St. Petersburg – Summer 2017

This summer, I had the pleasure of spending eight long weeks in Russia to do an intensive study of language and culture. I travelled with a third-party group, named the Council on International Education and Exchange. I studied full time at St. Petersburg State University with other American and British/Irish students while living with a Russian host family.

My understanding of this country and language, which I have previously studied the past few years, completely changed after this summer. First of all, I learned to have no expectations when going into a foreign situation like mine. Even though I went through culture shock debriefings and orientations through my program, nothing can really prepare you for what you will experience abroad. I had some preconceived notions of what to expect as far as cultural norms went, but, as is everywhere in the world, every person and situation is different. When considering understanding myself, I believe I reconfirmed my ambitions and reached my goals for my trip.

On the topic of understanding the culture itself, my experience basically guaranteed I would come out of it with a whole new worldview. Being especially in one of America’s top (political) adversary countries, I was enlightened to gain perspectives of average citizens there. It taught me that people have the same basic desires out of their leaders everywhere, and we are not all so different. The rhetoric that is taught to us through mass media often contains a lot of oversight in order to outline a clear enemy.

The overarching aspect of my project that led me to these conclusions was being fully immersed into the culture. Living with an average Russian family, studying at a Russian university with Russian professors, and fending for myself in society in general forced me to gain the tools to effectively communicate and understand the people with whom I was dealing. Unlike a lot of Western European countries, English is only spoken by a minority of younger people, often with the skill level that most students acquire from studying Spanish in the US in high school. Living with a family that did not understand any of my native language forced me to work 24/7 to improve my fluency to be able to effectively communicate to them my ideas and feelings in a complex fashion.

Everyday situations on the street usually helped to bring cultural understandings to my awareness. For example, one does not simply smile and say hello to people they do not know out of “politeness;” Russians view this as being superficial and unnecessary. I quickly learned this through the odd stares I received when I did this. Another example is the cultural idea of openness, where once acquainted with somebody, not many questions are considered inappropriate. Oftentimes in bars and cafes, others would become interested upon realization that we were Americans and draw up conversations on politics, which in America is usually seen as inappropriate, especially not being previously acquainted with the person. It is also through this, though, that I learned how similar-thinking the people were; drawing clear distinctions between how our governments operate and the political atmospheres with how everyday people felt about each others’ peoples.

These realizations are incredibly important to my education and my general worldview. I had sat in a classroom here in Ohio for three years learning about this culture and speaking this language to the same people. I neededthis type of experience to get this taste of true understanding. Coming back to school here and sitting in class learning about it again, my eyes are opened to my experiences and how I can use them every day. In general, it gave me a huge desire to travel more and become a more worldly person in general. I would whole-heartedly advocate for every person to spend time in another part of the world, as it is incredibly important to see that our way of life is not always the most perfect, and to be open to differences in people.


Iberian Nights: Family, Heat, and Castles

Picture it: Sicily 1936

Picture it: Spain 2017

A handsome young man in his early twenties disembarks from a flight in Madrid. As he steps outside to inhale the Spanish air the heat parches his throat and causes sweat to cascade from his brow. With his luggage in hand he hails a taxi to carry him to Toledo. Stepping out of the cab he looks around and takes in the ancient city. Beautiful stone towers reach towards the sky, a great wall surrounds the city, and the Tajo river wraps around the wall giving Toledo the appearance of a city straight out of Game of Thrones.

I literally sometimes pretended that I was in the world of Game of Thrones! (Fun fact: Some parts of the show were actually filmed in Spain.)

I’m guessing you’ve figured by now that the aforementioned handsome young man is moi. This summer I spent a month and a half studying Spanish literature, art, and culture at the Fundacion Jose Ortega y Gasset. The purpose of my project was to experience life in a culture different from my own. I wasn’t expecting such a culture shock. I always figured that outside of language there wouldn’t be a significant difference between the way most Americans and most Spaniards live. An example is that Spaniards have a different concept of personal space when talking with someone. It was not uncommon for them to stand really close while conversing and I had to actively resist the urge to take a step back and create more space. I also had problems with confidence in my Spanish speaking abilities. Until this past summer, most of the interactions I’d had with Spanish came in the form of a class room lecture or a book. I was presented with very few opportunities to use the language naturally and in a relaxed setting like home.

I also learned a valuable lesson about family. Families seem to be a lot closer in Spain. Instead of staying at the Fundacion I decided to stay with a host family. I had a mamá, Angeles, and a papá, Luis. They also had a son that lives in Madrid that I met once and a daughter that I often saw at the house, although she and her boyfriend had a house of their own. There were constantly guest that flowed in and out of the house every week and although the three bedroom apartment wasn’t the largest, there was always room for family. Late night dinners were always a family affair, with everyone gathering around the table laughing, joking, and jubilantly shouting so quickly that I sometimes struggled to keep up with the conversation. I learned the beautiful lesson about keeping family close and always making time and space to commune with one another.

