Multicultural Histories and Legacies of London and Paris REFLECTION

Hello! My name is Katerina Sharp and this summer I had the opportunity to travel to London and Paris through theIMG_6858 STEP program. I participated in the Multicultural Histories and Legacies of London and Paris program, where my group spent three weeks in the United Kingdom and France learning about the different cultures of the two places. Our visit focused on diversity, current political and location issues, history, government, and religion. We spent time touring many different locations that we learned about in class before leaving, and also additional places that are important to the two countries.

I learned so much about diversity, religion and history on my trip. I have come to realize that the world is a very diverse and complex place, so much more so than I ever realized before. I was able to really expand my horizons on a lot of topics, but especially ones related to diversity, integration, the immigration issue, different governments and the relationships they have with their people and with other countries, and how religions play into all of this. There is so much history that has unfolded in the past, making some of the current issues very complex. I learned there is no single right or wrong opinion when it comes to these issues. There is also not a single way to solve these concerns. All countries have been effected differently and have their own cultural ideals to follow. What works for one country may not work for another. What I do know for sure is that we are all connected to each other in some way, whether we areIMG_6950 from the same country or from two different continents. What each of us does has an impact on someone else, and it is important to be aware of this.

A lot of what I did and learned had a definite impact on my views about different issues. One of the days when we were in London, we visited the League of British Muslims. I learned a lot about religious norms, traditions and history. We talked about the difference between culture and religion, which is an extremely important distinction that I had not realized before. Diverse cultures that are properly integrated into an area strengthen the community. This is a really important topic right now across the world. I was able to see how diverse London is, but the different people are all so integrated into the culture that it isn’t an issue. This is something I believe the United States needs to work on. We also talked about how propaganda has had an impact on how people view these topics, such as with different religions and the actions of the people following the religion. Many people tend to group everything they know about a large topic together and apply it to everyone across a wide range of differences. I have noticed that London is so much more culturally diverse than the U.S. Part of this is due to location, but still they are a lot different. I have seen way more women in government positions in Europe.

I also learned a lot about the places we visited, and how they have been affected by current world issues. I never IMG_7377would have thought that Paris would have been so different from London. The first thing I noticed when we were in Paris the first night was this energy that seemed to be everywhere. It definitely made me feel more alert to everything around me. Learning about the differences in the governments between Paris and London were huge. Also, unlike London, Paris has been more directly influenced and exposed to the immigrants fleeing the Middle East. I was able to learn a lot more about the issues concerning this topic in Europe than I would ever have been able to learn here at home. It’s a messy and confusing topic to try to understand. The people fleeing some of these dangerous areas are trying to find somewhere safe where they can live, and it doesn’t seem like too much to ask other countries to let these people in, as their very lives depend on it. But at the same time, this huge influx in migrants across the world is causing a lot of problems for other countries. I guess you have to ask yourself if you have a duty as a global citizen to help those that need your help, or if you should look after your own country and your own issues first before adding someone else’s disputes into the mix. As I said previously IMG_7245this is a really complex topic, and one I have thought a lot about since my time spent learning abroad. I was definitely able to expand my horizons on this trip, which have already begun to impact my views and way of thinking.

Most of our service learning hours were completed during the semester before our trip while taking the class, but we also did a bit of volunteering in London, too. We spent one day volunteering at the London Action for the Homeless. The conversations I had with the people there were really thought provoking. Several of the men had been to the United States in the past. Most knew a lot about our current political issues, definitely more than I know about other countries’ politics. This is something I want to work on improving about myself. I never know much about the current issues taking place around the world. In order to have well founded opinions and make decisions that affect others, I need to do a much better job researching these topics and issues. These conversations gave me just a glimpse of what these peoples’ lives used to be like. Not only does this show how much something can change in the blink of an eye, but it also demonstrated how different people value different things in life. I was a bit nervous for this experience beforehand, but I really enjoyed talking with all the people that I did.

Another place we visited was Normandy. I loved learning about the beaches where the invasion of D-Day first took IMG_8031place. Seeing the destruction on Point du Hoc was also really eye opening to the horrors of war. No matter how much I hear or read about such a topic, I know I will never be able to fully understand it. There are some things that must be experienced to fully understand. I thought it was really cool how they try to keep Point du Hoc in the same state of destruction it was left in after the battle in order to ensure that we never forget the horrors that happened there. Unfortunately, we have a habit of IMG_8079forgetting things we do not want to remember. The beaches were completely reclaimed, but there were other areas that were not. This just proves that even though some things can be healed over, other things can never be fixed. I was touched to see so many of the houses and road sides in Normandy with American flags displayed right beside French flags. The American cemetery was truly beautiful to see, as well. I believe Normandy was really important to learn about for a lot of reasons. I think one of the most important things to know about D-Day is that a lot of countries were able to come together and make huge sacrifices to accomplish a common goal.

The Multicultural Histories and Legacies of London and Paris study abroad program really expanded my global perspective. I am very interested in history and was so grateful for the opportunity to immerse myself in the changing cultures of these two captivating cities. I am a communications major and I know my major benefited extraordinarily from experiencing firsthand some of the issues in Europe, such as diversity, religion, gentrification, and the influx in migration. There is so much more to these issue than I ever understood before my trip. There was IMG_7592also a multitude of history to be experienced in both London and Paris. Both of these cities have their own special cultures that are different from each other and are different from the United States.

