Five Weeks at Universite Laval

My STEP signature project was an education abroad program in Québec City, Québec. I studied through the Français Langue Étrangère program at Université Laval, intended to complete my French minor credits and, at STEP dictates, expand my horizons and my personal comfort zone. During my five-week stay in Canada, I attended classes and other program-related activities, but also found new friends and explored beautiful Vieux Québec in my free time.

As a direct result of this program, I am more independent, less self-critical, and a more forgiving person. My language skills are vastly, stunningly improved. Five weeks navigating a new city brought me farther out of my shell than I thought possible. While I was previously concerned about looking out of state for grad school, this program (although this wasn’t even remotely the intent) showed me that I am capable of living and even thriving in a strange place.

Those five weeks were the longest period I had ever spent away from home. At first, I was FaceTiming my family every night, nearly in tears with homesickness. I had made very few friends the first week, and I was missing home dearly. Eventually, I found quite a few wonderful new friends, but the first two weeks were difficult. The biggest change came when I fell ill early in the third week and had to navigate the ER and medical care in French. My brand-new friends came together and welcomed me back to class, and I finally realized that I was loved just as much in Canada. As the program continued, we went on adventures together and learned as much as possible about our temporary home.

I feel comfortable now describing myself as bilingual, because I have a fundamental grasp on this beautiful language that I dedicated 10 years to learning. The immersion experience catapulted my French abilities into high gear, and the out-of-class activities gave us a chance to practice those skills in new, welcoming settings. Despite the challenges we faced adjusting to Francophone classes at first, it was a phenomenal exercise in flexibility and personal boundaries. We could choose to enforce a strict “French at all times” attitude or give ourselves a break occasionally and speak English with our friends. It required a deeper understanding of our own ability to understand and process conversations in French if we truly wanted to improve.

Being separated from my family by sheer distance rather than time zones made this trip especially difficult. In the past, on trips to Europe, the 6-7-hour time difference kept me from missing home too much since we had a very short period of overlap. In Canada, I could stay in contact all day but never went home to them at night like I was accustomed to. I learned how to become independent while keeping in touch just enough, since they came to expect regular updates. By the end of the trip, I was a confident, fearless traveler with a few more language skills than I came in with.

Although I currently have no plans to use French in my career, it is very much within the realm of possibility that I find a job in a Francophone country or in a plant that employs French-speakers. Beyond the vast contribution to my language level, this program taught me independence, flexibility, and an uncanny ability to find bus stops in downtown Québec. Merci pour tous, ULaval, et à la prochaine!

Michael Cypher-Tierney’s STEP Post-Project Reflection

STEP Reflection:

  1. Using my STEP disbursement funds, I was able to spend six weeks studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain.  I took classes, stayed with a host family, and was able to immerse myself in Spanish language and culture to drastically improve my Spanish language skills.  Additionally, I received nine Spanish credits that will go towards my Spanish minor.
  2. Little by little, everyday, I was beginning to understand the language, culture, and history better.  I remember the first day I met my host family and how I could understand them talking to me, but when they spoke to each other, I couldn’t since they spoke so fast.  By the end of the six weeks I was able to follow along in their conversations.  This was the kind of transformation that I was hoping to see throughout this journey.  Additionally, everyday, I was immersing myself into the social norms of Spanish life.  I was developing my own identity and independence by living abroad.
  3. First, living with a host family totally facilitated my transformation.  At first, I was nervous about living with a host family because it was going to take me out of my comfort zone and challenge me in a way I’ve never been challenged before.  However, after I got accustomed to living with a host family, I realized how much of a rewarding, authentic experience it allows.  Living with a host family allowed me to be fully immersed in another culture and help me understand the language, culture, and history in an amazing way.

Secondly, attending a Spanish institution and taking classes in Spanish drastically helped in the improvement of my communication skills.  Because there were students from all around the world in my classes, all the classes were in Spanish, and I was able to meet people from all around the world.  Also, attending Spain’s oldest university allowed me to gain incite into the history and culture of Spain that I might not have been able to receive at other institutions.

