China Global May Study Abroad – Chengdu


My STEP Signature project was to go to Chengdu, in Sichuan province of the People’s Republic of China, for a study abroad, which prepared me for my Peace Corps service in China. My main activities were having exchanges with minority groups, studying different languages, cultures, and customs in China, and teaching oral English in China.

The changes that took place exceeded my original thoughts. How was I to gauge what teaching college students and conversing with them for two years would do? I had a huge transformation within myself. I realized that I was stronger then most – I was able to live in China for the whole two years as a Peace Corps volunteer directly after my study abroad. I became more patient than I ever thought I could, capable of living alone and providing for myself, and a chameleon, trying to blend in with the local culture and my new community in China. I knew very little when I went to Chengdu, other then my average Mandarin skills, so I had no assumptions. During my study abroad I would come up with hypotheses about certain demographics and ethnicities, and then later was proven wrong by someone doing the opposite of what I assumed. I gave up trying and instead, started to study people’s behaviors and the way they spoke. I even was able to have meaningful conversations with them and compared their ideas to mine.

My view of the world also changed. There was so much that I had forgot and hadn’t retained from my previous experience in Shandong province. I realized that only until we, as a human race, can take away differences between cultures could we focus on what really brings us together can we find peace and solve problems. I also grew stronger in my passion for helping the poor people who lack justice overseas. I began to think that deep down, Chinese and American people hold similar views (wanting freedom, financial security, successful children, etc.) I also started to believe it is not shameful to help one group of people while seemingly ignoring another; trying to help and provide solutions to issues only creates a better world.

If it weren’t for a few people, I would never have had such an incredible and, honestly, life changing experience. My interactions with the Yi minority of Southwest China, including a week of volunteer teaching oral English in a very poor county, changed my research direction and goals. I started to think more about minorities in China and their lives, including but not limited to education, resources, and how they made a livelihood. By talking with people my age about some of the problems in a Yi autonomous region of south Sichuan province, I was inspired enough to return to that area the next two years to continue volunteer teaching in abysmal conditions. Through my relationship with a student in the same study abroad program, I came into contact with the leader of a cram course held in the summer and winter, made to raise minority students’ performance in the classroom.

The study abroad also let me formally meet a personal friend of one of the doctoral candidates in my department. I met with her twice that summer. She gave me a huge impression, for more than one reason. She, an American, is in advanced age, and living on her own in Chengdu. Her independence, self sufficiency, language proficiency in Mandarin, and interaction with a local restaurant owner and her neighbors made me believe that I could follow in her footsteps. It is my dream and she acted as an instigator to continue all of the hard work that will eventually lead to my Masters degree and future life dealing with China and American relations.

My experience with the poverty stricken students affected and has changed me the most. I saw first hand what their lives were like; living on less than minimum wage, in a village an hour or two away from the county seat, without clean water at times and proper facilities. While it is true that poor Americans also suffer, it is not to this extent. I became far more empathetic and resolve to find a solution to increasing the living standards and education standards in this Yi minority region.

This transformation I experienced in China is not only significant for me, but will be significant (and has been) for the people where I taught (Liangshan, Sichuan.) First, I was able to get college credit for my study abroad and it prompted me to pursue a Masters degree in Chinese. Spending all together 27 months in my target language environment, studying and speaking Chinese daily, is an unparalleled experience that the other students in my program do not have. My study abroad in Chengdu acted as the training partition, and was at times an overwhelming experience because I was immersed so fully in the languages and cultures of Liangshan and Chengdu. Due to my study abroad, I know have an interesting and unusual research topic that can be studied internationally.

Personally, I changed a great deal during my time in Sichuan and, later, Chongqing, Guizhou, Gansu, and Shaanxi. I matured almost overnight, was thrown into situations where I not only could not speak English, but was forced to behave in a culturally Chinese manor. I learned to think on my feet, be flexible, analyze what I heard and studied to get to the core of the matter at hand, and started to make better decisions for my future. I was offered an interview and position teaching English in a school in Liangshan, where I studied and taught for four weeks total, but declined. I can help more people in less amount of time if I figure out solutions across the whole autonomous region, not just in that one village. I had to make many decisions as tough as this, weigh the pros and cons, and choose the best scenario.

Professionally, this study abroad experience has given me a solid pathway I want to follow for years to come. Studying this specific minority group, the Yi, has made me want to become a cultural anthropologist. I also have an interest in psychology and the motives behind people’s choices. Due to this study abroad experience, I have decided to research the education in this Yi minority region and how to overcome poverty there. My future plans include finishing my master’s program in China, getting a job, which supports these kinds of people, and continuing to volunteer and engage with people from this minority group. Conditions in Liangshan are getting better, but my study abroad and volunteer teaching have only made a dent in far bigger issues. I resolve to never quit until I see substantial and reticent progress.


Study Abroad in England

What? – A detailed description of what you did during your STEP experience.

Every year the Office of International Affairs offers a study abroad program to the United Kingdom, called the ‘Scientific Roots in the UK.’ The study abroad trip takes place during Spring Break, and encompasses visits to different scientific sites throughout England.

Last school year, I participated in the trip during the Spring Break of 2015. During the first part of Spring semester, guest speakers were brought into our class to talk about different aspects of science history pertaining to England. The talks were very interesting and enlightening. Several of the topics mentioned were related to locations we visited in England, which made the trip more thought provoking due to the previously discussed background information about the scientific histories of different areas.

The three cities we visited were: London, Lyme Regis, and Cambridge, England. In London, we toured: the British Museum, the British Library, Westminster Abbey, where we were able to see the tombs of several prominent scientists, and the Royal Society, which operates as a current organization promoting scientific research and as a source of historical information pertaining to scientific advances in England. When we visited the Royal Society, they had original copies of several of their publications on display, including Micrographia and On the Origin of Species. Our last stop in London was the Kew Gardens, which is the Royal Botanical Gardens that are open to the public and operate as a conservatory and research lab for thousands of flora.

         In Lyme Regis, home of Mary Anning, we explored the area of paleontology via fossil hunting along the beach. Ammonites and belemnites are popular fossils found upon the beach, which allowed us to understand their importance to our biological history more than a textbook could illustrate.

