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.