Public Health Perspectives: Finland and Estonia

Grace Powers

Type of Project: Education Abroad

1. For my STEP Signature Project, I studied abroad with the Public Health Perspectives: Finland and Estonia program sponsored by the OSU Office of International Affairs. This three-week program during May of 2017 exposed me to global public health issues and practices in Finland and Estonia.

2. My view of the world changed as a result of this project as I learned that you cannot really understand a county until you have visited it. With the country of Estonia, for example, I assumed that since it was a part of the Soviet Union in the past, it would have negative health outcomes and a lack of culture. However, I learned that the opposite is true. Estonia’s health outcomes are just about as good as Finland’s and they have an entire rich culture of their own. I would never have known this if I did not have the opportunity to visit the country and experience it for myself. On a personal level, I definitely transformed as a person during this experience. I was challenged to step out of my comfort zone by working within a large group and interacting with people that I did not know. By the end of the experience, I was very comfortable with the people on my trip. I now view myself as a person who can easily adapt to their surroundings and contribute positively to a group.


3. Three key aspects of my STEP Project that led to my transformation are the pre-departure class, in-country site visits, and the people I experienced it all with. During the pre-departure course, Dr. Wallace spent five days giving our class background information about Finland and Estonia. Topics we learned about included historical perspectives, healthcare systems, and contemporary issues in each country. This class allowed me to get a taste of what I would be learning while in the country. Additionally, we were assigned homework every night where we had to work with our classmates to create a presentation for class the next day. I liked the opportunity to get to know my classmates before the trip. As I became more comfortable with the material, my classmates, and my professor I become more excited and prepared for the trip. The pre-departure class definitely set me up on the right path towards my transformation.

While in Finland and Estonia, we not only traveled throughout the countries and visited typical tourist sites, but we also visited other places that gave us a unique “insider” look into life in Finland and Estonia. In Finland, we visited an organic farm, a Finnish family’s home, a public high school, the University of Jyvaskyla, and The National Institute for Health and Welfare. In Estonia, we visited the University of Tartu, the United States Embassy in Tallinn, and e-Estonia. Having the opportunity to visit these sites definitely aided in my transformation. I felt as if I was able to learn more about these countries, and global public health, by visiting these specific places than if I was traveling by myself. I realized that there is a lot more to learn about a country than just its history or population statistics. There are real people in these countries who haves families, friends, homes, jobs, traditions, feelings, etc. I hope that in the future when I travel to different countries or work with diverse populations, I am able to remember this.

Perhaps the aspect of my experience that most contributed to my transformation was the people I shared it with. I am a shy person, so I was nervous to not only be in a new place, but also be with new people. As I pushed myself to start up conversations and ask questions, I realized that it became easier to talk to the people in my group. In fact, I made a few close friends who will always hold a very special place in my heart! Being around fellow Public Health majors was inspiring. I enjoyed hearing about what their plans for the future are and what they loved about the field. Equally as inspiring, however, were the non-public health majors. I loved watching their fascination with public health grow throughout the trip. I hope that whether they become doctors or engineers or whatever else in the future, they always remember the public health perspective. The people I met on this trip gave me confidence and helped me realize that I can be successful in a large group. Additionally, I now understand myself as someone who places a higher value on people than places. Without my Finland and Estonia classmates, my transformation would not have been possible.

4. On a practical level, this project helped me reach my academic goal because it fulfilled my capstone requirement, which is required in my major. However, the transformation I experienced is valuable far beyond this. One of my personal goals for the project was to be able to step outside of my comfort zone. I definitely think I accomplished this goal as I made a lot of new friends who I am excited to see back in Columbus. These friendships would not have been possible without this experience. In the future, I hope to become a public health professional and assist communities by promoting health through research-based programming. Skills that I have learned on this trip, like collaboration and flexibility, as well as the examples of public health initiatives I have witnessed in Finland and Estonia will guide me throughout my career. As I am starting graduate school at The College of Public Health in the fall, this was the perfect culminating experience for my undergraduate career at Ohio State. Thank you to STEP for making it all possible!

STEP Reflection: Linguistics in Global May New Zealand

Name: Erika Baldwin

Project Type: Education Abroad

For my STEP signature project, I participated in a four week study abroad program to Christchurch, New Zealand. Once there, I took a linguistics course at the University of Canterbury and participated in cultural excursions around the area.

My understanding of language differences was transformed while I was abroad, which is critical for me as a speech and hearing science major and aspiring speech-language pathologist. The importance of distinguishing between language differences and language disorders is continually emphasized in my undergraduate coursework. This experience provided a great opportunity for this, as this was my first time immersing myself in a different dialect for a significant amount of time. I both learned about New Zealand English in my coursework and experienced it in daily life. I believe my appreciation and respect for different ways of speaking was deepened as a result of this experience.

My view of the world also shifted in terms of the environment, as I admired and respected the efforts people from New Zealand make on an individual basis to protect the environment and live a more sustainable life. Coming back to the United States, I hope to implement more of these techniques in my everyday life to have a more positive impact.

Additionally, the attitude of the people that I encountered was one of generosity that I learned I want to emulate even more in my daily life.

I did not expect to struggle understanding the New Zealand English accent, but I experienced difficulty during the first few minutes of meeting my host mom. She asked me and my roommate which one of us would prefer to have a desk in our room. However, because of her accent, I perceived “desk” to be pronounced as “disk.” This would be the first of many instances where we would notice differences in the ways we would speak, and we would talk about these differences in my linguistics class at the University of Canterbury. The experience was humbling. I learned to recognize common patterns in New Zealand English and not be afraid to ask my host family to repeat a word or phrase if I did not understand it the first time. I even took this a step further and reached out to the Speech and Hearing clinic at the University of Canterbury, where I shadowed speech therapists and spoke with student leaders. My interest and passion for this field was deepened as I learned to recognize and appreciate these differences in both speech and speech therapy across cultures.