We live in an incredible world and to truly inform others about it, I must experience world events and cultures with my own eyes. The experiences that I gained from this event are not ones I could have learned in a classroom. There was so much history and culture to learn about in just these two cities alone, and I know that I only brushed the surface. This experience definitely opened my eyes to a whole new world and exposed me to an entire new sense of life.

La Vita è Bella: Study Abroad in Florence, Italy


Laurie Hamame – Florence, Italy

My STEP Signature Project included a study abroad trip to Florence, Italy, the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region and the birthplace of the Renaissance, where I stayed for seven weeks. While staying in Florence, I studied at Accademia Italiana, one of Europe’s premier institutes for art and design. Located in two beautiful renaissance buildings directly across from the famous Pitti Palace in Florence’s Oltrarno district, this university offers a variety of courses offered in both Italian and English.


I spent two months learning about Italian life and culture and getting to know the people, the place, the language, and the traditions of this exuberant country. I took two classes, Photographing Florence and Italian Language, during my time, and I documented by stay through photography and blogging on my personal site.


I learned that the best skill you should attempt to hone abroad is to do absolutely anything you can to embrace the culture as fully as possible. I learned that in order to have the most authentic experience, I had to shed my inhibitions and run straight into the language barrier, which is more of an obstacle than a barrier. I was shown that I am more independent that I think I am. I taught myself Italian, traveled all over Italy alone, and interacted with people from every walk of life…all without my mother on speed dial.

Before this summer, I have never traveled alone, never stepped foot in an airport by myself, or planned travel arrangements on my own. I came back with valuable lessons about my own ability to live and thrive outside of Ohio. I have a a new, flaming confidence regarding my ability to adapt to different environments. To reiterate this point, I must share that when I came back to Ohio State, I tested into Italian 1103; I didn’t speak a work of Italian prior to my trip!


Every day in Italy was filled with excitement, but something I will never forget is running in the second oldest road race in Italy: the 76th annual Notturna di San Giovanni (The Night of Saint John). I ran a 10k with thousands of Italian athletes through the  city of Florence. Holy. Smokes. When I started running a little over a year ago, I never imagined I’d run in a different state, not to mention a different country.


Running in this race allowed me to immerse myself even deeper into the magic atmosphere of Florence. Running on cobblestone roads past historical monuments, gorgeous bridges, and breathtaking churches with 1,500+ other athletes in ITALY is undoubtedly one of the greatest things I have ever done in my entire life. No words will ever exist to describe the feeling. The energy was electrifying. I smiled the entire hour it took me to finish. At one point in the race, the joy overtook me and I yelled out to the sky, “LA VITA È BELLA!” Life is beautiful.


Those seven weeks of pleasure, the 49 days of eating and speaking Italian, will always count amongst the happiest of my life. I realized that it is our duty and our entitlement as human beings to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight and small. If something licks at the flame within you, grab onto the ankles of that happiness.


Before Italy, I did not know what I deserved. I thought the best kind of life was an active life. I plunged into social gatherings; I thrusted myself at all opportunities; I studied until day turned to night and back to day again.

I justified my glorification of busy by referring to it as seizing the day or being an active participant in my life. I swapped balance for busyness and freedom for the fear of lost time. I stopped caring for myself and taking care of myself. I obsessed over every detail and panicked over every empty calendar space to the point where I substituted meal time for meetings and let my fridge sit empty for weeks.


But Italy changed me. The easiest, most fundamentally human way to say it is that I have put on weight. Of course I did. Every day, I took in ghastly amounts of cheese and pasta and bread and wine and chocolate and pizza dough and gelato. I’m didn’t exercise (besides the miles I walked every day), I didn’t eat enough fiber, I didn’t take any vitamins, but my body was such a good sport about all it all, as if to say, “It’s OK, kid. Live it up.”

I know when I go back to America and After Italy Laurie arises, my little experiment with overindulgences and pure pleasure will tone down. I will leave Italy a little bigger than when I arrived, but I cannot even be bothered to think about it.


I exist more now than I did a few months ago. There is more of me. I am not even speaking solely in regards to physicality. Learning the art of il dolce far niente and living in il bel paese and experiencing la dolce vita, has left me an expanded person. I left Italy believing that the magnification of my life was an act worth experiencing, that the expansion of and the amplification of myself was an act of worth.


Before Italy, I didn’t know what I deserved. I didn’t know that I deserved a break– even two breaks. I didn’t know that I could slow down without wasting time. I didn’t know that I could engage in pure pleasure without feeling like I needed to be punished. I didn’t know that by saying yes to something, I could be saying no to myself.


 This is probably why, when I thought about coming to a country where I’d learn the art of pleasure, I felt completely irresponsible, as if this trip was a self-indulgent luxury. When I realized that the only question at hand was, “How do I define pleasure?” and that I was truly in a country where people would permit me to explore that question freely, everything changed. All I have to do is ask myself every day, for the first time in my life, “What would you enjoy doing today, Laurie?” Instead of measuring the number of errands I’ve crossed off my to-do list, I measure my success by the number of times I’ve smiled about nothing, watched the sun set, or by how long it took me to linger over dinner.


These experiences have been very personally valuable, but also academically valuable. I have been able to experience a culture very different than the community that I grew up in and also adapt to a new environment, which will help me to adapt and understand new cultures in the future as a journalist when I work with many different people. I have been able to gain many practical skills including learning how to navigate traveling independently, speaking another language, maintaining a blogging website, and also meeting and interviewing many new people I would not have been able to connect with without this experience.


