Cuba: A Messy, Complicated, Beautiful Island

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in a 10 day study abroad over Spring Break to Cuba with 2 professors and several other students from the school of architecture, entitled Cuba: Architecture, Landscape, Urbanism. We visited Havana as well as a few other towns and cities throughout Cuba, focusing on the history of their built environment and the relationship their society has to their architecture and landscape. Along the way, we stopped for several cultural experiences, tried local foods, stayed at resorts and airbnbs, and tried our best to figure out what to make of this complicated country and its wonderful people.

  1.  What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

My original reason for choosing this study abroad as my STEP project was my interest in comparing and contrasting how a relatively isolated country like Cuba approached urban design and landscape architecture. And that process was unquestionably interesting. The vast majority of Cuban structures post-revolution display a large amount of Soviet influence. As a group, we discussed the differences between Soviet/socialist modernism and American/western modernism. Cubans do some things similar to us, and others in different ways. For example, they use very little steel as a building material, since they don’t have extensive metal mining. This lead to the majority of their structures being built out of brick, wood, or concrete. The trip’s sketching requirements definitely helped me to understand this, as well as our group discussions. These discussions would have been incomplete without talking about the political environment that birthed these styles and methods, which leads me to my next point.

Pretty much as soon as we exited the plain, that interest widened to include Cuban politics, social norms, culture, music, and everything else. Prior to this trip I had never visited any other country, much less what is considered in many ways a third-world country, so it was very eye-opening. In America we tend to think that our way of doing things is the best way, if not the only way. In Cuba, many think the same of their own country. Our tour guide, who admittedly presented everything in an extremely biased way, proudly told us about their system of universal health care, free education systems, and food rations. We also learned from some locals that things may not be as grand as they seem, and that many people are hungry. The actions of the United States in isolating Cuba have directly impacted its people.

  1.  What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

On the trip we visited many gardens, fortresses, cathedrals, parks, restaurants, city plazas, and other historic buildings. We sketched them, and studied their successes and failures, and how these lessons could or couldn’t be applied when designing in the U.S. However, there were other more personal moments that I remember that have made possibly more of an impact on me.

A few times on the trip, we ventured out into the nightlife and went to bars or clubs. Every time we went out we met Cubans who were always incredibly friendly (some seemed to be hoping to get some of your tourist money, but others were more genuine). The music and dancing, both traditional and contemporary, is lovely in Cuba. I enjoyed their nightlife quite possibly more than ours! It also gave me a new appreciation for Latin dance music.

The language barrier was something completely alien to me, but it was a welcome challenge. I know essentially no Spanish and so had a difficult time communicating sometimes, but a lot of Cubans know basic English and it wasn’t usually a problem. There were a few moments that neither of us could understand the other, and we had to do our best to get by, which was frustrating but also rewarding.

We visited an elementary level art school and got to see some musical performances and art by talented young Cubans. Even at their young age, they’re art was already pretty top notch. As a musician and saxophone player, I was especially touched by an alto sax solo given by a young boy who looked to be about 13. It reminded me how powerful music is and how it can transcend language, culture, and experience.

Another notable event happened towards the end of the trip. We stopped in Matanzas, a city on the northern coast of the island, to have a quick look around at a few different buildings and a famous public square. While I was sitting in the square with a couple other students, and old man approached. He had pretty bad teeth and looked pretty rough. He asked where we were from, and when he told him America, he was a bit surprised and happy and interlocked his fingers, saying that America and Cuba need to be allies again. The man remembered being a child before the revolution, that life was better then, despite being under a dictator. He seemed like someone who probably supported the socialist revolution in the beginning, and later on saw its flaws. We saw a similar sentiment throughout the trip; to the young generation of Cubans, it is considered stylish and cool to wear clothing with American flags on them. They want to participate in the global capitalist economy and raise their country out of poverty. I wonder if their Caribbean socialist utopia could have been more successful had the United States supported revolutionary government, or if the revolutionary leaders didn’t turn out to be even more oppressive dictators than the regime they replaced.

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

The biggest takeaway for me from the trip was thinking about how Americans impact the world at large, both through government and tourism. For the last couple days of the trip we met up with a very intelligent Cuban architect and historian who had become friends with our professors previously. He talked about how, despite modernizing agricultural methods, their food shortage is becoming worse. This is due to the increase in tourism the country has seen. Pretty much every hotel we stayed at had lavish buffets for meals. Because tourists can pay much more than locals for meals, it is more profitable to sell to them. Likewise the Cubans working in tourism seemed to be much better off than many of the other Cubans we passed on the street. This problem is certainly true in many other tourism heavy countries throughout the Caribbean, but is becoming more of a problem in Cuba now that it has begun opening up and allowing more capitalist businesses to open. This realization got me thinking about whether or not tourism helps or hurts economies of other countries.

