Animal and Human Interactions Study Abroad to New Zealand


For my STEP signature project, I was given the opportunity to travel abroad to New Zealand through the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, where I studied animal and human interactions. Each day our group would tour various types production animal farms to compare the differences between how farming is done in New Zealand versus how farming is approached in The United States.

While abroad I came across many emotions. The first being the sheer beauty of the country that is New Zealand. It was absolutely breathtaking to be surrounded by the green grass outstretched for miles in front of you. I was also struck by both the similarities and differences between the United States and New Zealand. I appreciated the way New Zealand approaches farming, and would be lying if I said that that country of New Zealand is behind us in terms of sustainability. However, it was also during the time that I was admiring their country, that I also truly began to appreciate what I have been given at home. Throughout the trip I was constantly looking for interactions, similarities and differences, so much so that I almost forgot to take the entire country for what it was: breathtaking. After returning home, I am more inclined to look at problems or road blocks in front of me a certain way, I am able to truly apply what I have learned from the people in the country of New Zealand in my section of the world. 

Each day our group would visit two or three stops based on a type of production animal. For example, one day we visited a salmon hatchery, a dairy farm and were able to witness a sheep shearing show. Every day for ten days we were given the amazing opportunity to leave our normal classroom setting and get out in the real world to study what we had previously learned on slides. That was one of the most important aspects of this trip for myself, so I would also suggest this was where I noticed the most change in myself. It was during our trips outside the classroom that I was able to interact with the locals in New Zealand, learn of the Maori culture and really dive into all of the culture that surrounded me.

While participating in the pre-requisite class at school was informative and also enjoyable, because we did get to leave the classroom and experience what we were learning firsthand, when were in another country the experience was even more enhanced. One of my favorite parts of my trip was when we learned about the Maori culture. On our first night in the country we ate dinner in Rotorua, a town where the Maori people of New Zealand have a village. In this town we had the chance to experience a Maori traditional dinner with all of their traditional food, a dance and other culture rituals they participate in. This was when I was truly able to immerse myself into their culture and know that I was experiencing something unique, something I would now have the chance to experience again.

I believe the final thing that rreally allowed for a transformational change to occur within me might have been the relationships with the people I had on this trip. Our group was smaller- only about 29 people. We got to know each other pretty quickly since we were always around one another. Prior to departing, I was hesitant about this, because I was worried I would not be able to make friends. However, it is with the people on this trip that I am still talking to know, after having returned about a month ago. I am amazed how close traveling together brought us. I have been able to look to them for questions and have talked through the returning process with them too- how to get back into the swing of things after returning from the most amazing trip of your life. I had such an amazing experience with them, that lead to both change within my heart and mind, of which I will be able to use in the near and distant future.

I believe this change is relevant to me because before leaving for this trip I was at a point in the semester that really took a tole on me. I noticed I was constantly stressed, not enjoying what I was doing, and merely just living. Since returning, I have noticed I am different. I am more engaged in what I am doing, and truly enjoying what I have going on. I feel as if I am more focused this semester on my classes and will now be able to utilize what I learned in New Zealand in other Animal Sciences classes I have yet to take. I was given the most amazing opportunity to experience these animals and techniques first-hand. I know have something to base my knowledge off of and am truly able to understand why studying abroad is something that every student at our school should have the opportunity to do. If it would not have been for this wonderful program, I would not have had the opportunity to attend, and I will forever be grateful for this opportunity that I was given- the chance to experience something beyond myself and cause a true change within me. beyond myself and cause a true change within me.

Engineer Service Learning in Ghana

Name: Megan Pearson

Project: Engineering Service Learning/Study Abroad to the Offinso North District of Ghana


My STEP project entailed a semester-long preparatory class leading up to a 2 week trip to Ghana to implement sustainable energy and safe water engineering projects.  We worked with the local government, Offinso North District Assembly, to successfully do this work in the Offinso North District in the Ashanti Region of Ghana.  My specific project provided a solar cell phone charging kiosk to a village with 50 phones was completely off grid.

Personal Impact

This project was freeing, enlightening and I am truly honored to have been a part of this awesome effort connecting Ohio State to the people of Offinso North, Ghana.  After this experience, I feel empowered and challenged to do more for the world, especially those currently being served ineffectively by relief services.  I have more confidence in my field’s ability to promote change in the world, and better respect for ethical codes as it relates to the consumer or customer.  When working with a population with few to no regulations that is very trusting of foreign aid, I see many implications for unethical behavior, where professional engineers could take advantage of the situation.  Due to this awareness, I also feel a responsibility to contribute to future ethical humanitarian practices in the engineering field.

I had long-held assumptions about Africa, and expected to be uncomfortable and avoided during my stay there.  What I found instead were fiercely nationalistic Ghanaians, proud of their individuality, strong in community and the most genuinely hospitable people I could have imagined.  While we had seen presentations and briefly discussed Ghana in our class, I was not prepared for the constant good humor and support we found in Ghana.  There were basic physical discomforts, and some awkward situations, but I was treated with respect, and even though there was a slight language barrier, it was accompanied by a real effort to understand and be understood.

Before going on this trip, I thought that my world view was well developed from travels around Europe and across the United States.  As a half-Taiwanese person, I felt my biggest traveling hole was in visiting Taiwan to meet the rest of my family.  I didn’t realize how wrong I was until I went to Ghana and interacted with the amazing culture and people that was just as complexly faceted and intriguing as that of Americans.  The ever-present repercussions of slave culture in their country, as well as the impact of misplaced relief/humanitarian efforts and voluntourism was an unexpected discovery for me, and is one I am newly passionate about upon my return home.  I hope that my involvement with Ghana and other places across the globe does not end with this experience, and that I can better understand our global community through the cultural awareness and connections I made and will continue to make from this trip and into the future.