I had always wanted to study Italian, but the lack of practicality turned me away. My opinion quickly shifted after studying in Italy. I realized, “Does everything I do in life have to have a practical application?” I decided the answer is a profound, “No.” When I came back to Ohio State, I dropped the language I was studying and picked up Italian, a language that sparks a fire in me. Do I want to work in Italy? Of course. But if it doesn’t happen, I will still hold another country in the palm of my hand and have an experience that was utterly transformative.


Studying aboard in Paris was an experience, not a class.

This post is to provide a short description of my project for the Second-Year Transformational Experience Program. This ended up being a lot more than one to two paragraphs, but it is of good quality.

From May 23rd to June 7, I studied aboard in Paris, France. The program I enrolled in was through the History of Art Department. While in Paris, we studied Medieval Paris and looked at many Gothic cathedrals in Paris and in the surrounding cities. To prepare for studying aboard, I attended a class on the Ohio State University’s Columbus campus two weeks prior to flying to France. During those two weeks, I basically took a crash course in Gothic cathedrals. I learned the proper vocabulary used to describe the structure and designs of Gothic as well researching a particular topic to teach to the class while in Paris.

As previously stated, I researched Gothic ivories. I focused on a large statuette of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus that is thought to have been located in the lower chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, but now resides in the Louvre Museum.


There were three different typical days in Paris.

The first day was when the class went to a museum to talk about a particular object and it’s significance to Medieval Paris and Gothic cathedrals. For example, the day that I presented my research to the class, the first half the day was time for personal exploration of the city and the second half was sent at the Louvre. At first I went to the Grande Palais to see an exhibition on Diego Velazquez, which was awesome because I saw some art by one of my favorite, Jusepe di Ribera, unexpectedly. Then, I met the class at the Lourve Museum. I present my research in front of the ivory statuette and then, Professor Whittington, our professor for the course and program, showed us some of his favorite pieces in the museum. (The Louvre is amazing because the major of the painting and sculptures discussed in the survey course for History of Art are found in the museum. So I was able to see many of the pieces of art that sparked my passion for the history of art.) We would then have the rest of the day to go get dinner and enjoy the nightlife of Paris.

The second day was when the class took a day trip to one the surrounding city that had one of the famous Gothic cathedral. Our first day trip was to Chartres. We left early in the morning and made the hour train ride to Chartres, France. It was awesome (in the sense that the experience inspired awe) to watch as the train approached the city and the cathedral towering over the surrounding buildings. The class would first sit outside of the cathedral and look at the very detailed façade, noticing the aspects that made this cathedral unique and the characteristics that are common among all Gothic cathedrals. Then, after looking at the outside, we would enter the cathedral, and so the same visual analysis. Then, two students would present their research. When we visited Chartres, we talked about the current renovation and restoration of the cathedral as well the importance of the labyrinth in the Medieval era. We would be on our won for lunch. I was so proud of myself because I was able to order and pay for food in French, without needing the storeowners to speak in English. (In Chartres, I had the best lemon tart.) Then we would reconvene at the cathedral and study some more. Eventually, we would make our way back to Paris for dinner.


The third type of day was a free day. We were allowed to explore Paris on our own. My favorite free day was when I traveled by myself to Rouen, France. It was a two to three hour train trip. I went to go look at the Rouen Cathedral that Claude Monet famously painting many, many times. Though, my favorite part was that I saw a painting by my all-time favorite artist, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. I am a personal believer of the power of viewing art in person and to see Caravaggio’s Christ at the Pillar in person was one of favorite experiences of the entire trip. I also became very confident in myself because I was able to thrive on my own in the unknown.

This post addresses how I saw myself before the experience and how I changed after studying aboard.

The semester before traveling to Paris was a hot mess for me. I was still coming to terms with my mother have breast cancer for the second time, losing an election for the executive board in my favorite student organization, and dealing with my boyfriend breaking up with me. After that semester, I had very little self confidence, I felt like a failure, and looking back, I think I was in state of mild depression. (My mom is in remission, I’m running for a position again this year, and my boyfriend and I started dating again, so things did get better.) The majority of my thoughts were along the lines of “Why am I going to college?” and “This seems so pointless.”

This was my first selfie in Paris. I was so tired from the flight over.


After studying aboard, I gained confidence in myself and my abilities. I was able to converse with some people with the basic French I had learned in high school. I became happy again. Seeing all this art that I had loved from afar, in person, helped confirm that I was going in the right direction by majoring in History of Art and having the career goals of working in a museum. I like to think that Paris was one giant reminder why life is good.

This was my last selfie in Paris is the airport. It was a weird mixture of “I don’t want to go,” but “I miss home.”


This post will address my transformational experiences specifically.

Throughout the entire trip, I got lost in Paris by myself on multiple occasions. Usually I started my search for the known with a couple of tears. To be lost in a big, populated city where the majority of the people did not speak the same language as you and without the ability to call anybody was stressful. Luckily, the subway was easy to navigate and our professor did a great job of showing prominent landmarks near our hotel. To find your way back after being lost was a validating experience. I wasn’t totally helpless. During an adventure, a.k.a. not knowing where I was, someone approached me and started to speak French. He seemed to asking directions because he started pointing in different directions. I felt really cool because he at first mistook me as French and because I was able to respond back in French with “I’m sorry. I don’t speak French.” (Though, saying that you don’t speak French in French is a little ironic. Multiple French people pointed this out to me.)