Lastly, the ISA program, the directors, my group, etc all pushed me to grow and get as much as I can from the experience.  My friends and I created unforgettable experiences together.  ISA provided multiple excursions and events for me to go to to expand my knowledge in an experience based way.

4. In terms of professional development and future goals, things like international experience, communication and social skills necessary for a study abroad are incredibly important for my future goals.  Having studied abroad only increases my scope of where I can work.  Now that I can speak the language much better, I can expand my job prospects to the entire Spanish speaking world.

Furthermore, the study abroad provided me with a framework of understanding differences in cultures and how that is necessary in the globalization of the 21st century in understanding and solving global problems.

Semester Abroad at Peking University – Calvin Spanbauer

During the spring semester of 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in a student exchange to Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management. As one of the most challenging and enjoyable experiences of my undergraduate career thus far, my semester abroad was filled with thought-provoking academic classes, new friends, and exciting experiences around Beijing and greater China.

While completing my semester exchange at Peking University, I noticed that many of my views and assumptions were challenged and transformed throughout the experience. As I had previously traveled to China and studied Mandarin for the last several years, I was already accustomed to many of the significant cultural differences between China and the US. However, traveling through and living in a country have innate differences. For example, while living in China during the semester, I learned how to use digital applications like Taobao (a consumer goods delivery network), order food off of E le ma (a food delivery platform), and how to pay for my apartment utilities over Alipay (a digital money transfer application). I found that learning about and adapting to these processes provided me with a deeper perspective into daily life in China – an insight that I had studied in class or read about in articles, but had never experience first-hand. I found struggling through these processes and other challenges in China to be personally rewarding. I enjoyed working through the adaption process and seeing how many of China’s methods can be adapted to impact other parts of the world.

Towards the end of my semester at Peking University, I participated in a Global Solutions Festival. This competition was open to university students and young professionals, and the focus of the festival was to create a business model that would further the UN Sustainable Development Goals. My group decided to focus on finding a solution related to energy and environmental issues, and we spent the weekend designing a system to utilize predictive technology to better understand and optimize energy usage within a residential setting. At this event, there were a number of industry mentors present. I met several different mentors throughout the event, I was continuously impressed by their experience and knowledgeability. This event opened my eyes to Beijing in terms of professional opportunities and China’s growing innovative role in the world.

My weekend participating in the Global Solutions Festival and, more broadly, my semester at Peking University has served as a significant transformation point in my undergraduate career. On a personal level, my semester abroad pushed me to grow in many new and unfamiliar ways. My peers challenged my ideas, my Chinese language skills were put to use daily, and I gained many life lessons along the way by encountering new and unfamiliar scenarios.

As a rising senior at OSU, I am beginning to consider my next steps after graduation. Living in Beijing for six months expanded my understanding of Chinese society. However, I also gained a new perspective on paths for me to engage with China in the future. I have a personal interest in impacting the world’s most pressing environmental issues, specifically working within the energy industry to create collaborative low-carbon energy solutions. On a professional level, my semester in China provided me with the opportunity to meet many experts working within this scope, both at Peking University and across Beijing. In the future, I have full confidence that I will leverage my experience gained during my semester at Peking University.

Study Abroad in Italy

The main activities of my study abroad were learning the Italian language through classes taught entirely in Italian and through volunteerism. Volunteering with the locals really allowed me to truly learn the language and slang.
Going to Italy really allowed me to learn about myself more. I learned that I’m close with my family and that traveling only made our bond stronger. Speaking with the locals allowed me to discover another part of self that liked meeting new people. I came out of my shell and learned to be less shy. I saw that Italians are very nice people that are open to talking with strangers.
The transformations that allowed me to be less shy are the interactions with locals, my host family, and the improvement of my Italian. The locals were very helpful with me by being very patient when I spoke my Italian. They corrected me nicely and were very interested in America and I was happy to have conversation with them. Coming out of my comfort zone by speaking with strangers. My inhibitions went away after I spoke with strangers.