My study abroad experience and the STEP program have offered me the opportunity to meet the incredible people that I have. It’s also allowed me to see a part of the world that had only existed in the form of maps and books and movies. Being able to travel to cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, and Malaga (my favorite destination) has been a transformative experience. I feel like a better world citizen and a more well-rounded student. I had a chance to experience first-hand the beauties and troubles of Spain and its people. This study abroad trip was an amazing experience. Go Bucks!

P.S. Hold on to your phones and wallets in Barcelona and Madrid.

*To see more pictures from my Iberian adventure follow me on Instagram @rtj_1996


Ohio State Australia and New Zealand Leadership Adventure

My signature project entailed a trip to Australia and New Zealand. The trip had an outdoor theme so we went on lots of hikes, chose from unique activities, and got to explore an entire new world.

My understanding of the world definitely changed as a result of this trip. It made me feel a sense of how little I have seen in this large world. I have been out of the country before, but Australia and New Zealand just seemed like their own little worlds. Seeing all of the different sites in these countries made me realize something. As people, we often trap ourselves in our little world we call the United States, but we don’t venture elsewhere because maybe it is too expensive, not enough time or whatever excuse. I realized that after this trip how much I have often trapped myself by making several different excuses and not experiencing these great attractions in person.

In Australia, I was able to see many different unique scenes which included the Great Barrier Reef and the Sydney Opera House The feeling of being in countries like Australia and New Zealand was out of this world. Animals only seen in aquariums as a little kid, appeared right before my eyes. It was definitely an awakening. The Sydney Opera House was a whole new story. I knew it existed because I was finding Nemo, but I wasn’t able to completely grasp its shape or size until I saw it for myself. The way that the Sydney Opera House lit up the night sky is still embedded in the back of my mind.

New Zealand was similar to Australia but had several differences. First, the nature felt much different. When walking in New Zealand, it felt like the area was much less civilized. This was extremely apparent in one of our first stops, Doubtful Sound. The area we were at felt like it was in the middle of nowhere. However, when the sky turned dark and I looked up I saw some of the brightest stars I had ever seen since there was much less light pollution. The stars that I saw still awe me to this day. Another site that was awe inspiring was Lake Wanaka. As a group, we all went kayaking on the lake and it was one of the clearest lakes that I had ever seen. As we all paddled, the ripples on our paddles just seemed to disappear into nothing.

There were 24 people in total who went on this trip and not a single one gave me trouble. That is incredible. The interactions and relations I formed on this trip I hope will last a lifetime. Our group had so much fun, and I believe all of us got along with each other despite our different career paths we chose. I think I learned how to play three different card games as everyone was so helpful and understanding of one another. I have been on several group trips, but I think this is by far one of the best groups of people that I have had the honor of collaborating with on countries halfway across the world.

The transformation that this trip has bought me matters significantly as someone who has one year left of school. I now know that have 23 extra people in this world who would have my back in the very least, but I think I experienced a great deal more than just 23 extra friends. I got to see places that only a handful of people in this world have gotten to experience.

Most people only have pictures or videos of what might possibly go on in Australia and New Zealand, but they don’t know what it feels like to stand and look up at the Sydney Opera house. They don’t know what it feels like to snorkel and look down at a clown-fish. They don’t know what it feels like to look up at a clear sky and see more stars than they ever could have imagined. I think these feelings mean something, and I hope they will bring me good fortune in the years to come.

STEP in Madrid

For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by cultures that are different from my own and the ability to speak multiple languages. As an aspiring medical professional, I knew how crucial it would be for me to gain cultural competency and an appreciation for others’ cultures. As a result, when I was designing my STEP signature project, I wanted to combine these two personal objectives and immerse myself into another culture’s way of life. For my project, I chose to study Spanish language and culture in Madrid, Spain for approximately six weeks through an OSU approved third party provider called, ISA. In Madrid, I enrolled in an intensive Spanish program at a Spanish University where I took Spanish language courses for 20+ hours a week while living with a host family.

Going to Spain, I knew I was going to change as an individual, but I could not predict how is transformation would take place and the role it would have on myself. On the first day of orientation, the director of the program told me that I would never return back to America as the same person and I fully believe this statement. Being abroad, meeting new people, and gaining new perspectives is an extraordinary opportunity that helps you define who are and role that we individual play as human beings in society. My STEP project allowed me to develop independence, faith, confidence, and a deeper appreciation for human differences. More important, I learned how to slow down and live life.

Growing up as a military kid, I always believed that I was an independent individual. Due to my parents’ careers, I was used to taking care of myself and taking the initiative to achieve personal objectives. However, traveling abroad to Madrid allowed me to see independence from a different perspective. The independence I had was always supportive by the safety net of my family and friends. These individuals were all people whom I could consult for opinions regarding difficult situations or when a plan went awry.

