Bringing European Cities Home

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This May, I traveled to Europe to meet up with 45 strangers that would become my travel buddies for the next month. Through the European Architecture study abroad program funded by STEP, I learned first hand from world-renown architecture landmarks and urban areas. We traveled through Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria to complete one month of exhausting, but unforgettable trip.

In the course of my one month abroad, my view of the world changed dramatically. As shallow as it sounds, I think that Americans have a view of the world that they’re superior compared to other cultures.   However, traveling to over 20 new cities around Europe, I grew to love the European culture. They have a culture deeply rooted in history, a culture that allows them to take life at a slower pace and enjoy every moment. In learning about their architecture, it was clear they design buildings and cities with people at the forefront of their design. More so than in America, their modern spaces are kind to the environment and designed to be highly functional for creative interaction. Many historic European buildings are older than the country of America. They preserve this history and value it to create unique cities that have a character incomparable to anything in the U.S. I could not have gained this new appreciation for European cultures without immersing myself in their way of life for a month.

While driving through the German countryside, we joked that the flat landscape and agriculture looked like Ohio, but one thing stood out to me. The most common crop we saw was a bright yellow flower called rape. Rape is used to make a biofuel that is widely used in Germany. Every small town that we passed had windmills outside the town and small traditional German houses had solar panels on their roof. In cities all over Europe, the number of people that rode bikes to work instead of driving continued to amaze me. All of these observations are a lifestyle difference in the European culture. Rather than tear up the landscape to put those small towns on the power grid, they outfitted their towns with renewable energy sources. Rather than tear down their beautiful historic cities to make room for cars, they forget the cars and save the earth by riding bikes.

The lifestyle in Europe is laid back and allows more time for things that bring happiness like friends, family, and good food. Their cities allow for this type of interaction because they are more densely populated and have creative outdoor space that brings people out into their neighborhood. As a city planner, this was uplifting to see so many people actively enjoying the space. At night we got to explore the cities on our own. In one small classical Roman town, Vicenza, Italy, the town was alive all night with people enjoying live music, restaurants, art galleries, and public spaces.

After I complete my undergraduate and masters degrees in City and Regional Planning, I will become a practicing planner. My hope is to work for a small private planning firm that makes comprehensive plans for progressive downtowns needing economic development. In many of my classes, we study the layout and character European cities. Without my study abroad, I would have never gotten to experience these cities that I continue to learn from. I will use what I leaned in Germany about sustainability and bring back how Italy can transform an aging town into a thriving urban area to improve our cities here in America.

Bioarchaeology and Medieval Archaeology at Badia Pozzeveri


For my STEP experience, I traveled completed a six week archaeological field school in Altopascio, Italy. During the week, I took part excavating a medieval monastery and surrounding cemetery. I learned archaeological field techniques, improved my knowledge of osteology and gained valuable knowledge about traveling and working in my field of interest.

When I left for Europe, I had absolutely no idea if I would actually like excavating. I had never done it before, but it was always something I had dreamed of doing. I was excited to be given the opportunity, but I was nervous that I would not like it. But thankfully, I absolutely loved it! This summer fortified my belief that this is something I want to do for the rest of my career. I loved being able to go to the dig site every day and to find something new. I learned about areas of anthropology that you cannot learn about in a classroom. Field work is incredibly important for anthropology because you can only learn it by doing it. This was my first experience working in the field, but hopefully not the last.

I also learned a lot about Italian culture. We were able to travel on the weekends and over our midterm break, so I was able to travel around all of Italy. The field school was located in Tuscany, so I spent most of my time there, but by spending my weekends traveling, I was able to experience Italy. I had never been to Italy before and did not know a lot about their culture or history. But, by traveling and working with other students with the same interests in archaeology, I was able to learn about the culture and Italy’s fascinating history.

The other students that I was able to work with were amazing! It was great to be surrounded by people who love archaeology as much as I do and have similar interests within the field. Everyone also came from different backgrounds, so we all had different ideas we were bringing to the project. Everyone had different strengths, so there was always someone to ask for help. That was something that was important. Everyone wanted to help each other because we were all working for a common purpose. Knowing this allowed for the students as a group to become cohesive and we all got along so well. Building these relationships will be helpful in the future when some of them become my future colleagues. I also made some great friends, who I’m lucky to have been able to share this experience with. When you live, work and travel with the same people, you naturally become very close. The people I met at Badia Pozzeveri will be my friends for years.