In Cambridge, we visited several museums and saw laboratories that are an essential part of the history of both chemistry and physics. We were even able to visit the Eagle, the pub where Watson and Crick made their discovery of the double helical structure of DNA public.

The trip to England was more than just a tourist visit to the country; it solidified the importance of several different scientific events. By being able to see the places in person, instead of just reading about them in a book, it made their importance bit more special.

So What? – A personal response to your STEP experience, including feelings, thoughts, judgments, and what you have learned about yourself and your assumptions from what you did and how you reacted.

By being able to travel outside of the country for the first time, the trip has encouraged me to travel more, to experience new adventures. Several years ago, I would not have considered leaving the country, even on a trip for one week; now one of the things I dream about is my next destination. The trip taught me how resourceful I can be, that just because I am in an unfamiliar place, or if the accommodations in the area are not the same in the US (for example, wifi in public places) does not mean I cannot accomplish tasks. Being in a place that was different than the United States, even though they still spoke English, taught me how to adapt and learn how to function in environments unfamiliar to me. Coming to college and living in the dorms taught me how different people and personalities can be, and of how to interact with people of different personalities. However, traveling to England has taught me how to adapt and learn the basics within an unfamiliar environment that has a different culture. By visiting England, it did not just spur the desire to travel more and experience everything I possibly can, it taught me that taking chances and doing things that I might not have done before is a good thing. The trip impacted me personally because it showed me how strong and resilient I am, that I can adapt to new environments and that I should not let my fear of disappointment hold me back from doing something I might enjoy.

Now What? – Discuss how the things you experienced and learned during your STEP experience will affect your academic, personal, and life goals moving forward.

By being able, to not just visit England, but to visit historical sites that are prudent and essential to the history of science, has made the discoveries more relevant. Being a science and mathematics major, history is not a topic that is focused heavily on; even though the history of science is mentioned during our classes, the degree of excitement for the discovery is not conveyed. When one learns a new concept in science or math, the person who discovered the information might be mentioned or could be recognized by having the procedure or equation named after them. However, the importance of the discovery, the everyday impact the equation or experiment held is not taught and cannot be taught in a lecture. When learning about a fact that is known in modern times, it is hard to relate to the era in which the fact was learned, therefore, the importance of the information is slightly lost when learning it in a classroom. Being able to visit the locations of several discoveries, to see the labs where the ‘Eureka’ moment occurred, is more impactful and memorable than any lecture on the material. The trip impacted my academic, personal and life goals by making me realize that one cannot learn everything out of a book, that there are several things that need to be understood through experience and real life; such as the importance of the realization and ground-breaking work that led to our knowledge of science and math today.



Big Ben makes the perfect ‘i’ !!


Standing in front of the Palace of Westminster. The person taking the picture was also visiting London that day and, upon hearing I was from the United States, asked if I was from Nebraska. Apparently, her cousin was living in Nebraska at the time, which made it the only state she knew.



The placard reads ‘Discovery of DNA,’ which is located above the table where Watson and Crick sat when they made the first announcement of their discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA. They figured out the structure in Cambridge and then walked across the way to the pub, called The Eagle, where they proceeded to tell the public before publishing. The table, at which they sat, and the room within the pub is called the DNA table and room, respectfully, and is covered in pictures of different scientists and events that lead to the discovery of the double-helical structure.

A Semester in Buenos Aries, Argentina

For my STEP program, I participated in International Studies Abroad program “Courses with Locals in Multiple Disciplines at the Universidad de Belgrano” as a complete immersive experience in Buenos Aires, Argentina. While there I studied Latin American literature, culture, film, and economy with other international students and Spanish to English translation with local Argentine students. I lived in the heart of the large city with a host parent – Maria – with frequent visits from her two children and five grandchildren. The goal of the experience was to improve my Spanish through classes and interactions with locals as well as learn about a culture different than my own


While there I learned the most important thing I could ever come to understand as a traveler–CULTURE SHOCK IS REAL, and that’s okay! I expected a life and culture completely different from the one I live in everyday, but I didn’t expect the little things to have an effect on me as much as they did. Constant greetings with a kiss on the cheek, minimal personal space, servers not waiting on my hand and foot, minimal (if any) tipping, spotty internet connection, public transportation to any and everywhere, directness in speech all threw me off guard the first month or so I was in Argentina. They’re all things that I came to love before I was to leave. At the end of the day, we’re one people interested in sharing experiences and learning about others.

IMG_4416      Personally, studying abroad in Argentina taught me a lot about who I am and what I am capable of. Before I left, I wouldn’t even go to the grocery store by myself; by the end of the trip, I decided to pack up a few of my things and head to Ecuador for a two-week solo adventure! I became very independent and learned my value and the value of life around me. I learned that I was able to rely on someone or something when I honestly couldn’t complete the task on my own, but ultimately that I am able to rely on myself first and foremost. There is so much of the world to see and so much that I have seen. Life is truly a gift, and I’ve only opened part of the present.


If this experience has done anything, it has opened up the wanderlust in me. Ever since my plane touched down in the States, I’ve had my next trip on my mind. Academically, it has further inspired me to master Spanish fluency, and hopefully one day soon, pick up a third language. It sparked a passion in the culture that can be learned or understood only through the native language. Thanks to this trip, I know that I am able to live abroad and would like to do so again, but this time in pursuit of a career—maybe nursing abroad, Peace Corps, or teaching English. The sky’s the limit.

ARG- Flor

South America is comprised of beautiful countries, rich in landscape, culture, language, and diversity. I had incredible, once in a lifetime, experiences—traveling to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southern most city of the world, standing in the middle of the world in Quito, Ecuador, hiking to the the Incan city Machu Picchu, horseback riding through the Andes Mountains in wine country Mendoza, Argentina, exploring colonial town in Colonia de Sacremento, Uruguay, cliff jumping, paragliding, and mountain swinging is Baños, Ecuador, almost touching the Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate, driving through mountains in Salta, Argentina, splashed by waterfalls in Puerto Iguazú, one of the 7 Wonders, and this doesn’t include the incredible things I did while in Buenos Aires.