However, as I traveled throughout Spain solo, I began to re-conceptualize the idea of independence. The challenge of navigating a large city such as on my own without cellular data was daunting. For the first time, my parents and friends were not a phone call away. But, the process of learning how to gather the courage to use my limited Spanish to ask strangers for directions allowed me to grow faith and confidence within myself. This exposure to independence and growth in confidence continued as I immersed myself into my Spanish institution where I had to make new friends, adjust to a new life style, and learn a new language.

This experience not only allowed me to develop independence, but I learned how to live life fully. One of the first things I noticed in Spain was the change in pace. My Spanish host family and friends truly to cherished every moment they spent with their family and friends. While abroad, I never felt pressured or rushed to get somewhere or to meet someone. The realization that work was driven to allowed people to live their lives became especially salient. This starkly contrasted to my Asian-American culture where one’s life is defined by one’s work. Having a constant reminder to enjoy the present has allowed me to achieve a better work-life balance as a student and aspiring professional. It also helped me realize that I had allowed my academic and professional ambitions dictate a large portion of my life.

Finally, having the opportunity to practice my Spanish with locals allowed me to learn to accept failures and mistakes. Throughout my life, I considered myself a perfectionist and lived up to this image where I always had to succeed. However, while partaking in “intercambios,” or conversational exchanges, with my new friends and host family, it became salient that failure and trying again are crucial components of the learning process. At first, I was extremely discouraged and embarrassed to continually make small mistakes. However, it began to see each mistake as an opportunity to improve! These are lessons that I am planning to actively apply to my academic, professional, and personal life.

My STEP project became a personal project to me that I am so thankful I have been given the opportunity to engage it. This experience has been valuable to me because it allowed me to develop in ways that would not have been possible if I had remained within my comfort bubble on campus. I am now more eager and prepared to engage in opportunities that seem daunting as first, especially as a woman of color. I am no longer scared of failure because it is an opportunity to become a better version of myself and learn. I know I am capable of being independent and executing my goals. These are all qualities that will build me to become a strong student and professional candidate.

STEP Experience in Costa Rica

I spent my summer in Costa Rica as part of my STEP signature project. For the first month, I took Spanish classes at the Universidad Latina in Heredia and for the second month I volunteered at a nursing home as part of a service learning program.

During my time in Costa Rica, I learned a lot about the world around me. Although I have traveled before, this was my first time being abroad for an extended period of time. Culture in Costa Rica is different from the United States in certain ways. I felt like the lifestyle was more relaxed, almost more informal. I learned about “tico time”, and how it is normal to often be late even in professional settings. In Costa Rica, I learned to live a more relaxed, less stressful life. I learned to be flexible with time and plans, and to quickly adapt to change. I think these lessons will be very beneficial when I come home, as my life in Columbus is usually very fast paced. I think after this experience, I have learned to better adapt to stress and change and I think this will serve me well at home.

I had two primary goals in Costa Rica: learn the language and study the healthcare system. As a Spanish major, this was my first extended period of time in a Spanish speaking country. Going into the trip, I thought/hoped my transformative experience would be mastering a language I have been trying to learn for twelve years now. Instead my transformative experience, I would argue, was learning how to get by. I did not come home from Costa Rica a fluent Spanish speaker. I still had to conjugate the perfect tenses painfully slowly in my head, I still didn’t understand other people when they talked too fast, and I still got confused in slang heavy conversations. I did however, learn to embrace the struggle. As for the second goal, my time in a Costa Rica nursing home changed the way I looked at certain aspects of public health, medicine, and palliative care. I was exposed to a set of struggles, the idea of inevitably losing oneself, that I had not really thought about before.

Studying Spanish in Costa Rica reinforced the value of speaking a second language. I think talking to people in their native language facilitates deeper, more meaningful connections. I tried to communicate only in Spanish while in Costa Rica, and I found that even people who spoke perfect English always preferred to communicate with me in Spanish even if it slowed down the conversation. I think the world is becoming more global and it is important to speak more than one language, to be able to communicate and connect with people from all over the world, especially as the demographics of the United States are changing and Spanish is becoming a much more prevalent language.My goal was to attain fluency in Costa Rica and I don’t think I have reached that level yet, but I am close and will keep working towards that goal. However, I did learn a lesson in resiliency. Learning a new language is difficult. Sometimes the taxi drivers would get angry, when after the third try, I could not explain where I wanted to go. Sometimes a 10 minute walk turned into an hour long walk because we didn’t understand the directions. Sometimes I boarded the wrong bus, ordered the wrong food, or went to the wrong place. Being used to a place where I speak the primary language made me forget how debilitating losing certain basic skills can feel. I had to learn to take things in stride, to worry less if I was going to be late or if I missed a bus. Not because I lacked responsibility but because learning is a process. As time went on I learned to adjust- to time the buses, recognize the friendly drivers, use landmarks on the streets. However, I learned that it is okay to be lost, to not always know where I am or what I am doing. I didn’t have to have all the answers– that’s why I was there in the first place. Taking a step back was an important and transformative lesson for me.