Speaking with my host family everyday really improved my Italian and my confidence. Everyday I would speak with them during dinner and I would also listen to the conversations and pick up slang from them as well. They would help me if I had questions about my homework as well. The closeness of the family reminded me of my family and made me feel welcome and at home. I really appreciated how I was integrated into the family.
The improvement of my Italian over the course of 6 weeks gave me enough confidence to not be scared to make mistakes. I would be able to order food or ask for things with ease and confidence. Gradually I noticed that my comprehension increased, and I am very happy about that. When I noticed that my comprehension improved, I also noticed that my confidence did as well. My shyness has dissipated, and I feel like a new person.
This transformation is valuable to my life because I would to become and interpreter and a translator. To be a translator or interpreter you need an intimate knowledge of the language and this study abroad experience is a step closer to my goal. Being up close and personal with the natives allowed me to pick up colloquialisms and words and phrases I wouldn’t pick up in a strict classroom setting. I am very fortunate to have had this opportunity. I have changed for the better and can’t wait to return!

Danesha Allen STEP Reflection.

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

My step project was a study abroad in Seoul, South Korea. I spent 6 weeks in Seoul, taking 2 classes for 6 credit hours. There were also weekly excursions included through Korea University and ISA.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the

world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

One of the major things I understood about myself is that I have a great ability to adapt. I also realized how scary it can be to be in a new country when you don’t understand the language. I also gained a greater appreciation for knowing English. Even though the primary language spoken in Seoul is Korean there was still English around. From signs on the subways and coffee shop menus.  Also, that South Koreans aren’t that worried about North Korea. Compared to the United States who like to talk about their nuclear weapons or their dictator.

  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?

One of the reasons, I realized that I have a great ability to adapt is that my first day in Seoul, I took the subway by myself. I used my google maps and that helped a lot. But I had to find this store and I got a little lost. I stayed calm and looked around and I eventually found the store. When I found the item I was looking for, I had problems at the self-checkout.  But the cashier was able to help me despite the language barrier.

I went to a Korean BBQ restaurant with friends. The waitress insisted on helping us with everything. She helped us cook the food. She even scolded me for slightly burning the meat. She was very nice and welcoming. In a lot of restaurants and stores, I visited the workers were all very helpful.  Despite there being a language barrier between us.

My experience with this language barrier made me think of my university and my country. I know that at OSU we get a lot of international students. I feel that I can understand them a little better. The confusion about where to go and how to get around. The fear of being made fun of for not pronouncing words right.

 

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

two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your

academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

 

This experience helped me to understand others a little. Which is important in the international field. We only think about our experiences and we often think it’s the best and the right way. My study abroad showed me that there is a whole new culture and views that are very different from the American viewpoint . For example, they place an emphasis on caring for the elderly, pregnant or young. If the subway is packed, then a younger person would give up their seat for an elderly person. They even have designated seating for pregnant women, elderly and injured people on the subway.

I would say that this trip has motivated me to travel more and see more of the world. I was only in Seoul for 6 weeks and I don’t think that was enough time to truly understand the culture. You can read about other countries all you want but you don’t learn anything until you go there for yourself.