Before my boyfriend and I broke up in February, he had introduced me to a band and I liked them. While looking to see if there would be any concerts of bands that I knew while I was in Paris in May, the band discovered through my boyfriend would be playing a show. The morning of the concert, I asked if anyone would want to go with me; I wasn’t going to go to concert by myself. One of my classmates joined me. (We got lost on the way to the concert venue, but I refrained from crying since someone I knew was with me.) The concert ended up being amazing. The music was great. We ended up meeting all the band members. I legally drank alcohol. I cried (surprise). It felt nice to enjoy something that I had lost interest in and also to not miss my boyfriend. (Since we started dating again in October, we went to the band’s concert in Columbus, Ohio. The concert was just as amazing, but even a little better because it was with him.

This is the leader singer of Misterwives and I. She was fun to meet.


The experience in which I am most proud of myself is when I took a day trip to Rouen, France by myself. I bought my train ticket. I got myself to the train station on time in the morning and I arrived in Rouen mid-morning. I had two goals while in Rouen: I wanted to Rouen Cathedral which had inspired a series of paintings by Claude Monet and I wanted to go the Musée des Beaux-Arts. I went to the cathedral, but that was honestly a let down. I understood why our professor did not take the class to see that particular cathedral. Going to the Musée des Beaux-Arts was the highlight of the trip. At the museum they had a painting by one my favorite artist, Michelangelo Merisis da Caravaggio. There are only four paintings by Caravaggio in the United States, one in Fort Worth, Texas, another in Kansas City, Missouri, one in New York City, and the last one is in Cleveland, but it was being restored when I went to go see it. So, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, I saw my first Caravaggio painting in person and it was somewhat overwhelming experience. Any painting is ten times more beautiful or interesting or thought provoking in person than a digital or printed recreation. (The only exception is the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. It was a very underwhelming experience.) I started to cry because I think that the painting is exceptionally beautiful. Gallery attendants don’t know how to handle crying though. I was just awkwardly stared at for a bit.

This picture is of Caravaggio’s Christ at the Pillar.


One of the last experiences that was part of my transformation was facilitated by my professor. In Reims, France, took us away from the popular and crowded Reims Cathedral and to a smaller cathedral. There was no one in the cathedral and the light were off, the only light came from the stained glass windows. He asked us to spread out through the cathedral and to sit in silence. It was a great time to reflect on that I had learned, both personally and academically, and to reflect on all of my experiences so far. The peace I felt afterwards was so uplifting. I did not cry, I was too happy.

So why was this trip beneficial to me??

Along the lines of career or professional goals, I feel that my goals are good goals and I will be successful. After graduating from undergraduate school, I plan on attending graduate school and because I studied aboard, this will help me in the selection process. Also, My passion and the time and energy I put into studying the history of art was validated in Paris. I was able to use what I had learned in class. Eventaully, I will be apply to apply this experience in the future.

Personally, Paris helped me to become happy. I’m still happy now because of Paris. I can’t wait to go back.


Engineering Service-Learning at Montana De Luz


I participated in an Engineering Service-Learning course through OSU where we traveled to Honduras over Spring Break 2015 and implemented sustainable engineering solutions for an orphanage.

Montaña de Luz (Mountain of Light), is an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS. Founded in 2000 as a Hospice, the orphanage has now become a loving home providing hope for these children thanks to the availability of anti-retroviral medications. Located an hour and half to the East of Tegucigalpa on top of a mountain overlooking a valley of small towns and sugar cane fields the mountain of light is a refuge for children who desperately need the specialized care, nurturance, healing and love provided to them in this refuge from a world where AIDS is stigmatizing.

Our class had three student teams that worked on different projects. The Water Team installed bio-sand filters at the orphanage and conducted water quality tests in an ongoing effort to bring clean drinking water to MdL. Currently, MdL pays for bottled water which ends up costing them a lot of money every year. The Drip Irrigation Team installed a drip irrigation system which will help to start a vegetable garden to provide MdL with fruits and vegetables.


I was on the Electrical Team and we rebuilt a backup generator by scavenging parts from another generator of the same model which was in a much worse condition. We scoured the neighborhood and local shops for parts and rebuilt the fuel system of the generator and made electrical repairs to the alternator. After adding some fuel, the generator worked! Then we worked on integrating the generator with the electrical grid of the orphanage, specifically the kitchen. We installed a new circuit box and created a three way switch hooked up to the generator which provided backup emergency power to the kitchen to help preserve food and anti-retroviral medicines for the children.

So What?
Honduras gave me a chance to apply what I had learned in school to a real world problem. We had to repair a generator which we knew almost nothing about and then we had to integrate it with the orphanage’s electrical grid. I’ve never undertaken a project of such magnitude before. But once we were successful, I was immensely satisfied that our hard work was going to affect other people’s lives in a positive way. This experience reaffirmed that I was on the right career path and that Engineering was the correct field for me.

