Arielle C Hooks Canadian Parliament Internship Program

Type of Project: Study Abroad/Internship

I participated in a study abroad internship program in Canada. The main objective of this program was to provide us with the opportunity to intern with the Canadian Parliament. The main activities I participated in was working in the office of Member of Parliament and touring the city on excursions.

Prior to the internship I believed that the United States should look up to other countries in terms of their political systems and the way that they handle social issues. After the internship I realized that no country is anywhere near perfect. There is a lot of change that the world needs and every country can look to one another to see how they can improve. This internship showed me the importance of unity for growth.

Watching members of Parliament challenge each other on issues had a large influence on the change of my views. I realized that many people come from various backgrounds which influence their political opinions significantly. It became obvious to me that when people choose to be aggressive rather than listen and seek to learn, it is more detrimental than effective for their agendas. I began to realize just how much lack of optimism to the views of others can impedes progress.

Policy research was an important part of my work in Canada. It allowed me to see how legislation effects various people. Doing policy research taught me the importance of discovering how many possible effects legislation change can have on citizens. I learned that no legislation is perfect but failure to thoroughly explore the ways that legislation does or does not affect every citizen is problematic.

The people I worked with during my internship really helped to shape my views. They sought to show me the flaws that could be found in a parliamentary system. They also sought to show me the flaws that can be found in politics in Canada as well as the United States and the rest of the world. I think that this was very important because in order to know how to grow you must know what to change.

This change in my view of politics and government was significant because it gave me a new outlook on the way systems function. This is important because I wish to make a career in the legal field and this internship gave me a new perspective on how I should approach said career. It made me realize how decisions that may seem small can have a large impact on certain groups of people. It also helped to see how important working together is.

Step Reflection-Scientific Roots In Europe Study Abroad

For my step signature project I had the opportunity to study abroad in London and Paris. I participated in the Scientific Roots in Europe Study Abroad. During the semester we participated in a weekly class and learned about the scientific history of Europe and gained historical background on certain advancements we utilize today. We also learned about the culture of Europe. During Spring Break we had the opportunity to travel to London and Paris and visit various museums and historical sites that have significant science contributions.


Before this trip I had the opportunity to study abroad in Italy. Leaving the country for the first time, really pushed me out of my American bubble and exposed me to a different culture. I felt this exact same way traveling to London and Paris. The trip was refreshing and gave me an overall greater positivity for life as I got to come in contact with different accents, languages, food, and architecture. I truly created memories that will last me a lifetime.

Overall, I think completing this study abroad made me more daring. Because I knew I was traveling to a different country I did a lot of research in advance and made sure I exposed myself to new things. This is a far different mindset from the one I have when I’m at home. I’m usually a lot less daring and do activities that I’m used to but I feel like this signature project gave me the platform to transform and step out of my comfort zone.


Trying French and British cuisine was by far the biggest culture shock for me. While in London I had the opportunity to attend an Alice and Wonderland Themed afternoon tea. The pastries were super intricate. They gave us macaroons that were shaped like time clocks and lady bug shaped red velvet cake. All of the teas were really good as well. They also had really pretty garden with a waterfall in the center of the restaurant, which made the experience relaxing. Having an opportunity to attend high tea really immersed me in British culture and allowed me to have a unique experience. While in London I also got the chance to try duck at a Chinese restaurant in China Town. In Paris I also had the opportunity to try authentic Moroccan food for the first time.

Another unique experience was in London. As I was walking  down Piccadilly Circus, which is similar to New York’s Times Square, I passed Jamie Oliver’s restaurant. Jamie Oliver is a popular celebrity chef in the United Kingdom, he is similar to a Michael Symon or a Bobby Flay here in the U.S. There was a small crowd of people taking pictures in front of his restaurant. Then we realized that Jamie Oliver himself was sitting in his restaurant eating lunch and doing a taping for his cooking show. We were able to videotape him waving at us. I was not expecting this to happen. It is awesome to see what unique things you can experience out of no where when you choose to explore the streets of an unfamiliar country.

Visiting the museums in both London and Paris were huge historical and cultural experiences. When I visited the Louvre and the Musee de Orsay I had the opportunity to see the Mona Lisa, and the work of Vincent Van Gogh. These are artist and pieces of artwork that we learn about in school from an early age, actually seeing them was breathtaking. In both London and Paris we used the subway systems to get from point A to B. This experience is one that definitely made me more daring. Using a map to navigate foreign countries was a daunting experience. However, I felt so much accomplishment not getting loss and learned so much about the language, accents, and mannerisms of the French and British by sitting right next to them on the Underground or the Metro.


Being pushed out of my American bubble and coming in contact with not only one but two very different cultures, makes me feel more positive about life and overall more well rounded as an individual. Specifically, I work as an Resident Advisor (RA) here at OSU. As RA’s we are always told that we should push our residents out of their comfort zone and encourage them to be open to new experiences. I think the  experiences, stories, and memories that I picked up during this study abroad can be shared with my residents. If they are interested in studying abroad but are maybe scared or unsure, I  hope to give them the encouragement they need to be daring and go on a transformational abroad experience during their college years.