I also respected the daily efforts of people in New Zealand to better care for the environment. I found the biosecurity at New Zealand airports to be much more significant than any other I encountered on the trip. Additionally, my host family had separate disposals for trash, compost, and recycling, and air-dried their clothes to save energy: I noticed their conscious efforts to reduce waste and live more efficient lifestyles. I believe this to be an important issue, and want to look for ways that I can live a more environmentally friendly life as I transition back to the United States.

Finally, I sincerely appreciated the efforts of the people I interacted with to make us feel at home. From my host family to the program directors, everyone tried to do everything in their power to make sure we were comfortable and happy throughout our time in New Zealand. I was humbled by their generosity, and hope that I can be so kind and giving with the people I encounter in my life.

Moving forward, this experience will significantly shape my life. Academically and professionally, I will now become a clinician with a more diverse perspective on different dialects and cultures. Personally, I will now strive to live a more sustainable life and emulate the generosity that I received when I was out of country. This experience was difficult for me at times, as it was my first time leaving the country. However, the knowledge and transformation I received as a result were invaluable, and I am grateful for the experience that STEP provided me.

More information on my trip is documented on an Instagram account for my travels: @imerika_not_america

STEP Reflection Essay: 2017 Study Abroad in Corfu, Greece

For my STEP Signature Project, I enrolled myself in a study abroad course through OIA, which was a one-month long May-Semester history course that I would take in entirely Corfu, Greece. While taking this course, I would also interview the other American students with me as well as the locals of the island in order to learn about how American views on life differ from those of Greek people, as well as learn more about the human condition to my own satisfaction.

I learned quite a few things about myself and about the wider world during my time in Greece. One of the major things I learned while I was in Corfu was how multiculturalism exists in this particular town as opposed to how it does here in America (or at least in what I see on campus, around Columbus, and at home). While there, I was often running into others throughout the main town on the island that were from another part of the world. In fact, I interacted with people from Germany, Austria, Britain, Poland, Italy, Russia, Americans and – of course – Greeks. I did not have very long conversations with some of them (and some did not know English, but I could speak to them through those that did), but it was very clear that on this island it is quite easy to participate in cultural exchanges. In my opinion, this stands in contrast to Columbus, as well as my own Ohioan hometown and much of the USA, where becoming engaged in conversations with foreigners or people of a different culture, and then being able to talk to them about differences in culture in constructive manners requires significantly more effort. What I mean by this is that here in the states you would need to seek such people out, and would then need to handle cultural questions with (again, in my opinion) less delicately than in Corfu. Overall, this difference in the level of effort that is needed in cross-cultural exchanges really emphasized to me how little I understand other cultures. For example, when I asked locals about the refugees that still live in camps in Greece, the responses that I received implied that this problem is being handled properly and that there are few issues (if any) with the camps that have a large impact on everyday life for most people in Greece. This is not something I expected to hear, judging from the reporting done on this issue here in the states.

My interactions with the other American students taking this OIA study abroad course also emphasized how I previously have failed to give sufficient appreciation to other lifestyles and cultures here in the United States. Most of the students that I was with were a part of Greek Life at OSU, and – for some that wanted to share – their parents were also part of Greek Life when they went to college. These students’ lifestyle, I believe, should be described as “work hard, play harder.” I knew that such people would have such a lifestyle – and worldview to match – in the abstract intellectual sense because of what I picked up and overheard during my time at OSU. However, after spending nearly a month with the other students, I realized that I did not give sufficient emphasis to how much hard work and feeling that they put in to their Chapter’s respective daily activities (namely their councils and their work with charity organizations) or to how much care was put into their early career choices. I also feel like I need to say that I consider what I learned about Greek Life students to be of importance to my STEP project (and therefore include it here) because of just how important this lifestyle was to most of the other American students on this study abroad experience.

My realization of how I was still lacking in my appreciation for foreign cultures and multiculturalism started to dawn on me within a few days of my arrival in Corfu. When I first mentioned that I was going to Corfu for a month to one of the local elders in my congregation, he thought it would be a good idea to look up where the local Kingdom Hall on this island was so that I could go there when I had the time. In order to get to my usual church meetings at that church in Corfu, I had to take two buses and walk for about 10 minutes in order to reach the correct church (the first time, that is). I had also decided well before I left that I would use my experiences with the people in this congregation to help me for this project. On my first visit, people local to the area, as well as a middle-aged vacationing couple from Austria and a group of four older women from Wales who were also on vacation, both of whom were also trying to make their church meetings while in Greece, greeted me. After the meeting (which was in English), a local couple took the other foreigners and myself on a tour of the main town (which I had yet to tour completely through the study abroad). Over the next few weeks, I learned firsthand that this particular congregation has a continuous stream of vacationing individuals from all over the European Union coming to their meetings. This particular phenomenon stood out to me because I cannot recall an equivalent experience of cross-cultural contact here in the US, nor could I imagine this happening in daily life to those that I know here or to myself.