The People

In Ghana, it seemed that everyone was saying “hi” or talking to us.  Small children would chase our cars or busses yelling “Obruni! Obruni!” which means “White man! White man!”  This was never meant out of offense, but rather a typical calling card or greeting.  Everyone I talked to was helpful and friendly, and I personally tried to make light conversation about daily life with whoever I could.  Two of our contacts at ONDA, Andy (our main host ONDA) and Ramant (a mother but active leader at ONDA) were very good at English and specifically told our group to ask any questions, offensive or otherwise, to debunk any myths about Ghanaian culture that we had.  They helped sate my curiosity about things I saw or did while there, and pushed me out of my comfort zone to ask the blunt, often rude, questions, or try things I would not have otherwise.  Without this invaluable resource, I would not have come back so comfortable with interacting with Ghanaians or those in vastly different culture.

Their willingness to answer questions extended into other members of ONDA, specifically friends I made named Vera, Abby, Azumah, EA Jonas, and Augustine.  The language barrier was greater with these friends, but they taught me to value patience as I was rewarded with a wealth of understanding I wouldn’t have without them.

Vera joined our group later, but was amazing at answering questions about the economic factors of life at ONDA.  She was a shorter, stylish 23 year old working as Ramant’s intern.  During a 2 hour bus ride, she talked to me about everything from her personal aspirations to visit America, to the rich farming culture in the North Offinso District.  She spoke excellent English, although it was clearly not her primary language.  She was confident, well-kept and independent.  She seemed to do what she wanted when she wanted to, and was always stylishly dressed.  Through perception and interaction, Vera taught me a great deal about the role of young women in Ghanaian culture.

Abby was a sweet 10 year old who was constantly at our work area at ONDA.  She was funny and playful, and clearly strong-willed among the group of kids running around as we were there over their school holiday.  She always wanted to play with us, and was eager to learn games from me, and teach me words and songs in Twi.  Her parents worked the small stand next to ONDA, and I would often buy snacks from them per Abby’s suggestions.  She was my favorite by far, and I grew to care about her deeply while in Ghana.  Ultimately, I hope to go back and spend more time with her, and hopefully work with kids there to teach them about sanitation, energy and other efforts that will benefit them in a culturally aware, anti-voluntourism manner.

Azumah was an electrical technician intern at ONDA.  Professionally, he was a part of our team to help us when needed, and learn firsthand about the solar energy work we were implementing.  On a more social level, his English was weaker than some and he didn’t understand us as well.  When someone in our group would say something he didn’t understand, he would agree and act like he knew, and we would have to figure out when he didn’t really understand.  On a more social level, he frequently mentioned marrying me, and bringing me to live with him in Ghana or joining me in America.  This cultural difference made me the most uncomfortable, as I am already uncomfortable with gender dynamics even within the United States.  Although several other men asked to marry me, Azumah’s more constant presence allowed me to delve deeper into the conversation of why I was saying no.  I don’t know how much he understood, but I gained a lot from talking with him, and from these interactions and asking questions of Ramant, I gained a firmer understanding of the relationship culture in Ghana.

EA Jonas was a professional electrical engineer at ONDA.  Most of the group from America thought he was a mean old man who sat around all day and criticized our projects.  They weren’t wrong; he told one group that ONDA would never work with their project again so not to bother performing training or maintenance measures, and told another group that we were insulting Ghanaian quality and engineering.  He had no basis or power in these claims, and was a huge head-sore to them.  He was critical in similar ways with our project, however I got him to talk to me about his career and teaching within Electrical Engineering, his specialty.  He understood English supremely well, and conveyed his messages clearly too.  He explained the kinds of thing Ghanaians learn in school about engineering, and while it was a lower level than what we have in America, it followed similar principles.  I appreciated his knowledge greatly, and although he was a sourpuss, I hope to message him more from the states about his work.

Augustine was the lead electrical technician and resident inventor at ONDA.  He held the main responsibility of the future of our solar project, and was not only headstrong and independent but had weaker than ideal English skills.  When I met him, he was critical and a visionary; talking about past project success and failure as well as a frustration about not having wider-spread success.  He had caused drama for past groups, and I quickly learned why.  His nature was similar to many other Ghanaians in that he would have an idea in a situation and execute immediately.  His patience was thin and his ability to act on something was great, and this combination led to many misunderstandings and near conflicts.  By the end of the trip, I learned that he worked best when something was explained to him, rather than someone correcting him by telling.  This level of communication was probably my most valuable skill by far, and something I hope to share with other groups as much as I can.

In conclusion, although the trip was primarily about engineering, the interactions and experiences I gained shaped and impacted me the most.  The cultural awareness I gained from this trip was irreplaceable, and the engineering project steered everyone involved toward the same end goal, which was ultimately successful on all fronts of the project teams.  The entire group was extremely satisfied by the trip, and I personally was influenced to do more work like this.  Working with a group closely in creating a solution to a problem they have is essential.  I believe that it empowers them, shows them the respect they deserve, and may even help wean them off of the feeling of dependence on foreign aid incited by voluntourism and gifting practices of Americans and first-world efforts.  I value the individuals I met there, and am inspired by them every day in my life back in the United States.

Where Do I Go From Here?

This project had a significant impact on my future actions as a professional engineer, and on my educational and career decisions.

Firstly, I plan to gear my work as a professional engineer more towards the betterment of those around me, either in choosing a company that will support humanitarian work on the side, or that will do humanitarian work themselves.