Scientific Roots in Europe Blog:


Ha Nguyen’s Step Reflection: Pharmacy London Trip

I had the opportunity to travel with 35 other pharmacy students (both graduates and undergraduates) to London during Spring Break of 2017. We visited Greenlight pharmacy, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and the St. Thomas’ Hospital, along with many tourist attractions. Not only were we able to learn about the pharmaceutical practices in London and compare them to that of the United States, but we were also able to experience the culture of London and tried their amazing cuisines. I will be discussing the pharmacy aspects of the trip in this reflection, but if you are interested in the cultural aspects, please watch the video below:

Growing up in Vietnam, I have always been told how fortunate I was to move to the United States because America is the land of opportunity and the most advanced nation in the world, especially when it comes to healthcare. I had heard numerous stories of patients who died of curable diseases simply because the hospitals in Vietnam did not have the equipment needed to treat them or because they could not afford the costs of treatments. “They would have lived if they were in America,” my mom sadly told me. Therefore, I have never once questioned the healthcare system in the United States. Even when I learned that Canada and many European countries had universal healthcare, I defended my belief by arguing that their healthcare was not free since the fund came from taxes, and that it put patients at risk by making appointment wait time much longer.

However, my belief completely changed when I visited London. The wait time is longer, but it is prioritized based on urgency. For example, patients who have signs of infections will be higher on the list while patients who only need a check-up will be lower on the list. Medications are free for most of the population, which is what I have always dreamed of for the U.S. because I have served so many patients who have to go without their insulin and EpiPen due to the high price. It breaks me each time, but I have to remind myself this is why I am in the medical field. I can and will advocate for my patients and work to improve the healthcare system. I now realize that the healthcare system in the United States is far from perfect, and that we have a lot to learn from other nations.

As a technician at a community pharmacy, I have seen where the pharmacy system has succeeded and where it has failed. One of the most challenging issues is the low patient adherence. To combat the problem, my pharmacy recently introduced a program called SyncScript, where a patient’s maintenance medications would all be filled automatically together. In addition, we have also expanded our free drug list to cover ninety-day supply instead of thirty. Both are to ensure the patient always has the medications that he/she needs to increase adherence. Even with these programs, many patients are still not taking their medications as directed, and have gone a month and even two months without picking up their medications.

During the London trip, we visited a community pharmacy called Green Light Pharmacy and it was unbelievable how much U.S. pharmacy paled in comparison. To combat the adherence issue, the pharmacist calls the patient the day after he/she picks up a new medication to ensure that the therapy is started, then after a week to check up on how well the patient is doing on the medication (any side effects), and finally when a refill is overdue. I truly admire how dedicated the pharmacists are and how they have the patients’ best interest in mind.

Surprisingly, the patient adherence system was not what I loved most about the pharmacy system in London. What fascinated me the most was that London had a centralized pharmacy portal where any pharmacy (with patient’s permission) could access a list of a patient’s past and current medication record. Imagine how much more accurate medication reconciliation would be when a patient transfers from one setting of care to another. Ever since I started working as a technician, I have been asking my pharmacists why we do not have a centralized system where we can access all the medications of a patient, and I have not gotten an explanation. And there I was, in London hearing about how they have a centralized portal. It made me hopeful for the future of the U.S. pharmacy system.

Last but not least, I want to briefly mention two other programs that the pharmacies in London have that we should implement. The first is a standardized prescription pad that all prescribers use and each has a specific ID, so when one goes missing, it can be reported and all pharmacies will get an alert to not fill prescriptions with that ID after the alert date. The second is a Needle Exchange Program where users can come into the pharmacy and receive a box of clean needles and other supplies to use heroin. It sounded ridiculous to me at first since it was as though pharmacies were promoting heroin use. However, the pharmacist explained that addicts will continue to use heroin even if they did not have clean needles, which will end up harming the community more. Also, having users come into the pharmacy provided the pharmacists opportunities to talk to them and create rapport, so they will be more likely to listen to the pharmacists’ advice and come ask for help when they want to quit. All the programs mentioned above amazed me and opened my eyes to possibilities I have never even thought of. The U.S. pharmacy system is far from perfect, and we have a lot to learn from other countries.

Needle Exchange Program Kit

All I wish is to be a pharmacist that gives my patients the best care they can possibly have. I do not mean the best care that can be given by the existing pharmacy system, but I am talking about the BEST CARE that can be given by the BEST SYSTEM. Thanks to the London trip, I have learned of several changes that I strongly believe the U.S. needs to implement, such as the patient adherence calls, the centralized patient portal, the prescription pad reporting system, and the Needle Exchange Program. I will advocate these changes to optimize the U.S. pharmacy practices and the care patients receive.

Pharmacy London Study Abroad 2017

STEP Project: Engineering and Culture in India

My STEP Signature Project fulfilled the Education Abroad category and consisted of my participation in the Engineering and Culture Abroad OIA Program during the spring break of 2016.  This program included a semester long class to learn about Indian culture, and it culminated in a spring break trip to several northern cities in India, including Agra, Jaipur, and Delhi.  The main focus of this trip was to enjoy the architectural achievements and culture of India while also exploring some interesting institutions in India.


This STEP project helped to change my view on how different cultures should be viewed and treated from my own standpoint as an American citizen.  It also taught me how to become more fluid in regards to acclimating to new experiences and cultures.  I learned that India has a completely different culture from the American or even the European cultures, but even though our countries have some very innate differences, these cultures can still cooperate and collaborate.  Even with cultural differences, people from completely different cultures can still communicate and aid each other.  My experiences and education are completely different from another person’s, but both can be used together to work for a common goal, which is something that I knew intellectually but had not experienced before.


There are three different institutions that allowed me to see intercultural exchanges in a new light: the Jaipur foot, the Barefoot women’s college, and the Malaviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT).