Additionally, by going on this study abroad experience and by spending time with both the locals as well as with the other students, I was able to try out a style of living that I had previously not attempted to live – that is – a lifestyle where spending recreational time with others in a social setting takes high priority. For instance, the locals invited me to their houses to have dinner with them or go out to dinner on quite a few occasions (a few times a week, actually). I spent this time learning about local dishes (my personal favorite being Saganaki: fried cheese with pita bread and lemon) as well as engaged in conversations that most of the time consisted of learning the differences in lifestyle between different countries. During many of these conversations, I was also with others from other European Union countries, primarily the UK, and so I came to learn not only about Greek culture but also a larger European culture. For example, some of the things we talked about were how Greek foods typically have very few preservatives in them, as opposed to British and American foods, as well as how important the concept of “Greek hospitality” is very important to them (as noted by my failed attempts to pay for their food). In a similar way, the other OSU students also helped me to get out of my social bubble and would often invite me to meals or exploring the island with them. By doing these things, I gained an even greater appreciation for the need for communication between people that have different cultures and even different lifestyles within that culture.

Considering the OSU students specifically, I can recall a particular conversation that I had with the other students while I was on a tour boat ride with a few of them, which I think was one of the more memorable conversations that I had with them while I was in Corfu. They had started talking about some aspects of life in their various Greek Life Chapters, and were particularly emphasizing how difficult it was to maintain and justify their Chapter’s persona and outwards appearance to those in charge of keeping the reins on their organizations, both here at OSU and at other universities. Specifically, they found it challenging to keep their positive image going when problems would arise at other unrelated Chapters in other universities. At this point, I felt inclined to start asking questions about how they felt about rules governing Greek Life (mainly country-wide rules for Chapters) as well as about how their Chapter’s community enrichment activities influences them. From their responses, I realized that the students with me and those like them are quite similar not only to myself but also to those that fall into many “normal” social groups. This was interesting to me because this conversation about the difficulties of being a fraternity or sorority student blew away many of the preconceived notions that I had about these students, and gave me a newfound respect for them.

During my time in Greece, I realized how little those I am typically around here in the states or I myself truly understand other cultures due to our lack of exposure to them. At the same time, I learned about some of the misconceptions that I myself had about Greek life and culture. For example, the US media insisted on Greeks not being hardworking compared to other national groups during the Greek financial crisis. However, I learned through observation that the typical Greek has greater pride in their work than would a typical American doing the same job, but at the same time expect long and frequent breaks. Similarly, I learned about my misconceptions about fraternity/sorority life and culture, and in doing so was able to change my views to match reality.

In these realizations, I have achieved my goal for this project of becoming better able to empathize with others, as well as to learn more about the human condition. Furthermore, the time that I spent walking around this island of Corfu also helped me to realize just how much I enjoy small-town living. Over the course of the month that I spent in Corfu, the locals that I came to know and become friends with as well as the rest of the community helped me to realize that I would love to live in a community with a small-town feel when I finally have a steady career and living arrangements. This was quite a realization to me, as I have not felt like I wanted my life to take a particular course in this respect since starting college, other than a strong will to learn about others and the world around me.

STEP Reflection: Global May Great Britain

Maura Jacobs

Study Abroad: Global May Great Britain

This project was a study abroad trip to London, England for the month of May. It was through a class called The History, Culture, and Politics of Great Britain. It included two hours of class and an excursion four days a week for the month. We stayed in London in a dorm, traveled to Glasgow with the class, and I traveled to Wales for one weekend. We saw all of the main tourist attractions in London as well as many museums.

I had never spent much time in a major city until my trip to London. In the class, we focused on what makes London so unique from other major cities. It was really interesting to learn about how London is considered a global city because of all of its ties to other cities and countries. It was also incredible to me to see the amount of tolerance between all of the different cultures and people in London. I think seeing this tolerance gave me a great sense of hope for our country’s ability to move towards becoming more tolerant as well. It’s interesting because there were two terrorist attacks in England within the one month that I was there. The attack in Manchester occurred halfway through the trip and the attack on the Tower Bridge happened the day that I left. It’s so interesting to me to see how we handle terrorist attacks versus how people in London handled it. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but there was more of a sense of calm. People were still going about their lives, obviously with heightened caution, but there wasn’t the full on panic that I would have expected if this had happened in America. I’d love for that kind of calm to be present in America. I think there’s a big difference between being vigilant and trying to stop terrorism and the frenzy that we oftentimes get worked up into when an attack occurs.

As I said before, I had never been in a city as large as London before my trip. Going into this, I was worried about getting lost or not being able to go anywhere for fear of getting lost. Even at home in Columbus, I’ve managed to get myself pretty lost. It turned out, one of my favorite parts of the trip was figuring out my own way, sometimes alone and sometimes with other students in the group. It was really great that by the end of the trip I felt completely confident in taking the tube and getting to where I needed to be.

I had a vague idea that there was a great deal of immigration to the UK throughout the years but the more we discussed immigration, I began noticing so much more diversity and cultural influence on the city. It was something we focused on heavily in the class because it is such an important part of the UK’s history. We toured different traditionally immigrant neighborhoods including Shoreditch and Brixton. The easiest place to see the influence of immigration is in the food. There was an amazing number of small businesses each touting their own very specific regional food. Even in the neighborhoods that were known to be one specific culture, there was some diversity. In London in general you could see the mixing of many different cultures through the food stands and restaurants lining the streets.

What struck me more than just the number of the restaurants was the popularity of these foods. I like to think that I’m a tolerant person, but I have to admit that the very first thing I think of when I hear “Middle East” is terrorism. There’s no way around that association at this because it has been drilled into our heads here in America. In London though I was able to see how people can, for the most part, separate those two ideas. I found it absolutely amazing to see all of these restaurants and food trucks being enjoyed by Londoners of all types.  I think it really speaks to their tolerance as a people, though through our classroom discussions I know that London is sort of an outlier in terms of feelings towards immigration. Whether the rest of the UK feels the same way and is as tolerant or not, seeing a city as influential as London stand up and say that they supported people of all cultures gave me a huge sense of optimism for our country.