My area supervisor and the rest of the instructors in general were also extremely important to me. They taught me invaluable information about the field. They were all welcoming and were helpful when we needed it, but let us do the work ourselves. It was hard at the beginning, not having someone telling you exactly what to do, but in the end, I was able to look at what I had learned and the progress I had made and be pleased with it. My work became exponentially better and it was because I had been able to make mistakes and figure out the best way to complete my work for myself. It’s important to not only think for yourself, but to also be able to understand the reasoning behind your actions. The instructors made it clear the reasoning for everything we were doing.

Traveling around Italy was also extremely beneficial. Like I said, it widened by view of the world. I was able to experience places in eight weeks that most people never see in their entire lives. I went all over Italy and saw so many incredible places; and not just places that are beautiful, but also historical and thought-provoking. Some of my favorite trips included visiting Pompeii, the Amalfi coast and Cinque Terre. These are places that I may not be able to see again for years and I wanted to make the most of my time there. I tried to experience as much as I could and did not want to pass by an opportunity.

This experience was life-changing for me. I finally was able to experience working in the field. It gave me the conviction that this is something I actually want to do for the rest of my career. I was nervous that I would not like it because there is no way to know before you actually get there. Besides finally knowing I actually like archaeology, I gained valuable academic knowledge. I understand the history of the site and I also improved my archaeological technique and osteology knowledge. I primarily excavated human remains, so I had to learn how to identify the different bones and to tell if a bone was in connection to a skeleton or not. This knowledge was gained through experience and practice. When I think about my first day digging and my last, I’m pleased with the improvements I made. I tried to absorb everything I possibly could and I think I did. I know that archaeology is what I want to do for my career and I’m already thinking about where I can go to excavate next summer.

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Australia. Kangaroos and Internship Woos.

This Summer, for eight weeks from May-July to be exact, I spent interning at a company called “Morningstar” in Sydney, Australia.  The internship, which was 40 hours a week, was an amazing learning experience and I was truly able to put my knowledge to the test.  I didn’t simply intern in Australia though, I also went on multiple excursions to explore the beautiful Australian landscape.

Before this whole endeavor though, I have never truly lived on my own: never had to cook for myself, manage a budget, or done a “real” internship experience before.  So, I was ready to gain a glimpse about what it means to be in the “real world.”  Over the course of the 8 weeks, I definitely learned more about myself and I ultimately think I matured because of it.

Australia is not “that different” in comparison to the United States.  Sydney, is actually like a resemblance of Chicago.  So, it wasn’t much of a culture shock when I stepped foot into the country after the 16 hour flight.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t need to get adjusted though, and I had to learn about what is “normal” in Australia.  I had to accept other people’s reasons for doing things, for example, I had to be patient while waiting for horrific restaurant service or listen to others in the workplace that had more knowledge than me.  Whatever it may be, I realized that I was a guest in this country, and I had to absorb as much cultural and operational (worked in the operations department) knowledge as I could.

One thing to note about Australia, is that everything is insanely expensive.  I realized from the very beginning, that if I wanted to have enough money to take weekend excursions, I could not order food for every meal.  With that being said, I went to the grocery store for the first time on my own, and bought enough food for me to make, allowing me to save enough money to experience the true Australian culture on the weekends.  This management of a budget, even though new to me, was crucial, and now back at School, I’m able to take this knowledge with me as I begin to live semi on my own (no meal plan).

Moreover, the workplace in Australia, gave me great insight in how to interact professionally and reasonably with industry leaders and coworkers.  The first day I got to Morningstar, I didn’t think I acted as professionally as I should have.  My boss was conducting a general “get to know me” meeting with me one-on-one, when another member of the office stepped in.  My boss and him started conversing with one another, and when he left, I shouted “My name is Charlie by the way, I’m sure I’ll see you around.”  It may not sound as bad as it is, but I felt that I should’ve acted differently on my first day.  As time went on, I displayed class and generosity towards my coworkers, and made sure that I held myself to a high standard.  I think my coworkers noticed that, and I was able to carry this demeanor to interactions outside of the workplace.   This was a great learning tool for me, both helping me in and out of the office.

Additionally, I was able to gain valuable insight on what it takes to be successful.  I worked my tail off at my internship, and focused whole-heartedly on my tasks that my boss and her boss gave me.  Some interns didn’t take the experience as “seriously” as I did, in some instances, so I was more motivated to excel on the job to stand out.  I think my work ethic definitely increased because of this internship, and a great work ethic can be useful for any part of your life.