The Jaipur foot is a revolutionary prosthetic that has improved and changed the lives of many Indians that have lost limbs in accidents.  The foot is exceedingly simple, easy to create/customize for a given customer, and costs 10 times less than an ordinary prosthetic.  Not only that, but the foot was created by several academic institutions (both from India and abroad) with the Indian culture in mind.  My class group visited the birthplace and the initial creator of the Jaipur foot and was able to learn its history and how students from OSU have been able to help improve on the foot’s design.  It was a product created for a specific culture, and the foot showed that different cultures have special requirements and needs.


Additionally, my class group visited an institution located just outside of Pushkar (a camel town), called the Barefoot Women’s College.  While the institution had many different functions, its main claim to fame is its ability to empower women to become leaders and solar engineers within their village communities.  Led by village men and women, the college itself is a grass roots movement that flies in women from different villages around the world to let them help themselves and their people.  When I visited, they had women from 10 different countries learning how to use solar power; and none of them could speak the same language.  This showed a huge amount of cultural communication and cooperation that I had not known was possible.


Finally, my class group also visited a national college in Jaipur, the Malaviya National Institute of Technology.  The Indian approach to higher education is much different from the American approach, where students study much harder and with much more pressure to be admitted into prestigious universities that only allow a small fraction of students to enroll.  The universities are seen as one of the only paths to success in India, and it’s a huge sign of honor for a student to be admitted to one.  We were able to talk to some of the graduate students at MNIT, and despite the cultural differences in India, they were very similar to graduate students that I know at OSU.  I even found out that some OSU students have come and studied at MNIT, and many of the graduate students knew those OSU students.


So, I found that from high academic situations to lower class grass roots movements, cultural communication was not only necessary but also thrived.  Different cultures can learn from each other while still respecting their own cultures to reach a common goal.


This revelation is very important to me both personally and professionally.  Personally, I believe my trip to India has allowed me to appreciate and understand foreign cultures better; and this will help me to better understand my foreign friends in a new way.  Professionally, I want to travel with my future job as a materials engineer.  This experience has helped me to adapt to new cultures and will help me with collaborating with foreign nations to reach a common goal.  I truly believe that my STEP project has helped me to become a better person and engineer.


International Healthcare Experience in Pharmacy: London

“Big Ben,” the famous clock tower attached to the Palace of Westminster.

My STEP Project involved traveling to London, England with the OSU College of Pharmacy for one week. We visited cultural sites as well as sites of pharmacy practice to compare life and pharmacy in England with our lives and understanding of pharmacy in the United States. Also, during this process, I was able to get to know faculty and other students in the College of Pharmacy.

During my STEP project, I learned a lot about what I am capable of, as well as what pharmacists in the United Kingdom can do and how they can expand their duties to make up for the dearth of doctors that the health system is currently facing. Through few experiences from the trip, I found that I am more independent and better at solving problems than I thought. Also, as the group visited different sites of pharmacy practice, I learned about the integral roles that pharmacists play in the health system and how important political activism is in order to keep and expand these roles – in the United States as well as the UK.

Throughout the week, my roommate and I became very comfortable with London’s underground subway system, or the “Tube” as it is affectionately called by its passengers. At first, I was very worried about getting lost or confused in the system because my sense of direction is not very good, but by the end of the week, we were experts at using it! This showed me that with a little bit of work and practice, I can be successful at something that made me nervous and that sometimes things are much more user-friendly than we think.

Another experience that allowed me to work on my independence was when I found out that all of my twenty-pound notes were expired when trying to pay for admission to the Globe Theatre. I had to exchange them for new notes at the Bank of England. This was scary at first, but I researched where the Bank of England was and how to exchange my notes, and the next day I went and exchanged them. Taking a problem and figuring out how to solve it in an unfamiliar place showed me that I am a lot more resourceful than I thought I was, and I feel much more capable of being independent than before the trip.

The headquarters of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in London.

In terms of my understanding of pharmacy changing, the visit to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society really opened my eyes about the political activism side of being a professional. During this trip, the speaker laid out how pharmacists got to the level of respect and responsibility that they have, and a lot of it was through political change. I realized that there is a lot of political work to be done in the United States surrounding pharmacy. For example, achieving provider status is a legislative change that will allow pharmacists to be billed in the same way that doctors are, allowing part of their salaries to be paid by insurance companies instead of solely by hospitals.

The sign outside of the Greenlight Pharmacy, the community pharmacy that we visited.

This will allow hospitals to hire more pharmacists, and the pharmacists will be able to take on more roles and serve patients in many more ways like they do in the United Kingdom. There are many more pharmacists in the United Kingdom with unique patient-serving roles, like working in their own clinics and in doctor’s offices or offering smoking cessation and travel planning services within community pharmacies. This experience really emphasized that political participation is very important, and extends past just voting in elections. It’s important to be informed about and involved in the issues that are important to you and your career. Hearing this speaker has definitely made me pay more attention to current events locally, nationally, and around the world.

These changes and realizations are important in my life because I want to be an involved, empathetic and helpful citizen in the world. Realizing my own independence and gaining confidence will allow me to be more successful in accomplishing this goal. I think that traveling and connecting with people who live very different lives than mine is a good method to become more open-minded, and I would like to travel more in the future.

In addition, I want to be a pharmacist, and learning the components of pharmacy that work well in other systems can help to improve the system in the United States. It reminds me that I am a part of the bigger whole and that what I will be doing in my day-to-day work is very important and helpful to patients. Also, in this time of political change and activism (and that of years to come), it is important to know what pharmacists should be working towards so that they can prepare, organize and rally to achieve roles that allow them to help the most patients.

The study abroad group outside of the University of London School of Pharmacy.