Finally, I also mentioned that this trip helped give me a greater sense of independence. In Columbus I live off campus but I usually stay in the campus area for everything. In London I loved the challenge of finding my way around using the tube or the bus, usually with limited use of google maps. There was one time during the first week that I decided to go back to the dorm we were staying in on my own from Trafalgar Square, which I know now is an easy trip to make but was a big deal to me at the time. There was another point later on during the last week of the trip that a family came up to me and asked me for directions on the tube. It was so great to go from unsure and nervous to being able to give directions to someone else. It was a really big deal for me because even in Columbus I describe myself as “geographically challenged”.

I’m graduating in fall this year. Somehow it worked out that I could graduate early which thrilled my parents and initially I was excited too. However the more that I thought about it, the less happy about this change in my plan I was. I’m big on planning everything out and this had not been part of my plan. I’ve also been struggling to figure out exactly what to do after graduation. I know that I want to go into nursing and I’ve obviously been researching and trying to plan, but I thought I had another six months to figure this all out until I realized I was going to graduate early. I think what this trip really helped me with was being okay with not having an exact plan for the next five years, like I usually like to do.

As the trip went on and I began to feel more of the independence I also got less worried about the day to day plans. I stopped worrying so much about how we would get places or when we would have time to get dinner or how we could cram everything into one day. This is something that I’ve really been trying to continue since I’ve gotten home. I think that I really need to focus more on just enjoying what’s going on in in day to day life and not so much on planning everything out. Knowing that I can be completely independent, even in a foreign country, definitely gives me a sense of confidence for the future and makes graduating early much less stressful.

STEP Reflection: Morocco

This past May I traveled to Morocco and participated in my first study abroad program through Ohio State. The class associated with this program focused on so many different aspects of Morocco such as culture, religion, language, art, gender roles, history, and more. I was able to fully immerse myself in the culture by interacting with my host family as well as taking part in a wide variety of excursions and activities as a class.

A couple summers ago I had the privilege of traveling to Tanzania with a volunteer organization. I was in Tanzania for about 4 weeks and our main objective was to help a village in Zanzibar to build a school. During our off days, we indulged in some stereotypical African excursions, such as going on a safari. Tanzania almost perfectly fit what I thought of when I thought of Africa. From the people, to the food, to the landscape, it was all basically what I had previously envisioned Africa to be like. Traveling to Morocco was a very different story. I had very little background knowledge about Morocco before this trip. I knew where it was geographically because I had seen it once before while I was in Spain. However, I knew nothing about the landscape, culture, or anything really. Almost immediately after arriving, despite the fact that we had been traveling for nearly 36 hours and it was around 3 in the morning, I could tell that this experience was going to be drastically different than my last trip to Africa. There were no wild animals roaming around; there was real infrastructure and transportation; initially it seemed very westernized.

What I am trying to get at is that this trip taught me to be open minded about traveling and to not create expectations based on completely different experiences. I have been very fortunate to have so many wonderful opportunities to travel and see the world within the last few years. This was the 15th country I had traveled to since I began traveling 5 years ago. Traveling has allowed me to better understand others and other ways of life, and this trip was no exception. With every new country I visit I can feel myself transforming into a more accepting person of other’s ways of life and different cultures, especially those that are drastically different than my own.

One of the things that made this trip so wonderful was my amazing host family. This study abroad program involved homestays, so I was paired with a family consisting of a mom, a dad, two brothers, and a sister. They immediately welcomed me with open arms and such inexplicable kindness. Living with a Moroccan family allowed me to fully immerse myself in the culture in every aspect possible. At first we had a really hard time communicating because I do not speak Arabic and my host mom, who primarily communicated with, did not speak English. We had to get creative with our hand gestures and other forms of non-verbal communication in order to exchange ideas. But we quickly learned to manage. I think this was a really good lesson in the sense that even when there is a huge language barrier; it is still possible to communicate through other methods.

Another really awesome part of this trip was that we were able to travel all around Morocco and experience different cities and cultures. Our host families and the IES center were all of our classes were held were located in Rabat. However, throughout our time in Morocco our class went on three different excursions and we were able to visit 6 other cities. It was really interesting how different the culture, food, and language was from city to city. For example, Tangiers is located pretty far north and is very close to Spain (you can actually see Spain on a clear day) and everything here was very westernized. People in Tangiers wore shorts, skinny jeans, and tighter shirts. In contrast, when we traveled to the desert, everyone here dressed extremely conservatively, despite the extremely hot temperatures. Just how I incorrectly assumed that Morocco would be similar to Tanzania, I thought cities throughout Morocco would be similar, but this was not the case at all. Once again, this emphasized the point that when traveling and trying to learn about other cultures, it is not a good idea to create expectations based on previous experiences, but rather it is better to go into these experiences as if they are a blank slate.

Finally, I think all the interactions I had with the IES staff members really helped to transform my perspective about learning about other cultures. All of the staff at IES were so helpful and excited about sharing every aspect of Morocco with us. I really appreciated their honesty because they did not sugar coat things to make them seem more appealing to us. Instead, they were always very straight forwards and honest. I felt like they really helped me to experience a truly authentic experience while I was in Morocco. If it weren’t for them, I do not think I would have had such meaningful and fruitful adventure. I learned so much from them and I am forever grateful for that.

I think it is so significant and valuable to learn about other people’s way of life and cultures because we are all different, but when it comes down to it, I think we also have a lot more in common than we initially think. I think the first step to learning and experiencing a new culture is just being willing to be open minded and willing to try new things. I have learned so much throughout my travels, but none of this would have been possible if I was completely shut off to anything new or different from what I know in the United States. For me personally, I have always dreamed of having a job that will allow me to travel and continue to create and grow relationships with people all over the world. This study abroad program helped me to stretch my horizons even more by living in a new country and experiencing a culture completely different from my own.

