to remote locations. I have always enjoyed being outdoors, but I don’t think I would’ve ever looked into finding hiking trails or going camping for a weekend before I went on this trip. As a result of this program, I have started valuing these types of experiences as much as I would value visiting cities. I also became more comfortable with conducting scientific research. As a political science and business major, I was nervous about the coursework. Though it was challenging at times, I enjoyed learning about things that I normally wouldn’t when on campus. I also became more comfortable with talking to new people. I do consider myself an extrovert, but I often found myself being more open with others than I would normally do so.

     Traveling abroad has allowed me to learn more about myself and gain a better understanding of the experiences that have influenced my personal beliefs and views. As for this study abroad experience, I really came to realize that lot of my personal values and goals are heavily influenced by the fact that I have grown up in the United States. I put a lot of value on pursing higher education and continuously staying busy with student organizations and internships so that I can be competitive job candidate. Ever since I was a child, I have planned to go straight to college after high school and then either join the workforce or go to graduate school after receiving a Bachelors degree. Before I went to Australia, I had always believed my plan to always be in school or working was the simply the result of personal motivations. However, when I was in Australia I realized that other cultures put more emphasis on things like travel and finding a balance between work and life. If I had grown up in another country, my personal values would probably be the same but my personal goals and plans would likely be different.

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What Led to the Transformation

     The interactions I had and the relationships I built in Australia allowed me to gain a better understanding of my past experiences and myself. We were constantly with local guides and we also met a lot of European backpackers while traveling the country. We often discussed American stereotypes and what live in the US actually looks like compared to other parts of the world. I noticed that the lack of work life balance in the US is more evident than I had imagined. I came to appreciate other ways of thinking and question a lot of the ideas that have been with me my entire life. I really enjoyed talking to Americans who are living in Australia or New Zealand because I had great conversations with them about life outside of the US and they were able relate to my own experiences.

The outdoor activities really led to the change in my openness to new experiences. Our first stop at Magnetic Island included a full day of intense hiking and it was one of my favorite days on the trip. When I was reflecting on this day, I realized that if I had been travelling on my own, I would have never considered spending a whole day hiking on an island. Another activity that led to the transformation was the time I spent camping at an old gold mine in the Australian Outback. Before this trip, I had only camped in my backyard. To my surprise, I loved camping in the Outback even though there were snakes, spiders, lots of dirt, and a rocky bed. A portion of my trip was spent with a homestay family, the Borgerts, on a farm. While I was with the Borgerts, I got to learn more about farm animals and the sustainability efforts. After staying on their farm, I realized that I wouldn’t mind doing farm work if I were to ever return to Australia on a working holiday visa.

The experiments conducted on the trip helped me develop new skills and challenge myself academically. The first scientific experiment we conducted was on the Great Barrier Reef at Magnetic Island. We removed algae from corals because they were taking light from the Reef and then compared various methods to find the most effective one. This experiment was very straightforward and I was able to see the results of our work firsthand. The second experiment involved setting up areas and collecting fresh koala feces to estimate the koala population on Magnetic Island. The last experiment we did involved counting fish in different zones of the Great Barrier Reef. This experiment was much more challenging than the previous ones, but I felt like I had developed the skills needed to work on the report by this point in the trip.

Why is the Transformation Significant?

     screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-12-24-12-pmI think this transformation is especially valuable for my personal life and future goals, because it opened up my desire to travel abroad for longer periods of time and to look into taking a gap year after graduation or before graduate school to travel. I have always valued traveling, but I only made time for it if it involved schoolwork or an internship. I had heard of people taking gap years to travel, but that idea always seemed outrageous to me because I couldn’t imagine not working or studying for that long of a period of time. Before this trip, I had never met someone who went abroad to just travel for longer than summer break. When I was in Australia, I met a lot of backpackers who were traveling through the country and also locals who had been on extended trips to Europe. Through talking to these people, I realized that traveling for extended periods of time can be beneficial and the skills you develop can be useful in future careers. Going forward, I expect this change to influence my behavior because I will look for experiences that offer more than just tangible benefits and a way to better balance work with what I love doing in life. I also think I would be much more comfortable working abroad because of this experience. I have always wanted to work for an international organization or corporation, but I would’ve been much more hesitant to take on an international opportunity before I experienced this transformation.