Working at the nursing home, I became aware of many of the challenges faced by elderly people both at an individual and societal level. I think I have come back to the United States with a new, reinforced respect for language and I am very motivated to keep studying Spanish and improving.

I formed several very important relationships during my study abroad that helped me transform during my time in Costa Rica. I had the opportunity to do a homestay with a Costa Rican family. Our accommodations were humble, and my family was just my host mother but immediately I knew I had met a special person. When my host mother came to pick me up from the bus station, her car was too small to fit all of our luggage, and she had me sit on her lap on the way home. This small, kind of silly gesture, quickly broke the ice and made me feel like I was already part of her family. Some days when I was struggling with personal problems or felt homesick, I knew I could always rely on my host mom to give me advice and comfort. She only spoke Spanish so my Spanish improved very quickly while living with her. When I ate dinner she always came and sat at the table with me so I did not have to eat alone, and we discussed everything. We talked about our families, politics, hopes, and dreams. Margarita always made me feel welcome in her home, and I will always be grateful to her for that. She was an important part of my experience in Costa Rica and I hope to stay in touch with her now that I have come home. At the end of my Costa Rica trip, my mom came to visit me. One of my favorite memories is when my real mom got to meet my Costa Rican mom, because I felt like two very important people in my life were meeting each other.

Another important experience during my study abroad was taking classes at a Costa Rican university. While the instruction style was not very different from my classes here in the US, my professors were native speakers who were used to teaching classes in Spanish as the first language of their students. They spoke faster and used more complex vocabulary than my professors here. I was able to take a pronunciation class that significantly improved how I sounded when I spoke. Since Spanish is not my primary major at Ohio State, sometimes during the school year, I cannot give priority to my Spanish classes. As a result, sometimes I feel like I did not give my best effort in my classes at Ohio State. In Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to only focus on learning Spanish and I was able to put full effort into my classes. As a result, I got much more out of my classes. I felt like I learned more about both Latin American culture through my literature class and greatly improved my spoken Spanish through my phonetics class.

For the second month I spent in Costa Rica, I worked in a public nursing home. This was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I had both in my study abroad and in my life. Most of the residents where I worked did not have close family or friends. Many were there simply because they had nowhere else to go, and felt lonely and abandoned. Most of the residents suffered from some level of physical or mental incapacitation. Most used wheelchairs or walkers to move around. Many suffered from Alzheimers or dementia, and many were depressed. This was a challenging environment to work in, as I witnessed a lot of suffering on a day to day basis. Aging can be difficult, and when people lack support from the ones they love, it is even more difficult. Yet, in this space, the elderly loved seeing us, and were excited to talk to me everyday. I helped them with their physical therapy and served meals at the nursing home, but during my free time I was able to read to them and listen to them tell their stories. I had the privilege of listening to a wealth of stories, of incredible lives and experiences, and I could not help but be saddened that these stories were on the cusp of being lost. I returned to the United States with a newfound respect for the wisdom of the elderly, but also aware of the unique sets of challenges elderly people face. They are a vulnerable, and unfortunately, often marginalized community and I believe our society has a responsibility to take better care of them.

I want to be a physician. As we continue researching the dynamics between clinical practice, public health, and socioeconomic determinants on patient outcomes, it is becoming more and more apparent that patients are healthier when treated at patient centered practices by culturally competent physicians. Given the demographics of the United States, I think it is especially important to understand Latin American perspectives on health and to be able to communicate with patients in their native language. Studying Spanish and learning about healthcare structure and attitudes toward patient care in Costa Rica will help me better understand patients from this part of the world. I hope to take the medical translation licensing exam for Spanish when I graduate so that I will be able to communicate with my patients without a translator.

My experiences in Costa Rica have broadened my world view and helped me better understand a different language and culture. I am very grateful I had the opportunity to participate in this transformative experience.

STEP Reflection

For my STEP project, I chose to study abroad in Chile for a month and a half. During this time, I lived with a host family and attended classes at PUCV, the city’s university. While in Chile, I got to enjoy two of the things I love most: travel and nature. I was able to meet new people and experience a different culture as I traveled the county’s diverse landscape of mountains, oceans, and deserts. Yet, even after a month and a half in the country—more time than I had ever been abroad previously—it was still not enough. When it came time to leave, I felt like I had barely scraped the surface.