Service-Learning in Honduras

For my STEP project, I decided to participate in a service-learning trip through the engineering department in which students used their spring break to travel to the Montaña de Luz orphanage in Honduras to design and implement solutions to any problems they may have. As part of this trip, I enrolled in a 3 credit hour class for which students researched solutions to their respective projects, documented the process, and created presentations about their work. For my project, I joined 3 other students in fixing a wind turbine and mapping out a poorly planned and potentially unsafe electricity distribution system so that improvements could be made in the future.

While this project was the main focus of my trip, any time that wasn’t spent on work was devoted to playing with the kids at the orphanage, getting to know my classmates, and immersing myself in Honduran culture as well as I could in just one week. At first, it was difficult for me to really engage with many of the Hondurans due to my inability to speak Spanish. In addition, I am cyncial and somewhat unsociable by nature, so I was fairly reluctant to engage with other people during my trip. However, the everyone at the orphanage caught me off guard with their overwhelming kindness, and I believe that I am now a more welcoming and accepting person because of it.

There are many examples of how kindness caught me off guard during this trip, and I could not hope to cover them all. However, one thing that all the students on this trip agreed on is that many of the Hondurans easily proved that kindness can cross any language barrier. Despite difficulty communicating, the children and workers at Montaña de Luz persistently welcomed us into their activities. We played soccer and badminton with the kids and played jokes on each other. One of the students even had lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) opportunity of experiencing the Honduran tradition of throwing raw eggs at someone on his/her birthday. They taught us how to hand wash our clothes and helped us with our projects. We all had a common goal of making the orphanage a better place, and it really allowed us to experience the reality that anyone can get along despite barriers that may make it difficult.

In addition to learning how kind people can be, I also re-learned what it means to be an engineer. At Ohio State, engineering students spend hours upon hours learning math and science that we may never actually use in practice which goes against the pragmatic nature of engineering. In Honduras, many people without a college education understand practical applications of technology better than the Ohio State students did. With such people easily designing solutions to their problems, I had to wonder if engineering actually required an education or just an active imagination and desire to solve problems.

One particular person named Jorge, who was the general technician at MdL, taught himself how to engineer solutions to problems in ways that none of the students on the trip could even imagine themselves doing. While we were there, he effortlessly designed and welded together scrap metal to be used as a casing for a slip ring on the pole for my group’s wind turbine. He also welded together parts for another group’s solar panels. It is rumored that he fixed a leaking freshwater supply system by melting two pvc pipes together during a previous year, fixed motorcycles after learning to completely disassemble them, and fully understand the problems with MdL’s electricity distribution system. With MacGyver as his inspiration and a desire to improve the lives of the kids at MdL, he was truly able to accomplish anything. Yet, he never received a college education and has no degree saying that he is an engineer. With the ability to fix seemingly any problem that the world threw at him by manipulating technology, he essentially gave himself his own engineering education, proving that a college education isn’t necessary if you are motivated to learn on your own.

Finally, this trip showed me that I am capable of engineering solutions in the real world. Before this trip, I had not had a chance to apply what I have learned from class to a real world problem, and I was eager to do something impactful. In addition to gaining the confidence to solve problems in the world, I learned a lot about electricity, practical applications of renewable energy, how electricity distribution systems work, and I even learned a little spanish. This knowledge may become useful when I eventually have a home of my own. I also now have an experience that I can talk about in interviews, so this experience may help me get a job after graduation. Overall, I had a really enjoyable experience and gained a lot from it. I would highly recommend this trip or a similar experience to any engineering students going through the STEP program.

STEP Reflection

Costa Rica Study Abroad 2017

This past Spring Break I traveled to Costa Rica on a service learning trip. On the trip our group visited EARTH University along with several different locations including rural home-stays, beaches, volcanoes, hot springs and worked in schools. We worked with the locals and learned about the Costa Rican lifestyle and culture.

This trip was truly life changing. I learned so much about myself and different cultures that I will be able to draw on in my future. Going into this trip I was uncertain about what I was going to experience. I was worried about being put into uncomfortable situations. In the end and looking back I am so pleased with how it ended up. The Costa Rican people are some of the most generous people I have ever met and yet they live with very little. They are happy and content with very little with what we are used to in the United States. It was very refreshing to be around people that genuinely cared about us and how our futures will pan out. I have tried to bring along that mindset and personality since I have been back in the states.

There were so many different events that took place during the trip that have had a lasting impact on myself. The one story that I always keep coming back to was a night we spent at EARTH University. This university is a school for students all around the world and is focused on education surrounding sustainable living. After dinner in the cafeteria myself and a couple of others from the trip were exploring around and found the “hang-out” spot for the students. We were just hanging around when some students came up to us and asked us if we wanted to play Foosball. These were 5 Somalian students who I will never forget. They welcomed us with open arms and proceeded to play with us and kick our butts for over 2 hours. We shared stories about our lives and got to know each other on a personal level.

There is such a perception that being different is a bad thing and that outsiders are not welcome. I am so thankful that I was able to meet those students because they made me feel welcomed and now I want to do the same for others. I constantly remind myself of that night because those students went out of their comfort zone and that is a struggle for me. In the end it was an amazing experience and I am forever grateful for that.

On our trip we had a group of 12 students along with 2 advisers. We became a very close family over the 9 day trip. I told our group the last day of our class that in the beginning of the trip planning I went on the trip for the different locations we were going to travel to and not so much for the people I was going to meet along the way. In the end it was the complete opposite. I met some of the greatest and most sincere people on the trip that I would have never wanted to go on a trip with anybody else. They people made the trip and the scenery only enhanced the experience. We all will forever have a special connection due to the 9 day trip through Costa Rica.