With regards to my academic future, I hope to further broaden my perspective beyond the engineering field.  This project fulfilled the final requirements of my Humanitarian Engineering minor; a very new and growing program here at Ohio State.  In addition, I am broadening my academic scope in a unique way by adding a Global Option to my Engineering degree. Furthermore, I hope to add an Anthropology minor to my degree to learn more about the impact of social perspectives on science-based fields.  I want to combine all of these things not only due to my true interest and passion for the subjects, but to hopefully push my future career in an internationally impactful engineering career.

In my career, I currently plan on taking my Electrical Engineering degree and putting it towards a project management position.  This position is extremely broad, and is very client dependent.  While I could be working in an engineering firm, I could also put this towards a non-governmental organization or law-influencing group.  The anthropology minor would demonstrate my interest, while the engineering degree would support the critical thinking required for such a job.

Realistically, in our government there are rarely engineers filling leadership roles.  I personally object to the notion of keeping engineers in think tanks, labs and manufacturing, and believe there is stronger potential for wide-spread impact with strong, sound engineering minds in the leadership.  As I go into this semester, I am taking classes in both Electrical Engineering codes of ethics and the anthropology of global mental health.  After returning from Ghana and experiencing their vastly different culture, these classes have a more obvious connection to me that they would have before.  In the future, my personal experience will hopefully help me make more abstract connections, and influence other engineers to make bold connections to make strides within and beyond their specific field.

Cuba at the Crossroads (Performance and Culture in Cuba)

Name: Nicholas Smith (Coco)
Type of Project: Study Abroad (Performance and Culture in Cuba)

In December I participated in the study abroad program, “Performance and Culture in Cuba.” This program attempted to contextualize the Cuban arts, from music, to theater, to film, to dance, within the history and political context of Cuba. We interacted with leading artists in Cuba and watched a variety of performances to learn the particularities of the Cuban arts scene.
This visit to Cuba altered both my views on politics and art dramatically. As a socialist, I was particularly fascinated by the political system in Cuba. Though I held many critiques of the Cuban system, I was interested to see what progressive government looked like in practice. Experiencing Cuba firsthand really left me with more questions than answers. On the one hand, it was inspiring to be in a place with a progressive government. Seeing how life was like for people who did not have to worry on the day-to-day about procuring food, water, shelter, healthcare, and the basic necessities of life opened up new vistas for me. But, I was also disillusioned by the repressive political atmosphere, the political apathy of Cuban citizens, and the bleak future that seems to be impossible to avoid in tomorrow’s Cuba.
Engaging with artists there was also inspiring. I was opened up to a new world of culture which I had had little knowledge of before. I could not help but think of the many complex relationships between history, politics, and artistic production, and I also contemplated my own place as a musician in the United States.
In regards to my political insights, interactions with government officials, artists, and just everyday people gave me a fuller picture of Cuba than I could have had looking from the outside. I saw a presentation from a Cuban architectural planner on the future of Havana which was very enlightening. He discussed the current problems of lack of funding for keeping Havana’s aging architecture in shape. One of the only ways to solve this problem would be to open up more to foreign investment, and in the future, investment from the U.S.. However, the planner understood that that kind of money comes with strings attached. If Cuba opens up to foreign investment, it risks opening up the country to new levels of inequality and the gentrification of its beautiful and egalitarian housing.
I also spent a lot of time talking with our Cuban guide about Spanish phrases, the politics of Cuba, and various cultural eccentricities there. Having direct access to a Cuban person really helped me connect with what was around me. I debated the ups and downs of the American and Cuban forms of government with my guide and learned much in the process. Though I was critical of Cuba’s form of socialism from the beginning, I also idealized it to a certain extent. Learning from a Cuban who knew nothing else helped strip that naive from me and see the good and the bad more clearly.
I was also impacted by the prevalent street art and performance which abounds in Cuba. If you walk to the boardwalk by the sea, there will always be musicians hanging out and playing music as groups, performing for their own enjoyment and for the passerby. Street performers even do dance and other more rehearsed musical forms out on the streets. Seeing the universal embrace of art there pushed me away from interpreting everything within a strictly political point of view. All to often, the lives of common people in other countries are seen as heavily politicized, as our engagement with these countries is only on the level of political leaders and events. However, in every country, people drink and eat, struggle, live and die, and find ways to enjoy themselves in between. I couldn’t help but be inspired by the creativity and openness of the average Cuban people I ran into on the streets on any given day.
Visiting Cuba through the Performance and Culture In Cuba study abroad program has developed me in very important ways. As a history major and aspiring professor, engaging critically with the culture, politics, and history of Cuba was a one of a kind experience. In academic settings, it is quite easy to understand events and people abstractly, through a narrow and scholarly view. However, to have that visceral experience of being in a country, and engaging directly with the people, is an essential experience when grounding a historical perspective. Even though the writing of history often takes place deep within archives, libraries, and books, the events of history are always concrete and lived. Visiting Cuba made clear to me the nuances of US-Cuba relations, anti-imperialism, and socialism of Fidel’s type.
And as a student who wishes to research the complexities of the socialist tradition, I could have not had a more transformative experience. When one gets beyond the simplistic anti-communism still common in the Western imagination and academia, there’s a rich history and experience coming out of the various movements for socialism throughout the world. I hope to write a senior thesis and research more in depth the complexities of socialism, and visiting a socialist country was really essential for me to get a grasp of the practical implementation of socialism.
And finally, visiting Cuba was enriching for me because of the understanding of culture it gave me. Hearing from artists gave me a real appreciation of Cuban performance and music, which is a good in-itself. But also, understanding culture will be essential for me in studying history and navigating academia. Though I only spent a week in Cuba, my whole outlook on my future prospects has expanded considerably.

