Buck-i-Serv and the OAC Costa Rica trip January 2016


With the money I received from STEP, I went on a ten day backpacking and service trip in Costa Rica. The first half of the trip focused on hiking and getting to know the local people by staying in homestays. We also participated in service activities along the way such as painting a school in Uvita, Costa Rica.

While I had been on service trips prior to my time in Costa Rica, this was the first time I participated without knowing anyone. I was really nervous going into it but established strong connections right away due to the format of the trip. It made me realize that going out on my own in other areas of my life is very doable and I should dive in to other opportunities. It also showed me that the best way to connect with others—even through a language barrier—is through face to face contact. We were without phones and most technology which allowed us to be present and in tune with one another throughout the entire trip.

I became more confident and ready to try new things after my backpacking experience in Costa Rica and I felt my worldview shift as well. I have traveled in Central America before, but never been immersed in a culture like I was in Costa Rica. We stayed with families who were a part of a network of households that gave student groups like ours places to stay while they traveled. Because of this, we were lucky enough to get to know several families along the way, each of which shared their culture and language with us. We learned how to make cheese, how to harvest sugar, where the best parts of the river to swim were, and even how to slaughter a chicken. I think I had assumptions about the trip and the region before I went but having the opportunity to get to know the local people and live with them showed me just how valuable sharing different cultures with each other is.

There were several aspects during my trip that allowed me to feel a positive shift in my life. There were moments that challenged me both physically and mentally on my trip to Costa Rica. The main elements that contributed to the importance of my trip were going out of my comfort zone socially, on adventure excursions, and having the opportunity to immerse myself in the Costa Rican culture.

A major challenge for me before ever leaving for Costa Rica was coming into a new group of people without knowing anyone at all. There were a few people who knew each other a little bit, but mostly we all signed up for the trip by ourselves. We had meetings before to learn about the trip and get to know one another, but nothing can really prepare you for ten days with strangers. While I was nervous to introduce myself and was pretty quiet at first, I quickly opened up because of our trip. During the hiking duration of our trip, everyone bonded very quickly because of the unique circumstances we were under. It taught me not to be afraid to go out on a limb and be more outgoing in other parts of my life and I definitely noticed a change in myself when I returned home. I noticed that I was more talkative during my day to day life at home like in class or meeting people at work. Costa Rica made me a more confident and outgoing person overall.

Beyond meeting new people, the adventure aspect of the trip as well as learning about the local culture made me more confident. We backpacked, went repelling, rafting, showered in a river, and did so many other things I would have never had the opportunity to do at home. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone was essential to making the most of this trip, and I would not know how much I love most of those things without my time in Costa Rica. A lot of our time was spent interacting and living with local families as well. We stayed with our guides’ friends and families who opened their homes, fed us, and taught us things like harvesting sugar and making cheese. It was awesome to get to know people from Costa Rica as closely as another trip would not have allowed us to do so. The hospitality and importance of family was truly amazing to see and definitely contributed to the shift I felt after the trip of feeling more confident and accepted.

Trying to describe what my trip to Costa Rica meant to me is next to impossible in four paragraphs. To try and sum it up I vividly remember a moment of reflection I had on our longest hike of 8 miles. We stopped and took a break and I had been thinking about my previous year, one that had not been easy (part of the reason I wanted to go on this trip in the first place). I looked around at the mountains and lush green jungle surrounding me and felt so small, but in such a way where it was comforting. I felt at peace and really happy and confident in my decision to spend the first part of 2016 off the grid in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Without the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica with the funds from STEP I would not have made the strides I did to become a more confident, happier person.

After returning from Costa Rica my future goals of law school and working in a nonprofit one day were solidified for me. I had a lot of time while hiking to reflect on what I want to do with school and knew I was on the right path as an English major.

A real example of this is when I was awarded a trip to New York City to a Human Rights conference and film festival through the department of English. We often get emails detailing opportunities for students to apply to and I never applied because I thought I would not get them anyway. Shortly after returning home for Costa Rica, I realized I had nothing to lose and applied for the trip to New York. Without the confidence and “Why not?” mentality I gained in Costa Rica I would have never applied and been able to go to an eye opening conference, film festival, and site see all for no cost to me. My backpacking trip in Costa Rica has opened up other educational opportunities for me because of a newfound level of self-assuredness in my goals.