My time in Honduras also showed me that there is so much more to life than getting a job and making sure you can work 40 hours a week. I had been struggling with my plans for the future, even though I was doing really well in school and had good internships. I was focused on my career and not paying enough attention to whether it would actually make me happy. Then I met the long term volunteer at the orphanage Dr. Chris Ratcliff. He spent a lot of time and money in obtaining a PhD in Electrical Engineering. He spent years working on silicon conductor research in a dark basement. But today, he is a volunteer at the Montana de Luz orphanage in Honduras and is focusing on sustainable agriculture to provide healthy food for the children.

Why would he make this decision? If you were to visit the orphanage, you will understand immediately. The children have difficult lives, they are struggling with one of the worst diseases to afflict humanity, HIV/AIDS. But if you look at their glowing faces and bright smiles as they run around the yard playing football or midnight tag with ring lights on their fingers, they look like the happiest human beings on the planet. I think Chris realizes this. To him, a well paying job working in a fancy laboratory or teaching at a prestigious academic institution doesn’t hold a candle to when he picks up little Erik and puts him on his shoulders. The bright joy that lights up his face is evidence of this. It’s never too late to do what makes you happy.


At the end of the day, it wasn’t the Engineering aspect of the experience that gave me the most joy. Without access to our cellphone or WiFi, we developed very strong connections amongst ourselves as we lay in our hammocks at the end of the days and talked about life, sang songs, played music, and pranked each other. Every day we played football and other games with the children. We made ice cream with them. We ate so many delicious foods and shared a truckload of watermelons. Those dazzling smiles created an instant bond despite the language barrier. The sense of community I experienced was the biggest thing I took away.

Now What?
I will use the problem solving and technical engineering skills I learned in Honduras and apply them throughout my career. I will take the time to connect with those around me and take a break from the constant distraction of the internet to instead have real, meaningful conversations with a purpose. I will become a strong contributor to my community and give back as much as I can in the form of physical and mental service. Whenever I face any obstacles in life, I will remember the smiling faces of children facing a life-threatening disease and overcome those obstacles in stride. Honduras taught me to live more with less, be a part of people’s lives, and to do what makes me happy. For me, this will definitely involve using my technical skills to work on projects involving a huge service component.

Over 10 days, I made a lot of new friends, learned so much more about the important things in life, and played a lot of football. This is an experience I will cherish forever.

Service in Vietnam

What?I volunteered at an orphanage for children with developmental disabilities for two weeks in Vietnam during the summer of 2015. I commuted to Thien Phuoc, the orphanage, each morning on the back of my uncle’s two-wheeled motorbike and stayed there for 7-10 hours each day, becoming immersed in the children’s daily activities. Some days I assisted in the children’s physical therapy and some days I was in charge of it. I would strap the children I was in charge of onto an exercise bike, one at a time, to help them exercise their legs and work on their range of motion. I would also strap some of the children onto standing frames to help them develop their ability to walk and maintain an upright posture. Throughout the morning physical therapy I would feed the children I was working with water or lemonade and physically help them to use the restroom whenever they needed to. Some mornings I worked on physical therapy with the younger children instead and massaged their muscles with a vibrating therapy machine since these children were stationary and horizontal most of the time. When lunch time came each day, I spoon-fed some of the younger children their porridge and flan and then soothed them until they fell asleep. While they slept I helped the nuns clean up and wash the cloths that were used to help clean after the children as we were feeding them, and after the children’s nap, I changed the diapers of the younger children and fed them milk. After caring for the younger children, I played with them or went to play with the relatively older children. I played with them and developed relationships with them and laughed with them. After playtime, I helped to spoon-feed the younger children in the early evening during the first week and the relatively older children during the second week. And after feeding the children porridge or rice and then water, I played with the children even more until the evening; throughout the late afternoon and evening I would continue to help the children use the restroom when they needed to and also help the nuns bathe the children by drying the children and dressing them. After the sun has set, my uncle would come to pick me up and drive me back home.

So What?My favorite part about my STEP experience was getting to know the children and returning to see their faces each morning. My time at Thien Phuoc was more incredible than words can ever describe. Prior to my experience I believed that I was naturally bad at dealing with children and even more awkward at dealing with disabled people—which was a reason why I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and participate in this experience. However, as I became more immersed in my role at the orphanage and more engaged in the children’s daily lives, I became to wonder why I had ever doubted myself so much. I naturally enjoyed spending time with the children, whether that meant helping them mold shapes with clay or wiping their butts clean. I valued them because I saw that they were capable of so many great things, even if they were limited and confined to the orphanage. They had warmth within them that was contagious and gave me more energy. They were resilient and powerful, even when they were scolded by the nuns for accidentally peeing in their pants or when they didn’t want to participate in the physical therapy because it felt too hard that day. Their capacity to love and to have fun remain unchanged by their disabilities, and I saw something so incredible in that that I felt so grateful to be volunteering where I was, so happy to be able to help them, so blessed to be a part of their universe, even if only for a little bit. I felt like I was always feeling thankful for the children and the nuns instead of the other way around. I’ve realized that people truly are stronger than they look, even when they are in the form of ‘broken’ or ‘incomplete,’ young children. They aren’t helpless; they don’t need help. What they need is love. It was so amazing for me to be able to experience this love beyond borders.