The coursework for this trip challenged me academically and forced me to go outside of my comfort zone. Some of the topics we focused on were related to my studies, but the majority involved environmental science and conduction experiences. I think this was extremely beneficial for me because I was able to use skills and think in ways that I normally don’t get to. I think this experience will be very beneficial in the future when I either enter the workforce or attend graduate school, because I will need to come up with new ideas and solutions to problems.

 

A Semester Abroad at l’Institut Catholique de Paris

Project Description

My STEP Signature Project was a study abroad program in Paris conducted through International Studies Abroad. I spent 18 hours a week in classes where I learned more about France’s culture and language, and went home to a French-speaking host family. On the weekends and during breaks I was lucky enough to have the means to explore many cities around Western Europe (in and around France) as well as many museums, attractions and cultural experiences in Paris.

Transformation(s)

My main goal when I departed on my journey (and indeed when I wrote my proposal) was to improve my fluency in French. That is fair enough for someone who wants to be a translator, and it’s fairly easy to say that it was a success. I feel much more confident now when reading, speaking and even listening to the language. But, without minimizing the accomplishment, this is something that is quite tangible that doesn’t really necessitate further reflection. I know that if I were to take the same test measuring my French level today as I did before I left, I would do considerably better.

What I haven’t really had the chance to express are the ways that I’ve grown and the things I’ve learned about myself. A major difficulty was finding the courage to communicate in a language I was only somewhat comfortable using. Another challenge was adjusting quickly to being extremely independent; most of the exploring I did in France and around Europe was done on my own and with my own funds. I had to be careful with these resources and my personal safety, but brave enough to go out and find exactly what I wanted from my experiences.

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Me, in front of the Arc de Triomphe. Paris, France.

One of the most vivid memories I have of being abroad was shortly after I arrived. I had found out the previous day that my phone from the US would not work there. Knowing I couldn’t function abroad without a phone (mostly for GPS reasons), I set out the next day to find a phone at FNAC, a French store similar to Best Buy. When I still had WiFi, I screenshotted the route I would take to get there on the Métro app, thinking that would be enough direction. However, the app had given me a very imprecise location, and I ended up lost in Paris, completely alone, for about an hour. I nervously asked for directions twice, and even then, I wandered a lot before finally finding the store. But that moment made me realize just how independent I would have to be while I was abroad. I couldn’t just rely on my phone – I had to be brave enough to ask questions in a language I wasn’t confident using. To venture out without a plan, and hope I’ll find my way.

In fact, the best times I had while abroad were when I abandoned any overly detailed “plan” and followed my instincts and interests instead. Which brings me to my time in Venice and Bruges.

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My Instagram shot of Bruges.

As I said previously, I was lucky enough to explore 6 countries aside from France while abroad using (mostly) my own funds on weekends and during breaks. I worked long hours both during the school year and over the summer to accumulate enough money to do this, and even then I had to be pretty thrifty. Both of these trips were rather spontaneous plans from start to finish – I bought tickets less than a month before I left, and planned my activities the night before. Unlike in France, I was completely alone, I didn’t have full access to my phone’s GPS capabilities, and I had no real knowledge of the languages I was surrounded by. But armed with a semi-functional phone GPS, maps, and some confidence, I made my way through the cities without too much of a struggle.

I already had a bit of experience in navigating Washington D.C. and New York City on my own, but I had never really deviated from my plan and just explored. That’s what I really got out of these weekend trips – the privilege of getting to know these cities and their history with no agenda other than my own. I wandered the streets of Venice for hours, just appreciating the canals, the bridges, and the colorful stucco houses. As soon as I arrived in Bruges, I wandered into a Picasso exhibit that I didn’t even know existed through my brief research of the city, and developed a new appreciation for the artist. Instead of being weighed down by the responsibility independence brings, I was liberated by the freedom it allows you.