Global May Britain: A month in London

In May 2016, STEP gave me an amazing chance to study abroad in Great Britain. For four weeks, I lived in central London and studied British history, politics, and culture while taking the Arts and Sciences 2798.03 class Global May Britain. Four times a week, I and other thirty-nine students from the US had morning lectures at Anglo-American Educational Services Study Center and then afternoon excursions at various famous historical an20160509_164713d cultural sites in London. I also traveled to a couple of big British cities like Liverpool and Edinburgh and made a lot of new fiends.

This month abroad has changed my perception of diversity and European cultures a lot. Before going to London, I imagined Great Britain as a pretty conservative thousand-years-old country with strict etiquette and traditions represented by predominantly white nation. However, from the very first day British cities were impressing me with their huge diversity and proving that my images of old and wealthy European countries were outdated. I have realized that social and cultural diversity is more than just a feature of big American cities – this is the image of a perfect world recognized by many developed countries nowadays.

As soon as I arrived to Heathrow airport in London, I realized how wrong I was when imagining Britain as a predominantly white country. In the airport, in the underground, on the streets, and even in the supermarket, I was surrounded by people of all colors, clothes, and languages. Kilburn, where I lived in London, was a mostly Muslim area with busy street markets and friendly people. Our class had a walking tour around bright and vibrant Brixton – the home of thousands of Afro-Caribbean emigrants since early 20th century; and of course, London Chinatown located in Soho was my favorite place to walk, have food, and enjoy the busy night life. London and other big cities I visited during my stay in Britain turned out to be as bright and diverse as New York and other huge cities in the US.

I learned a lot about British history, politics, and culture at our lectures and excursions in London. We were talking about the rise of British Colonial Empire, the kings and queens, and development of quintessentially British traditions. However, we also discussed the multiple waves of emigration to London and all British Isles, the age of slavery, and racial riots in the 20th century. We read a lot of literature describing the life and struggles of separate ethnic groups in different periods of British history. At our classes, I have realized that Britain also has spent a lot of time and effort to build a diverse and harmonic society.

However, the greatest surprise for me was to learn at our excursion to London Tower that although all generations of kings and queens till today had pledged to protect the Anglican church, Prince Charles who was supposed to become the next British king was going to pledge to all churches and religions in Great Britain. For centuries, the monarch has been the head of Anglican church and this important tradition will be saved, but the twenty-first century monarchs realize the necessity to recognize other religions as well. It is fascinating to see how in Great Britain old traditions are mixed with new ideas to create a harmonic and diverse society.

When going to study abroad in London, I hoped to see a different life-style and immerse myself in a different culture bIMG1711839710ecause I thought this would help me better understand my patients especially foreigners when I become a doctor in the future. However, this trip to Great Britain has taught me much more than just to understand foreign cultures – it has created an absolutely new picture of a perfect world for me. Now I believe that every place can be bright, diverse, and welcoming for everyone while saving its unique traditions and features. In the future, where ever I go and whatever I do I want to create such environment around me and I believe that my new foreign friends will help me with this.

I also have a blog describing my adventures in London https://u.osu.edu/wiseadvicefromchristina/

حياتي في الاردن

Carolyn Pucillo

Study Abroad: Jordan

For five months I lived and studied in Amman, Jordan. I focused my studies on the Arabic language and politics of the Middle East. I was offered many cultural opportunities and travel excursions through CIEE. Such excursions included traveling to places like Wadi Rum, Aqaba, Petra, Madaba and others. I also traveled to the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Bahrain and Qatar. During my time in the Middle East, I focused my personal goals toward learning about the Jordanian culture and breaking down provincial stereotypes that are pervasive throughout western society. This was arguably hardest thing for me to learn. I was also fortunate enough to attend school every day on a college campus, not too different from Ohio State and interact with young Jordanians in an everyday setting.