Now What?Because of STEP, I was able to learn about cultural differences in perspectives on disability and discover the importance of psychological support over physical support in therapy. On an academic level, my experience abroad has given me a clearer direction and vision in terms of what I want to do as a career. More specifically, I want to steer away from medicine and set my focus on a career that impacts children and childhood development in some kind of way. I want to contribute to changing and bettering the lives of the younger generations, something I had generally avoided before without my realizing it.On a more personal level, I was able to rediscover self-efficacy in working with children, which drives me in my pursuit for a career with children. I was also able to redefine disability and physical therapy, explore my cultural identity as a Vietnamese-American, and solidify an even more optimistic mentality. I have found a new comfort zone in working with disability and people who are disabled, a huge step from where I had been prior to my experience. Because of STEP, I have gained a new and impactful understanding of what it means to be Vietnamese and what it means to be Vietnamese-American. Family to me has also taken on a new meaning; familial love and family ties have taken on a deeper meaning and I am now always working harder to develop better relationships with my family members and mend broken relationships. Additionally experiencing the contrasting lifestyle of Vietnam has stimulated and amplified my curiosity and wonder as a cultural learner, adventurer, risk-taker, and traveler. I’ve encompassed amore stress-less-live-more attitude, which permeates to all other aspects of my life and since my return to the United States, I have been traveling more and generally experiencing even more new things (even if it means doing so in my own company).Because of STEP, I genuinely feel that I am living an overall happier life.

Chicago Summer Mission



Pictures: Top image — full group picture of staff and students from Chicago Summer Mission 2015. Bottom image — a group of students participating in Soularium, a survey used to help facilitate conversation about individuals’ beliefs.

Name: Sarah Thompson

Type of Project: Leadership Experience

Project Overview
For my STEP experience, I participated in a ten week mission trip to Chicago, IL as part of a Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ) Summer Mission. The mission focused on college campus outreach at three campuses in Chicago: Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Chicago, and University of Illinois at Chicago. The trip took place May 29, 2015-August 7, 2015. While in Chicago, I also had the opportunity to work at Shedd Aquarium, so I gained additional experience in the realm of nonprofit organizations.

Personal Transformation
Growing up, my town’s definition of religious diversity was one Catholic Church intermingled with a plethora of Protestant churches throughout my small town in Southeastern Ohio, so prior to coming to college I had to real experience with religious diversity. Even since coming to Ohio State, I know different belief systems and worldviews exist, but I have not fully had the opportunity to engage in discussions on the topic. In Chicago, my eyes were opened to a completely different worldview about individuals’ religions and how this impacts their day-to-day lives. My personal faith was challenged as I was pushed to understand (and articulate) why I believe what I believe and how this shapes my everyday interactions, especially as I look to learn about the religions of others.

Transformational Interactions
Because one of the main goals of this mission was to interact with college students and just hear more about their views (particularly on religion), I met a lot of great people who helped bring about shifts in my worldview and challenges to my personal belief system. One of my favorite conversations that shaped the transformation discussed above was with a student on Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT’s) campus named Vidhiya. Using tools to help facilitate conversation, I learned that she had been raised in a practicing Hindu family in India, but after moving to the United States and doing extensive research on a wide variety of religions before deciding to identify as Agnostic. This was one of my favorite experiences because she was extremely knowledgeable and open to sharing her beliefs and listening to my personal opinions/experiences, and she gave me a lot of insight into other worldviews while challenging/affirming my personal beliefs.

Also during the course of my time on IIT’s campus, I spoke to a fraternity advisor who described his beliefs to me — and it was quite a unique perspective that I had never heard before. After being raised in a predominantly Muslim family and studying religion independently in college, he came to the conclusion that the God(s) of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are all the same God. He described his belief system as “the faith” and cited scriptures from the Torah, Qur’an, and Bible to support his findings. Although I can’t say I personally agree with the conclusions he came to after studying these religions, it changed my worldview and personal definition of religion. I previously assumed that mainstream, large religious movements were the only legitimately observed religions, but this was proven wrong in his case. He was very certain of his beliefs, and “the faith” played a very large role in his day-to-day life although he was unable to be involved in a community of people with a similar belief system.

Finally, a lot of my personal transformation took place with my peers who were also on this mission from all over the country. All in all 68 college students spent 10 weeks together in Chicago. I learned more about myself in community with this group than I probably have during my first 2 years of college combined. Although there was not one major point of revelation with this, it is still extremely significant — from meeting others with similar experiences, to gaining knowledge and clarity about my own belief system by not being afraid to ask questions, to just gaining confidence in myself and in making decisions as an adult — this group was there through everything. Working through challenging conversations and personal struggles with a group of like-minded individuals was extremely powerful and allowed me to greater develop my personal belief system.

Lifelong Transformation
With more short-term academic goals, this experience helped to prepare me for a Comparative Religions course that I am currently enrolled in this semester. The experience gave me a tangible basis for applying the religions I am learning about it class, which allowed me to understand complex/supernatural concepts with greater ease. Additionally, this experience working with nonprofit organizations (both Cru and Shedd Aquarium) gave me real-world experience into the world of nonprofits and allowed me to put into practice what I was learning in my courses.

In terms of personal and lifelong goals, my experience on Chicago Summer Mission helped me gain confidence in talking about my personal faith. It also broadened my knowledge of religious diversity, which opened my mind to be more empathetic in working with religiously diverse individuals, especially for my future career field. In looking towards my future and career goals, it allowed me to compare the role that religion plays in people’s lives. More tangibly, it also provided great experience and networking opportunities in the city of Chicago. Finally, this experience gave me a better idea of what career path I want to take within the field of social work and has led me to look into pursuing graduate school for social work with a focus on counselling.