STEP Reflection

Allison Wise

Education Abroad

My STEP signature project was a study abroad to New Zealand. This Education Abroad was centered on Human-Animal Interactions. Activities that occurred during this study abroad was visiting farms and other animal facilities and looking at how human and animals interact in comparison to interactions in the US.

Before going to New Zealand, I knew very little about the country.  I did not know how advanced New Zealand is when thinking environmentally. I thought that New Zealand would have been more urban and less rural; I thought agriculture was important there but I did not know it was their leading industry. New Zealand second leading industry is tourism, and this was very evident while there. On a daily basis I would see people from all around the world, even all seven continents. America is called a melting pot, but I saw more melting going on in New Zealand than at home in the US. Another thing I noticed is that people in New Zealand knew a lot about what is going on in our country, specifically politically. I noticed about myself is that I learn more in the field than in a classroom. This study abroad was only ten days, yet I learned more than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t just learn but I made memories that will last a lifetime.

The moment we arrived at New Zealand their environmental focus was key. Going through customs they were very secure to make sure we were not introducing any new species whether that be a minute bacteria found on your shoes or an apple from the US. At our first stop we went to a dog shelter and asked about a lot of common diseases we have in the US and most of them New Zealand did not have. Even when going to farms their disease rate seemed to a lot less. A specific stop that we made which showed New Zealand’s commitment to the environment was a beef farm we visited in the Lake Taupo catchment.  I was told that Lake Taupo is 150 times cleaner than the minimum for drinking water. Environmental law was put into place to reduce the amount of nitrogen leaching into the water. New Zealand was not even simply fixing a problem but preventing one from ever happening. In the US we are at the point of fixing problems as they come, yet New Zealand is thinking about it almost 80 years early.

Each day we ended up driving for at least an hour, most days more.  We could drive five minutes outside a town and we would be in the middle of the mountains surrounded by large extensive farms. Farmers in Ohio see their animals if not every day then every week. When talking to one New Zealand sheep farmer, he would only see his animals twice a year. In the US right now we are worried about animal welfare. We see animals grouped together feeding on grains and want to picture our animals living on grass like they do in New Zealand. It’s all about perspective because a person may also be concerned about welfare when a farmer does not even see their animals and do not know if an animal is sick or suffering out in the mountains. During this study abroad we pretty much drove throughout the entire country, and I can now attest that New Zealand is mostly land with animals on it.

Then there is all the intangible things that I learned in New Zealand. One thing is that I do not know how to work a GoPro. I realized that no matter the quality of camera, the view you see with your eyes could never be truly captured in a picture. I learned that a coach bus is capable of driving off road in a field. I figured out that New Zealand knows way more about the US than I do of them, this was evident when multiple people asked who we voted for. I also learned that I should have packed more warm clothes, even though it was technically their summer. I never would have thought that I would be at dinner with people from all over the world or met a man in a supermarket that was on a pit stop back from Antarctica. I learned about a completely different human and animal interaction that I had not previously thought of when we went to Deer Genetics. Here I learned about the trophy deer industry and velvet used for healing. These are few of the many things that I did not think about at all before being in New Zealand.

In being in New Zealand without internet or service on my phone, it has taught me that I can live without my phone. So much of my time and others now, is spent on my cell phone. When I am looking at my phone there are things I am missing in real life. New Zealand has also changed my future career and life plans. I no longer feel restricted to living in Ohio and embrace the idea of living somewhere different whether it is nationally or internationally. I feel capable that I could live somewhere new or different due to this study abroad. Going forward, I am going to think differently when people discuss welfare of animals and look at pros and cons from both sides. New Zealand has also renewed in me, my passion for the environment and my want to help to preserve the planet for future generations.

STEP New Zealand Reflection

For my STEP Signature Project I went on a study abroad trip to New Zealand to learn about their human – animal interactions.  Throughout the trip, I was able to make comparisons between New Zealand and the United States and gain a greater appreciation for both countries and their treatment of animals.

My view of the world has changed a great deal from participating in this study abroad.  By being able to compare both the US and New Zealand, I have become more aware of how different other countries operate than the US.   Given that the mountainous terrain of NZ is so different from the flat plains of the US, New Zealanders have a unique way of working their livestock operations.  This includes raising different animals, feeding their animals a grass diet, as well as having large farms that may not involve daily human-animal interactions.  They also appear to have a greater focus on preserving NZ’s resources and beauty than we do here in the US.  This experience was eye-opening and allowed me to broaden my view of the world.

The places that struck me the most during my experience in NZ were the tours at Deer Genetics NZ and Taupo Beef.  I found these experiences to be the most memorable due to their focus on raising animals for purposes that are not common in the US as well as their focus on preserving the environment.   What made Deer Genetics NZ so unique was that they raised genetically superior deer to produce high-quality trophy stags.  These stags were then sold to outfitters where they would be hunted on game reserves.  They also sold the velvet produced by young bucks.  The velvet is often used for medicinal purposes in Asian cultures.  Before the study abroad trip, I didn’t know anything about the trophy hunting industry or how velvet could be sold as a type of medicine.  I now realize how important this niche market can be for a community.

Another interesting part of the trip was our visit to Taupo Beef.  Taupo Beef is a beef finishing farm that is located near Lake Taupo, one of the cleanest lakes in the world.  The New Zealand government has put a cap on how much nitrogen is allowed to be produced by farms neighboring the lake in order ensure the lake stays clean.  Taupo Beef works with chefs and the local people to see how much people are willing to pay for food that is environmentally friendly.  I found this stop to be particularly thought provoking because I could relate this to the problems of Lake Erie which is near my hometown.  I believe that Taupo Beef is an excellent model for what we can one day achieve even though it may take the US many years before we can reach that level of environmental protection.