Education Abroad Reflection: European Architecture Studies

For my STEP Signature Project, I decided to go on the European Architecture Studies Education Abroad trip. This five-week program allowed us to explore over thirty cities in six different countries, including the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria. Our everyday agenda was based around a set itinerary that led us from site to site, where we then analyzed each building as a group through professor-led discussions and brief sketching exercises.

Although the intended purpose of the trip was to expand my knowledge of the architectural realm, I came home with so many more experiences and memories that have already begun to remold my outlook on life. The improvement of my overall understanding of the world was definitely a result of being exposed to so many cities in such a small amount of time. The longest span of time we stayed in one city was only four nights before we bounced to our next destination. Therefore, every day was just as exciting as the one before, as every experience was new and we were constantly being shoved out of our comfort zones. Having never been abroad before this trip, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had always heard people say going abroad changes your life, but I never understood that until now.

Being immersed in European culture opened my eyes to all the different lifestyles one can lead. One thing that really struck me throughout the entire trip was the difference in sustainable practices all of the countries maintained versus the few that we have in the U.S. Some examples of this are keycard-controlled electricity in hotel rooms, charging customers at the grocery store for plastic bags, dual flush toilets, and solar panels and windmills powering houses and businesses. All of these slight changes can make a huge difference for the environment, especially in extremely high-tourist areas like most of the places we traveled to. Observing these cultural differences in how Europeans treat the environment has inspired me to be more mindful of the decisions I make day to day.

Another cultural difference we experienced daily was the wide range of transportation methods. Throughout the trip, we rode night trains, subways, and even water taxis. Navigating around cities through unfamiliar means of transit helped give me confidence to assess and overcome unfamiliar situations. Another challenge was overcoming the language barriers. Again, since we went to such a wide range of countries, we experienced several different languages, none of which I am at all fluent in. Furthermore, the quick jumps from city to city caused us to frequently shift languages, forcing us to constantly learn new quick phrases like “thank you” and “hello.” Learning to communicate with foreign speakers was definitely one of the more challenging tasks for me, but I’m happy to have gained the experience, as good communication is a beneficial skill to have in the workplace and in life.  

Besides gaining architectural knowledge and cultural experience, I also made many relationships with my peers and professors that I otherwise would’ve never had. Before the trip, I wasn’t very good friends with any of the other students, and I didn’t personally know any of the professors. However, going through such a transformational journey with people can really foster personal connections. Therefore, my social network has greatly expanded with a solid new circle of friends and an insightful group of architecture professors that I will continue to learn from in years to come.

One of the most fundamental parts of the trip was the amazing amount of architecture we saw. Having visited over two hundred buildings, we saw an extensive range of architecture that I never thought I’d have the opportunity to observe in person. Leading up to the trip, I had taken two semesters of architecture history, which gave me a basic understanding of many of the buildings we saw. However, observing, analyzing, and physically walking through a building gives us a much better understanding of how it actually works versus simply looking at pictures flashing by on a screen in class. Seeing each building in real life will help me remember more about them, and will allow me to use some of the architectural methods we observed in my future projects. I now have an entire camera roll full of inspiration for the next time I need a boost of creativity in studio.

Being around such insightful professors and experienced upperclassmen for a whole month also gave me some insight to what the rest of my school career will look like. The group discussions about the buildings we visited strengthened my knowledge on architectural principles and theories, and have prepared me for the higher-level classes I will take in the upcoming years. One irreplaceable skill I learned was how to sketch. I’ve taken drawing classes in the past, but I truly think I learned more about sketching in the past month than in any drawing class I’ve ever taken. Being an effective sketcher will improve my diagramming and visual analysis skills, which are extremely beneficial to have as an architect and observer of the world.

Not only did I come out of this trip with a growing passion for architecture, but I also learned a great deal about unfamiliar cultures and all the different people living in them. From tiny, mountainside villages in the Swiss alps to quick-pace, highly populated Italian cities, we were exposed to a wide variety of lifestyles I’ve never experienced before. The longer we stayed in Europe, the more I realized I didn’t know about the world, and the more I found myself wanting to know. This month-long journey abroad instilled within me a love for travel, and I can’t wait to see where my next overseas adventure will take me.  