Andrew Capozzi – Dresden Summer Language Program

With utmost gratitude and modesty, I was rewarded the opportunity to participate in an immersive and transformational experience this summer as a participant in The Dresden Summer Language Program offered through The Ohio State University’s Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures. This STEP Signature Project I participated in was an eight-week academic and language intensive program that focused on providing German language students with an opportunity to improve their language abilities, study the prior and recent history of Dresden and Saxony in general, as well as to experience complete immersion in contemporary Germany life and culture alongside native speakers and locals. The Dresden Summer Language Program additionally permitted students to explore a wide array of historical and cultural sites all across Germany, in cities ranging from Weimar to Berlin. While based in Dresden at the Technische Universität Dresden (TUD) campus, students were able to strengthen and develop our language skills while engaging with coursework that enhanced our experiential travels.
While traveling abroad and participating in the program, I had come to understand various personal changes and transformations that had occurred from my engagements. Through these travels and experiences, I was able to motivate myself outside of my comfort zones, find opportunities to learn in every circumstance, and grow tremendously as a person in terms of improving my skills of independence, adaptability, resilience, and confidence. Various experiences had challenged me to seize these skills and further my personal growth while abroad. Despite the short duration of the program, I found myself challenged by the ephemerality of each moment. Through this, I have gained a greater appreciation for each experience, living in the moment and cherishing what is happening in the present.
My view of the world also transformed as I was able to visit various locations throughout the study abroad experience. Not only were my travels around Germany with the program, but additionally I sought to independently explore the Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Slovakia, Ireland, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Navigating many of these countries and indulging in the cultural customs and beliefs broadened my appreciation and awareness for diversity. Furthermore, conversations and spending time with locals provided insight into the human condition and how even if we are separated geographically or linguistically, we all experience much of the same understandings and emotions. Even upon my return to the United States I realized that I had obtained a newfound appreciation for Germany and all of its unique aspects.
Immediately upon arrival in Dresden, I was already tasked with acting independently: needing to purchase my textbooks, grocery shop for the week, and navigate my way around the new city, all while speaking in the target language. It was necessary to be self-reliant during the program: managing a budget, coordinating daily activities effectively, preparing meals, adhering to a course schedule, and cleaning when necessary. All of these activities required active attention and consistency in order to ensure that I was properly acclimating to the new environment and sustaining an engaged lifestyle.
Although hesitant and nervous at first to speak in the target language, I began to grow in confidence through experience and braving my approach to each conversation. One of the metric activities of the program was to attend a meet-and-greet with students local to the Technische Universität Dresden (TUD) institution. For almost two hours, other Ohio State students and myself were required to facilitate conversations with the array of peers from the hosting university to discuss ourselves as well as prominent topics in German society and culture. Although anxious before the undertaking, I was reassured by my peers that sufficient experience and appropriate practice had prepared us for the event and that simply communicating with other individuals is nothing to fear. The encouragement of my peers as well as self-motivation promoted going outside of my comfort zones to maximize my experiences while abroad, even when it came to events such as kayaking the Elbe River, touring the Berlin Underground, and visiting Auschwitz. If it weren’t for overcoming my apprehensions, I would’ve missed out on extraordinary opportunities with extraordinary people.
Whether it was approaching conversations with grocery store attendants, interacting with locals at the various sites we visited, or engaging in discussions with my professors; pushing myself to converse in the German language and advance my skills significantly granted assurance that I could utilize them effectively.
Adaptability is certainly a skill that I have come to harness during my time abroad. Being level-headed, open-minded, and flexible to adjust to unintended circumstances or obstacles that arise comes with practice and exceptional experiences. On a free weekend during the program, I met a fellow Ohio State student in Austria and Slovakia during her independent study abroad. As we parted ways and she returned to Poland, I had boarded my train to return to Dresden. Shortly into the journey, the train had broken down and I was required to get off at a station outside of Brno in the Czech Republic. Immense confusion plagued all of us that were aboard the train destined for Germany. Perplexed by the lack of presence by a central authority, I found myself required to interact with countless strangers to understand what was happening, where I was to go, and when I was to get there. Many people I tried to engage with were not English nor German speakers, complicating my situation furthermore. Despite being alone, I had to reassure myself that being level-headed and optimistic are necessary to calmly resolve the situation. Patience was crucial too as I was unable to obtain the information necessary to continue my journey until about two hours beyond the train’s unexpected halt.
It was during this unforeseen journey that I met an elderly British couple that assisted me with planning an alternate route we all had to venture on. During the remainder of the journey to Germany, we were able to have an array of discussions, ranging from our recent travels to our youthful upbringings. United by the irony of a train breaking down, we were able to converse for the extent of a cross-country travel, exchange stories and life experiences, and share countless laughs. Moments like this enhance my appreciation for the human condition and the associated occurrences, involvements, or emotions that everyone experiences. Despite having experienced very different pasts, currently having very different lifestyles, and intending to have very different paths ahead, we were connected by the sheer bond of humanity and contagious optimism. The unsettled attitude and confusion that resulted from the unfortunate circumstances that had delayed my travels was easily remedied by simple human interaction and compassion.
Augmenting my German language skills, expanding my cultural awareness and understandings of contemporary German life, and exploring my identity as a global citizen and Ohio State ambassador have proved advantageous in my growth towards my future ambition of becoming a pharmaceutical sales representative. These advancements will certainly progress my prospective ability to network globally and to market emergent therapeutic products in western and eastern European markets within the pharmaceutical sales market. Noting the multitude of advantages that accompany proficiency in a secondary language, in addition to opportunities for growth, transformation, and cultural understanding, I pursued the transformational experience that would enhance myself personally as well as in being a candidate that can adequately communicate and ensure that the therapeutic is appropriate for the market. Additionally, I believe that I have found such a strong passion outside of my central pharmaceutical studies. My program director, Dr. Spencer, emphasized that it’s essential to have a passion outside of one’s core studies as it enriches life and gives a unique dimension to one’s interests.
The Dresden Summer Language Program has certainly contributed to significant personal development and growth in providing a greater understanding as to how the United States is viewed by European countries, what contemporary German life and culture is like, and how my German language skills would be able to be advanced. The opportunities offered by the program, Ohio State, TUD, Dresden, and even Germany as a whole allowed for the furtherment of my understanding of the Germanic language and culture, the development of a stronger relationship with myself as well as my peers, the growth in my ability to break out of my comfort zones, the exploration of a historically and culturally unique city as well as many others abroad, and the ability to understand the magnitude in which I may be able to contribute to society. Having resided in a new location, cherished new experiences, developed several lifelong friendships, and having pushed myself outside of my comfort zones has permitted for transformation that is essential to my development and growth as a unique individual in a diverse, global society.