Lastly, the friendships that I have made on this trip will also have a lasting impact on me.  I have had the opportunity to get close with all of my classmates from the trip and I know that I will be able to count on them for anything.  My classmates and my experiences with them are the reasons that this trip will be truly unforgettable.

The study abroad trip to New Zealand was an eye opening experience.  Before the trip, I didn’t know anything about raising deer or the trophy hunting community.  I also learned about the lengths NZ is taking in order to protect the environment as well as how it affects people such as farmers.  I found these tours to be very interesting and allowed me to see different sides of the animal industry than I have seen in the US. By comparing the human-animal interactions found within each country, I am able to apply this to my future career in animal husbandry.  This experience has allowed me to have a greater understanding of how another countries country’s culture influences how their animals are treated and how that, in turn, affects the animals’ behavior.


My Semester in Siena

Name: Meghan Blunt

Type of Project: Education Abroad

For my STEP Signature Project, I studied abroad in Siena, Italy during the Fall 2016 term.  I participated in a program called Siena Italian Studies, a full-immersion school that caters to foreign students learning Italian.  Throughout the semester, I engaged with the language by taking a variety of courses taught in Italian, living with a host family, volunteering in the community, and traveling around the country.

Although I have always considered myself to be the adventurous type, studying abroad in Italy was definitely a step outside my comfort zone.  Prior to my semester in Siena, I had never traveled outside of North America.  My international exposure was limited to what I had read and seen on the news and a few brief trips to Canada and Mexico.  My knowledge of Italian culture was even more lacking, based solely on media coverage and anecdotes from friends and family members who had vacationed there previously.  To prepare for my semester abroad, I had completed the minimum required coursework in Italian: three introductory classes that provided me with the basics.  However, after taking the summer off from language training, I was wholly unprepared for conversing in Italian.  Before departing for Italy, most of the people with whom I’d spoken told me not to worry.  “Everyone in Italy speaks English. You’ll be fine!”  However, as I quickly learned, this was only applicable to larger and more touristy cities, like Rome or Florence.  Not to mention, the program in which I was enrolled taught courses exclusively in Italian.  Needless to say, my arrival in Siena was a bit of a culture-shock.

Living and traveling in a foreign country encouraged me to become more self-reliant and flexible, strengthened my communication skills, and expanded my worldview.  For the first time in my life, I found myself alone in a strange place, without parental guidance.  The 9-hour time difference made my daily calls home difficult to maintain.  I learned to reach out to friends in the program and my host family, in spite of the language barrier, when I was stressed and in need of emotional support.  Traveling also aided in my journey to independence. Back in the USA, I usually traveled with my parents and always in places where English was spoken.  Learning to navigate on my own, in a country where Italian was the primary language, was difficult but encouraged me to plan trips in advance and ask for help (in Italian) when needed.  Additionally, public transportation in Italy, notorious for not being on-time, forced me to become more flexible and adapt to the situation at hand. Speaking in a non-native tongue was difficult at first.  However, attending and participating in classes taught exclusively in Italian, living with my host family (who knew little English), and volunteering in the community enabled me to develop my communication skills and learn about the culture from a local’s perspective.

One of the unique aspects of my program was its emphasis on full-immersion learning.  For the duration of my stay in Siena, I lived with my host mother, Fiorella.  A Siena native, she was an incredible source of information.  Through her stories and her actions, I gained perspective into what life as an Italian often looks like.  Although Italy is considered a 1st world country, the standard of living is significantly lower for most citizens than their counterparts in the USA.  Fiorella’s apartment, like many in the region, was quite small, with sparse and often dated furnishings.  My room was a tight space, designed for efficiency rather than comfort.  However, I adapted and learned to appreciate the people, rather than possessions, that filled the apartment.

Living with Fiorella also opened my eyes to the political atmosphere in Italy.  Every morning and every night, we would watch the news on Rai 1, one of the nation’s public broadcasting stations.  Whereas the news in the USA is very America-centric, the reporters in Italy would discuss topics pertaining to the European Union and other nations around the globe.  To my surprise, there was almost always an update on affairs in the United States.  It almost seemed that Italians were more informed about the presidential election than I was.  At times, my host mom would shout something at the TV, exclaiming her disapproval for a politician or the nation’s dealings with refugees arriving en masse.  As a bystander, I gathered information about her opinions.  Other days, she would ask me if I understood what the reporters were saying.  If not, she always made sure to explain the story in language I would understand.  After I was aware of the situation, we would often talk about its social, economic, and/or political implications.  Although our opinions often clashed, it was interesting to hear another person’s perspective on hot-button issues.  Had I lived in an apartment with other Americans, like many study abroad students, I would have missed out on this aspect of the cross-cultural exchange.

Service-learning was another integral part of the program.  Each week, I spent about 3 hours with students studying English.  Although my work was focused on helping them learn the language, I found myself learning a lot from my students.  In the high school, I discovered that Italian public schools do not have sports programs, clubs, or other extracurricular activities for their students.  Instead, they must find interest groups in the community, which not everyone can afford.  School sponsored events, such as field trips, were limited and dances were unheard of.  Many of the students had an idealized vision of the USA.  When we were first introduced, I received countless questions about Prom, Disneyland, and Hollywood celebrities.  (It didn’t help that I hail from Los Angeles.)  In their eyes, the USA was a land of opportunity.  Through my volunteer experience, I learned that things I take for granted, such as high school football games and dances, are not necessarily available to students in other countries.  Although the United States has its fair share of problems, I am very fortunate to call it home.