My Instagram shot of Venice.

My Instagram shot of Venice.

When I returned to France after these trips, which were about a month after the beginning of my time abroad, I feel like this independence made me much more brave. I was less afraid to make mistakes when talking to French speakers, which helped my learning of the language immensely. Before I left, I noticed my lack of confidence in comparison to the other students in my classes. Now I’m more sure of myself, and able to quickly talk around concepts I don’t have words for. The courage I learned will be applicable in a number of situations, but additionally, this confidence helped me to learn the language better, which was ultimately my reason for coming abroad!

Conclusion

I think that learning these lessons about independence and bravery is such an important lesson to have learned before graduation. Being back in the states, I’ve noticed that I’m more willing to both take on chances and responsibilities, things I have been hesitant to do in the past. In the past, I had typed myself as introverted and stayed in that comfort zone, deciding everything outside of that comfort zone was impossible for me. Now, I can definitely see that I’m pushing myself to push the limits of that comfort zone – talk to new people and seize new opportunities.

This program also made me realize that I would love to go back to France, to teach or for grad school (or both!). Perhaps not to Paris, as by my last month abroad, the city really began to overwhelm me. But I have fallen in love with the city of Rouen, and a grad program in Strasbourg. Hopefully I will fulfill my dreams of returning in the near future when I apply for the TAPIF program this year or next year.

STEP Reflection: Panamanian May Adventures

Step Reflection

Molly Dixon

 

This past May, I participated in the Tropical Ecology Study Abroad in Panama. Here, other OSU students, our professor and myself, embarked on a two-week long adventure through the rainforests of Panama. We worked and lived under the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), completing our own research projects and exploring the country from coast to coast.

This trip wasn’t just about the EEOB credit- it was so much more. We were completely immersed in culture and science alike, and I was opened up to an entirely new world I’d never seen before. I’ve travelled to France in the past and thought it was exotic in its own way. But stepping foot off of the plane in Panama, in a ninety-degree plus nightfall and immediately becoming sticky with moisture, told me that this trip would be much different. The climate was new, the fauna and flora were new, the culture was new, and my view on the world would soon be new. I realized that there is so much about a biological system that you just can’t learn from a textbook, or that a national geographic documentary doesn’t quite grasp a culture in the way that you can experience it. I even came to terms with the fact that rain is just rain, and if you’re going to get wet, you might as well embrace it.

Before my study abroad experience, if you had asked me what an ocelot was or how big a Panama Tree can get, I would have had no idea what you were talking about. But this trip opened my eyes to an entirely new ecosystem, full of primates, toucans, mango trees, orchids and so much more. Most notably, we were introduced to the sloth. Yes, the sloth. I think the first time we all saw one was up in a canopy tower bird watching. From that point on there was a deep infatuation amongst our group for this kind-faced, slow-moving friend. In addition to the incredible animals we saw, there was one animal in particular that was fascinating, the homo sapien. Panama was filled with STRI researchers and guides who could tell us everything about the land and its history. We were led on incredible hikes through diverse terrain, which tested both our knowledge and our stamina. Guides would point out different species and explain their life histories and niches. When we went canoeing our guide explained that even here in the remote tropics, rivers were subject to pollution. This being something that we listened to in sadness as we floated surrounded by bottles and plastic bags. On Barro Colorado Island, scientists were on the brink of discovering many biological and geographical interactions of an isolated island system, one that had recently been formed because of the creation of the Panama Canal. Some of the local Gamboa STRI researchers even showed us how to go mist netting for studying bats! These people had come from all over the world to perform research in Panama and formed a community of their own. It was quite inspiring and helped us all understand the lifestyle of a biologist, as many of us had been considering such a career.