.ARG- Perito Moreno

I ate 5-star steak dinners for less than 10$, consumed the world’s best wine, enjoyed the night life that didn’t end until after sunrise. I watched the sun set from 100m up in a lighthouse built in the middle of the city. I watched fans give their all showing pride for their city’s soccer teams, I spent hours exploring city markets that spanned for blocks of handmade crafts. I learned how to tango and watched incredible shows.


ARG-12 Monas

But at the end of the day, these experiences would mean nothing without the beautiful souls that I shared them with. The people who were in my shoes, experiencing the culture shock and working through it together. The people on 12 Monos, an ultimate Frisbee team, who helped me find my place in such a large city, and accepted me as a teammate. And finally, my host mom who made the city feel like home. The best part of this STEP experience was undoubtedly the people I met along the way.



ARG- Salt Flats

STEP Reporting Back

Over winter vacation, I spent two weeks in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic setting up a temporary dental clinic in an elementary school. This organization, Volunteers Around the World, provides free dental and medical care to third-world countries around the world. The Ohio State Dental Chapter spent full days in a dental clinic. The first day we arrived, we set up the clinic. We sanitized an entire elementary school classroom while the school was on winter vacation. We used lawn chairs as dental chairs, oral surgery was performed in upright-classroom chairs. We had to bug-proof all rooms, organize hundreds of dental instruments, find power sources, clean water for the room, etc. In the classroom we had four separate rotating stations of operation: 1) A sterilization station in which we sterilized dental instruments using cleaning supplies and an auto-clave with sterilization packets. The instruments were then organized by category in which they would be used for proper procedures. At this station, VAW participants would scrub the instruments using proper chemical treatment. 2) The oral surgery station. Various dentists from the local community would extract teeth based on need – because of the long line each day at this clinic, the dentists were unable to perform all of the procedures that the patients needed, so they triaged and chose the most critical case for each patient. VAW participants at this station would help set up all procedure trays, assist various surgeries and were responsible for all clean up, which is highly important in such a sterile area. 3) The restoration station. Another dentist at this station would do corrective procedures for patients with cavities. Both in restorative and oral surgery procedures, general oral cleanings were done for each patient. VAW participants at this station would set up all trays, sterilize the chair and all instruments used after the patient left, and prep all materials needed for each procedure. 4) The last station was an intake station, where VAW participants took the vitals of incoming patients. We took blood pressure, glucose levels, and general medical history for each patient. This station also allowed us to practice the Spanish that we had been practicing all semester, as the general residents of Jarabacoa did not speak English.


Before the trip, VAW at Ohio State held various fundraising events to help raise money for the instruments we needed in clinic. Also, we needed the money to pay local dentists to leave their private practices and come work in the clinic which provided free healthcare to local residents. On days when we were not in clinic, we held events such as our Education Day. We had all prepared various activities for the Jarabacoa community, specifically children, to do on this day. Some activities included: falso or ciento (true or false) on general hygiene, various presentations on oral health, general health and nutrition, etc. My group specifically focused on oral health. Children from the community represented teeth while wearing white trash bags, and we demonstrated proper flossing techniques by using a large rope as floss. At the end of this day, everyone who came to the clinic received free toothbrushes and toothpaste. The effect that this trip had on the community was immense.

Before going on this trip, I was hoping that I would determine whether or not I wanted to go into the field of dentistry. During this trip, I was exposed to so much more than I thought. Yes, I came out of this trip realizing that without a doubt, this is exactly what I want to do with my professional career. However, it also exposed me to a world of public health and general public need. Living in America, we take for granted how much opportunity we have. Last summer, I worked at a dental clinic in downtown Cleveland which provided free dental care for anyone – with or without health insurance. Clinics like this are available in communities all over North America. However, in the Dominican Republic, the government doesn’t subsidize programs for dental and medical needs like they do in America. Therefore, many people live their life without getting the proper medical care that they need. Because of this, the citizens of Jarabacoa only get proper oral health care when programs such as this come into their city offering free care. As someone who grew up knowing the importance of oral health, I also take for granted the fact that I had orthodontia at a young age and good dental health. One story in particular drastically changed how I felt about this. One day in clinic, we stayed over an hour past closing to finish a restorative procedure on a woman. When she came in, she had decayed teeth and an unwelcoming smile. When she left, she had a beautiful and full smile, and she began to cry. She said that now she could potentially get a job because people will see her differently than they did before. This trip helped me realize how much of an impact dentistry can have on a community and how important it is to help those in need.

This experience is unmatched by any other experience in dentistry that I’ve had thus far. It helped me realize that I am meant to be in the field of dentistry as my professional career. Also, it pushed me to become more involved in more Public Health initiatives in America. I am now looking into many Masters of Public Health programs. After receiving my DDS or DMD from dental school, I would like to pursue my MPH in order to run a Federally Qualified Health Clinic, funded by the government, providing discounted or sometimes free medical care for those in need in America. In addition to this, I plan on taking trips to developing countries throughout my life in order to help communities in which their government does not provided programs such as these. This trip taught me so much. It taught me how to advocate for good causes in fundraising and promotion. I learned how to set up dental procedure trays for so many different procedures, and how to sterilize all of the instruments used. I learned so much more about the need for dentistry in global public health. It has influenced my future in the fact that I now want to pursue another degree in order to incorporate this into my professional life. Without the money from STEP, I would not have been able to afford this program and gain these experiences which have now changed the course of my life path

Jayna Wolfe STEP Study Abroad Reflection

My name is Jayna Wolfe and I am a fourth year logistics management major at OSU’s Fisher College of Business. During autumn 2015 I was fortunate enough to spend the semester as an exchange student at Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi (AKA Bocconi University) in Milan, Italy. I was able to study at Bocconi University, one of Europe’s top business schools, because of the partnership between Fisher College of Business and prestigious business universities throughout the world. As an exchange student I paid OSU tuition to be enrolled in four courses ranging in disciplines from corporate finance to entrepreneurship. The Second Year Transformation Experience Program gave me the confidence and financial support I needed to apply for the exchange program during my junior year. I have taken Italian language courses while at OSU and had my sights set on the highly competitive spot at Bocconi. Gaining admittance into the exchange program and spending four months abroad was an incredible experience and has altered the course of my life.

I had the opportunity to reflect on my experience abroad during a digital storytelling lab hosted by STEP in conjunction with the OSU Digital Storytelling Program. What follows is the script from my story.