Despite this feeling, my time in Chile was transformational, especially in respect to my understanding of global interactions. Personally, the most surprising part was the amount I learned about our own country, the United States. It is sometimes said that the winners are the ones who write history. After being in Chile, I completely agree. Although I am a Spanish major, being in Chile, in my classes and interactions with locals, I felt like I was learning about Latin American history for the first time in my life. I had heard about some of the major events and people before—Pinochet, Allende, the coup in Chile, and Operation Condor—yet never understood their significance to Latin America nor the role that the United States had in these events. Through my STEP project, I discovered a whole new perspective of the United States, another side to the story. From my Chilean professors and family, I heard about the United State’s pattern of interference in Latin America. Unfortunately, this pattern often consisted in the US interfering for its own benefit (under the guise of anti-leftist governments such as communism or Marxism) at the expense of Latin American countries.

Before Chile, I had little idea of why countries would dislike the United States or that such sentiments could be so potent. After, I am both knowledgeable and aware of these feelings and can understand their origins. I feel that I am more politically and culturally aware and have a more global perspective on how the actions of our countries can affect others.

There are a few central events and people that led to this transformation. First and foremost, the classes that I took in Chile really helped to broaden my perspective on interactions between the United States and South America. The two classes that I took were the Sociopolitical History of Latin America and Human Rights in Latin America. Between the two, I was able to hear Chile’s side of history and learned a lot about our own country.

One of the more surprising things I learned was the role the United States played in helping to overthrow Salvador Allende and in Pinochet’s rise to power. For those who are unfamiliar with the situation, Salvador Allende was a socialist president elected in 1970. Three years later, he was overthrown in a coup that led to the rule of Pinochet—a dictator of 17 years responsible for thousands of disappearances and death. Although I had heard these names previously, I never realized the gravity of the situation. I discovered that the US took drastic measurements, such as stopping almost all economic aid to Chile, in order to combat Allende’s socialist government. I also found out that the United States interference with Chile was not isolated; it is one of many instances in which the US has worked against “the evil” of leftist governments (communism, Marxism, etc). Unfortunately, like Chile, many of these efforts led to dictatorships and unlawful rule.

After learning all of this, I realized that my knowledge of history has been completely one-sided. I have only ever really heard the United State’s version, which seems to have skipped over these not so great details. Moreover, these experiences made me question some of my views/beliefs about leftist governments. Although I still believe democracy is the best option, I now see that those types of governments are not necessarily as dangerous or terrible as I had thought.

I know that, so far, my account of my STEP project may seem dismal—learning about the not so great history of the US and Latin America. This is because this knowledge was the transformational part of my experience. Before going, I thought that I wanted to travel and teach English in foreign countries after graduation; my trip confirmed this. Seeing the beauty of Chile and interacting with locals made me positive that traveling is something I want to do throughout my entire life and career. Though this confirmation was reassuring, it was not a change. Instead, I was transformed by the Chilean account of history. Discovering how the United States interfered in Chile and other South American countries and, more importantly, the result of these interferences gave me a new perspective on our country and world interactions. It made me more conscious of the United State’s role as a global power and how our country affects others, especially developing countries. As I move past college, I will use this knowledge to search for careers. After I teach English abroad for a few years, I plan to return to the US. Knowing this history makes me interested in working in some type of foreign affairs or for the government so I may be able to make a stand against these types of actions in the future.

Living in Tel Aviv

For my STEP Project, I studied abroad at Tel Aviv University for Spring Semester 2017. During the semester, I lived in a residence hall at Tel Aviv University and studied with international students from around the world. Once the semester ended, I decided to extend my time in Israel and worked an internship with the Tel Aviv Municipality Board of Tourism.

My time in Tel Aviv changed my perspective on many issues and themes. Because Tel Aviv is such an international city, I felt connections to a broader international community in a way I did not before. I thought about the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world. I further explored how the world relates to Israel and strengthened my opinions about what Israel means to me.

I made friends from many countries around the world. I heard their assumptions, opinions, and knowledge about the United States which allowed me to think more deeply into my role as an American citizen in the world and about how the U.S. affects the world. Comparing countries, cultures, and customs made me think further about this. Being surrounded by people with so many opinions about Israel also affected me. I was able to engage with people of many backgrounds in order to have conversations.

Being in Israel may be considered a risk, at least by some. Terrorism is relatively frequent and conflict arises. However, during my time there, only once incident occurred in Tel Aviv. Many more things happened around the world and reading the news of this both saddened me but also reminded me that Israel is not portrayed accurately in the media. At one point, I was taking a small trip to Paris. I told my Hebrew teacher that I would be missing a day of class, and she immediately became worried for me. “Be careful,” she said. “So much happens in Paris. It’s not safe.” Clearly, such perspectives depend on your own situation. Many people at home asked my mom if she was scared for me to be in Israel. I told my mom on the phone multiple times that if anything ever happened to me in Israel, it would be the result of a bike knocking me down on the sidewalk (since riding on the sidewalk is all too common).