There are many things I learned while in Jordan that are beyond the traditional scope of education. I focused my studies on the Arabic language, both modern standard Arabic and colloquial Jordanian Arabic. In total, I was in an Arabic language classroom for fifteen hours a week. Additionally, I learned the language through constant interaction at the university and with shop owners throughout the city. This immersion helped me advance my language skills like I could have never imagined. I also took other classes on the politics of development in the Middle East and the long history the United States has had with Arab countries. Learning about key political and cultural issues through a different lens was extremely gratifying and eye opening. I gained a new perspective on almost every idea I had before living in Jordan. Especially for Americans, sometimes it can be difficult to understand the point of view of other nationalities and countries. One must let go of all pre-conceived notions she had and allow herself to be influenced by a totally new perspective. This gained perspective is something I am very proud of and hope to share with my family and friends.

Personally, I experienced a lot of growth as a student, as a language and art lover and as a citizen of the world. Some of the most influential things to me were simple conversations at school with some of the other Jordanian students. One can learn so much about another person and his or her ideas by simply listening. I learned about so many historical events through the eyes of the Jordanians, instead of through an American textbook.

In addition to classroom learning, I learned a lot from my travels. One of my favorite places to visit was Israel. While in Israel I stayed in Tel Aviv and then in the Old City. This experience was truly amazing on a historical, cultural and spiritual level. One of the things I love about the region I lived in is that everywhere you go is dripping with a rich history all its own. In every country, there is so much to learn about the people and the struggles they have experienced. In Jerusalem, for example, one of the most diverse places in the world, every group of people has their own unique narrative, although they live less than a mile away from each other. Learning these things directly from the people is an invaluable experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Moreover, in embracing the Jordanian culture, I learned that the two cultures, Middle East and West, don’t always have to be in conflict with each other. I learned there are things I am comfortable doing the Jordanian way instead of the American way. This is another beautiful idea that I am fortunate to have picked up during my time abroad.

I am also indebted to Jordan for showing me love.  I fell in love in Jordan in more ways than one. I met a really great guy who taught me a lot about what it means to be Arab and how the relationship between Arabs and Americans is not always properly represented. Besides experiencing love in this way, I experienced love in many other ways. I fell in love with the country itself and with the stories I would hear. I fell in love with the culture and the history and traditions. More than that, I fell in love with the journey. Everyday I was able to meet new people and learn about their stories and their perspectives and realize that their opinions, which seemed foreign and strange at first, were just as valid as mine. Discovering the world is a passion that burns deeply within my soul and I owe it in large part to my time spent in Jordan.

Moving forward, I have many new life goals following my time spent in Jordan. In many ways, living in Jordan cemented my aspirations of studying Arabic and specializing in the Middle East as a region for my career. But living abroad taught me many new things as well. I now know I would not be opposed to living in Jordan again in the future, or elsewhere in the Middle East, for a few years. I definitely loved the journey and desire to travel as much of the world as possible. Eastern Europe and East Asia are next on my list

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Studying Abroad Helped me Find my Home

Sara Owens

Study Abroad

         Over the past 6 months I have been attempting to put my passionate feelings into words that even begin to describe the adventure of a lifetime that took place in Budapest, Hungary this past summer. I’ve not wanted to accept that my STEP signature experience is over, but I have realized that one adventure must end before another can begin. One year ago, I began my STEP proposal by quoting John Green saying, “I am in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met”. As I reflect on this experience, I feel a pang in my heart as my soul has been touched by the places I’ve visited and the people I’ve met. I began this journey quoting the words of other travelers; now I am telling my own story.


           My STEP Signature Project enabled me to set out on an adventure I had only dreamed of before. I participated in the 2015 Global May Hungary Program. This allowed me to live in Budapest for 4 weeks and challenged me to delve into an entirely new culture. Coursework included learning the history, culture, political views, economic conditions, and unique language of Hungary. Touring the city, learning innovative ways to utilize green spaces, studying the importance of famous monuments, meeting with political representatives, and reflecting on museum exhibitions were just a few ways we covered the course material. Our final project consisted of a video presentation of a prevalent topic of choice unique to Hungarian culture. I took this opportunity and ran with it as my group studied the progression of café culture within Budapest as well as central Europe. The Global May Hungary program also led us to Warsaw, Poland as well as Vienna, Austria to compare the history and culture of other major European cities.