All these instances that approached me while in Australia, were a mechanism for knowledge, that I can take with me while at school or anywhere else.  A hard work ethic, professionalism, balancing budgets, quality interactions, etc. will allow me to become more successful as a operations business student in school, but also as a member of today’s society.  I believe employers and regular everyday individuals seek out those that display quality characteristics, and all aspects of Australia (at work, night life, in apartment, etc.) helped me to develop such qualities.  I will never forget this experience that I was fortunate to live this past summer, and STEP definitely helped to make it possible.

kangaroo selfieMorningstar Investment Conference with Interns

Costa Rica in Scrubs

Our Volunteer Group

Our Volunteer Group

My STEP Signature Project was a service-learning trip to Costa Rica through Vida Volunteer. The goal of the trip was to provide low-cost spay and neuter surgeries, as well as general physical exams, to animals in low-income areas of the country. We worked in two different locations, Turrialba and Los Chiles, where our team of volunteers gave patients physical exams, prepared patients for surgery, assisted in surgery, monitored vitals while the patient was under anesthesia, monitored patients in recovery, and prepared prescriptions for the owners to take home with their pets. We had six clinic days in total, and during rest days we had a chance to see different cities in Costa Rica such as La Fortuna, and participate in fun activities such as rappelling down waterfalls and zip lining.

This project changed my life. This was the first hands-on medical experience I had with animals, and I was worried before I left about how I would perform. I worried that I would be grossed out during surgery, and that I wouldn’t be able to give injections to animals because I have a fear of needles. But I surprised myself very much. I gave subcutaneous and intramuscular injections to so many different dogs and cats that it became easy and routine, something I never thought possible. I was fascinated by surgery, and was over the moon when I was allowed to practice my sutures. I placed my first catheter, and then my second and then my third without blinking an eye. Even through the hard parts, when all I wanted was to go home and curl up in bed, I persevered. As a result of this trip, I gained confidence in myself and I made myself proud.

In general, I am an introvert. I’m not usually comfortable in high-energy situations with lots of people. But during this trip I embraced the chaotic and colorful atmosphere of the clinic days, with vet students and veterinarians in multi-colored scrubs running from one area of the clinic to another, with dogs barking and cats hissing and clients chatting outside in Spanish. It was a whole new social climate for me, and before I went on this trip I would have never believed that I would enjoy such an experience. But I got swept up in the energy, and although every night I fell into bed exhausted, I was completely happy.

Diana (a vet tech from Nicaragua) and I with some of my first patients

Diana (a vet tech from Nicaragua) and I with some of my first patients

Before this trip, I was also worried about whether or not I wanted to actually be a veterinarian. As I mentioned before, this trip was my first hands-on experience in the field. Not only that, but I have had a fear of needles since I was a young child. So while I was excited about the idea of being a veterinarian, I wasn’t confident that I had what it takes to face the situations that veterinarians have to face daily. After this trip, I am confident that I want to be a veterinarian. I enjoyed working with the animals so much, even when they were trying to bite me or scratch me, or when they were so covered in fleas that the tiny insects were jumping around my hands as I held the animals tightly. Even in the hot and humid conditions of the country, with hot little bodies pressed to mine and sweat dripping down my back, I enjoyed every moment of what I was doing. And because I made it through this experience, I know that no matter what I will be happy as long as I am helping animals throughout the rest of my life.

Many aspects of Costa Rica surprised me. First, I was amazed by the variety that was represented between different towns. San Jose was a huge city compared to Turrialba, a mountain village. And our patients in Los Chiles were in much worse condition physically than in Turrialba because of the difference of accessible veterinary care in these two places. In La Fortuna, a tourist hot spot, there were many more hotels and restaurants that served a wide variety of food including pizza and hot dogs, while in the smaller towns the few restaurants mainly served traditional casado. Casado consists of rice and beans with meat and a salad, and we were served casado nearly every night (and sometimes morning) of our stay in Costa Rica. Another way I was surprised was by the landscape. Geography is not my strongest subject, and so I was surprised and amazed by the beautiful mountains and lush tropical forests that blanketed the ground in Costa Rica. The view from the bus as it transported us between cities literally took my breath away a few times.

Because of my time in Costa Rica, I have developed so much more confidence in myself and in my desire to be a veterinarian. I have learned quite a lot about a country that I could hardly locate on a map last year, and I have learned so much about veterinary medicine techniques that will assist me throughout my quest to become a veterinarian. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity, because what I gained from this trip will help me throughout my entire life. I can’t wait to go back!