STEP Reflection

I used my STEP funds to travel to Ireland to participate in the Trim/Blackfriary Archaeological Expedition. The Education Abroad Program partnered with the Irish Archaeological Field School (IAFS) to excavate a medieval Franciscan monastery. I worked five days a week from 9-5 pm in a specialized dig site called Cutting #7. Cutting #7 was located above where the original the monastery kitchen was thought to be.
I learned a great deal of what archaeologists do and how they work on site. As a biology major, my idea of an archaeologist does was based off of what I have seen in movies (like the Indiana Jones‘ Series). I learned that an archaeologist finds physical evidence to either aid written text or use the physical evidence to put together a piece of history that was not recorded. I thought that I would immediately come to site and find something significant. After working with the field school and with a trained archaeologist, I learned that more often than not, what you do not find says just as much as a find. Just because an artifact was not found, does not mean that the dig was pointless. In fact, not “finding anything” can give an archaeologist an idea of what the area was not and give insight to the layout of the monastery. I did not end up finding anything, but animal bones in my cutting.
I have continued to follow the progress at the site. After we had left Ireland (about a week later after heavy rain), a lead decorative piece that was probably applied to timber furniture was found in my cutting. This was the first lead decorative piece that had been found in whole. Even though my group did not “find it,” we aided in by removing dirt (about two tons of dirt from the 16th and 17th century) that covered this artifact.
I also learned to appreciate the time it takes to fully excavate ruins. The site we were at had been opened about six years ago and currently, only about five cuttings exist. A cutting is about forty by forty feet (give or take). The the rest of the monastery is still buried in a field. In actuality, only very small parts of the monastery are exposed. Archaeologists removed dirt, layer by layer, in a cutting. The work was extremely tedious. They do not know what they might find in each layer. So, you cannot just bulldoze the field. I have a new found respect for the physicality that is involved in archaeology. Excavating “quickly” is not necessarily the aim of archaeology.
The relationships that I formed with the faculty at the IAFS played a key role in my transformative experience. The resident Director, Finnola O’Carrol, has been on site since the beginning. She is an archaeologist who has excavated many pre-historical and medieval sites in Ireland. She was the one person that really emphasized the importance the OSU group played on site. She always said that if we found an artifact that was a great contribution, but if we did not find an artifact, we were still excavating. We were still showing what was not there and in doing that, we were helping create a better picture of what life was like in the monastery. She aided in my understanding of what archaeology is and why it is important. Before this experience, I would say that if an archaeologist did not find anything at the site then the excavation was pointless. Director O‘Carro l helped me realize that maybe what was expected to be found and was not could provide greater insight than a finding.
In addition to Director O‘Carrol,another faculty member at IAFS, Barbra, also helped put into perspective what we were excavating. It is hard to imagine people that lived so long ago and really think of them as people. We saw skeletons, plates, jewelry, etc., but none of those things really put into perspective that these people were real to me. Barbra showed us an artifact that was found years ago that made me think about the medieval people as humans was a tiny broken off piece of what the archaeologist believed to be a comb. That little comb made me realize that we were excavating real people and their homes. A comb which is so tiny and insignificant made me realize that the people and things we were digging up were someone’s reality thousands of years ago. It was very surreal moment to think that I was a small piece in helping piece together the lifestyle of friars and common people that lived so long ago. Especially since some of the townspeople of Trim have ancestors that are buried in the monastery graveyard.
Lastly, my immediate supervisor, Ian played a huge role in explaining what an archaeology does and how building/cultivating community awareness is important to a site. Ian was a site instructor. I worked closely with him on a daily basis. He was a working corporate archaeologist that took time in the summer to be an instructor at IAFS. He emphasized the importance of the community that surrounded the site. When the site was first being excavating, teens would come and loot/vandalize the site.One time they even started a fire on site. He explained that through community outreach programs like an open site day where students and town’s people could come excavate or take tours that people could gain understanding of the site. If people understood the site and understood that this was a part of the town’s history, then they would appreciate and respect the site. Since embracing the community outreach program, there had been less and less destructive behavior each year. The site was relatively open and people could come and go as they pleased. There was even a garden on the part of the field that the monastery did not extend to. I learned the importance of having the community’s support on the project. Archaeology is about teaching people and if the IAFS took the approach of cutting off the public from the site, then there would be no point in the findings, because the town’s people of Trim would not feel that they were a part of the excavation. The history of the Blackfriary belongs to the people of Trim.The open and welcoming approach the IAFS took to the site shows the true meaning of archaeology. It is to give an insight to the history of the people who lived there to the people that now reside there.
The Trim/Blackfriary education abroad experience has opened my eyes to what archaeology is and why it is important in society. In studying the past, we can learn about how we got to where we are, what events/items were of positive and/or negative influences and learn from this to make a better future. I learned that archaeology is important in academia, but it is also very humbling. It really made me think about people’s lifestyles thousands of years ago and how they managed to survive without the technology we have today. Medieval people lived in a very simple time, but often faced many of the same struggles we do today like war, sickness, and poverty. It made me think about how money, power, and salvation are ideologies that are timeless.
I had the opportunity to learn about Irish culture through my interactions with the archaeologists on site and people in Trim. I also learned about ancient Irish culture through field trips and the excavation. As an outsider, learning about two different time periods in Ireland, it was interesting to see the bits of culture that existed in medieval Ireland that many Irish still believe to this day. One of the biggest parts of this culture that transcended through time is folklore and storytelling. Folklore played such a huge role in where and how Irish farmers planted and grew crops. Some of those traditions are still firmly believed today. I found it very insightful how the Irish culture has maintained many of these traditions throughout time.
Moving forward from this experience, I have a greater appreciation for archaeology, Irish culture and medieval history. I have always liked learning about American history. The Trim/Blackfriary program has opened a new area of interest for me. Since returning home, I have started to read not only on medieval Irish history but also 20th century Irish history. Overall, I really enjoyed the program and it opened my eyes to archaeology as a field of study and Irish history.