4,326 miles, 4,326 miles from home and completely lost. I found myself, for the third time, back in the confines of an old hotel, my home for the semester. The walls and floor worn with memories from travelers passing through- I was just another temporary tenant in this old hotel turned dorm room.

My story is about how studying abroad isn’t just for glamourous people, and it’s not just about the parties, the food, or constantly doing what most would call “exciting” cultural things. My story is about finding myself when I was alone in a foreign land.

I think for a long time I’ve been consuming myself with activities and projects to avoid the real question of who I am and what the hell I’m doing here. During my semester abroad the only worries in my sphere of existence were; where will we go on our next trip? What are we having for dinner? And when is that assignment due? A limited agenda.

I had stumbled upon the essence of being totally Alone with myself, limited things on my plate for the first time in my adult life. An intimidating place to be when you’ve only ever had a fast-paced life.

During a college relationship my Mother pointed out to me that maybe I had become too dependent on the activities and emotions of my boyfriend and that one of the best things I could do for myself is to learn to be with myself. “You need to be ok with being alone,” she would tell me, and although I scoffed at the time—she couldn’t have been more right.

Italy, for me, defined being alone.

I made great friends, but at times was so consumed with thoughts of graduation and the intimidating job hunt I would be on after my semester of quote unquote “glamour and culture.” These thoughts distanced me mentally from the people around me and made my experience different.

The turning point was travel. Opening your eyes to a world so vast and colorful you realize that the people, places, and scenes you’re surrounded by are constantly changing, but you’re still you.

Coming to terms with my environment, my self-confidence, and my memories of the past that needed processing happened as I zipped across a Greek island on a 4-wheeler, jumped from cliffs, gazed at amazing churches, dove into the history of my surroundings, walked with camels, and took a step back to see what was around me.

I remember standing on the edge of the Sahara Desert as the sun rose after a night of fitful sleep in a very cold tent. My traveling companions were still asleep as I watched the shadows of our camels grow with the sun. It was this moment and many others that I hope to never forget. I didn’t need anyone standing next to me telling me what they thought of the scene. I knew how I felt, I know how I feel, and I am at peace with who I am.

I am ok with being alone. Proof that I won’t always have to be.



Thank you to the STEP Program and the OSU Digital Storytelling Program. I am thankful to have had this incredible experience and walking away with a digital story was something I never expected.

Global May Uganda: L. Mackenzie Cook

For my STEP experience, I travelled to Uganda, also known as the “Pearl of Africa”. While there, I was able to study how the history of Uganda has affected the different areas of development and led to Uganda’s current state.

Our first destination was the city of Entebbe, which is just south of the capital of Uganda, Kampala. We had our trip orientation at a hotel in Entebbe for the first two nights. Next we travelled by van to the city of Kampala. We took a tour of the city and were able to see many things that I did not really want to see. For the next three to four weeks, our group had similar routine from day to day. On the week days, we would stay with our home-stay families, “taxi” (take the public transportation system) to class downtown, listen to a professor from Makerere University speak about a specific topic (i.e. Medicine/Health Care, Education, Agriculture, History), go on a field trip within the city limits with the group, then “taxi” home for dinner at our home stay. On the weekends and sometimes through part of the week, our group went on excursions to different parts of Uganda. On separate trips we went to Murcheson Falls, Jinja, Kamuli, and some other rural areas of Uganda.

End of Program Party: Kampala, Uganda

Since my trip to Uganda, I have had many friends approach me saying, “Oh my gosh! How was Africa?!” Most of the time I say back “It was awesome! I learned so much there!” In all honesty, it was challenging. Unlike the previous Global May Uganda trips, the hotels that we stayed in were not luxurious at all, some not even clean at all. I would say that there was a less than five percent chance that when you go to the bathroom there is an actual toilet that is clean, flushes, and has toilet paper (most places just had holes). Anywhere that I went, everyone around me stared me down because of my skin color. Many people begged for money from me just because they associate money with the color of my skin, then the next minute that same person would pull out their cell phone. Everything about Uganda made me uncomfortable… that is, at first.

Eventually, I became used to all of the “inconveniences” and I discovered the reasons behind all of them. People there do not use toilet paper because with all of the people in each city, it would be destructive to their environment if everyone there was as wasteful as everyone in the United States. People stare because in their culture it is not considered rude to stare and white people are hardly ever seen there. The list of inconveniences goes on, but for now, I will move on.

I made friends with a random group from Ohio State, and some of these friends I hope to stay in touch with for the rest of my life. Another OSU student and I were placed in a Muslim home in Kawempe, just outside of Kampala. When I found out that was placed with a Muslim family, I was a bit uneasy. Not only would I have to adjust to being in a new country’s culture, but also an unfamiliar religious culture. I had stereotypes in my head of what my new family would be like before I met them. Going on this trip made me realize that making assumptions does not help anything or anyone. I could not have been more wrong about my home stay family. They were loud, goofy, and they loved to dance and have fun.

I also learned that I am fortunate to have been born where I was born because we have more freedom and national security than many other countries, but this does not make the United States better. The people living in Uganda are happy where they are, they do not complain about not having anything more than necessity because most of the people there have never experienced anything more than necessity. I am happy that I was able to have conversations with so many people in Uganda to learn about what their lives are really like. Their lives are based on the relationships that mean the most, not on their career or major. Although I am not fully accustomed to the Ugandan lifestyle, I love the way that Ugandans treat and greet one another, the way they prioritize the activities in their lives, and their overall laid back lifestyle. In these ways I would consider Uganda to be a better place to be.

playing soccer with young students at Mpigi Primary School, rural Uganda

Before going to Uganda, I planned on studying the education system there. Doing research on the history of the education system in Uganda showed me how the quality of education in Uganda has steadily declined since the 1990’s. It showed me how a public education system can fail when put in the wrong hands and without the proper funding. Many people today are striving to make college free for everyone in the United States. It sounds great to have your government pay for you to go to college, but what happens when the professors’ salaries plummet due to lack of funding. I belive the standards and quality of education will decline with the salaries/funding. Many leaders of the past have chosen the short-term option without thinking about what will happen in the future. By looking at Uganda’s past, I was able to have a better perspective on how the United States can avoid political destruction in the future.