If you want to read about my trip more in depth (or see more pictures!), please my blog that I updated every day while I was in the country: visit

For more information about Vida Volunteer, visit their website:

Learning How to Explore Shanghai

Shanghai Pearl TowerNanjing Lu

For my STEP Experience I participated in OSU’s “Shanghai, 1750-2050: Global Mega-City, Hub and Treaty Port” study abroad program. As participants in this program several of my fellow OSU classmates and I travelled to Shanghai China to attend classes at East China Normal University(ECNU). We spent half of our day attending language classes to improve our Putonghua or Standard Mandarin, and the other half taking a class on the history of Modern Shanghai. Our history course included trips to museums and cultural sites around Shanghai such as the old walled city, the Bund and the Shanghai History Museum. We also went on weekend excursions to Suzhou and Hangzhou.

I came to Shanghai hoping to gain some understanding of the city and its people, but now as I am about to leave I realize that I can’t understand Shanghai in fact I don’t even understand my own home city of Columbus Ohio. Shanghai as a city is difficult to categorize, certainly many people have tried over the years, the Shanghai brand that first created during the late treaty port era of the early twentieth century has been revitalized by the city’s municipal government, and by private businesses to market the city to modern investors and tourists. The image of Shanghai as a cosmopolitan metropolis, the home of the gleaming Pearl Tower, and for the more historically inclined the stately Bund has been spread across the world (and throughout China) on postcards and travel shows. Yet As the home of 23 million people and the temporary residence of thousands of travelers Shanghai obviously has a vast existence beyond the Bund, the Pearl Tower, or any of the other sights listed in the dozens of guidebooks that promise to introduce you to the city. Shanghai, like all cities, is impossible to understand in its entirety, it can only be experienced as it is in this moment, as it never was before and as it will never be again.

For all that I have learned about Shanghainese history and culture on this trip, I believe that is the most important lesson I learned; That I cannot remove myself, and my individual perspectives and experiences, from my understanding of the world around me. I cannot tell someone about Shanghai (or Hangzhou or Suzhou) I can only talk about my experiences in the small part of Shanghai that I was able to visit. This epiphany has helped to embrace the uncertainties and nebulousness that comes with living and learning about a foreign country. It has freed my thinking so that I feel comfortable comparing life in Shanghai and life in Columbus as well as my experiences in other cities; it has helped to feel excited about being in a primarily Chinese speaking environment; it has helped me to embrace the multifaceted nature of Shanghai’s history as well as contemporary understandings of that history; and it has made me more appreciative of my experiences both in Shanghai and in America.

When you first think about the differences between the United States and the People’s Republic of China the first thing that pops into many people’s heads is that the United States is “free” and the People’s Republic of China is not. Yet although the USA and the PRC clearly have different systems of government and public policies as an American staying in Shanghai I found that the cultural differences that I observed while in Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou were much more complex then the simple dichotomy of free vs. un-free. There are clearly some restrictions in China that are not present in the United State’s, perhaps the most obvious one for American students being that Google, YouTube and many other websites are blocked in China. Still for the most part my daily life was more effected by cultural then by political differences. Some of the differences that I noticed were ones that I never would have expected.

For instance one of the differences I kept noticing was in how energy and resource conservation are handled in China. In one of my early journals I noted, “In many ways in China you have to opt into destroying the environment whereas in America you have to actively choose to opt out of doing so”. For instance in China you have to pay for plastic bags at the grocery store which gives people an incentive to bring their own reusable bags from home, whereas in America it is assumed that you will be given plastic bags to put your groceries in. Sure some environmentally conscious people choose to bring their own bags but the system is still designed around the idea that people will be using plastic bags. In this way and in several other ways it seems that Chinese society (or perhaps the Chinese government in some cases) is more proactive about conserving resources then is American society. This was especially interesting to observe because in America China is often viewed as a country that does not care about preserving natural resources. This perception is likely due to the pollution caused China’s recent rapid industrialization and urbanization. Still in some ways it makes sense China would be more conscientious about resource use and pollution then the United States since China is a developing country that has faced serious consequences from its air pollution.

Traveling to Shanghai has taught me how to be aware of my surroundings. I am normally a pretty aloof person, and I often let my mind wander, distancing myself from the situation at hand, but I could not allow myself to do that in Shanghai. In Shanghai I had to constantly remind myself to be aware of my surroundings and try to be fully present in the moment, soaking up every detail of what was around me. This hyper awareness was crucial since did not want to waste one moment of my time in this vibrant city. Furthermore anyone who has walked down the street in Shanghai will tell you that even if you are not interested in “savoring the moment” Shanghai streets are not compatible with daydreaming. With pedestrians, motorbikes and car all trying to make it from point A to point B as quickly as possible Shanghai streets, and even sidewalks can be a dangerous place for the unprepared. Thus being in Shanghai taught me to savor every detail of my experiences, to really look at the people who are passing me on the street, to consider the implications of the knickknacks sold in convenience stores and of course to watch out for speeding motor vehicles. In the future I will try to employ the same mindfulness when walking down the street of Columbus so that I can be more aware of the many small wonders that the city possesses.

