- I participated in the Global May Spain Study Abroad program that extended from May 10th – June 4th. The main objective of my STEP project was to expand and enhance my knowledge about the history and culture of Spain and the impact that these things had on the rest of the world through both classroom settings and firsthand experiences. Another main focus of my STEP project was to learn how to effectively function in a foreign country.
- Upon completion of my STEP project and my return to America, I felt as though something had changed within me. To begin, the number one take-away that I had regarding the understanding I have of myself is the confidence I gained during my time in Spain. I learned that I do in fact have the ability to navigate my way through a foreign country that speaks a different language all by myself. In addition to this, I learned that even if I go off and explore the unknown, I am equipped with the right skills and abilities to find my way home. In addition, I learned that there is so much beauty and wonder found in exploration, trying new things, and simply emerging yourself into the unknown. These lessons I learned that tested my skills, knowledge, and at times even common sense, were something that I am able to project onto my daily life as well; I learned that I can rely on myself to overcome almost any obstacle I am faced with and that I have a hunger and passion for discovery and learning. In addition, I am so much more confident in social interactions. I found that I was able to effectively communicate with people that speak a different language than me. This instilled confidence in me because if I can do this successfully and develop and maintain relationships with people across the globe, I am certainly able to be in almost any social situation and feel comfortable.
Being granted the freedom to explore a place I had never been before not only enlightened me about concrete topics such as how to analyze the cultural differences of two nations, but it also increased my wanderlust tenfold and made me realize that there is so much about the world that I really do not know but would love to have the opportunity to learn about and experience. My STEP project allowed me to see that there are countless people different from me that I want to meet and learn from, infinite beautiful places I desire to visit, and so much authentic food to taste in their rightful settings, and endless cultural experiences I want to have. My STEP project showed me that there is a whole other side to the world – a whole other part of life – that I am missing out on and would love to be a part of again.
My STEP project also helped me better understand how Americans are viewed throughout the rest of the world. It was interesting to socialize with locals and discuss certain issues relevant to America (i.e. our upcoming election) to hear their understanding of America and the assumptions they might have made about me because I am American. The ability to see things from a different viewpoint is an incredibly important life skill because it will make you a more compassionate, understanding, and empathetic person, and my STEP project has definitely enhanced my capacity to put myself in someone else’s shoes.
- Throughout my STEP project, I developed certain relationships that helped lead to the change in my understanding of how Americans are viewed throughout the rest of the world, my increased confidence in social interactions, and my realization that there is so much that I do not know. The residence hall that we Ohio State students stayed in during our time abroad also housed students from Argentina. Our living situation led me to spending much time sharing meals, exploring the city, and playing fútbol with the Argentinian students, which allowed me to bond and form lasting relationships with these people. One spectacular thing about these relationships was the language barrier. Spending time together gave us the chance to learn from each other by practicing speaking in another language (us in Spanish, them in English) and by teaching each other about our own customs and cultures. They also taught me about how Americans are viewed by other countries. This lesson has become incredibly important to me because it’s allowed me to reflect on the way that I want to represent both my country and myself, and it has changed my behavior and beliefs accordingly. Meeting these people and the relationships that I formed with them, although totally unanticipated in the planning process of my STEP project, became a vital part of my experience abroad. In addition to my confidence in social situations improving via relationships, the overall confidence I have in myself improved due to simply traveling. For instance, I flew internationally alone, I took advantage of free time to explore a foreign country, – particularly the amazing cities of Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Santander, and Bilbao with my peers – and I even mastered Madrid’s public transportation system, which was a huge success for me because prior to my time abroad I considered myself to be directionally challenged.
My understanding of the world shifted after completing my STEP project because of the opportunity I had to experience traditions of a different nation, to analyze cultural differences between Spain and America, and to live differently from how I always have in the past. One particular cultural experience I had was attending a bullfight. This event was both educational and culturally shocking to me because it was here that I realized how people across the globe value and view things differently. In attending this event, I began to understand just how important it is to respect other cultures’ traditions and learn the significance and importance of them even though that culture may have incredibly different viewpoints on something than you. Additionally, visiting some of the most famous museums in the world, such as Museo del Prado in Madrid and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, were unforgettable experiences that resulted in me becoming astoundingly more culturally aware and appreciative of art in general.
Additionally, analyzing and understanding cultural differences between Spain and America changed my worldview because I had the chance to see firsthand how other people live and to participate in that lifestyle. Some other cultural differences I noticed included the fact that in comparison to Americans, Spaniards seem to take their time when doing everything in order to enjoy life more, they are more blunt or even confrontational (but not in an aggressive way) with one another, and they are not bothered by any lack of personal space. I experienced the leisurely pace of this country in various aspects of everyday life through occurrences such as “sobremesas”, which is the time spent after a meal simply enjoying the company of the ones you have just shared a meal with, as well as through the lengthy daily schedule that Spaniards seem to keep. One analogy that can accurately depict the difference in pace of Spaniards and Americans is that the days in America are more of a “sprint”, whereas the days in Spain are more of a “marathon”. For example my daily schedule while in Spain was longer compared to the schedule I keep in America.
Finally, learning the actual course content of the Global May Spain Study Abroad Program was not only riveting, but also a highly pivotal experience for me. Throughout all of my years at school, aside from the little tidbits of information I received in Spanish class about Spain’s history, I had only ever focused on American history. After learning about another country’s beginnings, development, and impact it had and continues to have on the rest of the world, I feel as though our education system is wrong to not teach us these things at an earlier age. I learned about crucial topics including immigration, religion, architecture, government, and the way that Spain is a perfect demonstration of a cultural crossroads and how nations influence one another. Becoming more educated about these things has in fact changed some of my beliefs about both America and the world. After learning about the way that cultures influenced one another and came together to become the one nation of Spain and how this nation continually influences other nations even today, I finally understand just how important different cultures are to one another. My STEP project has led me to the conclusion that without being open-minded and learning from each other, we as a society, will never be able to improve or grow to our full potential. I think that this lesson of necessary dependency cultures have on one another is something that many people still never realize throughout their lifetime, and I am blessed to have had my eyes opened to this message.
- These transformations that occurred within me due to my STEP project have proven to be incredibly significant in my academic and overall collegiate experience in many ways. For instance, my interest in and appreciation for history heightened tremendously since becoming a more inquisitive person. This fresh excitement has sparked a hunger and desire within me for a constant influx of knowledge, and I plan on taking this newfound passion and incorporating it with my future academic endeavors.
More importantly, my STEP project has undoubtedly made me an overall better person, and there is nothing more valuable to me than this. Ohio State’s motto is “Disciplina in Civitatem”, or “Education for Citizenship”, and I can say with full confidence that the things I learned throughout the course of my STEP project fully encompassed this motto. I became a more culturally aware, open-minded, empathetic, inquisitive, and passionate person – an overall better citizen. Becoming a better citizen has not only enhanced my personal goals, but it has also pushed me to want to be the best version of myself academically and professionally as well. Before completing my STEP project, I thought that people only went to college to come out with a degree and a job. Now however, I believe that a main reason to attend college is to have experiences, such as studying abroad that will help you discover who you are really meant to be. I thank STEP for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have studied abroad and the incredible results and effects it had in my life.