Stanford Summer College Worker Program

During the summer of 2015 I worked as an intern for the Summer College Student Worker Program at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. I spent my time with Stanford working as a vertical coordinator for the hospital’s Emergency Department, gaining experience interacting with patients, collecting vital signs/diagnostic tests and performing necessary duties in the fast-paced environment of the ER. By collaborating with the unit secretaries, medical technicians, nurses, practitioners and physicians of the Stanford healthcare team, I obtained knowledge regarding how the operations of an ER function through the positive work environment the Stanford ER possesses. As a nursing student interested in emergency medicine, this program helped broaden my perspective of the responsibilities and situations an ER nurse encounters daily, and I was able to participate in implementing a plan of care for patients.

The summer program was not only enjoyable and informative, but also a transformational experience I will never forget. From the experiences I encountered as an intern in the Emergency Room that improved my emergency medicine and trauma nursing skills, to the relationships I was able to build with co-workers on my unit, to the incredible people I had the opportunity to meet from all over the globe, all of this truly made the experience life-changing. As a first-year undergraduate student I developed an interest in emergency medicine, and this past summer reinforced this genuine interest, as I was able to learn from a team of positive, knowledgeable healthcare professionals that created an ideal learning environment. Before interning at Stanford I was unsure how I would react to the fast-paced, high-stress environment of an ER, however, after shadowing the nurses and gaining hands-on experience by working with patients in critical situations, I learned how to focus in on the tasks I needed to perform, while allowing other providers to perform tasks they needed to complete simultaneously. Since this work environment is very fast-paced, I learned how to prioritize nursing care, performing essential duties first then collecting crucial assessment data and diagnostic tests immediately after. The skills I developed as a nursing student were much needed in these traumatic situations, and I learned how to quickly apply the nursing knowledge I obtained in school to the various emergent situations I faced throughout the program. Many of the patients I encountered were Spanish-speaking as well, allowing me to practice my Spanish language skills. The Spanish language has been a passion of mine since high school, and while I am unable to pursue Spanish courses as an undergraduate in nursing, I was able to regain a majority of my speaking skills this past summer by conversing with patients. This professional transformation was accompanied by the personal transformation I encountered, as I lived in a culture that was unfamiliar to me and learned how to live independently in a new area.

As I traveled to California on my own, without knowing anyone prior to my departure, I knew this experience would be eye-opening and transformational, as I attempted to make an unfamiliar environment somewhat familiar. Upon arriving in California, I immediately seized the opportunity of getting to know the countless number of researchers, interns and students that Stanford University attracts from all over the world. From different parts of the United States, to France, Belgium, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Spain, Norway, China and more, I enjoyed learning about the unique cultures of my new friends, and together we traveled around California, learning we all had much more in common than our internship programs, despite the fact we were all from different parts of the world. With my new amazing group of friends I embraced the culture of the Bay area through traveling pursuits—together we visited nearby national parks such as Lassen Volcanics National Park and Yosemite, biked the Golden Gate Bridge, visited Alcatraz, explored Carmel Beach and Monterey, toured countless times through the city of San Francisco, kayaked the San Francisco Bay, went skydiving and ventured around Palo Alto and the Stanford campus area as well.

Along with traveling, I was also able to pursue external opportunities beyond the internship program, which also contributed to my overall transformation. At Ohio State I have been actively involved in service and volunteer events around the Columbus area, primarily those that cater towards the under-served and homeless populations. I brought this passion to California, where I got involved serving lunch to the homeless and under-served populations of the area at All Saints Episcopal Church in Palo Alto. Every Thursday and Friday morning I biked to the church to serve for two hours, spending my time passing out desserts and mingling with the families that came in. I learned so much from hearing their stories and greatly appreciated all the life experiences they chose to share with me. The other volunteers I worked with were wonderful, and I was able to apply the knowledge and experiences I obtained through volunteer work at Ohio State to this unique opportunity in Palo Alto.

Beyond interning in the ER, traveling and volunteering, I also seized the opportunity to get to know my co-workers and fellow interns. I had the opportunity to get lunch with one of the nurses on my unit, who served as a mentor to me throughout the entire program, and she shared her nursing background and readily gave advice to me and the other intern on the unit. I also formed a strong relationship with the other intern, Faith, as we were able to collaborate throughout our shifts to ensure all necessary tasks were completed for the safety of our patients. Faith and I also shared ideas we had for the future, and together, we built strong relationships with the nurses on our unit, taking their advice into consideration and gaining their support. We also had a ‘Strength Finders’ workshop day, where all the interns from multiple areas of the hospital came together for the afternoon and got to network, talk about our individual strengths and discuss how we could utilize these strengths to create a hospital environment that is productive and positive for the well-being of staff and patients. I also spent time collaborating with the nurse manager of the ER, discussing ways we could improve the quality of patient care on our unit. I had the opportunity to partake in a small portion of an ongoing research project for the unit regarding the topic of patient telemetry monitoring during transfer between units. As an undergraduate researcher at Ohio State partaking in pediatric asthma education research through the College of Nursing, I spent time at an asthma clinic collecting data via survey distribution for my independent project, allowing me to gain research experience as well.