This trip was by far the greatest journey of my life. It was not because of all of the amazing views and activities we got to see, but rather the conversations I was able to have with the Ticos and Ticas. Costa Rica is known to be one of the nicest countries in the world and they lived up to their reputation. I was continually surprised at how genuine they always were. They wanted to know about our families, past, career goals, greatest fears, successes and so on. Once you began a conversation they listened intently and it was eye-opening to have that experience with complete strangers. In the end, this trip was phenomenal and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering. STEP was a major contributor to my ability for me to attend this trip and for that I am extremely and forever grateful.

Study Abroad Reflection


Costa Rica Reflection

“With age, comes wisdom. With travel, comes understanding.” Sandra Lake. This quote by Sandra Lake, a historical novelist, perfectly summarizes the trip I experienced in Costa Rica. It is very difficult to put into words the incredible experience I had. It was spectacular, breathe taking, life changing, inspiring, refreshing and yet so much more. This past spring break I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Costa Rica to do a comprehensive service learning trip with The Ohio State Agriculture School.  During the trip we had the opportunity to meet students from all over the world and were blessed to meet some of the nicest and most gracious natives (Ticos).

During the first couple days in Costa Rica we stayed at Earth University in the Limon Province. Earth or (Escuela de Agricultura de la Región Tropical Húmeda) is a private, non-profit university that offers two programs of study: an undergraduate licenciatura degree in agricultural sciences and natural resources management and a master’s degree in agribusiness innovation. At the university I was able to meet students from Ghana, Zambia, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda and Nicaragua. It was a blessing to be able to talk with these students and to learn from their experiences. All of the students at this university are very driven and were selected for a reason. I remember talking with Christopher, he gave us the first tour of the cocoa plant, and he went to high school in England, knew 4 languages and had been to the U.S. several times. I asked him what the biggest culture shock was when he had first came to the U.S. He paused and then told me that the people in the U.S were selfish and did not care about anyone rather than themselves. I took this to heart and I knew exactly what he was talking about. In Costa Rica everyone truly cared about everyone else and it was amazing to see that genuine interaction between people rather than the superficial actions of Americans.

The second day in Costa Rica we went with Seth and Salome to the Periurban Agriculture Farm. This place was truly amazing. It was a small farm location located on the outskirts of the banana plantation and was absolutely amazing. This farm was used as an experiment for the students. Seth and Salome explained the hydroponic systems to us and showed us several different systems to grow different plants without soil. We first saw waist high planters with lettuce and celery growing. There was no soil in these planters, but only rice husks, charcoal (filter) and fibers to hold the water. These were waist high in order for the gardeners to be more hands on with the plants that they were growing. It was an interesting concept that I had never heard of, but it made sense.

We continued to walk the property and saw how they tried out different concepts. They had a greenhouse facing East/ West and one facing North/South. They determined that the North/South one was in fact warmer than the other which was very interesting. They also had pyramid type planters. We were told that the soil in Costa Rica is rather toxic and that the planters were necessary for different types of plants. On the other side of the planters was a mandala. This was a foreign concept for me. A mandala has to deal with the solar system and the balance that the universe is in. The center of this mandala was a specific type of plant that might have been soolantra. Surrounding the center planter were rings of different plants. This is to symbolize the sun as the center of the solar system and the planets surrounding and benefitting from it. In this case as the wind blew it would pick up particles from the plants that would in turn spread and work as a natural insect repellant. It blew my mind that this worked and this was really the instant that I realized that I have so much to learn from these people because I know very little. We walked the rest of the property and they showed us how they utilized almost everything for their planters including old bikes, 2 liter bottles, carts and even aluminum cans. They used everything and were a truly a self-sustainable system. Finally, we were able to create our own hanging flower pots. It was very cool to see how easy, but impactful these would be and I was glad to be able to help. To end this experience Seth gave us a very heartfelt speech to end the visit. He talked to us about how life is a give and take relationship. We cannot go our whole life taking or giving. There is a very important balance that we need to find. He also emphasized that hard work coupled with compassion and understanding will go a long way. After only a couple hours with Seth and Salome it had felt that I knew them for years.

During this trip I was exposed to several different landscapes. This was very fitting because I presented on the different ecosystems in our pre departure seminar and thus it was very rewarding to see them in person. The main ecosystems that we saw were the rainforests to start. During our homestays I was lucky enough to stay in the heart of the rainforest in La Argentina. It was about 10 hectares in the rainforest with about 200 steps leading down to the property. The wildlife in the rainforest is very hard to describe. There are more insects than I could wrap my mind around. I could not even try to describe the amount of birds I saw and more that I heard from a distance. For example, I got to see spiders the size of my head, leaf cutter ants, bullet ants, snakes, frogs, lizards, birds and so many more that I could not identify. Costa Rica has 5% of the world’s biodiversity and to be honest I did not believe that until I saw it firsthand. It was incredible to see how green and alive everything was. This may sound strange, but when we were at the homestay the air was so fresh and it sounds weird, but it is true. Being back in the city now there is definitely a huge difference. At the homestay, Douglass and Maria raised Tilapia from Thailand. They had several different ponds for different sized fish and one night we had fresh fish and it may have been the best meal I have ever had in my life. It was rice and beans with tilapia topped with fresh coconut dressing and of course fresh melon, pineapple, and papaya.

