My STEP Signature Project was participating in a 5 week course at the Budapest Metropolitan University in Budapest, Hungary. We took many excursions to different parts of Hungary, Warsaw, Poland, and Vienna, Austria. This course gave an overview of central European history and current political standings of each country that we visited. This course concluded with each small group creating a multimedia project relating to something we had learned or wanted to research more about Hungary.
I had never even left the United States before this STEP experience, and neither had either of my parents. I have always been interested in world history and culture, but had never really had the opportunity to experience any of this for my self. That is why I was so interested in this particular study abroad opportunity. During the time leading up to my trip, I was very nervous to leave the country, and my family was even more nervous. Especially with recent events in Europe, spending 5 weeks abroad appeared to be a very scary adventure for me to undertake. This experience helped me to grow immensely as an independent young adult striving to learn more about the vast world around me. Through this experience, I had to learn to budget, speak up for myself (in another language on a totally different continent), and work for what things that I really want.
This experience was an amazing, expensive, but at the same time also priceless. Preparing for this trip was expensive itself, and there were a few times where I had to stop and think if this trip would actually be worth it. As I mentioned, I had never left the country and did not have a passport. Passports are expensive, but I got a necessary document that I should have as an adult. Budgeting and sitting down to assess my financial wellness really helped me out with all these little costs and of course the study abroad fee and plane ticket. I still regularly use some of the budgeting tools and techniques that I learned during this process.
Speaking up for yourself, and making decisions for yourself isn’t too difficult until you don’t speak or read the language. This challenge on top of the stereotype of the ugly American tourist can make things a little difficult in a foreign country. Having to be more assertive and more clear with what I want, are both strategies that I have brought back with me. I no longer wait for good things to just happen to me, but can ask and work for things that I want.
Lastly, this experience drastically changed my views of the world especially traveling to central Europe, of which we have many preconceived notions. Much of what we learn of central Europe is related to World War I and World War II, and much of this knowledge paints a picture of corruption, violence, and underdevelopment. Being immersed in a different culture for 5 weeks was an amazing experience that I will never forget. My eyes were opened to very different ways of interaction and very different lifestyles that I can now properly appreciate without the many preconceived notions that I held before.
These experiences have changed me more than I thought possible in just 5 weeks. My personal life and goals have been transformed to now include much more traveling in the future. After getting just a taste of the rest of the world, I cannot wait to taste and experience as much of it as I can in the next few years and beyond. My professional goals have also been transformed after this experience. Before this experience, I was a student majoring in English and Early Childhood Education hoping to be an elementary school teacher, maybe even a reading and literacy specialist. While in Europe I was introduced to multiple Americans who had been on similar paths in college, but had ended up teaching English as a second language in countries such as Spain, France, and Hungary. I usually met them while they were on weekend excursions because it is so easy to travel within Europe. Maybe not as a long-term career, but teaching English as a second language abroad is now one of my professional goals that would also allow me to travel and experience so much more of the world.