I had a sense of independence in Israel that I enjoyed immensely. Public transportation is extensive and Tel Aviv is walkable. I traveled all over the country, to cities such as Jerusalem, Tiberias, and Haifa. In total, I lived there for six months. In this time, I felt that I adjusted in many ways. I was comfortable spending time on my own. During the summer, I lived in apartments in Tel Aviv and was in the heart of the city. I used Hebrew as much as possible. I got used to needing to be as assertive as possible for Israeli culture.

I learned, through my transformation, that I can adjust to living in a different country. This is important for me because I am majoring in International Relations and do not know where I will end up one day. I want to be open to living outside of the U.S. I also learned that I can live with and be surrounded by people from other countries and cultures well. Overall, this experience further helped me internationalize my undergraduate career and I look forward to seeing how this will affect me more in the future.



My Summer in København

My STEP Signature Project entailed an education abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark for the whole summer. I took three classes, traveled to eight countries, and made some lifelong friendships along the way. Over the summer, my confidence soared and I spent those 11 weeks getting to know the most important person, myself.

While completing my project, my view of myself changed entirely. It sounds so cliché, but I left America as a girl and came back a woman. I watched myself take risks and yet at the same time, I learned my limits. I took on the role of leader, supporter, navigator, and problem solver. My view of the world also went under construction while I was abroad. I learned that the smallest things make the biggest difference, especially when it comes to the environment. I realized how important it is to be eco-friendly and take care of the earth as well as each other. I also learned what it’s like to live as a Dane, Spaniard, Catalan, and Finn through my classes abroad. In Belgium, I learned the importance of safety, especially as a woman. I experienced what it’s like to be a target in a foreign country and how to escape a dangerous situation, which really opened my eyes to reality.

When I first stepped into what would be my house for the next 10 weeks, the light turned on, literally. Every room in my apartment had motion-censored lighting that turned on/off in order to save energy. Air conditioning? Not really a thing in Europe. It’s seen as a huge energy waster and simply opening a window produces air-circulation. The Danes also love to drink alcohol and it’s not uncommon to see people walking around the city sipping a cold one. This produces a lot of cans and glass bottles, which are often collected by the homeless. They then take their collected items to a nearby grocery store where they receive cashback. In addition, a third of all Danish people bike to work everyday, which reduces air pollution and decreases obesity rates. This made me realize all the things we could be doing in the U.S. I realize our population is much larger, but if each and every person made small changes, the earth would truly be a better place.

To celebrate the first week of classes being over, some girl friends and I traveled to Brussels, Belgium. Although I overall loved the trip and the country, we experienced more than the catcalls and whistling. We were hunted down in a metro car and chased after in broad daylight by several men. I felt like prey in a sea of predators. I often felt unsafe and disgusted by the way men looked at us. It was disheartening that as a woman, I was in constant fear of being harassed and it affected me in the long-term more than I thought it would. However, this made me realize the seriousness of sexual harassment and how scary it can truly be. I gained confidence in my ability to trust my gut and learned how to spot a predator. Finally, it showed me that this study abroad was going to have both ups and downs. Most importantly, I realized that I am a grown 21-year old woman, capable of overcoming any obstacles.

My internal transformations stemmed from the total independence that I had. Copenhagen is the biking capital of the world and I immersed myself in that culture. I biked everywhere and anywhere at anytime of the day or night. This gave me a lot of freedom and confidence in myself. I formed incredible relationships with my flatmates in the 10 weeks we spent together. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so close to people in such a short amount of time in my life. We planned spontaneous trips to Belgium, France, and Norway. We ate our weight in pasta, had dance parties in our airbnbs, and got to know each other on a deeper level. We frequented Tivoli, Copenhagen’s amusement park, weekly, biked to the coast, and drove electric cars to Denmark’s cliffs. We were a flock of free birds, exploring a new city as well as ourselves.

Of course though, this was an education abroad, and boy did I become educated. I was enrolled in the psychology of human sexuality, food & identity, and child development: theory and practice. I could talk for days about how much I learned, but in short, I learned how food reflects culture, that sexuality is on a spectrum, and that children shouldn’t be treated lesser than adults. From sailing the Mediterranean while eating traditional Catalonian food to using nonverbal communication to interact with Finnish kindergarteners, I gained an appreciation of cultural diversity. The classroom settings were always so open and warm, making me feel comfortable to participate more than I usually do in class. This gave me confidence to voice my opinion in a safe place among friends.