On the plane back, I decided it was definitely a valuable trip and I’m very glad I went. There is so many more experiences I didn’t write about here, but will be memories I have forever. I hope to find inspiration in my future professional landscape architecture work from the sketches and photographs I took on the trip. We got to see some of Cuba at its best, and also peel back the government propaganda of the tour guide to understand its worst. But it really is a beautiful country with lovely people, and I hope one day I’m able and allowed by our own lovely federal government to go back and see how it has changed.


 Abandoned National School of Arts, School of Ballet

House of the Cosmonauts (We stayed here one night!), Veradero

Me in Trinidad

Tobacco farmer in Vinales

Havana outskirts, shoreline

Tropicana Cabaret



Studying Abroad in Great Britain

During the month of May, I traveled to London to learn about the politics, history and culture of Great Britain. As part of Global May study abroad, I stayed in a suburb outside London with other fellow Buckeyes. We took the tube to class during the week like typical Londoners and lived in apartment-style accommodations. During our class time, we shared our experiences as well as learned about sites we visited during our daily afternoon excursions.

During my time in London, I learned a lot about myself as well as the world around me. Everyone has a common assumption of what a place will be like before they go there. For me, I had imagined it as being like every movie I had ever watched , book I had read, and picture I had ever seen. My stay in London led me to the realization that Great Britain was much different than I had ever imagined. Much of this difference came not only from the contributions of Great Britain’s rich history but also from the British people. It was the places, the tours, the evenings wandering around, the countless tube and train journeys, and the Londoners that shaped the Great Britain that I now know.

My understanding of myself and my ability to foster change through my own personal experiences was illuminated during my STEP project. I realized how important my journeys were in being able to educate students that I will one day teach in my own classroom. Being able to impart something much more personal rather than just words from a textbook has a higher probability of impacting students to learn about the world around them. I have become a more confident and independent person as well. During my time in England, I traveled around on my own a few times. This was something that I would have never done before. There is some sort of clearer perception of your surroundings that you are able to obtain when just explore by yourself. You blend more into the environment and locals find you more approachable. I learned a lot from them about their daily lives and was able to get to know other travelers from around the world as well.

All of the sites we visited contributed to this transformation of my outlook. The Tower of London was the first location that truly opened my eyes to the importance of learning firsthand about Britain’s rich history. We were there the second day of our trip and were taken on a guided tour. It was astounding to have read about William the Conqueror, the execution of Anne Boleyn, and the princes hidden in the tower and then actually walk through the castle walls. It was a far more impactful learning experience than I have ever had, and I realized the importance of travel when educating others. Westminster Abbey was another place where I had a similar experience. The history is so rich that being able to stand within the stone walls is incredible. I found myself clinging more to the details of things I had actually seen rather than just read or been lectured on in past history classes. One learns so much more when they are fully engulfed in the past of a place.

On a whole, I also understood London as a diverse global city throughout my experiences. I noticed how those who had ancestors who lived there for hundreds of years mixed with newer immigrants freely. This truly international community has led to the culturally vibrant London of today. It was interesting to be in London during such a pivotal political period in Great Britain’s history. I was able to formulate my own opinions without having to hear about all sides through the news. London truly would not be the same without the diversity that makes it so great.

There were numerous factors that contributed to my transformational outlook on London and Great Britain as a whole. My understanding of culture has been greatly enhanced through my discussion with local British people and the information explained to us by local tour guides. Not only did they tell us about Westminster Abbey, Brixton, Brick Lane, and the British Museum, but they also shared part of their daily lives with us. One tour guide spoke to us about the importance of Protestantism in her life. Our tour guide from the British Museum talked with us about Britain’s legacy of imperialism and what would be left of Britain if historical artifacts were returned to their homelands. Another tour guide asked us important questions in Brixton about immigration and culture: What was our idea of “Britishness”? Do we like the idea of Brixton’s definitiveness as its own neighborhood or should everything be blended together? He challenged our thoughts on London’s multicultural environment. These are the things that I will remember about British culture. I will remember the people that asked us the difficult questions and shared their own perspective on what London is to them. This, in turn, helped me to come to the realization of what London is to me. It sharpened my cultural awareness and gave substance to some of my opinions.