When I first told people about my decision to study Italian in Siena, most people responded with, “Why?”  After all, I am a Molecular Genetics major.  Unlike speaking Spanish, which is often considered an asset in the medical field, being semi-fluent in Italian appears to have little benefit in my position.  However, this is not the case.  Learning Italian in its birthplace provided me with the opportunity to experience a new culture from a local’s perspective. For more than three months, I lived with Italians who shared with me their linguistic knowledge, political opinions, and age-old traditions.  Speaking in another language 24/7 also forced me to learn how to process information in a foreign context and accurately convey my thoughts, often with limited vocabulary. Cultural awareness and communication skills are desirable traits in most professions.

At this point, I plan to pursue a Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling.  Programs look for applicants who have good interpersonal and communication skills, since genetic counselors are responsible for providing patients with advice regarding sensitive topics (i.e. cancer, genetic disorders).  In the future, I may be required to work with clients whose lives are drastically different from my own, to understand their sometimes difficult situation, and provide them with the best course of action.  Analyzing, interpreting, and conveying data in a digestible manner is very similar to translating a foreign language.  The processing skills that I acquired while studying abroad will serve to aid me in ensuring patients understand the presented information.

Overall, my decision to study abroad was probably the best in my life.  Through Siena Italian Studies, I gained a greater understanding of Italian language and culture, formed several close relationships with fellow students and my host family, and visited places I had only ever read about in history textbooks. I am so thankful that I was granted this opportunity, and would highly recommend this experience to anyone considering it!

Study Abroad: Performance and Culture in Cuba

Name: D’Mia Spivey

STEP Signature Project: Study Abroad

For my STEP Signature project, I completed a study abroad in Cuba over Winter Break 2016. I studied through OSU’s Office of International Affairs and a third party provider program called The Ludwig Foundation of Cuba (a non-governmental, autonomous, non-profit institution, was officially created in January 1995 with the purpose of promoting and protecting the work of young Cuban artists of all disciplines.). During this week long trip, I was able to see and study the culture of the arts in Cuba (including but not limited to puppetry, dance, the circus, theatre, and music) while simultaneously having intellectual lectures from those leading the art scene in Cuba (including world renowned directors, Choreographers, artists, etc.) and professors about the historical implications that the arts has had in Cuba and their relationship with the United States of America and the rest of the modern World .

   Since the 1950’s, the relations between the United States of America and Cuba has been rocky. Not only that, but here in the USA we have a tendency to demonize or at the very least practice intense caution of the unknown (and with good reason).  I grew up taught that Cuba was a communist country under the rule of dictatorship led by the Castro regime with connections to unsavory parties. Consequently, this led me to have quite a bit of apprehension before my trip. What if I said or did the wrong thing? Would I be able to talk with local Cubans or would they look at me with disdain as an “American tourist”?  But by the end of the trip I recognized that though I was felt like I was a world away, I had to remember that I was only 90 miles from US shores. And believe it or not, I found more similarities then differences and most importantly, I understood that Cuba is much more than what I’ve learned.                                                                                                  My STEP Signature Project was heavily focused on the art scene found in Cuba. Unlike in the United States, Cuba generates a huge governmental support in the upkeep and spreading of the arts to the masses. From museums to circuses and puppet plays to dance studios, there is absolutely no shortage of art. While in the United States, being in the arts can lead to an unstable life, in Cuba working in the arts gives you a steady income and is seen as a well respected profession.

    A significant interaction that I had while in Cuba was with Cuban director, Gloria Rolando. Gloria is a world renowned director who focuses on the racial issues and tensions in Cuba. Similarly, to the US, Cuba was built off of a slave economy and has a presence of prejudice and racism in the fabric folds of the country. However, in Cuba, as I learned from Gloria, the concept of racism is very covert. Many Cubans were considered Mulatto or of mixed race (normally black and white) and it was so foreign to me to see people who looked like me but were didn’t come from the same origins or even speak the same tongue! But, all of these men, women, and children truly loved everyone whether are native Cubans or tourists. The open love displayed for all no matter their culture of origin made me realize how similar we all truly are.


I was able to truly feel this openness and love from my tour guide, Nadia and my host mother, Magali. Both, Nadia and Magali were kind and patient with all of us. Nadia, knowledgeable and always eager to learn something new guided us around multiple cities in Cuba, like Havana, Matanzas, and Viñales to name a few. Magali, who spoke exactly no English, welcomed us into her home, fed us DELICIOUS breakfast everyday, opened the door late at night when we returned home from a night of exploring, and helped my Spanish tremendously! By the end of the trip, I was able to go into flea markets around Cuba and haggle down prices for myself and my classmates in only Spanish

These women were just a few of the absolutely infectious people that I met on this trip that grabbed a hold of my heart and kept a piece of it with them in Cuba. The above interactions led me to believe only one thing. No matter, where we come from, what we look like, or what language we speak, there are nice people across the world and at the end of the day we are all one thing – human.

This change has been significant in my life because I now begin to have a new view of the small island so close yet so foreign to most citizens in my country. I understand now, that Cuba is a land of diverse people, jobs, and cities. Meeting students of the Instituto Superior de Arte (Superior Art Institute) and owners of small stores lining the alleyways of the city was unique and irreplaceable. But if you were to ask me what is the most important thing that I took away from this experience, it would have to be to never be afraid of the unknown. In fact, as opposed to fear I now know that while it is ok to be afraid, that I should never let that fear stop me from seeking new opportunities. Thanks to STEP, I was able to become more familiar with the tiny island nation of Cuba and I would never change the experience that I had for the entire world.