Living and studying in Shanghai has not only helped me to learn about Shanghainese history and culture, it has also taught me how to survive in an alien environment and how to remain aware of the world around me. It has also taught me that cities, and really all communities, refuse to be simplified. I am grateful for all the lessons that this city and this program have taught me, and I hope that I will be able to return to Shanghai again someday.

Psychology and Culture in Europe 2015

Hayley Esterline

Study Abroad


For my STEP Signature Project, I visited the cities of Rome, Venice, and London through the Psychology and Culture in Europe Program. After the program ended, I also visited the city of Paris. During my experience abroad, I visited dozens of sites of psychological, historical, and cultural significance.

Through my project, I found a deeper understanding of both myself and the world around me. I learned how to navigate unfamiliar cities and how to stay calm when I found myself lost inside of them. I grew in physical and emotional perseverance each time I climbed hundreds of stairs to see the city around me from a different perspective. I discovered how cultural differences can extend beyond human behavior. I learned how deeply rooted sexism and mental health stigma is in cultures beyond my own. I grew to appreciate the privileges I have much more strongly — everything from getting free water at restaurants to being able to see hundreds of years worth of artwork in a single day. I fell in love with live theater, espresso, and painting. Most of all, I fell in love with exploring the world around me.

In each city, one or two small experiences stands out as playing a key role in my growth during the trip. In Rome, our hotel was near a dog park.  Every day, we would walk past dozens of calm, happy dogs playing with their owners. Consequently, as our trip progressed, I began to notice dogs all over Rome. Rarely was a dog ever on a leash. None of the dogs ever barked or behaved in any aggressive way at all. After taking note of this, I realized that culture extends to more than just people – it extends to animals as well! In fact, culture is a part of everything we interact with– our pets, the environment around us, anything and everything that forms our experiences.

Growing up, I took many art classes and developed a love of drawing, painting, and photography. However, over the past two years in college, I’ve had less time to devote to making art. Venice, the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited,  brought me right back into my favorite hobby. Beauty was everywhere — from the canals and gondolas to the thousand-year-old paintings to the people wrapped up in it all. I felt so lucky to experience this beauty and spent most of my time there trying to capture it. After my return home, I painted my first painting in over two years–a picture inspired by a photo I took of a canal in Venice, surrounded by colorful building and clotheslines.



The photo that inspired my painting.

In London, we had the opportunity to climb to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The catch: the climb involved 528 spiral stairs, some of which did not look particularly safe. I’ve never been a huge fan of heights, so climbing up over 500 stairs was definitely scary. It took a long time, a lot of strength, and plenty of encouragement from my friends, but I made it to the top. The 360 degree view of London was absolutely worth it! I felt proud that I had conquered my fears and felt myself become a more courageous person. Later in the trip, I completed an equally terrifying 674-step climb to the mid-level of the Eiffel Tower!



London, from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

In every city, I noticed that sexism and gender dynamics played a role. In Paris, three of my friends and I had a run-in with a overly-flirtatious waiter who tried to hug us against our will. In Venice, we were catcalled daily by men who tried to get us to eat at their restaurant. We also noticed how the jobs in Italy were highly gendered according to gender roles- men were often servers and glassblowers, while women sold clothing and made lace. Gender was not not a huge issue in London, except perhaps in the city’s sex work industry. I also noticed a large racial disparity in London theater, as the production of Wicked we saw had few to no actors of color.

The transformation I experienced through my travels increased my global and cultural awareness. It gave me the confidence to dream of working abroad someday. The beauty of the architecture and artwork helped me to rediscover my love of art-making and reestablished my goal to involve the creative process in my future career. The relationships I built with my fellow Psychology majors and resident directors during the trip are incredibly valuable to me both personally and academically. I feel so lucky to have been given this opportunity and will treasure the memories forever.

Globay May Morocco

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My STEP Signature Project was a study abroad trip called Global May Morocco. Over the course of the 4 weeks in Rabat, Morocco, a group and students and I learnt about modern history, politics, and culture of Morocco during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I also had the amazing opportunity to have a hands-on experience by conversing with major political, civil, intellectual figures and by visiting the Royal Library, the Royal Academy for Amazhighi Studies, the Parliament, NGO’s and the major imperial cities of Morocco such as Marrakesh, Casablanca and Meknes. Additionally I checked of surviving a sandstorm in the middle of the Sahara Desert off my bucket list.