At Earth University which is in a comparative ecosystem to the rainforest we had the opportunity to view a banana plantation. Some things that I learned were that each tree only produces 1 bundle of bananas and then the tree dies. I also learned that the banana trees are not strong enough to hold the fruit and thus have to be tied up. Banana plantations are also always surrounded by large trees in order to block wind because the wind is strong enough to blow the trees over and ruin the fruit. Another fact is that the fruit has to be covered with a bag and separated with styrofoam in order to protect them from insects, but mainly to limit the bruises because they won’t sell if it is bruised.

The other contrasting landscape was the Arenal Volcano and the cloud forests. On Thursday we got to hike Arenal and talk about spectacular! This was the most beautiful view I had ever seen. On our hike it was a scene out of Jurassic Park. We were hiking on a narrow trail through 6-7 ft tall grass. It was a very dry environment and as we approached the volcano the dirt trail turned to volcanic rocks. It was a completely different environment and we were told that since the volcano was such a large land mass it had its own ecosystem which was different from the rest of the surrounding areas. Along the trail we saw tress that must have been hundreds of years old and the size of a house. There were very vibrant colored plants and animals, but different compared to the rainforest because everything seems to be dry. This could have been because the day that we went was very hot and sunny.

After visiting the volcano we climbed elevation toward El Mirador. This was a location at which we ate lunch and it was around the same elevation at which the summit of Arenal was at (5,358 ft) high. While driving to this elevation we saw a drastic change in the scenery. It went from bright and sunny to a foggy/ misty and a wet climate. We entered the cloud forest layer which is due to an elevation change and at some point on the drive we could barely see. It was crazy to see firsthand the differences in ecosystems in such a small area. The plant life went from very colorful to just green and it compared with the Ohio landscape in some respect, but it had many more hills and valleys. I got to see terrace farming which was eye opening. The people of Costa Rica may not have a whole lot, but they make do with what they have. I was looking back through my photos and they do not do the country side justice whatsoever. In a matter of hours we went from the beaches of Cahuita to a volcano and then to cloud forests at a very high elevation. It is quite crazy to think about.

This trip could be classified into two different sections, the service and the travel sections. The first few days of the trip were focused more so on the service aspect and we were thrown into the Costa Rican culture. There were three main events that happened during the first couple of days and that included the bio-digester instillation, painting of the school and the homestay. A bio-digester is simply a large bag that is filled with water and waste from the household and animals that essentially ferments and produces methane which is captured and then used to power the house. It is a very smart and cost efficient product that is widely used in Costa Rica. We traveled to the rural parts of Costa Rica to install one. I was in charge of building up the initial concrete barrier in order for water to be stored and then transferred into the bio-digester. I also helped with leveling of the hole. What I gained from this experience was not only about the importance of the installation and how it would help the household become more self-sustainable, but I got to see the joy of the Ticos and how they worked. To put it simply they were very hard workers. They were also very patient, helpful and never once seemed annoyed with us. They wanted to teach us not only about what we were installing, but about the different types of fruit on the property, their life history, the area etc. It was eye opening to just meet these people and suddenly you are talking to them about their children or their childhood. It was an experience I will not soon forget. It was also a pleasure to see the joy of the home owners when we inflated the bio-digester because before then I did not know how much this installation meant to them.

The next event that we did in La Argentina was painting of the school. We arrived to the school not really knowing what to expect. We arrive at a very small school that has to combine grades into classrooms because of the size. We were welcomed by the students and then in a matter of minutes we somehow started playing soccer with David, a 6th grade student at the school. I stayed back and “played” goalie, but mostly I just wanted to observe. We all had such a good time playing and it was if nothing else mattered. It didn’t matter who won or lost, but about the experience itself. I got to talk with David a little after the game and I accidently told him I wanted to drink a snake which he got a good laugh about. Then we had to get to work and he had to get to class. We were painting the side of the school a bright green color. To be honest it was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. The paint did not stick very well and we didn’t have rollers, but looking back it was so much fun to talk with the other members in our group. It was a great bonding experience because, like I mentioned earlier there were no other worries besides painting and I formed some strong bonds with people in my group. The only downfall about painting the school was that I was the tallest and therefore I had to paint the high up locations. Let’s just say my shoulder was pretty sore, but it was well worth it.

The last but most influential aspect of this trip was by far the homestay. On Monday and Tuesday night I had the absolute privilege to stay at Raices and Roots with Douglass and Maria. It was myself, Matt, Eli and Nick who stayed at their house for two nights. They owned about 10 hectares with approximately 200 steep steps leading down to their property. On their property were several different Tilapia ponds, 2 houses and a greenhouse. There were probably 2 hectares of open land and the rest was rainforest with a beautiful river ending the property in the back. My first impression of the property was absolute amazement. It was something out of a magazine. Everything was open, they had electricity, but no hot water. I got to sleep in a mosquito net and fall asleep to rain against a metal roof. It was quite the experience because it showed me how happy people can be with very little compared to what we are used to in the U.S. The real experiences came from our conversations with Douglass. He spoke somewhat broken English, but we tried our best to communicate via Spanish. Douglass was 69 years old with tons of stories and experiences that he shared with us. On Tuesday morning before we went to the school he took us on a hike through his property. Every 50-100 yards he would stop and relate life to something that we were seeing on the hike. For example, if we saw a walking palm with vines going all throughout it he would explain to us that the vines our like our lives and the journey we will have in life will not be easy, but in the end we will find happiness and success if we keep working. He had numerous sayings about life and how it will knock you down, but keep on fighting because it will get better. During this walk we stopped at a gazebo that he had right on the river. We sat down and he told us about the reason he named the farm Raices and Roots. Douglass went on to tell us that the first reason was that there were so many tree roots on the property and he was not exaggerating, I tripped several times. The second reason is when he went into his past. He started with telling us about his career in decoding Morose Code on different ships and then how he went to New Jersey. He admitted to us that he was an illegal immigrant and that his experience in the US was different than most. He was always concerned because he didn’t have any papers and that on one Christmas Eve it finally hit him that he was not happy. Yes, he was making descent money, but that wasn’t important. He then traveled back to Costa Rica and purchased the farm just a few miles from where he grew up as a kid. He told us how important his “Roots” were and that is where his true happiness was. Douglass emphasized how important his family was along with being surrounded with people who genuinely cared for his well-being. Douglass was not perfect by any means and neither are we, but he put into perspective how he dealt with the balance of life and his process for determining what is really important.  In the end we are all born and we all die. Those are the only two guarantees we have in life and the rest is up to us. The journey is where we grow and develop and that is what Douglass was trying to get us to realize.