Familiar Places, New Outlooks: Living and Studying in Bonn, Germany through STEP

With funding from STEP, I spent the spring and summer of 2019 studying abroad in Bonn, Germany, with other students from Ohio State and beyond. The program entailed taking classes through the University of Bonn’s international office, and during my time there I also participated in two university seminars with native German students. It was an eye-opening experience that gave me insight into living in a foreign country, interacting with people of different backgrounds, and studying at a European university.

As a history and German double major, I had known since the beginning of my freshman year that I would study abroad in Germany. I had been there on exchange before and was eager to return with fresh eyes and in an academic context. My previous experience in the country mitigated some of the challenges that come with transition into a new community. However, my time in Bonn was anything but predictable. The friends, places, and experiences that made up my time abroad ultimately had a vast impact on my worldview and my understanding of life in other countries. Taking classes and making friends with native German students, I picked up on differences within German society. Like the US, it is a decentralized and diverse country that is home to many different identities, dialects, landscapes, and cultures. Learning about and visiting many parts of the country, I acquired an understanding of Germany that I never could have without living there. The same is true for other countries I visited more than once over the course of the semester, including Spain and France. My experience abroad taught me to be cautious with preconceived notions I might have had about a given place, as it is impossible to truly understand a culture without experiencing it firsthand.

That said, it was not only the places that opened my eyes to new ideas. Someone who impacted me greatly during my time in Bonn was a university student and aide to the exchange program named Jacob. Born and raised in China, Jacob was enrolled in boarding school in the US as a teenager and moved to Germany to pursue a masters’ degree in political science. By moving frequently between such distinct places, he has acquired a level of assimilation and identity in all three countries and is fluent in all three languages. What Jacob taught me was to move past my preconceived idea of assimilation. To me, it was always an end goal. By learning the language fluently, I would fit in perfectly, or so I thought. Jacob’s story taught me that integrating into a new culture has no limits. There is always something more I could learn to better connect with native speakers. Similarly, my fluency and knowledge of colloquial language can always improve to sound more natural. And finally, I learned that by continuing to think of the country as foreign, it will remain just that. It is by establishing a life and valuable relationships somewhere that a place has its most meaning.