My time spent studying and exploring Morocco was definitely a transformational experience and trip to remember. Morocco was such a beautiful country, with amazing architecture, lovely people, and a rich culture. It reminded me of other countries I have been to such as Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. One of the challenges I faced however was putting my knowledge of the Arabic language to the test. I had studied Arabic when I was younger, but never really found an opportunity to use it so I was excited for the test. It was definitely a struggle hearing myself to try to make small talk or barter with locals in my choppy Arabic and watch the locals giggle realizing I wasn’t from there. However, my host sister and some mentors from our program helped me improve my flow and pronunciation over time. They helped teach me words in Darija as well, which was the Arabic dialect in Morocco. Eventually, I improved my skills well enough to hold a conversation, and was able to barter and ask for directions on my own. I will always appreciate the opportunity I received to improve my Arabic, learn about other people through a different language. It was cool to see that even though I was different from the Moroccans, we were united through a common language.

I learnt a lot about myself while completing my STEP Signature Project. I have always tried to keep an open mind when visiting new places. I believe my previous international experiences have taught me this as I learnt about new cultures. This entire experience reinforced on how crucial is it always come in with an open mind when facing new experiences. It may different, but that doesn’t mean it is bad or good. Although Morocco had its own unique culture, I was able to spot similarities between Moroccan culture and cultures I have been immersed in, including my own. So even though Moroccan culture was different, I still found similarities to it in my own culture, which I found so inspiring and beautiful. It showed me that people can be united in some way and coexist no matter how different they may be. This trip also further emphasized by passion for traveling and expanding my horizon on the world and many cultures that exist today. Being in Morocco and Africa, inspired me to travel to every continent in the world someday and see as much of the world as possible, while immersing myself in new cultures and finding the similarities they all share.

I believe my relationships I formed with my host sister and trip advisors really helped me in my transformation to improve my language speaking skills. For example, my first night in Morocco my host sister, Ghita took me out to the markets to show me around and introduce me to some friends. I was ashamed as I had trouble with my Arabic while talking to her friends. But she encouraged me to keep on practicing with her and her friends. On Fridays in Morocco, everyone ate a special dish called Couscous and every member in the house would come together and eat delicious Couscous. Couscous is a dish of semolina, traditionally served with meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. So every Friday, we always had family members and friends come over which gave me an opportunity to practice even more. I absolutely loved how understanding and hospitality of all the people I met in Morocco. It was amazing to see this sense of community and unity in the country, and helped me feel at home.

Throughout my trip, the differences between Morocco, the United States and my own culture were obvious, yet so were some similarities. For example, in my culture in Pakistan, Friday was a very special for Muslims so we tend to reduce our work on Fridays and spend more time with family. This was similar in Morocco, I noticed on Friday’s all shops closed early and everyone would eat Couscous. However this practice isn’t apparent in the United States, as Friday is treated like any other day of the week. Additionally in my culture, there is a huge emphasis on family as there is in Morocco. Children are usually recommended to stay home and take care of their parents, and move out once married. My host brother Omar was 31 years old and still lived at home, and he told me he loves it because he comes home to home-cooked meals and loves being around family. In the U.S. some kids tend to move out when they turn 18 or when they go to college, so it was interesting comparing the two viewpoints. However I did notice several fast food chains in Morocco, which reminded me of all the McDonald’s and Wendy’s we have on High Street. I also ended up going to an Avicii concert in Morocco, which I never would have expected. The appreciation for American actors and singers was also there, so I could notice the American influence on Morocco as well.

I am confident that this transformational experience will greatly benefit me in my life. Being an aspiring doctor wanting to work with the minority and underprivileged population in the United States, I believe this experience has helped me open up my horizons on the world a lot. It is important to understand and respect different cultures around the world, and I believe by doing this I can understand more and better my relationship with my future patients throughout my career. Looking at it from a larger scale, I think it is extremely vital to understand people of cultures different from ours because if we look deeper, we could definitely find some similarities, like I did in Morocco. This experience has taught me to never be afraid to take on a new challenge, but to embrace it and have fun it with, too. I am extremely glad I went on this study abroad trip and I already know it is definitely will be one of best college experiences.