This experience has undoubtedly altered my perspective on emergency medicine and hospital operations as a whole in a positive way, and will serve as the catalyst for several future goals I have developed. Participation in this program showed me what it means to take a risk, set high expectations, and to have the experience be everything you could have asked for and more. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Stanford and out in California, and while I hope my career path and life someday leads me back out there, this experience has taught me that I should never fear the unknown or the unfamiliar regardless of where I end up, as there is so much learning to be done through taking a risk and exploring something new. While I am not sure where my life path will lead next, I know that I will keep an open mind and always be on the search for new opportunities to learn and enhance my nursing skills, wherever that may be, as every new experience can offer something to broaden one’s perspective. This past summer was transformative, and I will seek to continue with this transformation via future opportunities that unravel throughout my career path and life journey.


I Was Young When I Left Home

During May 2015, I traveled across the U.S. and Canada on Amtrak railways. By documenting my experiences with people and landscape, as well as by writing a narrative that combines folklore research, travel literature, and journaling, I explored my identity as citizen and artist in 21st-century America.

During my travels I reflected often upon the sense of individuality and self-reliance I was forging through planning and executing this big trip alone. For the first time, I got to be alone in not only a new place, but almost every place I got off the train. As I walked and talked my way across the country, the random happenings of life forced me to adjust my schedule often, visit different cities than planned, and stay in places I did not expect. Adjusting my STEP budget, travel itinerary, and lodgings, all without an advisor or parent to guide me or offer their experiences, gave me the opportunity to trust myself in a new way for the first time and believe that I could make safe, responsible, and meaningful choices on my own.

While I explored this new independence, I also felt the ways in which this trip was offering me an experience not exactly unique to me as a young person. Countless narratives I have read in my Literature education follow young people setting off for the first time to a strange place and – unsurprisingly – discovering similar things about their self-reliance, independence, friendships, etc. While I have read my whole life about travel opening peoples’ minds and offering diverse experiences, actually experiencing those changes for myself became the way these lessons from literature made sense and instilled themselves in my being.

During the first leg of my travels, an Amtrak train in Philadelphia derailed, killing some and injuring many. The stretch of track damaged by this accident is a vital passage between the NYC / Northeast US area and the rest of the contiguous US. The night of the accident I was in North Dakota traveling towards Chicago to head towards New York the following day, but the Philadelphia crash forced me to reroute nine of my twelve train tickets and take an alternate route to New York and Montreal which I was intent on visiting. Family, friends, and even people I met on the trip who heard about my long odyssey texted, called, emailed, while I was out of cell range and had no WIFI, so responding to all my worried relations was a different kind of challenge. Lacking WIFI also made documenting parts of my experience and researching new questions that arose from my explorations difficult, so I learned to re-value the analog world of pen-and-paper writing, which has impacted my writing experience as an English major.

I fell in love on the train. As silly as that sounds, one of the first people I met was an Afro-Anglo-American design student from California who was visiting her mother in San Francisco. During the 18 hours we spent together in the observation car of my first Amtrak train, we talked to strangers, shared our lives, goals, and dreams with each other, discovered a mutual passion for poetry, and exhausted ourselves playing cards and trading stories with about ten other people under 27 who were all on the train with us. During the previous school year a significant relationship in my life ended, which sent me into a bad place for the rest of the school year, heavily complicated by my Seasonal Affective Disorder. Meeting Anicka in the liminal traincar space was such a restorative experience for me, because we both knew that this relationship would pass away as soon as we split for different cities, but that made the experience so much more impactful for me. I was uplifted by the fact that there are people in completely surprising places where I can find meaningful connection, romance, and experience with, and it didn’t matter that this person was not able to be a romantic partner for me, because people like her were in fact out theresomewhere.

Lastly, seeing brand new landscapes stimulated my aesthetic and spiritual wellness. Bob Bierkenholz asked me to take a camera along for selfies of all the new places I would see, but instead I had more fun. My freshman year roommate and I bought a toy in the Short North as a gag over winter break — a five-inch tall green wooden robot which we named Dennis. I took Dennis along with me and, instead of instagramming pictures of myself, took pictures of Dennis doing very basic tourist things — trying new foods, posturing in front of monuments, meeting new people — all in miniature. Dennis gained a small following of my friends, as well as studios and art galleries in the cities I visited, museums, as well as the official Instagram page for the company that produces toys like Dennis. I learned to be comfortable looking totally silly, squatting, kneeling, laying down on the floor, to take pictures of a toy in otherwise very serious places, to make me and my friends back home (plus throughout the US) laugh. Almost too many times to count, I encountered a beautiful coast, park, building, felt myself rejuvenated after a painful and taxing school year, and after a tearful joy passed through me, found a way to make it goofy with Dennis. As this current school year has progressed, I have found myself marrying this serious joy with silliness, which has benefitted my relationships, as well as uplifted me more through these various outlets for self-help.

My STEP experience taught me to prioritize travel as a way to rebalance, explore, and relax. The amount of logistical and financial planning to earn these meaningful experiences has allowed me to cultivate time management skills, detail-oriented planning, and communication skills with a diverse range of people and mediums. I have since begun to plan a trip to Paris with my best friend, as well as another larger-scale solo trip for the summer of 2016, using my student employment and various side hustles like church choir singing and selling plasma to fund my adventures. In addition, I have found several options to make a career out of travel and writing through organizations such as AirBNBs,, and Discovery Channel, which I am pursuing throughout the next semester as I plan my post-graduation plans.