Another important takeaway from Bonn was that the most valuable experiences came from stepping out of my comfort zone. Before studying in Bonn, I took two months to conduct independent research in Berlin and Madrid. Arriving in Berlin to begin my work in the archives, I realized I had never done anything like this before, let alone in a foreign country and language. What started out a taxing and nerve-wracking responsibility became an incredibly rewarding experience that has since taken center-stage in my academic career as I now begin to write my undergraduate research thesis. The lesson I learned was not to miss out on something just because the setting is not as comfortable as it could be. Conducting archival research is hardly a glamorous process, but as someone truly passionate about history, I can’t imagine having missed out on it. Additionally, without being comfortable in the unknown, I would not have made the lasting friendships that I did. Being adventurous was an important and valuable component of the experience.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I learned that most of my experiences in life are in large part what I make of them. There were of course difficulties, from roommate issues to cultural faux pas to work overloads, and it’s easy to get bogged down in the negative aspects of anything. Still, during difficult moments, I realized that I only had so much time to be living in Europe. Pessimism can be overcome by getting out and keeping things exciting. Exploring a new part of the city, trying a new activity, or even doing something familiar in a new setting were all ways I determined to make the most of my semester abroad every day.

The time I spent in Bonn will continue to serve me as I finish up my undergraduate career and begin my next phase of life. I already have begun finding opportunities to continue my education abroad, whether in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. While in Bonn, I achieved a high enough score on a language exam to pursue a master’s degree at a German university, where I would study in German with other local and international students. I also have now come much closer to finishing my German major, and the research I conducted abroad has been integral to my thesis, the cornerstone of my undergraduate academic career. Lastly, the relationships I made with both German and other international students have continued to last and are a cherished takeaway from my life in Bonn. I know that I will never forget the impact of my experience abroad, and I hope that other students discover the same is true for them.

Post Project Reflection

This past summer, I participated in the Intensive Chinese Language Learning program in Suzhou, China for two months. I was in class for about 4 hours a day in the mornings and then was able to explore the city of Suzhou in the afternoons with my classmates and language partners. On the weekends, we were able to take day trips to various cities in order to get a wider view of China and Chinese culture.

Going into the program, I was nothing but excited for the trip due to the fact that I had been studying Chinese since my freshman year of high school and hadn’t ever been. The biggest change that I saw in myself after this program ended was a newfound ability to adapt to new situations and be self-reliant. Beforehand, I had always seen myself as a pretty independent person but, while in China, I realized that there are definitely degrees of self-reliance. Though I had language partners to practice my Chinese with and help me navigate around the streets, I ultimately had to rely on myself to make sure that I could be understood and make sure that my needs were met. Unlike learning Chinese in a classroom setting, I was forced to adapt and learn as I went, which I really enjoyed; compared to just memorizing vocab and writing papers, we were able to take what we had learned and apply it to real life, within real interactions. What I took to be a high degree of self-reliance before is nothing compared to what I think I have now. 

Not only did I notice a change in myself, but I also realized my view of the world has expanded to the biggest it has ever been. Though I have been interested in Chinese culture for a while, nothing could have prepared me for what it is actually like to live in China. One of my favorite things to do when we had free time was to just walk around the streets of Suzhou and see locals’ houses. I liked getting to catch a glimpse of things that had existed for my entire life that I previously had no idea about. Now that I’m back in the US, I often wonder what all those people are doing at this exact moment and wish I was still there, experiencing the same things they are.

Going into this program, I was very excited about the idea of having language partners to talk to and help us understand what college students in China are like compared to us. What I didn’t expect at the beginning after first arriving in China was how difficult would be to communicate with them right off the bat. The first two weeks of the program were a little rough because I realized how much I didn’t know and how poor my speaking ability was. It took a little adjusting to realize that the whole point of the program was to work towards improving my language skills and not focus on all the things I didn’t know but instead work to build on the skills that I already possessed. Though it was easy to compare myself to the progress that my classmates were making, I had to work to just focus on myself and my own needs as a language learner. This realization definitely helped me become more self-reliant because I knew no one could make me truly understand unless I really worked at it myself. Being able to ask my language partners questions and have them as someone to practice talking with was one of the biggest highlights of the program. 

The freedom of the program allowed me to explore Suzhou on my own terms and have genuine interactions with locals. Though we had class every day, in the afternoons we were pretty much able to do whatever we wanted. This gave us amazing opportunities to go out and observe Chinese culture in real-time. Being in a completely different culture to my own put the day to day trivial things that I had often spent time worrying about into perspective. It made me realize that I should focus my life more towards living and experiencing, rather than concerned about other peoples’ perceptions of me. 