The realization of travel as an enriching learning experience and the recognition of London as a global city will have a significant impact on both my academic and professional goals. My time studying abroad has given me knowledge and encounters that will not be replicated again. This amazing opportunity has also contributed to the stories and lessons I will impart on my students as a future teacher. I hope to invoke the same sense of adventure that this trip has stirred in me. Academically, my perspective has been broadened to encompass other cultures of the world. I now understand the importance of education through exploration. I loved the historic sites but I also loved the people that made London different from anywhere I had ever been before. All of the diversity made the streets livelier, the food spicier, and the people more welcoming. Because of all of the people that define London today, its vibrance is illuminating to anyone that travels there.

While reflecting on my time in Great Britain I came across a quote by V.S. Naipaul that accurately defines much of how I now feel. “I came to London. It had become the center of my world…And I was lost.” While living there for four weeks, London had, indeed, become the center of my world. I was fully immersed in the culture and lifestyle of the city. Most of all, I was able to view it from my own eyes and not the perspective of some historians, novelists, movies, tour books, or others’ tales. I, myself, had become lost in this electrifying city, both old and new. Because of this, my perspective of Great Britain is forever changed, and I look forward to what else can be learned from taking the time and care to get to know a place so well. There is a lot to be learned from exploring the world, and I have a lot more left to see.



Animal and Human Interactions Study Abroad to New Zealand


For my STEP signature project, I was given the opportunity to travel abroad to New Zealand through the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, where I studied animal and human interactions. Each day our group would tour various types production animal farms to compare the differences between how farming is done in New Zealand versus how farming is approached in The United States.

While abroad I came across many emotions. The first being the sheer beauty of the country that is New Zealand. It was absolutely breathtaking to be surrounded by the green grass outstretched for miles in front of you. I was also struck by both the similarities and differences between the United States and New Zealand. I appreciated the way New Zealand approaches farming, and would be lying if I said that that country of New Zealand is behind us in terms of sustainability. However, it was also during the time that I was admiring their country, that I also truly began to appreciate what I have been given at home. Throughout the trip I was constantly looking for interactions, similarities and differences, so much so that I almost forgot to take the entire country for what it was: breathtaking. After returning home, I am more inclined to look at problems or road blocks in front of me a certain way, I am able to truly apply what I have learned from the people in the country of New Zealand in my section of the world. 

Each day our group would visit two or three stops based on a type of production animal. For example, one day we visited a salmon hatchery, a dairy farm and were able to witness a sheep shearing show. Every day for ten days we were given the amazing opportunity to leave our normal classroom setting and get out in the real world to study what we had previously learned on slides. That was one of the most important aspects of this trip for myself, so I would also suggest this was where I noticed the most change in myself. It was during our trips outside the classroom that I was able to interact with the locals in New Zealand, learn of the Maori culture and really dive into all of the culture that surrounded me.

While participating in the pre-requisite class at school was informative and also enjoyable, because we did get to leave the classroom and experience what we were learning firsthand, when were in another country the experience was even more enhanced. One of my favorite parts of my trip was when we learned about the Maori culture. On our first night in the country we ate dinner in Rotorua, a town where the Maori people of New Zealand have a village. In this town we had the chance to experience a Maori traditional dinner with all of their traditional food, a dance and other culture rituals they participate in. This was when I was truly able to immerse myself into their culture and know that I was experiencing something unique, something I would now have the chance to experience again.

I believe the final thing that rreally allowed for a transformational change to occur within me might have been the relationships with the people I had on this trip. Our group was smaller- only about 29 people. We got to know each other pretty quickly since we were always around one another. Prior to departing, I was hesitant about this, because I was worried I would not be able to make friends. However, it is with the people on this trip that I am still talking to know, after having returned about a month ago. I am amazed how close traveling together brought us. I have been able to look to them for questions and have talked through the returning process with them too- how to get back into the swing of things after returning from the most amazing trip of your life. I had such an amazing experience with them, that lead to both change within my heart and mind, of which I will be able to use in the near and distant future.

I believe this change is relevant to me because before leaving for this trip I was at a point in the semester that really took a tole on me. I noticed I was constantly stressed, not enjoying what I was doing, and merely just living. Since returning, I have noticed I am different. I am more engaged in what I am doing, and truly enjoying what I have going on. I feel as if I am more focused this semester on my classes and will now be able to utilize what I learned in New Zealand in other Animal Sciences classes I have yet to take. I was given the most amazing opportunity to experience these animals and techniques first-hand. I know have something to base my knowledge off of and am truly able to understand why studying abroad is something that every student at our school should have the opportunity to do. If it would not have been for this wonderful program, I would not have had the opportunity to attend, and I will forever be grateful for this opportunity that I was given- the chance to experience something beyond myself and cause a true change within me. beyond myself and cause a true change within me.