STEP Reflection- Semester at Sea

My STEP Signature Project was a study abroad program during my first semester of junior year called Semester at Sea. With the STEP money, I participated in the third party program that allowed me to travel to 12 different countries around Europe, Africa, and South America. While taking 12 credit hours aboard the ship, I was also able to immerse myself into many different cultures.

My world-view as well as my view of self completely changed during my semester abroad with Semester at Sea. Before studying abroad, I had only traveled to countries in Europe with very similar cultures to my own here in the United States. I didn’t exactly have the desire to branch out and experience widely different cultures until I participated in my program. I got to experience a variety of cultures throughout the four months of my voyage. I began to realize that the places I thrived most during my semester were in those countries with completely different cultures from my own. I loved being able to learn more about these cultures while also participating in some of their rituals.

Before attending Semester at Sea, I had many preconceived notions about the countries I was visiting. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Africa. Once I arrived in Morocco, my entire view on Africa was challenged as I immersed myself within its culture. As I moved on to Senegal, I witnessed another completely different culture, and was moved by the immense diversity between the two African countries. My previous preconceptions were abandoned as I realized that Africa was much different from what I might have heard as a child. As I traveled around the rest of the world, I could sense that I was changing and becoming more culturally aware. As I reflect back on who I was at the start of the semester versus who I am now, I’m very satisfied with the personal growth that occurred during my STEP Signature Project.

The way my program was set up helped me ease into the cultural changes I would experience during the semester. We started our voyage in Germany and proceeded to Greece, Italy and Spain. Although these countries have different cultures than here in the United States, they share a lot of familiar aspects. I easily adjusted to the differences and never felt out of my comfort zone. As we progressed to Africa, I witnessed my first big culture shock. Morocco is an Islamic country that adheres to most of Islamic law. We were instructed to dress modestly by keeping our legs and shoulders covered while also refraining from wearing any tight clothes. For the first time, I felt out of place and was slightly uncomfortable. This discomfort allowed me to open up and engage with the culture in a new way that I had never before experienced. I went on a camel trek in the Erg Chebbi Dunes of the Sahara and became good friends with my guide, Ahmed, who taught us about the Berber culture while also giving us pertinent life advice. It was the first time on my voyage that I could sense myself starting to change.

After Morocco, we headed to Senegal. During my time, I participated in many Semester at Sea field programs that allowed me to enjoy many different aspects of the Senegalese culture. I attended a local dinner and music show during my second night, as well as a safari during my last full day. The program that stuck out the most to me, however, was my trip to the famous Pink Lake. During this program, local guides brought us to Pink Lake before proceeding to a local village. The leader of the village showed us around as the local children swarmed our group ready to greet their newest guests. The buildings were made of cinderblocks with little to no furnishings inside, yet every person in the village, especially the children, seemed so happy. The next village we stopped at also consisted of simple, cinderblock dwellings. We were invited to a naming ceremony by the village people and got to interact with the locals and their children. I was overwhelmed as I experienced people with so few possessions lead the most fulfilling lives. This was the pivotal experience that led to my overall transformation during my voyage.

Finally, I was transformed by the interactions and relationships that I formed during my time spent on the ship. This was the first time I was truly disconnected from the outside world. Once we left our first port, our only source of communication with the outside world was through email. We were all forced to meet new people and actually have real conversations. During my time on the ship, I realized how much my generation depends on their cell phones. It was really rough at first, but I learned to love the disconnection. I became as close to my friends on the ship during the first 9 days of our voyage than I was with my friends back home. I was able to sit down with many people on the boat and have deep life discussions. Although I am back in the United States with full access to my phone and the Internet whenever I please, I long for the days on the ship where people would want to have those deep conversations. The ship is definitely one of the greatest factors in the amount of personal growth I achieved during my semester, and I am so thankful I was given the opportunity to experience this voyage.

This change and personal development matters a lot to me in relation to my future. I was able to learn so much about myself that I can now apply to my everyday life back here in the United States. This voyage has made me more aware of world situations and more culturally competent. I’ve also learned the importance of disconnecting from my devices. I think I’ve really made a point of trying to put down my phone whenever I’m with friends so that I can give my full attention to my conversations. My semester also created an intense desire to see the rest of the world. My STEP Signature Project has inspired me to want to work abroad at some point during my time as a professional. I was also inspired by the stories of many of the faculty and staff on the ship and hope to participate in some sort of service project either in Africa or Asia before graduating. I would most likely never have had the opportunity to experience everything I did without my semester abroad, and might have never reached the level of personal growth that occurred during my time away. In the end, Semester at Sea was the experience of a lifetime that has changed my life forever.

STEP Reflection

For my STEP project, I went on a Study Abroad trip to New Zealand in order to study Human-Animal Interactions.  We started in Auckland and visited a new city every day until we reached Queenstown.  We visited many different farms and businesses where we talked about animal welfare, business, and the environment with a focus on how New Zealand’s practices differed from those in the United States.