Not only was I able to explore different places around Suzhou, but I was also able to experience the food culture that makes up a major portion of Chinese culture. I loved the fact that food prices were so inexpensive compared to food prices in America so I really could afford to sample a whole range of different things. I discovered what now has become one of my favorite foods, Hot Pot, and all the different varieties of it that just don’t exist in America. In class, we often discussed the different styles of cooking and food preferences based on region and were able to sample different types of cuisine on our day trips to other cities. I tried some soup dumplings in the city of Nanjing that were the best dumplings I had ever eaten and then in the city of Hangzhou tried a meat mooncake that I still dream about now. This program really allowed us to immerse ourselves into Chinese life through interaction and samples of many different aspects of the culture. 

After having lived in China for two months, I can honestly see myself going back there to work and even live for an extended period of time. This program opened up a whole new world that I had only ever imagined and I found myself really come to thrive in the environment. Seeing as I am now considering living there, I would say this program was a very valuable life experience that possibly changed the direction of where I want my life to go. Not only did I get credit for two classes while there, I also made friends with many people I met that I still talk to now. I have become someone who is able to take things that come in stride and adjust to challenges without having them negatively affect me as much as before. This program was a dream come true to me because I got to go somewhere that I had always dreamed of while learning about something that I am really passionate about. 

STEP Post-Project Reflection: Impact of HIV, Tanzania

1. I participated in an education abroad program called Impact of HIV: Tanzania, in which I spent a month in the country studying the history of this disease and the public health response to it. I took classes and went on field trips to local clinics and other pertinent locations to put the HIV epidemic in a real-world context. I also gained a broader cultural knowledge by living in the country and learning basic Swahili.

2. I think the most important thing I gained was a better perspective on the privilege I have as an American. Going into this experience, I almost expected things to be more similar to my life than they were. The amount of poverty I saw opened my eyes to all the things I take for granted, like reliable electricity and clean water. The importance of infrastructure, as well as what a challenge it is to establish it, became very apparent.

I also spent more time studying public health than I ever have before, and I found I am interested in it. The sociological factors that influence medicine and the perception of disease were fascinating. Public health might be something I want to pursue in the future; I feel it would be a useful application of my microbiology degree.

3. A large portion of the class associated with my study abroad was dedicated to our final project, in which we selected an aspect of Tanzanian life and its relationship to HIV. My topic was religion and how it affects the perception of HIV. While completing this project, I was able to delve into what its like to live in Tanzania, as a majority of our information was collected through primary interviews. Conducting interviews with real Tanzanians gave me a fairly unbiased look into the problems they faced. While my focus was on what religion means for HIV, I also got a sense of what religion means to Tanzanian people and how they tackle the problems they face.

Interestingly, something that came up during my interviews, as well as on some of the site visits we did as a class, was that HIV is not necessarily the number one problem for most Tanzanians. HIV medication in Tanzania is free because of US-based donations; however, challenges such as lack of nutritional food and clean water impact both HIV positive and negative citizens alike. This sheds light on the level of poverty that most people must deal with. Basic necessities are not always obtainable.

Simply living in the urban area of Iringa for a month also gave me a lot of insight into how much I take for granted. Although there was certainly more infrastructure in this area than the rural village of Kilolo, which we visited one weekend, there were still issues such as power outages and lack of hot water. Internet was expensive and unreliable, and some roads were unpaved. Houses were crammed together and half-built. My professor explained that because of the high inflation, money loses its value very quickly. This meant that people buy as many building materials as they can if they come into any money, then leave their projects unfinished until their next significant paycheck.

Despite the economic challenges faced by many Tanzanians, I was blown away by the friendliness and hopeful demeanor of most people I met. I found that everyone was welcoming of me and excited to hear about the work I was doing. I enjoyed talking with people and learning about the country as I conducted my research for my final project.