Change is like time, it cannot be stopped. When I started college, I made decisions and went down paths that molded, as well as surprised me. Likewise, when I went on this study abroad, I never imagined to have transformed as much as I have. I’m more confident, assertive, and independent that I’ve ever been before. This kind of change is so significant to me because I now feel like I can really take on my last year of undergrad. I feel confident in myself academically in terms of taking the GRE and applying to grad school. I feel confident in myself personally in that I no longer fear embarrassment or failure. I know who I am and where I see myself going, but at the same time, I welcome change with open arms. I’m not scared anymore because I know things always work out for the best. It’s true what people say about studying abroad, it can change your life and I’m proof of that.


Chilling in Chile: Reflections for STEP

My STEP signature project consisted of an absolutely amazing trip to Valparaíso, Chile. I lived in Viña del Mar with a host family and studied at Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso for a month. After a month of taking classes, I got the chance to do Service Learning for a month as well. I was placed in Instituto Chileno Norteamericano, which is an English language institute and cultural center in Valparaíso. I helped in the classes, held English language conversation sessions for the students, did tutoring sessions, and even got to lead my own workshop where I taught basic Mandarin Chinese. My experience living abroad has shown me many things about myself, my future goals, and about the world in general.

Most importantly, my trip abroad proved that I am capable of living and working abroad. I always thought that that was what I wanted to do, but now I am completely sure of it. I was worried that I would show up in Chile and realize that I had made a huge mistake, but that’s not what happened at all. I felt like I fit right in. My Spanish was sufficient enough to hold conversations with natives without much of a problem, I loved both Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, and I got along with the staff at the Institute really well. However, this experience did make me realize that I still have things to work on with my Spanish as well as my ability to teach English. This realization wasn’t discouraging though, it gave me hope for the future knowing that I can always learn something new, even about topics that I have studied for quite some time.

Working at the Institute was the game changer in my trip. My experience there was what made me realize that I still have some work to do, but overall my goals for the future are very much in my reach. I basically got to live the life of myself from the future. I used the subway, got to know the area around the institute extremely well, made friends with my colleagues, and thoroughly enjoyed my time in the English classes. During this time, I was living life like any Chilean would. Where I was felt like home. It truly felt like I lived there and not like I was just on a short trip. Seeing that I can get used to a new place confirmed that I do really want to live abroad in the future.

However, before I can teach English abroad in the future, I will have to get a TESOL or TEFL license. The thought of having to be taught how to teach your own language sounded absolutely ridiculous to me, but my time at the institute proved to me that that training was actually necessary. There would be times when a student or a fellow teacher would ask me a super specific question about the English language and I wouldn’t know the answer right off hand. Being a native speaker, I just perform all of these super complicated grammar rules and structures without thinking about it, so their questions would catch me off guard. Half of the time my answer would be something along the lines of, “I don’t know why we say it that way, but we do…” Also, there are some terms that they use to describe English grammar patterns that I just flat out do not know. I never learned those terms because I picked up English naturally and I was never in a language learning classroom for English. In some respects, I was out of my depth. I spoke the language, but I didn’t have the knowledge to explain certain things. I have gained a new respect for TESOL and TEFL training that I did not have before.

As for the world in general, I have come to realize that everyone, even those from different countries and backgrounds, is so similar to each other. There may be some tiny cultural differences and of course different languages, but people are just people. Cultural differences shouldn’t be a dividing factor because we are way more similar than we are different. There was one night in particular where this realization hit me hard.

On that particular night, my Chilean friend, Jorge, was taking me to meet his other friends. We went to an event at the botanical gardens and then ended up at a video game bar. One of his friends looked at me and asked, “Is it weird for you to be in a bar to play video games?” I just laughed because I knew my friends back at home would have absolutely loved that place. We go to very similar places in the U.S. As the night went on I realized more and more that the group of people I was with would get along so well with my friends from the states. They have similar personalities, they like similar things and they have the same sense of humor. At one point in the night I thought to myself, “How on earth did I find the exact SAME group of people only in a different country??” People are just people.

My trip also made me realize how lucky I am to live in the United States. Of course, the US is in no way a perfect country. We have our problems just like every other country, but judging from what I saw in Chile, our problems are on a different level than the problems that Chile and other countries are facing, especially regarding issues such as poverty and education. The US has some problems in these areas as well, but not to the extent that I saw in Chile. The US is a first world country, and sometimes we forget what that really means.

In Chile, there is a huge problem with the distribution of wealth. So, we would see a city made up of just shacks made out of scrap metal on one side of the road, and then on the other side of the road we see a huge developed, modern, city. The contrast was shocking. Also, in grocery stores there was an option to have a payment plan for your grocery bill, so families don’t have to pay a huge bill all at once. The community has adapted to the level of poverty that is all around them. We are very lucky to live in a first world country where most cities are modern cities and not just made up of shacks.