Overall, this trip affected my personal goals. It reminds me to not judge others before I get to know them, to be more interested in a individual’s family and health over career choice, and it has taught me to take the time to greet others before asking for any help. What I am most grateful for now that I am back in the United States is to have the experience of living in a third-world country. Now when people talk about how many problems they have, I think of the types of problems that people have in Uganda. When someone complains about things being unsanitary, I think about what is considered unsanitary in Uganda. It really has made me think before I speak or complain about something.

Lastly, I will forever cherish the relationship that I had with my home-stay family. We keep in touch through different types of social media and I hope to stay connected with them for when I can afford to go back to visit someday. The lessons I have learned this past summer will stay with me for many years to come and will forever affect my personal views on education and development.

Me and Brooke with home stay brother Abuba


STEP Report – Alexander Cea

Over the course of this past summer I created a cooking manual aimed at young adults and beginner chefs. Using Microsoft publisher, Adobe Photoshop and InDesign I composed and self-published my own book. I created infographics and compiled data on what the most common mistakes and misconceptions were when cooking. The book teaches everything from knife skills to when certain fruits and vegetables are in season. It covers all the basics to promote organization and creativity in the kitchen. The pictures were all taken by me and compiled in one place. The final third of the book gives recipes to encourage people reading to try something new and to share it with their friends and family.

The idea of the book was to create something original and use part of the funding to self-publish. To receive a copy of the book, one makes a minimum donation of $15 to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. The goal of this project was to simultaneously help the person who makes a donation and benefit the greater Columbus Area by promoting the growth and awareness of the non-profit group.

I was a bit naïve in how much work it took to create something this large. At times I felt a bit crunched on time and was really overwhelmed by many aspects of self-publishing. But overall this project pushed me to think creatively and appropriately time manage a large project as an individual. It was hard to market this book and to find the right target market looking to give donations for a copy. I advertised this work mainly through social media postings on my personal profiles with Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Today I am much more comfortable in the kitchen and I feel like I have a better diet than I did a year ago. I also really enjoyed the opportunity this has left me to explore my own passion for creating and testing new cuisine. I hope to combine my knowledge with chemistry and food in the future and maybe turn it into a career as a food scientist.

I want to continue learning how to create the most amazing meals for myself and my friends. As I love to impress the people that come over to my house and I take a lot of pride in the more advanced things I am able to create. This project does not directly align with my future goals but its purpose was to produce a creative outlet. It was a great summer project and constructed a one of a kind volunteer experience. I can only hope that it provides memories for those who use the book and educates them on how to properly manage their own kitchen in the future.

Study Abroad: Queensland, Australia

Daniel Grainger

Study Abroad

My STEP Experience consisted of an Ohio State sponsored study abroad trip to Queensland, Australia. The program was titled Sustaining Human Societies and Environment and the curriculum focused on all three of the pillars of sustainability: people, planet, and profit. We studied renewable energy programs, the economics behind the trade of nonrenewable resources, the impact tourism had on local economies, and even the social dynamic of indigenous people who are currently fighting to preserve their culture and way of life in a westernized world.

I could list endlessly what I took away and what I learned from my STEP Experience. However, I think the two most valuable takeaways were an increased sense of personal independence, and the development of a systems thinking approach to problem solving.

By studying sustainability from multiple vantage points I was able to see the bigger picture in global issues, issues that have dozens of stakeholders that all add layers of both value and complexity when approaching issues. An issue that we spent a great deal of time studying and discussing was conservation efforts in and around the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Originally, as an environmental student, my concerns focused on preserving the reef because of the valuable role it plays in benefiting the ecosystems in the area. However, after in depth discussions, and at times arguments, I came to see how many stakeholders are at play in concerns to reef management, people like environmentalists, mining companies, recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen, tourists, and the shipping industry all rely on the reef for different reasons. When you analyze problems from a mindset of systems thinking you begin to realize all of these different thoughts and opinions are valuable and should be brought into consideration.

As I reflect on my personal development that I owe to this trip, an increased sense of independence certainly comes to mind. Prior to this trip I had never left the country. Traveling across the globe with a group of complete strangers is a one of a kind experience that forces you to learn not only how to get along with people with very different personalities, it also teaches you how to function independently. Whether it was managing bus routes in a city I have never before seen, or going skydiving, this trip was never short on opportunities to push myself beyond my comfort zone.

These changes are valuable to me not only personally, but professionally as well. A new appreciation for adventure and going outside my comfort zone will allow me countless future experiences that I may not have taken before going on this trip. Also, having the confidence to go into unfamiliar settings and succeed will be beneficial as I go into the work force for the first time post-graduation. An ability to utilize systems-thinking is valuable in any field, but as an EEDS student, this is even more valuable for me professionally. When addressing sustainability issues, there are countless factors at play that need to be addressed both independently and collectively, and this experience has granted me experience doing just that. In addition, this trip allowed me to make some of the best friends I have today, and let me grow relationships and memories that will last a lifetime. That alone is invaluable. My study abroad experience was the most valuable, and enjoyable, month of my college experience, and life thus far.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University and WebVR with Mozilla in San Francisco

Pearl Tower in Shanghai

Pearl Tower in Shanghai


During the period of January to July 2015, I traveled from Ohio to San Francisco where I worked at Mozilla on experimental virtual reality websites, after which I studied at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China for a semester.

I had bought an Oculus Rift earlier in the summer of 2014, and later in November discovered MozVR, a team of employees at Mozilla developing an experimental Javascript API which allows Firefox to access user HMD(Head Mounted Display) device information, e.g. Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard.  In effect, this means you can go to a website and view it as a virtual reality space.  During finals week in the Autumn semester, I finished a demo website I had created imitating what I had seen from Mozilla’s code, Skyped with the lead from the team, and asked if I could volunteer my time in San Francisco while I awaited to depart for Shanghai.  He welcomed me to the team, and for a month and a half, I created an experimental WebRTC demo where site visitors experienced the sensation of exploring space among peers they had connected with.  Being able to work amongst industry leaders, dedicating their time to creative implementations of new technology felt revelatory.  There was an incredible amount of satisfaction being able to design something visually engaging and stimulating.  The project was of my own creation, conceptualized and brought to existence over the few weeks.  Not enough can be said for the reward felt not from that of a grade, or recognition, but of detailed, undistracted work pursued with personal investment.

