My STEP Signature Project was a six week study abroad program in Copenhagen, Denmark. I took two three credit hour classes through the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. The classes I took were The Social Brain: Neuropsychology of Social Behaviors, and Cognitive Neuroscience of Fear.
This study abroad experience was one of the most impactful experiences in my life up to date. The reason I chose this program was because it was relevant to my major, and I only had minimal knowledge on Scandinavian culture. Not only did I learn in the classroom, for classes that counted towards both my majors, but it also taught me how to live independently in a foreign country, a country that has now become one of my favorite areas in the world. It also showed me how to be more culturally competent, especially when traveling to places I know close to nothing about.
I knew only a couple of people from OSU going on the same trip, but for the most part I had to do everything independently. This scared me a little because I can be a very dependent person, and with living in Ohio my entire life, I was never far from home and would always lean on family and friends. With the support of my family and peers, I embarked on this journey alone, which was frightening at times, but it also taught me a lot about self-sufficiency, especially in a foreign culture. Whether it be traveling to a different part of the country by myself, or having to deal with a stolen bike, it was definitely a growing experience having to handle everything independently. Even coming back from my study abroad, I definitely view myself as being more independent and less reliant on others, which for me is good because I tend to be an extremely dependent person. Living in Scandinavia for six weeks was the longest I have been away from home in my entire life, and it was a growing experience that I needed to have.
The curriculum of my two classes aligned well with my studies in Neuroscience and Psychology at Ohio State. During the first class on social psychology, we were asked to observe Danish behavior and part of our assignment was to interact with locals. This really helped me get out of my comfort zone and meet new people native to the area. It also helped with tying in understanding a new culture while also learning in the classroom. I have traveled to Western Europe, so I assumed it would be fairly similar. However, I was definitely surprised to learn how separated and homogenous the Scandinavian region is compared to the rest of Europe. I was mildly afraid of how race and lack of diversity would contribute to my experience, as it has to my other travel experiences, and I was shocked by how welcomed I felt by the local people. I talked extensively to different Danish people about their perception of foreigners, and gathered information about the historicity of the region. After assessing all of my observations and interactions with the people of Denmark, I gained a greater understanding of the dynamics of the country, which proved my preconceived assumptions as false. Along with meeting the Scandinavian locals, I also got the chance to meet and learn about other students around the United States from different colleges. Honestly, this was also a slight culture shock, as I never interact much with other college students around the country often. Their perception of the culture varied from mine, and we all compared different viewpoints and observations. Overall, this was a twofold cultural learning experience for me.
During the fifth week of my study abroad program, Our Cognitive Neuroscience of Fear class took a study tour to Munich, Germany, so now I was studying abroad while studying abroad. This part of the trip was the most impactful for me because we toured different research facilities and met with different Neuroscience researchers. After graduation, I dream of getting a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, so meeting these professionals and reviewing their research was a phenomenal experience for me. The presenters discussed a program offered in Munich, which definitely piqued my interest for the future. Each assignment challenged me academically, while also serving as a reminder for my career goals.
Throughout the trip, I had a lot of different conversations with Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian locals that taught me what a textbook about Scandinavia could not. A specific interaction that stuck out to me was when I was on a eight hour train ride traveling to the northern part of Denmark. My friends and I sat with a Danish person, and talked to him the entire time about cultural differences and perceptions of our respective homelands. I learned a lot about Danish mannerisms, and he even gave us lessons on how to speak the language! Something that he said that was interesting to me is that everyone in Scandinavia is expected to speak English, which is something that us Americans take for granted. Everyone can speak our language, but most times we cannot reciprocate that. Denmark to me seemed like a dream country, but America to him seemed very unrealistic and magical to him (although most Danish people I talked to had no idea what Ohio was and only knew of New York City and Disneyland). This casual interaction, among many that I had with the locals, impacted my perception of the culture greatly, and taught me about the Danish way of life.
Since Denmark is close to other European countries, my friend and I decided to travel on different weekends to other countries briefly. We ventured to Sweden and The Netherlands, just us two for each trip. Each trip was amazing and a new experience for me, but the planning processes were complicated, and many problems arose along the way. I have never traveled to another country with just a friend, so I had to make sure I planned everything precisely, while also keeping up with academics. Keeping up with budgeting and all of the logistics of each stay was tiring, but worth it at the end. It was yet another time I was forced to rely on just myself to avoid any blunders or mishaps while we traveled. In the end, each trip was amazing and worth all of the detail planning. Not only did I sightsee and learn about more countries and cultures, but I also had to organize, travel, and plan independently.
Throughout the trip, I had memorable experiences and created lifelong bonds with other OSU students, students from different colleges, and local Danish people. I also was reminded of what I want to pursue as a career through the different academic tours offered by the Study Abroad program. I also gained valuable experience regarding independence, whether it was living by myself in a foreign place, or planning and different trips in order to get more out of my Study Abroad experience. I can confidently say that I this was the most rewarding experience I have had in my lifetime. Moving forward, this study abroad experience has definitely impacted me positively and I am grateful that I decided to embark on this journey with the help of the STEP program.