Another issue that was brought to my attention in Chile were the problems with their education system. Good education in Chile is really expensive, so the huge gap between the rich and the poor shows in education as well. The free public schools do not provide quality education. The teachers slack because they aren’t paid well and there are sometimes up to 50 kids in one class. With this kind of environment, the kids in those schools have no chance of competing with kids with a private school education for scholarships in the future. The education system is not fair to everyone. Multiple colleagues of mine at the institute told me stories about teaching in public schools and about how terrible it was for them. Quality education is truly a privilege that we take for granted in the states.

The combination of all of these revelations and experiences made my trip to Chile a truly transformational experience. Everything that I learned in Chile is relevant to my professional goals and will help me tremendously in the future. Now that I have lived abroad and have done the job that I was hoping to have, I know that that is what I want to do in the future. Also, this trip has brought back my excitement of language learning and teaching, so now I am looking forward to improving my Spanish and also improving my English teaching abilities through a TESOL of TEFL program. I also gained work experience that taught me more than any class would have. I know what I need to work on and I know what I need to focus on to become the professional that I would like to become someday.

Here is my blog that gives you a play by play of my trip:





My Study Abroad Internship in Australia

For my STEP signature project, I was fortunate enough to be a sports journalist intern for one of the biggest newspapers in Sydney, Australia: The Daily Telegraph. I was able to shadow veteran journalists around all parts of Sydney, learning about everything there is to know regarding Australian sports culture. My internship allowed me to visit training sessions and games of various Australian sports clubs all while writing and researching for the Sydney newspaper. I was even given the opportunity to write my own articles, which were published in The Daily Telegraph‘s online newspaper.

Considering this was both a study abroad and an internship program, it was an interesting dynamic having a work schedule while simultaneously being a tourist. That said, I think the biggest transformation from my experience was actually having a work routine and getting a strong glimpse of how life is like after college. Previously, I never had the opportunity to have a structured job or a real resume builder other than a few tutoring and babysitting jobs. From this internship, I was able to gain more knowledge and tips from people who have been working longer than I have been alive. The real transformation was soaking in all of this knowledge from my coworkers and referencing it to my personal career goals. I didn’t know how confident I was choosing sports journalism as a potential career path, but this trip absolutely confirmed that I have the capability and passion to pursue sports writing if given the opportunity in the future.

I think the biggest spark to my transformation was being around another culture in both a working environment and as a visitor. I learned the ins and outs of what it took to become not only an Australian sports journalist, but also a contributor to the operations of a major news outlet. Dealing with having no prior internship experience wasn’t a huge hindrance because I was more focused on adjusting to the culture of Australia and constantly comparing it to the culture of the U.S. Moreover, being around the Aussie lifestyle always presented me with new opportunities and chances that made the internship unique. For example, covering all of the different Australian sports allowed me to learn something new each and every day. I didn’t have a day where I repeated the same procedure. I was always typing up new stories, researching possible leads, or traveling any given time I was working.

Another key component were my coworkers. My boss/mentor was the chief sports editor for the paper and he taught me countless lessons about Australian sports and its culture. He was a huge help to me adjusting for a job in the media and offered me tips with how to succeed after college. He also gave me opportunities to explore other career options by setting up mini internships with The Daily Telegraph‘s  marketing firm as well as an Australian professional basketball organization. The other journalists were also incredibly helpful too. I shadowed many of them as they chased stories all around Sydney. I was able to visit tons of sports stadiums, team practices, sports owners, and other journalists from various newspapers. Having that firsthand experience was priceless because I can now use all of the knowledge I gained to further my career goals in situations like interviews or networking.

The last aspect that impacted my transformation was the environmental class I took during my program. The class didn’t have any relation to my work, but that was the very reason it had a significant impact on my transformation. It was nice to take a break from sports journalism and learn about a topic that I was completely unfamiliar with beforehand. The class allowed me to take in a side of Australia few know about as well as the challenges Australian wildlife face during this influential climate change period. I was able to work with professors, environmentalists, and government workers to see how they handled life outside of school. The one commonality I witnessed was passion. Everyone I met loved their job and could talk about it for hours along with the impact they are making to better Australia’s environment. This inspired me to reevaluate my attitude post-college to be certain I am able to speak with the same amount of passion as those that were involved with teaching me about the Australian environmental impact.

To me, this new view towards internships and towards my life after college is important simply because getting a glimpse of the real world is such a beneficial perk. Knowing I would like or dislike certain career paths allows me to have some confirmation of what I want to do that will make me happy. It gives me an advantage since I won’t have to waste my time with careers I might think are fun during school, but in the working world might actually be the opposite. I also valued everyone I met during my time in Australia. I ran into all types of people and that furthered my understanding of how the world works outside of school and outside of my own social sphere. I can use all of my experiences and newfound life lessons towards bettering myself in academics and with future employment opportunities. I can steer my academics to replicate what I want my career path to be and I can use this maybe once in a lifetime opportunity to share with others.