In San Francisco, I also visited Oculus’s Story Studio, where they were creating animated shorts in virtual reality.  Though my visit was brief, it made an impact on me, as I love animation.  It was motivating to see how technical ability lends itself as a tool for artistic creation, and certainly virtual reality will not only revolutionize video games and the internet, but also film.

I bussed to Los Angeles to visit my sister.  Once there, I registered to visit CalArts, where many Disney and Pixar alumni hail from.  Undoubtedly, some of the animators at Oculus must have been CalArts graduates too. Walking through the halls, I found myself contrasting my experience within the engineering department against that of the art school.  The corridors in CalArts are decorated with drawings, studies, and filled with performance pieces.  In the main entryway a multi-pieced student jazz ensemble was performing an energetic, rhythmic rehearsal in the middle of the day.  This is quite different from Caldwell and Dreese labs, where walls are scarcely ornamented save for graduate research posters.  The campus felt less like a university, and more of a well broken-in summer camp.  This by no means diminishes the quality of performance that comes from the school.  It is highly competitive and internationally recognized.  However, there was a wide breadth of expression and creativity felt around every corner, as if the students had burrowed and made every room their homes.  One can see this amount of creativity in engineering students during occasional Hackathons, when students spread out laptops, gadgets, hardware, and build weekend projects in 24 hours, making entire lecture halls their bedrooms or garages. Yet, these are often brief and short lived. I hope the creativity and application of engineering will find a way to be more visually seen within the ECE department.

While in the Golden state, I read The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney, and Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs.  The two men are idolized within American culture.  Walking through the areas they so immensely affected, Walt Disney having founded CalArts and Steve Jobs the popular face of Silicon Valley, while studying their history, was something to savor.  Likewise, California is beautiful.  Some of my favorite moments during this time were the peace of biking back to my brother’s house from the B.A.R.T. (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Station at night, or walking up on the green hills of Pleasanton Ridge.  On clear days in the Bay Area, if one is positioned correctly, San Francisco is never too far out of sight, and can be located with an acute eye at the appropriate altitude.  When it was time to part, I felt that strange feeling whenever one leaves a place for an indefinite period of time to begin something anew.

Outside Mozilla in San Francisco

Outside Mozilla in San Francisco

Thus, the main focus of STEP Experience was studying abroad at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.  This was probably the most dynamic and layered six months of my life.

I had originally been turned on to the concept of going to China by a friend who had gone in 2014 for two weeks with the Cleveland State University business school.  He had called me a few weeks before an informational session on SJTU was to take place at OSU, and told me how amazed he was with the country.  I went to the session and was surprised to hear only three students from Ohio State had ever participated in the exchange program, but dozens of SJTU students come to Ohio State each year.

Having always wanted to study abroad for a longer duration, like a semester, I found that SJTU would allow me to take engineering courses for OSU credit, and decided to apply.  I was accepted along with one other student, Brian, a CSE graduating senior, and soon found myself boarding a flight to Shanghai from San Francisco two months after receiving approval.

Myself and Classmates @ Minhang Canteen

Myself and Classmates @ Minhang Canteen

The culture shock coming to China was significant, although not negative.  Shanghai is China’s most modern city, so it easy to assimilate to as a Westerner, but I was not prepared for how daunting the city would be.  It hosts around 30 million people, and is truly a concrete jungle.  I remember being at a friend’s apartment on the roof of a 30 floor building, across the river from Pudong (Shanghia’s iconic sky scraper skyline), and looking around myself, completely surrounded in 360 degrees by lights and buildings as far as my eyes could see.

Shanghai Street Vendor

Shanghai Street Vendor

After a few weeks of living in a hostel after arrival and familiarizing myself with the city, I moved to a dormitory in SJTU’s Xuhui campus, where I lived above a little cafe with European, South American, and Asian exchange students.  I would meet some of the most fantastic people there, all creative, enthusiastic, and wonderful to see every morning and afternoon.  Funnily enough, when I think of it, I had never lived in a dorm on a campus before.  After high school, I lived at home for a year at the University of Akron, and as a transfer student at Ohio State, I was put into Buckeye Village, a small off-campus residence for mostly graduate students and their families.

Chinese Kid Tries VR

Chinese Kid Tries VR

At SJTU I was surrounded by inspiring, curious students who I quickly became friends with.  Every day we would introduce one another to those who hadn’t met before and discuss what we had learned at class, along with the interesting differences between Chinese classes and each student’s native schooling systems.  I was also among English speakers from all across the world, so as much as I learned about China, I also learned about France, Germany, Australia, North Korea, Japan, and other countries.  This eclectic mix of international students, all of whom studied different subjects: business, architecture, engineering, design, etc. made for an accepting, intellectual atmosphere.  Everyone was friends, whether they had known each other for a day, a week, or a month.  I remember fondly one night during the final weeks at the end of my stay, when Kiyo, a German-Japanese master’s student who had recently received a job in Tokyo, offered everyone who would soon be parting ways the invitation to come visit her.  Likewise, everyone agreed that if we were ever in each others’ respective countries, they would have a couch to sleep on, or at the very least, a floor.  When Jeremy, a close friend from Australia, discovered he’d be working in New York for a few months during August, I took a Greyhound bus with a friend to visit him and Lea, his German girlfriend he met at SJTU, for a weekend.

Jeremy and Lea in VR

Jeremy and Lea in VR

I became a sponge to life and agreed to everything while abroad.  Together with friends, we toured Shanghai and Suzhou, “China’s Venice,” (a stretch to say the least.) Every meal was of a different variety.  I had originally never cared for Chinese food in America, but as expected, American Chinese food isn’t really Chinese food.  Food is incredibly cheap in Shanghai, and among my favorite dishes were Baozi, which are steamed rolls packed with seasoned meat, and a little Muslim family diner which served noodles and broth not far down the street from where I stayed.  Of course, the Chinese eat plenty of strange things, like chicken feet, which you can get at any convenience store, but for the most part, I was rarely put off with Chinese customs, and more so humored by them.  As a Westerner, it’s easy to say, “the Chinese do this and that in such a peculiar way,” but you are easily humbled by the fact you are in the very small minority there.  When in Rome.