STEP Reflection

My STEP experience was an education abroad program with a small artistic endeavor element through the OIA office at OSU. It is the Japanese Language and Culture study abroad in Kobe of May 2017, which is a 4-week language and culture program that provides: academic excursions, a service learning and an in-depth final research project where we are able to critically assess Japan’s culture and language. The small artistic endeavor involved photographs that created a narrative for my research in Japan.
When I first started the application process and until the point I finally arrived in Japan, I believed a trip of this caliber was really outside of the scope of independent experiences that I could handle. It was my first international flight and I had planned all of the details and made the reservations without the help of my parents. I was petrified with anxiety when my flight finally left Cleveland but gradually calmed down as I navigated JFK airport until I arrived in China. I had issues with my hotel reservation and then issues with my luggage. When I finally got to my hotel room, I broke down in tears from the stress and was swept up by a strong wave of homesickness even though it hadn’t even been a day since I left. What this entire experience taught me though was how to roll with the punches and be flexible. It also taught be to calm down and be patient during these hard situations also demonstrated to myself that I do have the ability to navigate in foreign countries even when I do not know he language.
During my time in Japan, I had a variety of interactions with Japanese people ranging from very fun and enjoyable to scary and frustrating. While I was staying in Kobe, I lived in a dorm but met very often with my host partner. At first it was very difficult to communicate. I wasn’t used to listening to people speak Japanese nor was I very confident in my Japanese language abilities. I was also very scared to speak in public and as a naturally introverted person, the desire to talk to only people I knew was intensified but despite that, I was able to create a great relationship with my partner. Anytime that we spoke together and my words would become jumbled due to nervousness, she would never laugh or make fun of me. Instead, she would slow me down and taught me to be calm and think about what I waned to say so that I could get my idea across. With her, I had many great days where I felt like I was finally getting the hang of Japanese.
One of the scarier and more frustrating incidents that happened while I was in Japan was when I went with a friend to Kyoto alone. We were in the midst of transferring trains when I realized that I had left my purse in the previous train. I was worried since my passport was inside of it. My friend and I quickly stepped off of the train and as we looked around frantically, an old Japanese man offered his assistance. He spoke no English, so our entire conversation was conducted in Japanese as he proceeded to tell us where to go and who to ask for help. I then made my way to the train station’s police officer and explained the situation. He continually asked what train I boarded but I was unable to clearly communicate what train it was so I became extremely frustrated. It was during that trying experience that I learned to be patient and flexible. I had to wait until my purse was found and learn to adapt to the Japanese police’s search process. It was something that would have been very difficult in America let alone in a different country where I was unable to understand everything that was going on.
Another experience that was really changing for me was volunteering to practice English with Japanese speakers at the university in Kobe. It’s easy to forget that they way you feel towards those learning your own language are often the same feelings people think towards you when they hear that you are learning a language like Japanese. Our teachers held a pizza party to help break the ice between the Japanese students and the English students. There, I was able to meet many first year students that were nervous about speaking in English but were still able to connect by earnestly attempting to communicate with each other. I began to follow the new friends on social media and continue communicating with them despite the long distance. This kind of experience allowed me to look beyond the fact that those students were Japanese and overcome the speaking anxiety barrier that prevented me from speaking with other natives before. It changed how I viewed people’s relationships as more than just to races interacting but simply two people bringing their different backgrounds to the table.
This opportunity to go abroad has been extremely valuable to because I have learned so many new skills that I can apply to my daily life as well as my language-learning career. It is really easy to forget that when you are learning a new language, the end goal is to be able to communicate effectively with others who speak the native language. It also reminded me how much the actual culture is tied to the language and that they are not separate things. I also learned how to continually ask questions when there’s something I don’t understand as well as the fact that issues like language barriers are real but they can only be as big or as small as you imagine them but I think that the most important thing I’ve learned is that my dreams can come true as long as I am willing to work towards them and put in the effort.

Engineering Castles and Cathedrals of Wales and England – STEP Transformation Project

My name is Chloe Nemchik and My STEP Signature Project was an Education Abroad with the College of Engineering. We spent 12 days in England and Wales, touring the country to see various Castles and Cathedrals of unique history and architect. Each day was filled with landscape drives, crawling throughout and inside massive cathedrals, and the labyrinths of castles.

Having never been abroad, or even to another continent, my sense of what the world can and has been able to offer was small. I thought every place was similar to other’s just that different people lived there. I thought the world was mainly shaped by cultural influences, and people. I never thought that the landscape that communities resided in helped or hindered different historical events. Having grown up in Ohio, one of the bigger farming states in the USA, I had no concept of what massive mountains in the distance looked like. No concept of what “a window with a view” or “fit for a king” meant. They were idioms to me, with no real life relation. Going on this trip, that all changed for the better. I now have a broader sense of the world, and what it can offer me in experiences. I know and viewed how massive mountain ranges or rolling English countryside influenced the people who lived there. Being on a plane for 7 hours, landing in an entirely new country, and spending 11 hours in engaging “lessons” every day lead to me having a greater appreciation for all things human. Actively exploring each site while listening to the history and significance of these massive places lit dark corners of my perception that I never knew were shadowed.

There were too many instances of abrupt and subtle changes that lead to my transformation for me to tabulate. Like any great change, it stemmed from the small collective reservoir of events, activities and interactions that occurred during this trip, which ultimately have shown to change my perspectives significantly. Despite this, in each reservoir there are gems and precious materials nestled in the bottom bank. This is much like my trip and experience: there are certain events that stick out amongst the others. One was the hike to Devil’s Pulpit, which overlooked Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abbey was my assigned location, so I knew the most about it. I had a more intimate connection to the Wye Valley and the people whom once lived there than the other students, because of my research on the site. Perhaps that was why the view from the Devil’s Pulpit, pictured above, was one of the events I’ll remember for a long time and had the greatest impact on my worldly perspective. We were just at Tintern Abbey less than an hour ago, before we hiked to this Pulpit. It’s named this because the monks whom resided there said they could see the devil perched on a rock here, luring them to leave the abbey. When we were up here you were able to look down and see where we had just been standing. Knowing that the monks never left the abbey, and that the people responsible for this massive structure were never able to see it from our angle was humbling. The hike to this pulpit was through grazing fields that harbored cows. We walked a footpath, through these pastures, from gate to gate, until we got to Offa’s Dyke Path, a 1200 year-old path.