My London Adventure

This past May I had the opportunity to study abroad in London. I participated in the Global May Britain study abroad program and it was one of the best decisions of my life. I learned about the politics, culture and history of London both in and out of the classroom, which truly enriched my college experience.



Growing up in Columbus and attending a university so close to home made the transition from high school to college seamless. I wasn’t challenged by a new and unfamiliar city, or homesickness as most freshmen are. I hoped to venture outside the walls of my tight-knit community and experience independence and growth in a foreign city. I had always been a fan of big cities such as New York City and Los Angeles, which drew me to London. I couldn’t have chosen a better location for me to thrive and grow.


Going into this program I knew no one and was nervous to be away from my friends and family for a month. However the opportunity to be abroad far outweighed any of my hesitations. While abroad I expanded my horizons by making new friendships with both OSU students and London locals. I was also exposed to different parts of the city and saw the wide variety of the demographics in London. This opened my eyes to the fact that not all Londoners fit the tea sipping, pale skinned, proper stereotype. In the suburb we stayed in the neighborhood was primarily Indian and broke the initial vision I had of London. I realized that London is arguably a bigger mixing pot than New York City with all the surrounding European cities that flow into it. The different communities that make up London showed me the depth and history of the city. I now see London as a diverse city that brings together varying cultures. I now feel I am a more globally aware person and do not identify countries by my preconceived notions.


Everyday I found myself exposed to different cultures and faced with new experiences. One of the challenges I faced that helped me venture outside of my comfort zone was the transportation system. In London the tube system is heavily used and it took a lot of getting used to. Without the comforts of my car I was forced to stand extremely close with complete strangers, however this helped me to open up and make new friends. A lot of bonding occurred while on the tube whether that was singing late at night, getting completely lost or meeting unique locals. Although the tube started out as an unfamiliar and awkward form of transportation it grew to be one of the things I looked forward to everyday.


Another aspect of London that transformed my view of the world was the history. London is hundreds of years older than the United States and holds so many ancient gems. Seeing the Globe Theatre, the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-Upon-Avon, The London Bridge, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey opened my eyes to the depth that London had to offer. I was fascinated by the incredible people who had once been in these places and made such an impact on London. I was so thankful for the opportunity to learn about the history of London in the classroom and truly understand the history of the sites when I saw them for myself.


Seeing the variances between the United States and London intrigued me and forced me to think in a more globally minded way. Continuously throughout the month I noticed differences and similarities between the people, food and culture. Whether it was the fact that the toilet paper was square napkins instead of a roll or the wonderful British accents that we lacked. I constantly found myself discovering new ways that the countries differed. The architecture particularly caught my attention and astonished me. Wherever I went I was always met with historical buildings, interesting museums and beautiful designs. Obviously, Columbus is a small town and would not have the big city feel, but even in New York City there is not the same level of ancient culture that London encompasses. Walking into St. Paul’s Cathedral and West Minster Abbey I got the feeling of royalty and breathtaking beauty that I fail to see in the United States. These architectural works of art are incredible to me and the fact that they were built so long ago without today’s technology is mind blowing. I now have a stronger appreciation for the past and the incredible buildings erected so long ago.


As corny as it sounds I can’t believe how much I have grown and evolved as a person in such a short amount of time while abroad. There is so much to be learned through experiencing different cultures and opening yourself up to new opportunities. I am so thankful for this trip and all the amazing new friends I have met through it. Not only have I grown personally, but academically and professionally as well. The fact that I took a history course abroad and can actually say that I saw what I learned about will be one of my most memorable experiences from college. In addition to this, getting to work in a small class allowed me to truly get to know my peers and teachers. Since studying abroad I have been inspired to take a semester abroad in Spain and plan to work in London post-grad. There is so much to be gained while studying abroad and I can’t wait to see what else is in store.


Check out my blog posts at: Keeping Up With Kaki

SU16 CLAS 2798.02 – ByzConstpleInstbul (16564) STUDY ABROAD MAY SESSION

Greece Powerpoint

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Name: William Hoffman


Type of Project: Travel Abroad


During the summer of 2016, specifically the May Session, I was enrolled in CLAS 2798.02 – ByzConstpleInstbul (16564). During this class I traveled abroad to Greece and explored the country with Professor Anthony Kaldellis who taught me to look at things on a deeper level in an exploration of the truth. This exploration of the truth through history and fact finding yielded to be an insightful journey.


During my Step Signature Project, I found myself immersed in a different culture and effectively a different mindset. I was no longer confined to my roots in Ohio or in the United States for that matter. I was a part of a completely different tree. So naturally I wanted to explore how this culture and effectively this nation came to be. That is where my classwork provided me means to try and answer my curiosity. Each text contained a different key to understanding my world around me, showing the origins of the countries mindset. Much in the same sense as Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin shaped the national identity of the United States through literature. The past works, artistic, literature, or otherwise shaped the national identity of Greece.