Construction Worker with Tortoise

Construction Worker with Tortoise

Classes at SJTU were rather comparable to Ohio State, but were reminiscent to high school in terms of the scheduled approach.  Bells ring every hour for the start and finish of classes, and 5-10 minute breaks are taken in between lectures to relax.  Every student has a bike, and the campus swarms like a bee hive with the high density traffic between classes. I never had a 200 student lecture, most classes being around 25-50 students. Many of the classes were taught alongside inspirational videos played at the beginning and middle of lecture.  Many professors who have studied in America were proud of this fact, and would regularly play speeches from Steve Jobs, President Obama, and Bill Gates.  The teachers tried to impart a hopeful, determined demeanor in the students to encourage them rise to become leaders in academia and eventually the tech business world.  I found it strange how SJTU, considered to be among China’s premier universities, essentially an Ivy-League equivalent, would play cheesy advertisements for Yale, where actors would run through campus performing a musical number about how great the American school was.   Nonetheless, the courses were well taught and in English.  I took CSE courses in operating systems, wireless networks, C++ programming, and cryptology.  Unfortunately, I had taken a Mandarin course at Ohio State during the Fall semester but hadn’t learned enough to make use of, as learning Mandarin advances about half the pace as romance languages for native English speakers.  I was too advanced for the introductory course at SJTU, but had learned mostly memorized office-phrases like words for fax machine at Ohio State.  I opted to self-study and practice Mandarin in stores and in taxis, where drivers love to try out English if they’re friendly.  It’s astonishing the amount one can express playing charades and looking up translations with mobile dictionary apps.  I picked up quite a bit to get from one place to another with minimal confusion.

Suzhou Gardens, Repping Ohio (Albeit the Wrong Uni)

Suzhou Gardens, Repping Ohio (Albeit the Wrong Uni)

Though I lived in Xuhui, the Minhang campus is where my classes took place.  The campus is like a massive park out in the industrial outskirts of the city.  Getting there took about an hour and half via metro, and 40 minutes via the bus.  One of the more frustrating aspects of China’s respect system is that professors and graduate student have priority over undergraduates when getting on the bus.  While you may stand in line from 6:00am to 8:00am, there’s no guarantee you’ll end up with a seat, as busses will fill up with professors and close their doors if there’s no room left.  This issue caused many students to miss classes or take the metro.

Near the Bund with Friends

Near the Bund with Friends

Perhaps the most favorite past time among my closest friends was exploring the city, contrasting China’s culture with the West, and speculating about our futures, whether we could live in China, or what we would do upon our return.  As living among each other in such a strange environment was new to nearly all of us, we bonded together and took comfort knowing that we all understood how one another felt.  Living in Shanghai let me put my life in Ohio into perspective.  As everything seemed so distant, it felt like I could see my life as an observer, or in 3rd person.  Having completed the work at Mozilla and put coding and mathematics into application, I felt much stronger knowing I could return to Ohio State and finishes the curriculum with a better understanding of how it would be applicable to my personal interests.

Sharing Pencils At Hostel with Children

Sharing Pencils At Hostel with Children

So What?

My STEP project was more enriching than I ever expected it to be.  Though not everything I did was initially expected and under consideration while I was formulating what to do, because I chose to do Study Abroad for a long duration, the first seven months of 2015 were completely open ended.  This allowed me to accomplish more, and though my category was Study Abroad, I effectively also completed the Leadership, Creativity, and Internship portions in my own respect.

One of the most frustrating questions I find in regards to completing a studying abroad program is “Oh! How was it?”  It’s not a bad question, but just something I find merits more than a few sentences or paragraphs. I knew that it would be difficult to answer before I returned home because I have such a plethora of stories, opinions, and questions myself, all regarding my time away.  When I began writing this, I found trouble not nearly writing a day-by-day account.

Before I left, I read a pamphlet from the Office of International Affairs, documenting the phases of studying abroad, which goes from culture shock, feelings of excitement, homesickness, comfort in the new environment, etc.  all the way up to reverse culture shock in coming home, and feeling the need to tell people items about your time they don’t necessarily want to hear or care about.  This can cause feelings of isolation and estrangement.  Though I doubted I would actually go through these phases, I was certainly wrong in thinking I wouldn’t exhibit the psychological characteristics of being human.

I think the biggest reason that studying abroad is so affecting is because of the change of environment.  When you’re surrounded by a language you don’t speak, a writing system you can’t read, and a city with a crushing population of nearly 30 million people, the influences of  your original society quickly diminish.  There are less right and wrongs and the sense of self changes because your interactions with others changes.  I had to break down my English so it was simpler.  Say less and mean more.  Everyone I was friends with were foreign students too, which implied they were equally adventurous in their wanting to come to China.  Only a fraction of students at Ohio State ever study abroad, but once you’re on an exchange, naturally, 100% of the students you’re around are as well.  I felt like the walls kind of opened up a bit more once I was in China.  Little subconscious rules I unknowingly held myself to started to rise to the surface, now exposed by the absence of a culture I had lived in for my entire life.  I started reading more, specifically about meditation, which helped me process my thought stream and slow down to appreciate where I was at the moment.

After having gone to Mozilla, I realized there were particular subjects I really wanted to learn more about, and I felt a lot of confidence combining my want to create along with learning the tools to make my ideas actualize.  I took time to study my interests at SJTU, and work on personal projects, like learning OpenGL(Graphics Library) with the “OpenGL Superbible.” I worked through Scott Myers “Effective C++,” and Richard Williams “Animator’s Survival Kit.”  I created an experimental VR blog, using spherical photos I had captured around Shanghai.  One can visit my site with an Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, and visit the locations I went to in Shanghai.

The daily activities of studying abroad are challenging and stimulating, and ultimately raise your feeling of self independence and awareness.  As I felt more immersed, engaged, and focused, I wondered how much of this sensation, or growth, was due to my own action, or the influence of the environment I was in.  This question has lingered with me during my return to Ohio State, as I’ve asked myself if I could recreate the excitement of studying abroad while at home.  I think ultimately, though, that pursuing the new, and letting go of fear of the unknown, will lead a person more towards where they’re meant to be, if they take action to follow in their intuition.  When you strongly exhibit your personal attitude and values, you’ll find paths open which are unique to you, and attract people who relate to you strongly.