To summarize briefly, this trip was simply amazing. Like I have said beforehand, words along with images do not do this trip the justice it deserves. I was not only embraced by the people of Costa Rica, but also the people in our group including you, Paul (El Jaguar). I learned so much about myself to not judge, embrace change and most importantly to be open to what others have to offer. I was continually astounded by the generosity of the Ticos and it touched my heart. It has definitely been a major change being back in the US. I am desperately clinging to that magical week and resisting going back to my “old” self. I find myself constantly looking back at the images from the week and they always bring a smile to my face. I will forever cherish those memories and I have Ohio State and you, Paul, to thank for that. As Sandra Lake said, “With age, comes wisdom. With travel, comes understanding.” I now see the world around me in a different light and this trip has inspired me to go out and travel to many more places in order to gain a full understanding of the world.

London, England & Paris, France

For my STEP project I participated in the Scientific Roots Spring Break Study Abroad Program. We traveled to London and Paris to visit sites of scientific importance throughout history. In the mornings we visited these sites, while in the afternoons we were free to explore the two cities.

Before this experience, I had never left the United States. Almost immediately after landing in London, my eyes were so wide open because I didn’t want to miss anything. I was going from having absolutely no different cultural experiences to seeing something new almost every hour. But the thing is, I wasn’t overwhelmed. It was empowering. During the week abroad, I would say I certainly became more confident and self sufficient. I did not really have any friends in the class prior to our trip, and I had to step out of my comfort zone multiple times in order to form new relationships with people. It was very difficult, because I am a person that is very set in her ways in regards to relationships. This uncomfortableness with new people really changed during the trip, and the remaining semester after we returned. I am so grateful for this change too, because it has really helped me be less awkward in new social situations. The whole trip/ semester I learned to take advantage of any amazing opportunity you are given, and to live with no regrets. I have no idea if I will ever go back to Europe, so I did my best to see, taste, hear, smell, and touch as many new things as possible.

I would say a key point in the transformation to a more independent and empowered person involved the Tube in London. The subway system in London is pretty overwhelming at first. But I soon realized just how extensive and amazing it really is. But if you board the wrong train.. goodluck.

A couple of friends and I were heading to Harry Potter Studios and we were supposed to meet up at Abbey Road (where I was previously with another group that left to catch a train), but I found out later the other girls went to Abbey Station instead of the station where Abbey Road is. I was alone for about an hour and a half with no decent cell phone service or contact with the girls. It was certainly very nerve wracking because I was alone in the middle of some random suburb in England,  with no contact with anyone. I finally made contact with the girls after about an hour when we both were able to find service. When the girls made it to the correct station, we then had navigate to the studio for our scheduled tour for the group.

This experience was really the first time in my life I’ve been so separated from family, friends, and anything familiar; there was no one to help me when I was by myself in that suburb. I did not panic or cry and shut down, I took a deep breath, tried to relax, and I explored the suburb a bit. I walked around the town by myself with no cell phone or means of communicating and soaked in the environment. Since this moment, and because of the the way we had to find our way around the cities, I have been able to handle more inopportune moments with more ease and patience, rather than too emotionally and ineffectively.

This change is extremely important to me personally and professionally. In all manners of life I think it is important to be able to handle unforeseen complications adequately. I learned from this experience more than ever that life is one crazy ride, and you need to be able to deal with what comes your way in order to live a healthy life. Losing your cool is not ideal, and this can be avoided by relaxing, being patient, and rolling with the changes.

This next year I am applying to medical school, and it is even more important to be able to deal with stress as a physician. You have peoples’ lives in your hands, and you are trusted by the patients and their families with their health. A physician needs to be able to deal with adverse situations with ease and focus, because of the lives in your hands. I learned in London that I am certainly capable of being independent, self sufficient, and able to deal with adversity. Ever since returning to the United States, I would say I have been able to deal with adversity and stress more successfully.

Before the trip I had always focused solely on school and my biochemistry major, but while in England and France I stumbled upon my passion for history that had withered in the 3 years of college. Therefore, when I came back to the US, one of the first things I did was add a history minor, so I could re-familiarize myself with a subject that I had lost for a few years when I was so focused on science. Since returning to the United States, I have also been promoted at my job to a spot of leadership. I would have never had the confidence and self-assurance to accept this offer in previous years, however, I really think forcing myself to participate in situations I am not necessarily 100% comfortable with (like meeting new people in Europe, navigating the subways, etc) has really helped my self confidence. I have stepped out of my comfort zone, which was a rarity for me, more than a couple times in order to achieve my future dreams since the end of my Study Abroad experience. I have participated in a judged research presentation, which I never thought I would be able to do, I took the MCAT successfully, I was promoted at work, and I added a history minor.