The serenity within the walk and nature was beyond description, especially when ended with a peak into the Wye Valley from above. The awe of this view is mostly thanks to the expansiveness of the valley. Seeing the other side of the valley rise in a veil of green trees, seeing the exclusive and private valley was invigorating. Knowing a place of such beauty and quiet was home to an order of white-robed monks was invigorating because it was the first time that I made the connection of landscape on culture and people. This place would have never been inhabited without the need for its isolated beauty, and the monks never would have relocated here if it hadn’t been for it’s majestic muteness. It was this realization that made me feel a closer connection to the history we were learning. And because of this beauty and juxtaposition of what has been and what is now, I will remember this location as a pivotal milestone in my shifted perspective of the world.

The main things that influenced my gradual and comfortable perspective difference were all the things unsaid. It happened in all the silent moments spent absorbing the landscape and architecture. It was collected in standing within the ruins of castles, once fit for kings, and experiencing just how ominous yet exquisite they are. Understanding just how alike my life is to others, the people of the past and the people of the current tradition. I went on this trip with the expectation of broadened horizons, no matter the cliché connotation. I journeyed across the ocean, between and through mountains, as well as up castle corridors and found understanding. Understanding in my place and relation to the current and historical world.

The takeaway of this trip for me has been so important for the my life and my career aspirations. I went from looking for life sustenance only within the country, only possibly considering relocation to, at most, Canada.  I was terrified of new things because I didn’t know what to expect, and this trip has taught me to expect the best. It has made me realize how much I enjoy travel, and adapting to new societies and norms. This translates into me knowing that I want a job as transient and opportunity-producing as possible. I no longer wander within the fences of my comfortable nation, in search for career matches and life collaborations. I now am expectant of a dynamic and diverse life, filled with many people, cultures, histories and predictions. I think going to an English society made this mindset possible because the transition was enough to notice, but not enough to intimidate or feel inadequate. I’m so happy that I have been on this trip, and had the opportunity to absorb this experience to further my expectations of myself and what the world can offer me. I know that I am able to adapt to situations I was doubtful about. My STEP Signature Project gifted me the opportunity to expand, and I did.

History and Archeology of Medieval Ireland

My name is Zoe Legato and I studied abroad in Ireland for four weeks in May 2017. The program, History and Archeology of Medieval Ireland: Trim and the Blackfriary, focused on teaching us about the history of monasteries and religious life in medieval Ireland and giving us the opportunity to work on a real archeological excavation of a medieval friary called the Blackfriary. We spent the first week traveling the countryside and discovering what a monastery is and how it would have functioned back in medieval times. During the remaining three weeks, we worked on the Blackfriary site, made discoveries, and got a taste of what archeology is like outside of Indiana Jones movies (let me tell you now, Hollywood got it all wrong).

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to work as hard as we did. We hiked at least four mountains in as many days. We walked two miles to and from work everyday, worked rain or shine all day, and fell into an exhausted sleep every night. It really pushed me to my limits, physically, mentally, and emotionally. But I realized very quickly that after panting the whole way to the top of a mountain, I would be rewarded with one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. I learned that pushing through the pain or the exhaustion or the “I don’t want to do this right now” would probably be worth it. In the end, I became a more resilient person. I did so many things during that month in Ireland that I never thought I would do. Now I know that I can push myself farther than I ever thought and make it through.

Hiking on the west coast

The group that I worked with while digging in Cutting 7 on the Blackfriary site

The most mentally challenging aspect of the trip was our final project. We were tasked with researching any question we wanted, interviewing locals in an effort to answer the question, and create a video presentation to present to the community during our last week. Our question was about how supernatural folklore (i.e. ghosts) about the Blackfriary shaped people’s perceptions of the site. I volunteered to run the technical team because I had prior experience editing video. The class ended up being very disjointed because everyone was assigned to different groups and no one was overseeing the entire process or knew what was happening before or after their group did their part. So with three days until the community presentation, the technical team (me and three others) was given a mess of video, audio, and photos to make into something that we could all be proud of. After realizing just how low the morale on site was during those final days, I knew that I needed to step up. I had to push and work really hard so that we could end up with something good. I spent one day being completely defeated by the whole thing and not knowing how we were going to get anything done. The following morning, I came to site with to-do lists and an infectiously positive attitude. I dragged the tech team around as I got the footage and photos we needed, delegating tasks and giving praise as needed to get it done and keep people positive. Since editing video is really a solo job, I gathered everything I needed and pulled two very late nights creating our project. When our presentation day came, I was exhausted but knew that I had done everything I could and I was proud of the final product. The project as a whole was definitely a group effort, from researching to scriptwriting to marketing our presentation, everyone put in work. Everyone just needed a push at the end and someone to make sense of the pieces and put it all together. Even though that was a difficult role to fill, I became more resilient because of it. Our final video can be found here.

In addition to the mental and physical labor pushing me past my limits, I also had to become more resilient emotionally. It’s immensely hard to be in a foreign country for the first time with a group of strangers. It’s even harder to be cast out of the group on day one. I had to develop a thicker skin and not allow my feelings to be hurt because I wasn’t chosen to be in the clique. It was a great exercise in loving and accepting myself and being more independent. Because of this, I developed closer relationships with people who could see beyond the surface, such as the site staff, our OSU staff, and great people who also didn’t play into the drama with the rest of the group. Although the whole thing felt like high school drama, I made the most of the experience and didn’t allow others to determine my worth.

O-H-I-O at Mellifont Abbey

This transformation into a more resilient, stronger individual will impact my future in every sense. As I look towards my final year at OSU and law school the following year, I know that I can push myself even in the hardest of circumstances. I have seen how far I can go, learned how to handle people who are very different from me, and matured. In law school I will be challenged yet again, but I’m glad that I had this opportunity to grow in Ireland. I will be able to look back on this experience when I’m pushed to my limits in the future and remind myself of how strong I have become and the positive attitude that it took to get there.

The most beautiful morning hike along the beach on the west coast