Boat on HuangPu River, Pudong Skyline

Boat on HuangPu River, Pudong Skyline

Now What?

After returning from Shanghai, I have continued to pursue animation and VR.  I had not known of OSU’s ACCAD (Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design) before I returned from China.  ACCAD is one of my favorite OSU discoveries, as it’s a hub for student animators where technology is mixed with art. After meeting Matt Lewis there, I checked out a light box to practice 2D animation, and enrolled in ART 4401, Computer Animation. During this course I created a VR animation which was shown in the Hopkins Hall BioPresence gallery.  This was a fruitful experience, as I learned the fundamentals of Maya which is a 3D modeling/animation program, and researched a technique for porting the animation to Unity, which is a game development environment and engine.  Though the work isn’t remotely close to Pixar level, it is embracing to take small steps towards contributing to the future of animated film.

I have continued to volunteer with Mozilla as well, in the Firefox Student Association.  During the semester I was part of a nationwide promotional campaign for Firefox’s iOS launch and Tracking Protection feature.  In collaboration with universities throughout the United States and Germany, I organized events to spread awareness of open source software, internet privacy practices, and how Mozilla has the best intentions to support the independence of its users.  I may return to San Francisco later next year to continue contributing to the MozVR team.

Mozilla Boothing in Union

Mozilla Boothing in Union

As my French wasn’t particularly strong in Shanghai, I realized how much I wish it was better and have begun self-studying the language through Assimil, which is a series of daily reading and listening exercises.  It’s truly important to listen to a language spoken natively, and one of the strong points of Assail is its ability to familiarize a student with the sounds of how French is spoken.  I have also becoming a member of Columbus’s French Meetup group, and Hagerty Hall’s Cercle Francais, two great organizations for French speakers and learners.  Though my speaking ability is far from functional, my listening comprehension abilities have greatly increased.

I hadn’t considered graduate school before SJTU, but I believe now that if I pursue a master’s degree, I would like to apply to an animation program.  I know CalArts is extremely competitive, but if I could get in, I believe I would like to pursue their Experimental Animation degree. It’s heartening when studying demanding courses, like Microelectronic Circuits and Electromagnetics, to consider the application of the electronics in the form of audio circuitry, or visual light displays. The international aspect of studying abroad in Shanghai only added to engaging a more critically aware and stimulating mindset.  Gobelins is another great school for animation and it is centered in Paris.  Since Paris has a such a rich history with film, it would be thrilling to spend two years there after graduating from ECE to study art.  I use these potential futures as goals to strive towards, and hope that I can find a way to combine my knowledge of ECE with creative applications for entertainment and art.

In conclusion, STEP allowed me to experience the world in ways that traditional academics cannot recreate.  It revealed to me how little I know, and how there are always factors and perspectives that can change how I perceive the world.  Yet, being away from Ohio actually made me more focused upon my return, and instilled a hunger to explore more. I’m an adamant proponent for STEP, and suggest it to every first and second-year student I meet.  Likewise, I am the same for SJTU and encourage all students in the ECE department to take the brilliant opportunity to engage China and discover what you didn’t know the country had to offer.  There’s nothing to lose in either program, and both have significantly impacted me for the better as I finish the last two semesters of my education at Ohio State.

My Study Abroad Experience: Dijon 2015

What? For my STEP signature project, I spent my spring semester of my junior year studying in Dijon, France with the CIEF program. I took a five classes, ranging in topics from French grammar and writing to French music and culture. As a double major in French and International Studies, this trip fell perfectly within my interests, both of learning a foreign language and getting experience living abroad. I spent four months living in the international students dorm (which I’ve included a picture of below) and spending my time mainly in Dijon, but also travelling throughout Europe.

My dorm  (My dorm)

One of my favorite things about studying abroad was the ease with which I was able to move around France and Europe itself. I was able to visit six countries (France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Czech Republic) and it was relatively inexpensive. Even within France, I visited some friends in Normandy, I toured wine country and visited a small town known for its nearby vineyards, spent time in Paris looking at the typical touristy sites and toured Lyon. I would definitely recommend taking the time to not only travel Europe as a whole if you study abroad there, but also spend time in the country in which you’re staying. The weekends I spent with my friends in Normandy (who are French) were really helpful for my language skills. My teacher even noticed the following Monday that just after pending two short days speaking only French, my speaking skills had noticeably improved.

Easter in Normandy (Easter in Normandy)

View from a rooftop in Prague (The view from a rooftop in Prague)

Place de la Republique in Dijon (Place de la Republique in Dijon)

Santorini, Greece (Santorini, Greece)

So what? In addition to improving my language skills, I gained OSU credit (not just transfer credit, because this was an approved OIA program). My semester abroad was actually academically my best semester in college; I finished with a 4.0. So I was able to take classes that I liked, boost my overall and major GPA and gain real world experience living in a foreign country. I also learned a lot about myself. I realized despite not always being the loudest person in the room, I am very much an extrovert. I always prefer to be with people, which was hard in a single room in a city where I only knew two other OSU students that I had only recently met. I had to learn how to be independent and make my own community wherever I went. (I talk more about this in my digital story, which you can find here.) I tried to take every opportunity I could to experience my study broad, from big decisions, like roadtripping across the Autobahn to Prague even though I had an awful cold, to small decisions, like asking a classmate to have lunch even though I didn’t know her well. My favorite thing about the trip is that I became really close friends with the other two OSU students and I was able to carry those friendships home and continue them throughout my senior year here.

Now what? As I look for jobs, mostly in the realm of international relations, I find that a lot of employers want people to have a good working knowledge of a foreign language as well as experience living abroad. Studying abroad gave me the ability to claim both of those things, which I’m sure will be invaluable as I start my career. Academically, as I mentioned before, the classes I took abroad gave my GPA a huge boost, and all of them I was able to apply towards my major. Because of this, I’m going to have time to get a dual degree instead of just a double major, despite the fact that I didn’t add French as a major until my junior year. Personally, studying abroad has allowed me to find inner strength and resilience that I didn’t know I had. I had a tough few weeks, being away from my family and friends, but by the end of my trip, I felt like I had a new family, one that included friends from all over, California to Colombia to Denmark.