In Europe, I learned how to deal with adversity, became more independent, self sufficient, and learned it is okay to step out of your comfort zone. This has really helped me in my job as a Quality Assurance Manager with Scribe America, it has helped me academically with my new minor, and it has helped me in my personal life. All of these positives that have occurred as a direct result of my participation in this programs have given me all the more confidence for the upcoming application process for medical school, and only increase my abilities as a student and person going forward.


two of my favorite pictures from the trip; at Versailles in France


A Month on Sustainability: New Zealand

For my STEP signature project, I chose to do something I’ve wanted to do since I started here at OSU- study abroad. I took a month-long course based in New Zealand, titled “Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment”, which utilized the South Island as a case study for the topic of sustainability. Throughout our month-long experience, my classmates and I traveled up and down the length of the South Island, experiencing its natural beauty and wildlife, hearing from guest lecturers from universities, farms, and conservation workers, and visiting unique sustainable businesses in the tourism sector.

Cheesy and cliché though it may sound, spending a month studying in such an amazing country really did change my life. This trip invigorated me, and filled me with stronger convictions, a sense of purpose, and some much-welcomed optimism. Perhaps the biggest changes were, 1.) my views on what it means to be ‘sustainable’, as one would hope/expect would occur after taking an internationally-based course on the concept of sustainability, and 2.) my more general increased conviction in the belief that small, individual actions really DO make a difference, and that holding on to this belief isn’t just some optimistic ideal we tell ourselves to make us feel better; it is a powerful way of life which can shape individuals, communities, and the world.

I learned that “sustainability” is a complex issue, and that no matter what, humans will have an impact, but that sustainability isn’t just keeping humans from an area; rather, it’s maintaining the integrity of a system, allowing it to flourish and remain healthy for generations to come. I learned that sustainability is holistic, rather than solely focused on environmental science. Sustainability is about people, about community. Western society so often places economic priority over human wellbeing and happiness, and that is absurd. Yes, there are always trade-offs, but there don’t have to be “losers”; we can find solutions in which both sides can win. There are amazing people and amazing companies all over the world which genuinely care about the environment and their community, which have integrity, which stick to their values. A sustainable, environmentally-friendly, community-focused business or lifestyle isn’t idealistic, doesn’t ignore “reality”, but really and truly is possible.

Now, how exactly did all of these life-changing epiphanies happen? With regards to my outlook on sustainability, the course content was perhaps the biggest culprit. Specifically, readings which focused on human well-being as an element of sustainability, a Maori professor emphasizing stewardship and pointing out how economics have “hijacked” our discussions of how we can be sustainable, and some lively class debates, in which we represented different stakeholders in conservation issues, helped me re-define what it means to live sustainably. These all challenged the concepts and parameters I’d placed on sustainability, and forced me to reconsider how to be holistically, practically sustainable in our modern day-to-day life. And, as much as I hate to admit it, the assigned essays in which we had to discuss what it means to be sustainable in different contexts really helped me organize my thoughts and pinpoint my views.

As far as my sense of efficacy goes, it was a collection of truly inspiring experiences, of learning how so many sectors, private and public, of the New Zealand lifestyle are invested in conservation and sticking with their beliefs which led to this change- I’ll try and hit the highlights. These include the visits to multiple sustainable businesses, such as ZipTrek, a zip lining company which follows and teaches an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable business model. This helped me see that “business success” and “sustainability and moral values” weren’t mutually exclusive terms, as our society’s classic corporate tyrant trope would seem to suggest. We also visited a sheep farmer who is committed to making his living, but also to taking care of the land- this had a similar effect as the trip to ZipTrek, and was particularly heartening as it came from a sector (agriculture) which has traditionally been posed as an “enemy” of sustainability.

In addition, one of our course readings focused on the story of “The Guardians of Fiordland”, a diverse group of locals who put their personal interests aside to conserve the natural resources of Fiordland National Parks, and requested their appropriate, well thought-out legislation from the government. It was inspiring to hear of not only how successful their conservation efforts had been, but of how a group of people, from all different sectors and lines of life, came together of their own initiative and put their own interests aside for the greater good. Perhaps one of the most impactful experiences was the Maori cultural tour given to us by a Maori family in Kaikoura. This family-run business weaves the Maori ideals of integrity and stewardship into everything they do. Not only do they try to leave their guests with a message of care, kindness, community, and responsibility, but they fully practice these things. It was so incredibly inspiring to see a family so dedicated to their values, and to choose these values time and time again, even when circumstances were difficult.

To be fair, I do realize I likely had a rather biased view of New Zealand- the course itinerary took us to places where sustainability is an active part of the local or business agenda. However, I feel this doesn’t diminish the impact of the lessons I learned- the fact that people are out there doing such great things at all is enough to give me hope, especially when there are enough wonderful people and businesses to fill an entire month-long course on sustainability. These experiences have been so incredibly valuable and significant in my life already, and I truly believe they will continue to shape me and my outlook on life. I will strive to be more mindful of my actions, and more determined to make as much of a difference as I can, as my belief that I can indeed make a difference will empower me to do so. With all of my New Zealand lessons in mind, I have adventure-filled plans to make small changes, to get involved in my community, to continue to act with integrity, and to do my part to solve the piece of the global puzzle I’ve been given, both as a zoology student and a young woman- with the assurance that I am doing my part to make the world a better place.