Global May Madrid


For my STEP experience, I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain through the Fundación Jose Ortega y Gasset. I took a class studying Madrid as a global city, analyzing immigration and waves of different cultures that have come through and occupied Madrid throughout the centuries. In addition to exploring Madrid, we were able to take excursions to Segovia, Toledo, and Aranjuez.


While in Spain, many of my world views were broadened, particularly with regard to Spanish values and way of life. The Spanish often will take a break from their day to have coffee and a pastry, enjoy a large lunch, or even take a siesta. While this type of behavior is typically seen as lazy or unproductive in the United States, in Spain, it is embraced. Overall, I felt that the Spanish do not put value on a person based on how much money he or she makes or how productive that person is at work. Instead, they cherish personal relationships and place value on people based on their traits that make them good friends or family members. I realized that I really resonate with these Spanish values, and I hope to implement them into my life back in the United States.


I first began to realize this different lifestyle in my first week in Madrid, while enjoying the Buen Retiro Park in Madrid. Within the park, there are beautiful gardens, walking pathways, and even a large pond to take boat rides. It was a Tuesday afternoon, a standard work day in the U.S. yet the park was full of Spaniards, enjoying the day with family and friends. Some families looked like they were making a day at the park, while other groups of people in suits looked to just be taking their lunch break in the relaxing atmosphere. Regardless, the park served as a place where Spaniards were able to socialize and enjoy the company of others as well as the setting.


Another example of this people-centered attitude came when our class toured the main plazas of Madrid. Simple observation of the architecture and organization of the city, one is immediately aware of the very open nature of Spain’s infrastructure. Most restaurants have outdoor seating areas, and many apartments above the streets have balconies. It is as if the Spaniards take every opportunity to be connected to the heartbeat of the city. I think these observations reflect the very social nature of Spaniards and proves the importance of interpersonal relationships and quality time spent with others in Spanish life.


My true epiphany of the inherent differences between the culture of the United States and Spain dawned on me during a lecture towards the end of our trip, one of our last class sessions, where we had a discussion with a group of several American Spaniards. Most of the individuals in this group were wives of military officers who were stationed in Spain, but a few were individuals who had traveled to Spain, fell in love with the country, and decided to stay. Among the major topics discussed by those leading the discussion were the importance of family values in Spain and the importance of interpersonal relationships in general. One speaker mentioned how instead of facing difficulties somewhat alone as many often do in the United States, the difficulties of Spaniards are shared by their network of support, mainly their families. Overall, a person’s sense of self is almost distributed amongst the people who mean the most to them. I think this mentality would help a lot of my peers at Ohio State who feel alone as they face the immense pressures to do well in school, to get a job, and to achieve at the highest level. Perhaps people would be a lot happier if we shared a Spanish mentality that it is not these concrete things that make someone who they are, but rather the deeper, more intrinsic parts to one’s being that cannot always be vocalized.


As I mentioned before, I really resonated with the values of Spanish culture: that a person is more than the things they accomplish, the money they make, or the titles they hold. As someone who wants to go into medicine, dealing with all types people on a very personal basis every day, I think it is important to understand that all people have immense value in this world, regardless of their societal standings. I have really come to value my relationships with the people in my life and I think that will carry over into my personal life going forward as well as in my relationship with future patients. I am positive that I would not carry these ideals had I never gone to Spain, and I think the world can learn a lot from this vibrant and beautiful culture as we work to tackle big issues in the future.


Costa Rica: 6% of the World’ Species, 100% of its Beauty




By Carlo Castillo

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This May, I was fortunate enough to embark on a study abroad trip to Costa Rica. The topic of the trip was environmental sustainability and the itinerary featured trips to national parks, nature preserves, a wind farm, and coffee plantations. The trip highlighted Costa Rica’s extraordinary biodiversity and progressive environmental attitude.

As my first independent experience abroad and first time in Latin America, the study abroad certainly expanded my horizons. I feel that I have a more positive view of the world, having experienced the richness of Costa Rica’s landscape and wildlife as well as the hospitality of its people. My worldview was also expanded by interacting with many different people. I learned that the motto of Costa Rica is Pura Vida, which translates to “pure life”. This expresses an outlook on life encouraging people to appreciate the moment and try new things. I was certainly affected by this, and I’m more conscious of the need to maintain a good work-life balance and make the most of my opportunities in college.

The most striking aspect of Costa Rica would have to be the amazing wildlife. Never before have I seen such variety of flora and fauna. We saw sloths, caimans, monkeys, tree frogs, armadillos, crocodiles, and birds in abundance. Though only 0.03% of the world’s landmass, Costa Rica contains 6% of its species. The experiences of the study abroad brought this fact to life and the opportunity to see the wildlife in person was unforgettable. It truly opened my eyes to the richness of life on this planet, and emphasized how we must strive to protect this gift for future generations. Seeing how the people of Costa Rica embraced the environment as a part of their heritage was inspiring, and I hope that more countries follow their example.