This understanding of how past determines future is immensely interesting, however combining this knowledge with a pursuit of the truth yielded an even more interesting worldview. When you focus on finding the truth you begin to notice how nations emphasize certain aspects of their past to gain footing in the presence, even at the expense of hiding much of their past as well. This can be seen by the toppling of churches and mosques, as well as their minarets, from the top of the Acropolis. This was done to purify the site in the name of the national identity which would be tarnished by the continued standing of any other religion other than paganism atop the Acropolis. This is just one example of how the bleaching of the past effects the present, many more exist.


There are numerous experiences I can pull from that solidified my transformation during my STEP Signature Project. One chief experience I pull from is that of the Acropolis. This is possibly the greatest monument in all of Greece and it is deserving of the title as the national monument. It serves as a homage to paganism and the trialed past that the country has been through: the Acropolis exploded during the Venetian war, had multiple churches erected, and mosque built on the site who adopted the structure for their own purposes. The meaning this site had on my transformation was that it showed what happens when a site has been imbued with multiple different meanings: it creates a black hole of meaning. The present can then alter the site to have whatever meaning it deems important.

In addition to the Acropolis there is the Mycenae site: The Tomb of Agamemnon. This burial site was the richest grave site in all of Greece. The real ebbing of the truth can be found in the fact of who discovered the site. Schliemann was the self-proclaimed archaeologist who used Homer’s Iliad to find the site. Many question if the site is actually real because Schliemann was untrustworthy and could have planted the gold. Interestingly enough, Nestor’s Cup (King of Pylos) was found at the site. This brings into question the truthfulness of those books ancient such as that of the Odyssey and the Iliad alike.

A site that I found particularly interesting is the Agora in Athens. This site has meaning in the sense it was the location of Pericles Funeral Oration, the site of multiple wars, and the market and temples on the site surround the Acropolis and would have been used in times of ancient. The Columns of the site have been mined of their lead to make bullets during times of war. Pericles gave one of the greatest orations at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War. This site holds three unique truths that gives unique meaning to the location.



This change is extremely valuable because it fuels my search for the truth. In part of this trip I have decided to go to Law School. I want to continue to practice in the ancient art of rhetoric and oration as many of the great philosophers of Greece did. I get to construct the truth of an issue much like the truths are constructed around sites. I also am presented with an opportunity in this field to use logic and reason to look beyond the surface level of issues and search of their intrinsic motivations.

Spain Global May Program


Sitting by the beach after class in Santander, Spain.

The Spain Global May program increased my knowledge of Spanish culture as well as strengthened my understanding of my Spanish heritage. Through the program, I learned how Spain’s location plays a key role in creating this multicultural country. Additionally, we had the opportunity to discuss and learn about immigration in Spain in comparison to immigration in the United States. The program helped me grow on a professional and personal level by pushing me to leave my comfort zone and try new things like zip line across the Tagus River in Toledo, after a day of exploring and learning about the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish remains in the city. I am forever grateful for STEP, OSU, and my parents for supporting me throughout this journey.


Ziplining with the girls across the Tagus River.

I cannot believe how much I learned about myself within those two months abroad. Without a doubt, the most important thing my host country taught me was how to accept and appreciate everyone’s individuality. The Iberian Peninsula has become a crossroad for migration. Throughout the years, numbers of immigrants have stopped and settled in Spain even though their intended final destination was elsewhere. From an early start, the idea and importance of living in a “melting pot” is emphasized inside and outside the classroom. This “melting pot” phrase is different than multiculturalism; what some might refer to as a “salad bowl.” In a melting pot, people from different racial and ethnic groups assimilate into one larger culture. While in a multiculturalist environment, people from all different backgrounds learn to live and interact with one another. In Madrid, people understand when they step outside their front door they will be accepted, appreciated, and respected by their peers despite their differences.


Admiring the Roman remains in Segovia, Spain.

In the United States, there is still this idea of the American Exceptionlism and the American Creed. Growing up with English as my second language in the United States was quite challenging. My accent was always present giving away that I was different. On top of that it almost seemed frowned upon on to say I was Salvadorian-American. It continues to be difficult to feel proud of both cultures and sometimes it feels like I have to choose one or the other. However, this class made me realized how things in the United States are changing into a multiculturalism perspective. Today, people are encouraged to explore different cultural traditions as well as to promote their own. Students who speak more than one language are now called Dual Language Learners instead of degrading terms that have been utilized in the past. Schools all over the country celebrate Hispanic and Asian American/Pacific Islander heritage week. Schools have even adopted a new curriculum that provides exposure to other languages, customs, and traditions. The Spain Global May program helped me understand that being different is a good thing, not a bad thing. It has given me the fuel to use my voice to advocate for those who do not have one.