4. This transformation was significant for many reasons. I had a great time seeing a new place and exploring a new culture, and it inspired me to travel more after school. It also introduced me to the world of public health, something that I was aware of before but had never taken a class on. This experience has caused me to think about what I want to do with my degree in the future. Before going on this trip, I planned to go to grad school and work on a Ph.D. in microbiology. Now, I think I may want to incorporate more aspects of history, sociology, and public health into my future educational plans. While I certainly still want to pursue higher education, my interests and focus have broadened from simply wanting to do research, to wanting to do research with the intent to directly help people.

Two Months in Montpellier, France

1.I did a study abroad program in Montpellier, France, this past summer. I attended a French university and took French language and culture class.

 

2.I learned so much about myself and the world this summer. Studying abroad is difficult, but it’s also so rewarding. I had taken French for many years before the program, but am obviously not fluent, so living in France for two months was difficult at times. I was scared to speak because I knew I’d make mistakes and would get embarrassed. I went into the program with a goal of improving my French speaking skills, so I needed to stop being scared and start speaking. My goal was more important than my fears, so I eventually started to speak a lot. Yes, I made mistakes, but by the end of the two months, I was able to speak faster and with less errors. I learned I shouldn’t let my fears and doubts get in the way of achieving my goals and that I need to start having more confidence in myself.

Being exposed to a different culture for two months was an eye-opening experience. I was able to see the world through the eyes of French people. They have a different perspective on things like politics and lifestyle. It was really cool being able to see how they live and get their opinion on certain topics.

 

3. I lived with a host family during my time in France. I was only allowed to speak French in the house, and my host mom didn’t know any English. Living with a host family provided me with an environment to practice speaking French with French people. My French family was super nice and helpful to me. I settled into their home pretty quickly, but there were some aspects that I had to get adjusted to. For example, in France, they eat dinner around 8 or 9 pm, but I was used to eating around 5 or 6 in the States. I was really glad I lived with a host family and that they were so amazing. I was anxious to speak when I first moved in, but as I became more comfortable with the family, I spoke more and more. Thanks to them, my speaking improved so much- my host mom even commented on my improvement! Living with a host family definitely positively impacted my time abroad.

I took classes at a French university. My classmates were from all over the world, and learning about them, their countries, and cultures was incredible. We did a variety of exercises in class, such as speaking, listening, reading and writing. I had class every day for four hours, so it was pretty intense. We focused on grammar concepts and vocabulary review. This was another way for me to focus on my goal of improving my speaking. I don’t participate that often in classes in the US, but in order to make the most of my experience abroad, I knew I had to. I don’t like public speaking in a classroom setting, but participating in class abroad made me more confident to do so here. I learned I need to start trusting myself and not be afraid to speak up. Taking French classes in France was a great opportunity, and I’m so glad I did it.

While abroad, I had the opportunity to travel to different countries and French cities. Solo traveling is challenging, but I persevered. When something went wrong, I had to deal with it; I didn’t have anyone else there to help. I dealt with delayed trains, cancelled flights, and much more. Solo traveling taught me a lot about myself, such as I like to be half an hour early for a train that won’t even get to the station until 5 minutes before departure time. Also, I had the false assumption that nothing will go wrong in my travels, but I was proved to be very, very wrong about that. Things did go wrong, and only I could deal with them and fix them. Going on these trips by myself taught me that I am independent and smart enough to get out of those bad situations. I have the confidence to handle anything in life as a result, because this summer showed me that I can handle things by myself. It’s scary traveling by yourself, but my goal and desire to see the world overruled my fear of solo traveling.

 

4. This transformation I had, of my language skills and self-discoveries, will be very valuable for my life here on out. I will take the things I learned about myself and apply them to life here. I will participate in class more. I know life will not always be easy, but I now know I can get through the tough situations. My French fluency has improved so much as well. Since I am a French major, I would love to use my knowledge of the language after I graduate. My other major is accounting, and business is a very versatile industry- I could live in France and do something involving business there after graduation. One of my goals is to live (and therefore work) in France one day, and my ability to speak French will help facilitate that. This program changed my life, and I am so blessed to have been able to do it. I am grateful to STEP for helping me get this opportunity.

 

Pictures: Paris (left) and the center of my town, Montpellier (right)