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As undergraduates in EEOB, we were all quite excited to do our own research. A pre-requisite for the course was Ecology, and in this class we had all done research on the squirrels of OSU’s campus. Now we would get to do our own research in the rainforest, on whatever we liked. My group chose to study the relationship between tree distance from the forest edge and the foraging habits of tropical birds. Whenever we had free time back at the schoolhouse, we would take our rain jackets, journals, and binoculars and head out to our chosen mango trees. There, we would observe. We used our knowledge of the scientific method and our professor’s guidance to delve into the world of the STRI researchers, temporarily becoming STRI researchers ourselves. We were often caught in the afternoon downpours, but eventually accepted the fact of being wet and often chose embrace it, as we would have to if we were true researchers. After all, we were in the rainforest, and its beauty made up for its actions.

In Panama, we didn’t stay in some fancy hotel in Panama City; we lived in the STRI schoolhouse in the small village of Gamboa. We saw more agoutis than people and heard more howler monkeys than cars. But in comparison, we lived in luxury. We had air conditioning, a cook, and a bus driver that would pick us up and take us places. We had specialized clothes that would protect us from the bugs while keeping us cool. On the day that we visited an Embera Village, we took a bus, a taxi truck, and then a canoe to get to their remote home. Both men and women wore no clothes except for loincloths and they lived in huts, stacked on stilts to protect their homes from river floods. There was no running water and no grocery store, but our visit was incredible nonetheless. They fed us delicious fresh fruits and fish, both of which they had harvested. We danced, we swam in the river with the children, they painted our bodies with a special fruit dye, and explained to us how different nearby plants could be used for curing sicknesses and aiding in everyday life. It seemed as though everything that we’d all grown up with in the U.S. was excess. The Embera people were experiencing life in its truest form and were thriving in their own ways. This experience also made me very grateful for the life that I lead. I’ve been given incredible opportunities, like attending college and travelling to foreign places. None of which would have been easily been done given an Embera lifestyle. I came to respect a culture much different from my own and in addition was able to recognize the beauty of my own country.

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Travelling to Panama was incredible and these are just a fraction of my experiences. But they all did something very important. They showed me what was like to a) follow a research career, and b) follow said career far from home. I’ve been thinking about graduate school in the biological or conservation sciences, but wasn’t quite sure if I could handle or if I would like doing research 24/7. Not to mention that Ohio doesn’t boast much biodiversity, so chances are a career in science would lead me far away from home. But Panama showed me that if I choose, I could. It showed me that I would lead a life of learning and that being surrounded by people who share such a passion for the same interests is like being at home, no matter where you are. Panama showed me that there is so much more for this world to offer, and that for me, this is just the beginning of my love of travel and science.

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STEP Reflection: A Summer in Toledo, Spain

1. My STEP Signature Project was a study abroad trip to Toledo, Spain for six weeks this summer. During this time, I was fully immersed in the Spanish language and culture, and took two Spanish courses that counted towards my minor at Ohio State.

 

2. Although it was one of the best experiences of my life, the program was also very challenging, and through it I found that my understanding of myself had changed. Before going to Spain, I did not think that I was capable of holding an extensive conversation with a native Spanish speaker, or being able to easily understand the Spanish accent. But I proved myself wrong on both these counts, and although my Spanish is far from perfect, it definitely improved and so did my confidence. I also gained a new empathy for people who are learning to speak English as a second language. I feel that Americans are often frustrated when people do not speak perfect English, but it is incredibly difficult to learn a new language (especially one like English that has so many strange rules), and I applaud them for putting in the effort to do so.

My assumption of Spanish culture was also transformed this summer. Before leaving the U.S. I only knew a little bit about the culture, and most of this knowledge was centered around food, not customs or attitudes. I had not expected the people to be so friendly and excited that we were here, because I often thought that Europeans thought Americans were obnoxious. However, in this case I was proven wrong, as many Spaniards were interested in talking about us and hearing about our lives in the United States. I was surprised by how much they knew about American television, movies, and politics, and how often I heard American music on the radio. But of course they had their own unique culture as well, and I was able to experience traditions like flamenco dancing as well as eat tasty local dishes that were specific to certain regions in Spain. I also had no idea that Spain was so diverse in terms of landscape. For being a country about the size of Texas, it was incredible that one weekend you could go north and see forests, the next you could go south and see the desert, and the next you could go to the warm, sandy beach.