This trip was my first time leaving the United States.  Visiting New Zealand showed me that some of my beliefs about humanity were rooted in my American upbringing, and that some of my assumptions about other countries were not accurate.  I learned that New Zealand has some major new government action against problems that are not addressed in the United States.  They are currently paying reparations to the Maori people for past injustices.  They are also much more progressive on animal welfare.  Animals there cannot be exported for slaughter as they do not agree with other countries treatment of meat animals.  New Zealand has also passed much stricter, evidence based environmental regulations than would be considered in the United States.  While discussing these environmental protections with the local businesses is where I also began to see the differences.  Despite the clear political differences between our country, the people are not significantly different.  When environmental restrictions began to impact their business, they began to disagree and resist them.  Even though more citizens of New Zealand support climate change action than United States citizens, people tend to change their opinion when the solutions might impact them.  When farmers around Lake Taupo were told that the nitrogen leeching from their livestock will have a massive negative impact on the lake, they looked to blame other businesses.  After more studies proved that the farmers were indeed responsible, they resisted any legislation against them.  Eventually, they were successfully put into place, but they are quite unpopular among farmers.

When I went on this trip, I was a Pharmaceutical Science major.  The study abroad and the prerequisite class were my first look into livestock, our interactions with them, and cultures outside of America.  While I was debating about changing my major before I left, some of my interactions on the trip reaffirmed that idea as well as influenced on what I changed it to.  Before the trip, I was planning on switching to Biology.  Although Environmental Science is always something I have been interested in, the visit to Glen Emmreth Farm was what convinced me that I wanted to study environmental science.

Mike Barton is the owner of Glen Emmreth Farm and talked to us about the environmental impact of livestock.  This farm was on Lake Taupo, which has a high phosphorus content.  Ammonia from livestock urine can be broken down by microbes in the soil into nitrate, which can leech through the soil and eventually reach the lake.  Due to the high phosphorus content in the lake, the addition of nitrate would create ideal situations for algae blooms.  Lake Taupo is famous for its beauty and cleanliness, both of which would be compromised with algae blooms.  When the government introduced a cap on nitrogen emissions, they had to try new methods to reduce their nitrogen output.  Since a growing animal releases significantly less nitrogen than matured animals, they discontinued their dairy production and moved entirely to beef cattle.  He also runs studies to find what kind of grasses absorb ammonia the best in order to help others reduce their nitrogen output.  I enjoyed the time I spent at this farm, which directly influenced my choices when I changed my major.

People there were interested in American politics.  When people found out we were American, they often wanted to hear our opinions, what we had done to try and stop Trump, some even knew that Ohio went to Trump and were wary of us for that.  The newspapers we saw frequently had news about the United States on the front page.  Like the majority of the United States, New Zealand citizens dislike Trump.  One member of our group was even approached by a young child who asked about who she voted for in the election.  Even though they are a small country, they are a significant player in the global market.  They export a significant amount of beef and dairy for the rest of the world.  Since they are so involved in the rest of the world, the average citizen is much more informed about what is going on in the world.  They also have a large amount of tourists and immigrants in the country which would add to the globalist perspective.


Since this was my first time leaving the United States, this look at another culture was a valuable experience.  This opportunity allowed me to broaden my horizons and meet people from different cultures.  The experiences with different people gave me insight into American culture by giving me something to contrast it with.  The academic material I learned motivated me to change my major to environmental science, which has been a good idea so far.  This trip has possibly changed the course of my life significantly.

Human and Animal Interaction-New Zealand

I used my STEP funds to travel abroad with an animal science class, ANIMSCI 3797.03, to New Zealand. There we compared the human and animal interactions of New Zealand and that of the United States and thought about which one seems better and how we can improve our interactions.

I feel that my understanding of the world and what we can do together changed drastically.  I feel like I learned how a different culture interacts with one another and what it means to live like they do. I learned that change can happen when environmentalists, farmers, the government and the public all agree on a problem and come together to fix it. I also realized that change in the United States will be much harder to accomplish but it is up to us to make it possible. It is up to us to do the research, find the problem and inform the public.

One key aspect of the trip was the tour of a beef farm. While in New Zealand I noticed that the farmers especially the Beef Farm were very conscience about the environment and their impact on it. Part of the reason may be because the island is so small that there is not a lot of places for the waste to go and they can see the effects of waste much quicker than us in the United States can, also they are able to pass legislation faster because they are a smaller country and their population is not as diverse as the United States. Places like the Beef farm have systems in place to stop Nitrogen from leeching into the ground and run down into the lake, thus their beef costs a little bit more. There is a niche market for this beef and not everyone buys it. It seemed to me that in New Zealand the farmers, environmentalists, public and the government have seemed found and discussed what the problem was and came up with ways to solve said problem.

Another key aspect of the trip was the Maori village. The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand but when the Europeans came the population started to decrease. Over the past few decades the population of Maori people had started to increase and the village we went to was a great example of the Maori people staying close to their roots. I loved interacting with a culture that feels one with the land and feels so ancient. I found it interesting how the culture of the Maori and the new culture of New Zealand interact; how they have an understanding of one another, how they intertwined. It really showed me that cultures that seem so different can exist together though means of understanding.

The last key aspect of the trip was the group I went with. There was about 28 of us that went on this trip and most of us where Animal Science majors. We all had different backgrounds, life experiences, stories and future goals and this is what made the group so interesting. I never had so much fun and learned so much from a peer group, they made the trip so much more memorable. I learned that going on a study abroad is much more meaningful with new people so you can all learn together, adventure together and hopefully at the end of the trip come out with a new group of friends. I know I did.

This personal development matters to my professional and future goals because of the differences between human and animal interactions that we studied. I found this class and trip very insightful because I learned that the culture between the US and New Zealand are similar in a lot of ways but can also have some differences. The biggest thing I learned was that each place is different so they call for different methods of having positive human and animal interactions but that does not mean that they cannot learn from each other. With all the similarity it could be that these countries have shared their own methods with each other in order to benefit the whole.  This idea is what I can take away and use in every aspect of my life. We do not all have to think the same but that does not mean there is nothing to learn from one another.