This program inspired me to spend the next couple months volunteering near home at safe havens for immigrants and advocating for immigration reform. The United States and Spain are currently facing similar immigration waves and challenges. Throughout this course, we learn about the irony of the American dream and see how it relates to those who migrate to Spain. The road to citizenship is not quick or easy and it comes with many struggles. Fortunately, there are centers around Spain dedicated and invested to helping immigrants feel welcomed and create a second home away from home. We learned about organizations such as Karibu and Caritas Spain that provide training of the language and culture, housing, legal advice, psychological assistance, and even employment. After learning about the programs and activities carried out by the organizations and interacting with program coordinators; I was inspired to set out and make a difference. There are many misconceptions about immigrants and immigration that need to be addressed.


Beautiful scenery in Toledo, Spain.

One of the main challenges immigrants face is the language barrier. Assimilation or Latinos in Spain is obviously different because they know the native tongue but they still experience harassment. In one of our events, we learned how educators would belittle children who spoke Spanish with Colombian and Peruvian accents. The USA is working towards creating classrooms that are inclusive and welcoming for bilingual students to eliminate the racism and bullying they experienced in school. As a future educator and the daughter of two immigrants, I am motivated to learn more and be part of this movement.

Spain, when compared to the United States, has done a better job at integrating immigrants. Unlike the USA and France, Spain did not build communities and ghettos for immigrants. Organizations like Karibu and the Austrian center we visited, work really hard to successfully integrate migrants to the Spanish/Madrid culture while helping them keep their customs and traditions alive. Part of successful integration is providing migrants with psychological support. Many of them suffer from depression as they are homesick and feel alone. I have seen the psychological toll immigration has had on my parents; there is always that feeling of being in two places so it’s challenging for migrants to have that sense of belonging in an unknown land. After living and studying in Spain, I am determined to use what I have learned to help alter the way immigrants integrate into American Culture.

Immigration is a difficult subject to understand. I have been surrounded by it my entire life and everyday I continue to learn more and more about it. Centro Austriano in Madrid among Karibu and Caritas Spain serve as safe havens for immigrants. Unfortunately, many Spaniards do not appreciate the organizations. They receive a lot of backlash for helping foreigners and not the Spanish people, which is very similar to the United States where many argue that the government should help our veterans and those homeless instead of immigrants. I want to engage people in this discussion and as one of our guest speakers suggested, work towards changing people’s heart and then what’s in their mind. This program has given me the courage to share my parents’ story and teach locals in the United States that foreigners are not criminals, they do not steal jobs, and they do not remove culture.


Front row seats for the Atlético Madrid vs. Celta Vigo soccer match at the Vincente Calderón Stadium in Madrid, Spain.

I am a third year student at The Ohio State University majoring in Special Education. I am specializing in Early Childhood Intervention with minors in Dance and Spanish. My experience as a first-generation, out-of-state woman of color has inspired me to dedicate my career to working towards education reform and promoting diversity and inclusion in the classrooms. Studying abroad has made me a better educator by increasing my communication in Spanish and cultural awareness. One of my professional goals includes teaching abroad in Latin America and Africa alongside children with limited resources. The opportunity to study abroad has not only helped me fulfill my childhood dream of traveling and exploring Europe; but it has also reassured my aspiration to teach in a foreign country after graduation.


This picture was taken during our scavenger hunt in Bilbao, Spain.

Multicultural Histories and Legacies of London and Paris- Arianna Fine

My STEP Signature Project was the Multicultural Histories and Legacies of London and Paris study abroad trip. This experience combined all we learned in our spring course about service-learning, different cultures, people, and religions, and global issues into one. We started the trip by spending eleven days in London, and then finishing off with ten days in Paris. We did loads of sight-seeing and touring, but we also volunteered at the North London Action for the Homeless Shelter, met and spoke with the British League of Muslims, and took a tour of the Grand Mosque in relation to our topic of immigration in Paris.

Big Ben

Big Ben

I learned so much more than I ever expected to about different people, different cultures/religions, and most importantly about myself. I learned to navigate around language, different forms of transportation, and I became so much more aware of the challenges that people who have different backgrounds than me face.