 

3. One of the experiences that transformed my confidence when speaking with native Spanish speakers was a language exchange program that was offered at my school in Toledo. Twice a week, my friends from school (who were also American), and I would meet two sisters named María and Mamen for coffee or dinner and conversation. They were natives of Toledo and wanted to learn English, so we would speak Spanish for half of the time and English for the other half. This challenged me to practice my spontaneous conversation skills in Spanish, and allowed me to further empathize with them when they struggled to find a certain word or phrase in English that they were looking for. My friends from school that I went with were also very encouraging and supportive when I struggled to find words in Spanish, and although we were all at different skill levels, we never judged or made fun of each other for struggling to speak. The program coordinators at the school were also amazing, and were very understanding of the fact that we were not native speakers, but also never let us speak to them in English, which forced me to practice more Spanish and figure out creative ways to get my points across.

Another great experience that I had working with Spanish people was volunteering at the local library. One of my friends from my school was doing an internship at the library and teaching ESL classes to elementary-aged children and young adults. Twice a week I went to the library before class to help her with her younger group. The kids were so fun to work with, and their dedication to learn English (and in some cases German and French as well), further inspired me to keep up with my Spanish studies. They made me realize that Spanish children are very similar to American children, and that the desire to learn is universal.

Traveling throughout Spain was one of the best parts about the program. Throughout my six weeks in Spain I went to Toledo (where I “lived” and went to school), Madrid, Córdoba, Granada, Segovia, Zamora, Valencia, and Barcelona. It was incredible to not only see the changes in landscape, but the influences of other cultures on the different regions. For example, I had not realized prior to this summer that Spain was under Arabic control in the early years of its history, from about the early 700s until 1492. That was another thing that amazed me about Spain; the fact that their history was so extensive, and that many historical buildings are still standing today. For example, in Granada, the Arabic palace La Alhambra has been beautifully preserved and is able to be visited, even though it was built around AD 889. My group and I went on a tour of it and it was breathtaking. The Arabic language and food are still present in the southern region, and it was an awesome experience to see how it blended with Spanish culture. In Toledo there are influences in the architecture from the Muslims, Christians, and Jews who lived there, which speak to the city’s unique history and the struggle for its control. The region of Catalonia, where Barcelona is located, has its own distinct culture as well, and even its own language of Catalan. It was the only time in Spain that I felt what it was like to read a sign outside of a store and have no idea what it meant, because it was in Catalan. Through these experiences I was able to broaden my view of what Spanish culture was, and appreciate the mix of different influences throughout the country, as well as learn more about the country’s extensive history.

 

4. This trip led to many areas of personal, academic, and professional growth, and was an extremely significant experience. It was personally challenging not only because I was submerged in a foreign culture and language, but also because it was my first time flying and travelling extensively without my family. At first it was challenging, but I had great support from the staff at my school and friends that I made there. Together my friends and I learned how to navigate Spanish public transportation, language barriers, and making travel plans. I now feel that I am much more capable to travel and plan trips on my own, and that is a great feeling. Academically, I improved greatly on my ability to comprehend when native speakers are talking to me, as well as my ability to converse with them. My classes were challenging but ultimately rewarding for my academic growth. In the future I plan to be a social worker, and I am sure that I will work with clients who are native Spanish speakers and know limited English. The skills that I gained through my STEP experience will help me to communicate with these clients in a way that they understand, which will ultimately benefit them much more and make them feel more comfortable working with me. I am excited at the prospect of using Spanish in my future career, and am extremely grateful for this opportunity through STEP that was able to help me grow and transform in so many areas.

 

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My Month with the Beatles: The British Invasion

13323605_10154314454158606_5433223828207727842_o My STEP Signature project provided me the opportunity to participate in the British Invasion study abroad program in London and Liverpool through Ohio State. After spending two weeks on campus doing intensive course work, our study abroad group traveled overseas to discuss and learn about the influence of American music on British rock bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and later their influence on American music today.