Having the opportunity to travel with a tour group also pushed my boundaries. I traveled with a very diverse group of students and became friends with my local guide and bus driver. It could be challenging at times to be with students who were much different than myself, but I learned a lot about accepting differences and being comfortable in my own skin. I ended up meeting people from all sorts of backgrounds at Ohio State, and I learned to find common ground. I also really loved interacting with our local guide and driver. It helped make the trip an authentic experience and I picked up a lot of local slang and customs. Our guides were also really wonderful people, and showed how the human spirit can transcend cultures and borders.

The motto of Pura Vida also had a big impact on me. I saw how the people lived side by side with such rich natural heritage. The wildlife and landscape wasn’t just there to be preserved, but genuinely enjoyed by the common people. The riches of the country were accessible for all to appreciate, and I got the sense that Costa Ricans took full advantage of that. Locals were present whenever we went places, and admission rates were often lowered for them. We also saw many schoolchildren taking field trips, emphasizing how important environmental education was.

These changes I experienced have had a big impact on who I am as a person. The lessons I learned are definitely applicable in many areas of my life. Through my interactions with others, I learned it’s important to be accepting of differences always treat people with respect. During my interactions with locals, I learned that the richest of spirits and the kindest of souls are often found among the common people. The Costa Rican outlook of Pura Vida has also challenged me to be more appreciative of the present. I can often get so caught up in studying that I forget to appreciate all that Columbus and Ohio State have to offer. I’ve definitely been inspired to make the most of my time as a student, especially outside the classroom.



Knowlton School of Architecture: Rome Program

Veronica Skok
Knowlton School of Architecture: Rome Program May 2015
My STEP project entailed a four-week trip to Rome studying at the University of Arkansas Rome Center through the Knowlton School of Architecture. Class was held Monday through Friday and there was freedom to travel throughout Italy and beyond during the weekends.
During this study abroad experience I gained a huge amount of respect for people who spend months in foreign countries. In addition, my appreciation for the value of learning other languages in addition to English grew immensely. Specifically for myself, I learned that I can handle a lot more on my own than I thought I could. I also learned that there is a reason why people take great pride in being an American.
Through this program I most definitely experienced a transformation. This was my first time traveling outside of the United States without my family. I did not know any of the Italian language and I knew nothing about the layout of Rome so there were many potential opportunities for me to learn and grow. During the first week in Rome I had to adjust to the food and restaurant culture that was normal for Italians. For example, very little meat is consumed, wine is standard with every lunch and dinner, and it is almost insulting to leave a tip for the waiter/waitress.
The second week in Rome was when I experienced the biggest change in my world views. I was so sick the second week that I had to go to the Italian hospital. While at the hospital, I was accompanied by an interpreter because many of the hospital staff members did not speak any English. The interpreter was part of the University of Arkansas Rome Center staff and she was very helpful and very concerned about my health. I must say there is a noticeable difference between American and Italian hospitals. One of those differences being that if you have a legitimate need to see a doctor; the Italian taxpayers cover your hospital fee.
During my morning spent at the hospital, I tested positive for mononucleosis and was instructed to rest a few days. The next few days of rest made me feel worse instead of better. It was during this time that I gained a great appreciation for bilingual individuals and people who spend extended periods of time outside of their home country. I also gained an even greater appreciation for American food. By Saturday of the second week I spoke with my professor and our study abroad coordinator at Ohio State and we agreed that it would be best for me to come home. I worked out an agreement that I would complete the study abroad assignments that I was missing over the summer. Once I completed the assignments then I would receive credit for the course. Until then, my transcript would mark this course as an “Incomplete”. The flight back home was the first time I have ever flown by myself and once we landed, I was so happy to be back on American soil.
The development I experienced during this trip is relevant for all of my future travels. While I am very content with staying in the United States for a significant period of time, I know that if I survived this international excursion then I can survive many others. I was intimidated to do some things without the comfort of close family or friends by my side but now I have more trust in the system and faith that I can do things on my own. Whether that system is the Italian hospital system or the independent experience of flying on my own. In summary, I learned that I was tougher than I thought I was and I am so grateful to be living in America.

This is an Italian version of "broccoli"

This is an Italian version of “broccoli”.


A group of us exploring the Roman skyline on top of Janiculum Hill.