I have gained such a deeper appreciation for the benefits we have as Americans, like freedom of religious and cultural practice. I think visiting the Grand Mosque in Paris was a perfect example of how two cultures and religions can come together to exist in harmony within a community. Paris, coming from a Catholic, monarchical history, showed a great amount of religious and cultural diversity. After seeing Muslims practice Islam freely in the Grand Mosque in Paris, it proved to me even further that everybody is the same and going through similar things. We all have our own religions, cultures, and practices, and it should not make us any different from the next person. Seeing these oppressed people practice their religion freely really made the trip so much more personal and real to me because I was able to firsthand experience the things that we only read about in newspapers and hear of in class. Thus, recognizing the privileges I have as an American was pivotal in my transformation of becoming a more cognitive and understanding citizen.

Jumping for joy in the rain at the top of the Eiffel Tower

Jumping for joy in the rain at the top of the Eiffel Tower

A time where I felt transformation taking place was during our visit with the British League of Muslims. I had walked into our meeting completely unaware of the issues that Muslims face in every day life. I knew they suffered from oppression because of the war, especially in regards to being profiled as terrorists, but I did not know that they suffer from way more than inaccurate portrayal. Muslims in the Middle East, and other parts of the world, are not even allowed to properly practice their religion and culture because of the oppression that they face. I had known little to no information on the Islam religion, so after talking with these smart, educated, and community-oriented Muslims, I felt as if I gained a new appreciation for the freedom to practice religion that we have in the U.S. I think the fact that we were talking with Muslims who work in the community to advocate for other Muslims who do not have a voice, really shows how strong these people are. I gained such a great respect and awareness for the Muslim community, and I really learned a lot about the oppression that these people face on a daily basis. I hope to continue learning about the issues in the Middle East, and how to be an advocate for Muslims in my own community.

After visiting Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, we volunteered at the North London Action for the Homeless Shelter. This experience greatly shaped the rest of the trip for me because it really opened my eyes to how people, no matter where you are, are all the same and going through similar things. We spoke with one man about the current elections and how he supported Trump because he reminded him of the mayor of London during the time when he worked with the Air Force in England. He explained how someone like Trump, with a knowledge of money management, would be able to turn England around and advocate some of the money from the wealthier to the more middle-class. Although I did not support this man’s opinions, it was so surprising to see that someone halfway across the world can have so much knowledge on something that is directly affecting us back in the U.S. Also, taking a moment of reflection after this service, I realized that these people at the homeless shelter are smart and invested in their community, and they all had jobs and hardships just like everyone else has. This experience gave me this sense of unity with people who are so different from me, simply because we were able to find common threads amongst us when talking about different topics and issues. This is when I realized that no matter how different someone from a faraway place in a completely different circumstance seems from me, we may be way more similar than we thought. This is why being a global citizen is important because it means we look out for each other, even if we may not be similar in culture, religion, political views, or appearance.

Besides these multicultural experiences, another highlight of the trip for me was getting to know my classmates and teachers. I learned how to better work with others, sacrifice for other people, and be a better friend/ally. Even if it was a small act of going to a cafe that did not have any food that I wanted to eat, if it meant the group would be happy, then I was fine with it. I think this really demonstrates how the community, and how global society as a whole should be. We should better work towards the goals of the group, the community, and the world, rather than being selfish and not helping our fellow man. This trip was the experience of a lifetime, and I had an amazing time getting to know everyone on the trip, people of other cultures and places, and myself.



Silly faces at the Catacombs

Silly faces at the Catacombs

In regards to my academic life, I hope to continue meeting new people and finding similarities amongst one another. As a Dance major, working with people is the entire basis of being a dancer, so being able to better understand where someone comes from and how they operate is very beneficial. This is especially helpful in my professional goal of becoming a dance teacher, since I will be able to navigate how to work better with people of all backgrounds, ages, and so forth. In terms of my personal life, I hope to meet new people and find commonalities between us because that is how some of the very close friendships I have made formed during this trip. Even if it is a small commonality, like sharing the same name as someone, practicing these interactions with people who are different than me has opened me up to a plethora of new knowledge and experiences.

This trip was so valuable to me because it really fueled my love of knowledge, traveling, and educating. I hope to continue traveling and learning about different places and people because I have gained such a hunger to learn and stay up to date on global/current issues. I cannot wait to utilize the things I’ve learned in my every day life, and to teach others. I think the greatest thing I have taken away from this trip is learning how to just talk and spend genuine time with people because that has taught me much more than a chapter in a history textbook has.



Soaking in the sun at the Louvre

Soaking in the sun at the Louvre

Seeing A Midsummer Night's Dream

Seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Global May Hungary – STEP




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.