Completing my STEP signature project has changed my views permanently on my assumptions of music, the world and most importantly myself. Before starting this musicology course, I generally knew the Beatles through their music and impact of the world but in no way was I able to name important turning points in their career or really all four of the band mates at the time! I knew that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were huge successful bands, but I didn’t know why or the journey they traveled to get there. Having the ability to take the British Invasion course really changed my assumptions about the impact that British rock bands had on current music today. I was blown away of how American Motown influenced Britain so much that it was taken and converted back to significant influence on contemporary American pop music!

Studying abroad in various cities in England was also an incredible opportunity to shape my view of the world. I had studied abroad when I was younger through a satellite programed called People to People, but being able to study abroad ten years later again with the knowledge I know about the world today was a life changing experience. What I also really appreciated was the ability to move around and see different areas of England. When I had traveled, I only saw London so it was so cool to see the differences in people between different cities. The culture of both London and Liverpool was so similar and so different in many aspects that it benefited to my development of a student, and world citizen. From this experience also, I learned a lot about my adaptability from traveling to different cities. I am a frequent traveler, but even being abroad and doing things on my own as oppose to relying on a group leader was such a liberating experience as well.

13268602_10205528419722982_5195819527653559004_oDuring my STEP signature project, my study abroad group was able to do many unique activities and meet so many people that influenced the course work and career path I desire when I will leave Ohio State.

While on campus before our travels abroad, our class had a guest lecturer come to give us a presentation about audio recording during the time of the 1960s. Mark Rubenstein is the Audio Engineer for the School of Music at Ohio State and was able to give my class a tour of his recording studio and test out equipment that was similar to the recording style of what the Beatle’s would have used. I had never had an interest in recording music nor knew anything about it, but I walked away from that lecture blown away by the knowledge Mark had about recording and a curiosity to desperately learn more. After class I remember immediately enrolling in his Audio Recording course for this current semester because I was so inspired by what I learned in that short hour. If my class didn’t have Mark come and present, I wouldn’t have known his class and this depth of audio recording equipment at Ohio State existed.

While in London, our group got the opportunity to tour the Royal Albert Hall. The Royal Albert Hall is one of the most famous performing venues in the United Kingdom and has a long history of holding prestigious performers from all around the world. Getting the opportunity to take a tour backstage of the production of the venue and talking with the stage managers about the logistics of putting on a show was life changing for me because this is very similar to what type of career path I would want leaving Ohio State. Seeing the venue and talking with the staff about their position really solidified to me that this is the career that I would love to be apart of either in the United States or anywhere that the world may take me.

One of the highlights that will always be a favorite memory of mine is getting to tour and meet the owner of the Cavern Club in Liverpool. The Cavern Club has a long history of being the first performing venue that the Beatles kick started their career. We were able to attend concerts throughout the day and talk with any of the staff and performers about what the music scene in Liverpool has affected them. Ohio State and the Cavern Club have a long history with this particular study abroad program of remaining close contacts throughout the years of sending students. The hospitality that Dave and everyone at the Cavern Club showed us was incredible and made me so proud to be a student at Ohio State. After graduation, I have a desire to work for a non-profit community art program and being able to see different areas of which I can accomplish my dream was such an inspiring and satisfying feeling while completing my STEP signature project.

This opportunity has had significant value in my life as a student and as a young professional. Many experiences from this study abroad have shaped my decisions for looking at career paths in art administration and have shaped my educational interests by adding courses that have interests me throughout the trip. Before starting this project, I had an idea of what I wanted to do professionally but wasn’t really sure where to start or what direction to go in. After completing my STEP signature project, I feel more confident about the career path I have set for myself and excellent places to start that have the same transferable skills I’m looking for. After this STEP project, I also feel more connected to my love of music and performing arts with the opportunity to talk about the Beatles and also other major performing art topics while I was abroad. This was an incredible opportunity and I’m so thankful for the development I see in my future career plans, my educational growth, and the confidence in myself.13316995_10154314454248606_5514729513903999872_o