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.