For my signature project, I chose to participate in the Psychology and Culture in Europe study abroad program during May semester of 2016. During the program, I travelled to Rome, Venice, and London touring various psychological museums as well as places of cultural, historical and religious significance.
I feel my time abroad has been very transformative for me in many ways. For starters, I feel that I have gained a better understanding of myself. I was able to leave my comfort zone to try new things, and as a result I feel a greater sense of independence and confidence in my everyday life. I am no longer intimidated by public transportation and don’t mind getting lost while exploring big cities. Thanks to my trip, I have discovered a newfound love and appreciation of theater. My signature project also taught me how to stay positive during stressful, anxiety provoking situations, and most importantly, to laugh at myself.
Before this trip, I had this idea of Europe being a huge, intimidating place in which I would most likely feel out of place. What I experienced could not have been farther from that assumption. I felt so welcome and at home while in each of these amazing cities. Even with the language barrier in Italy, I felt right at home. Because of this trip, I got an inside look at what sort of cultural topics and conflicts are important to people in this part of the world. As a result, I feel that my cultural worldview has been broadened.
Although the entire trip has been a transformative experience, some events stick out in my mind as having the most effect on me. I found that leaving my comfort zone was one of the best ways to get the most out of my signature project. To expand my horizons, I tried foods I never would have thought to order in the states like clams, squid tentacles, and cuttlefish. One evening in Venice, I was feeling particularly adventurous so I decided to pick something at random off the menu. I wasn’t entirely sure what I ordered since the menu was in Italian. I was not so pleasantly surprised when my dinner came out with eyes still in tact… Apparently I’d ordered a type of pasta with crawfish and had no idea how to begin eating my meal. After a brief tutorial by one of my peers, I began to shell and eat my strange meal, and it was delicious! I’ve noticed a greater sense of confidence thanks to the repeated use of public transportation such as the Tube. I was so anxious about getting lost or turned around on the tube, but to my surprise, I mastered it relatively quickly and was able to navigate my way around the city with ease. My newfound love of theater can be attributed to my experience at the Apollo Victoria Theater in London where I saw the musical Wicked. I never knew how emotional and exciting musicals could be, but it is safe to say that I’m hooked and excited to see many more in the future.
One of the most important transformations I noticed was an ability to take a breath and focus on the positive when a situation becomes stressful and negative. Towards the end of the trip, some of the other students were becoming weary and burnt out, making a lot of negative comments and complaints. My advisor noticed my frustration and offered to show me mindfulness meditation. After practicing this method of stress relief, I was able to enjoy the remainder of my trip to the fullest. I’ve also noticed that I am able to laugh at myself now, and not take things so seriously. I think this is due to my special welcoming I received in London. I was practically bouncing with excitement to finally be in London, since I was looking forward to this part of the trip the most. While waiting outside for our coach, I received an unwelcome gift from a pigeon up above that landed right in my hair! Normally I would have been so embarrassed to have bird droppings in my hair in front of the whole group, but I was so excited to be in London that I couldn’t help but laugh to the point of tears! I am thankful for this memory that I will cherish and look back upon fondly.
My view of Europe was changed by how many American’s we met along the way. Instead of a huge unknown city, the world seemed much smaller as we encountered people from all different parts of the United States. It seemed that everywhere we went, there was someone from America to offer a friendly smile. We even ran into a few Ohio State Alumni! It really is a small world. I’m grateful that I was able to experience the different cultures first hand. For example, in Rome it is very uncommon to split checks when dining in groups. A waitress explained that in their culture, everyone shares their meals with one another, so when it comes to the check, it is just divided evenly amongst the group. This system is much less individualized than American culture. I also learned a great deal about Venetian artisan culture. Some examples include the handmade lace of Burano and the traditions that go into making it, the precision involved in the glass blowing trade of Murano and the tradition of mask making in Venice.
The transformations I’ve seen in myself thanks to my signature project are incredibly valuable to me. Thanks to this program, I have grown as an individual, become more confident and independent, and made lasting memories with new friends that I will cherish for the rest of my life. The confidence I have gained will undoubtedly help me further in life when I’m on my own and in the competitive job market. I’ve also confirmed by passion for psychology, which reaffirmed my choice in major. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share these once in a lifetime experiences with a group of my peers. The memories alone make this experience invaluable.