           I began this journey as ignorant as could be. While I knew I had never seen the world, I had not realized that I had not been living life to the fullest. My perspective shifted with each step that I took and I found more compassion in my heart with every person that I met. I did not know that I was capable of accomplishing the things that I did within these 4 short weeks that I lived in Budapest. My main goal of this experience was to transform into a traveler. At one point, this seemed unrealistic due to my utter lack of travel experience. I had never even been on an airplane before casually flying overseas. While writing my STEP proposal last year I was sure to include my personal philosophy of what a traveler ought to be. I came up with this: “A traveler is someone ambitious enough to capture the serenity of new places while welcoming the new culture to become a part of them. A traveler leaves nothing behind; only gains knowledge, acceptance, and perspective from new places. Less comparably, a tourist is one who may look at the world, but will never see it for what it truly is. Tourists travel merely for their own personal pleasure, while travelers seek to become a part of something larger than them.” As I copied these words onto paper I deeply felt that this was true. Something was driving me to become a well-seasoned traveler; I just wasn’t sure how I would achieve this.


           Not only did I accomplish this, but I have also unleashed a new passion in life. I have discovered the priceless beauty of engaging as a global citizen. Our professor whom led us on this trip, Dr. Daniel Pratt, warned us that we would begin to attract the company of others whom have spent a significant amount of time abroad. I have found this to be incredibly true. Sine returning from Budapest, I have met people from all around the globe and it seems that they pick me out of a crowd. Whether I am at school, work, or simply out in public, I find it difficult to avoid travelers whom have great stories to tell. I feel that these people feel comfortable around me because of the new confidence and energy that I have gained from my STEP signature project.


            Many do not understand how it is that I felt more understood than ever before in a country that did not speak my language nor practice my culture. The moment I arrived in Budapest, I felt welcomed by this new place; I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging. I quickly learned that this infinite feeling of bliss is what home feels like. My home is no longer a place. Home is where my heart is full, my mind is challenged, and my soul is happy. I’ve found the place that wakes my mind up and fills my heart with happiness. Finding this place has bought my new passion for traveling to light. This experience allowed me to openly challenge all I have ever known. Boarding my first ever flight to pursue my dreams of traveling the world was one of the greatest feelings I have ever experienced and I will never stop chasing adventure that provides me with this much energy and happiness. Being exposed to a new culture, a new language, a new currency, and a new lifestyle provided me with endless opportunities to learn. I had the amazing opportunity to take on Budapest and experience new things each and every day I was here. Being on the other side of the world, I had no choice but to adjust to my surroundings. I noticed how my personal values began to shift with each week I was here. I no longer depended on technology to stay connected, I began to trust my sense of direction more, and I realized the importance of creating unforgettable memories with 25 new friends whom I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. I have gained a new appreciation for central Europe as a whole and cannot wait to explore more of Europe in the future. I have also begun to view America differently and have thus reevaluated our Country’s values. Most importantly, I have discovered the significance of traveling with purpose. I returned back to The United States as a more curious, intellectually stimulated, passionate, inspired, and determined individual who will never stop searching for the infinite feeling of bliss that I now call home.


            No amount of coursework could ever exceed the amount of knowledge I gained from living like a local in a foreign country. Simply taking the right bus route to get to class, practicing effective communication, discovering new territories, and interacting with locals provided me with experience in all areas of productivity. Engaging in the world has a whole new meaning to me after investing so much of my time, energy, and passion into Budapest. This opportunity has genuinely increased my global literacy skills. Prior to this experience, my personal and professional expectations were limited. I now know how important it is to see the world and face new challenges. Throughout the course of this program, I became more susceptible to change. I quickly learned that the benefits you gain from pushing your limits and trying new things is an incredibly rewarding process. I have since decided that I want to travel with a deeper purpose. I want to leave my fingerprints around the world as I help those less fortunate than myself. I want to understand economic differences between thriving countries and underdeveloped nations so that I can better appreciate where I am from. Now that I have experienced traveling abroad, I know I must continue this leisure pursuit. I will continue to explore Honduras and Peru this coming summer and I cannot wait to explore new land, meet new people, and understand new cultures. I have also begun seeking future employers with international opportunities and am even considering international graduate school programs. I have also added serving in the Peace Corps for two years to my bucket list. Choosing to no longer be restricted by borders has opened up so many possibilities for my future and I cannot wait to see where I will end up. I am eternally grateful for the resources I am provided with, the people I have met, and the memories I have made along the way. Köszönöm, Budapest, for helping me find my new home.


Here is my group’s multimedia project about Café Culture