Global May New Zealand

by Nicole Riemer 

For my STEP signature project, I studied abroad in New Zealand during Maymester, studying linguistics. New Zealand is the only English speaking country where the development of a particular type of English and accent can be traced in its entirety. New Zealand has a complete audio record of the changes in New Zealand English (NZE) due to the ONZE data files that were collected by Mobile Unit Recordings in the early years of New Zealand settlement. While in New Zealand, my cohort and I studied at the University of Canterbury which houses the ONZE project. While I was there I learned about the nuances of NZE and how it compares to American and British English. I also learned about phonetics and the development of language and accents.

Going to such a small country and being able to readily interact with locals, including my host family, definitely changed my world view. Living in a country as large and as powerful as the United States, I never really realized how cut off I was from the rest of the world until visiting a country that is incredibly dependent on world affairs. While I have visited other countries before, my inability to speak the parent language never allowed me to reach this realization. I also gained an increased understanding of myself through being on my own in a foreign country and learning to navigate in unfamiliar territory.

Lake Tekapo Top of Christchurch Lake Tekapo Lake Tekapo View of Littleton Castle Hill Cardboard CathedralWhile I was living with my host family, we would sit together and watch the nightly news. Through this simple activity I realized how filtered the news in the United States is. In New Zealand, the news contains stories from all over the world from a fairly unbiased perspective. In the U.S. however, the news is always very U.S. centric with the majority of it focusing on politics. International news focuses on where our political figures have traveled and where the U.S. is monetarily involved. It is also heavily tinged with a U.S. centric outlook on every story: we are never wrong, it’s always another country’s fault. I had never really thought about it before I was sitting in my host family’s living room watching with them. They would often ask me questions about the political affairs going on in the U.S., frequently asking about my opinion on Donald Trump. I realized that they were vested in the outcomes of U.S. politics and policy because it could drastically affect the economy and stability of their own country, much like the rest of the world. I hadn’t realized how much smaller countries were attuned to world affairs, but they need to be because their livelihood depends on their trading partners. For example, on a visit to a New Zealand sheep farm I learned that as a main export, sheep meat and wool is an important part of New Zealand’s economy and culture. We learned how the farmers use each part of the sheep for different products which allowed me to see the role that New Zealand plays in the world economy as well as how their economy functions. I found it interesting to learn that lamb meat in New Zealand is actually quite expensive despite there being more sheep than people. This is because the farmer can bring in more money selling the meat and other byproducts to other countries, putting New Zealand firmly into world trade. The U.S. is not as easily swayed by the fluctuations in the global economy, but New Zealand relies on the stablity of their global trading partners. Despite the fact that we are not as easily affected by world events, I find that the U.S. should pay more attention to what its actions do to the rest of the world instead of allowing the important stories to be buried under a sea of media fluff.

I also found out about myself as a person on this trip. Being in a foreign country where I had to figure out public transportation by myself and discover things to do and proper and improper ways to do things required me to get outside of my comfort zone and ask locals for help and guidance. For example, one of the biggest problems that I had while in New Zealand was orienting myself in order to get from point A to point B. It is not necessarily that I did not foresee this as an issue, rather that it proved to be more of a challenge than I expected. As the digital generation, we have all grown up with smart phones and computers that can tell us directions instantaneously. In New Zealand we were not always able to use the devices we have relied on since our parents stopped collecting and delivering us from place to place because we needed to have internet to use our cell phones. My first experience with having to figure out how to get to where I needed to go was on our second day in New Zealand when we were left to get home from the bus exchange. At the exchange I saw that the two buses that I would normally take to get to university didn’t run through the main exchange which meant that I needed to figure out which lines to take. I picked up one of the maps that showed all the lines, but the main problem I had was that having been in the country less than 36 hours, I had no idea where my house was on the map.

So long story short, I spent 15 minutes trying to find the name of my street on the map. Once I did that I figured out that I had to take two buses and proceeded to find the blue line bus at the terminal. It took me about 10 minutes on the bus to realize that I had no clue where I was and that there was nothing on the bus telling me what stop I was at. When I looked at the map, it also didn’t show the location of every single stop. Not only didn’t I know where I was, I also didn’t know what stop would be close to where I needed to go. So in a panic, I sucked up my pride and in a very un-American fashion asked the lady sitting next to me if she knew what stop we had just stopped at. She didn’t, but then she asked me where I was trying to go, so I told her and she told me that I wanted to get off when the bus starts to turn to the right. I thanked her, but I was still nervous that I wouldn’t know what that meant until it was too late. Being that my American accent was really evident and having just heard my conversation with my neighbor, a couple of curious passengers piped up to ask me some questions. One gentleman told me that he was getting off where I needed to and to just follow him out. That was when the bus driver chimed in to ask exactly what street I was trying to get to.

After I relayed the information for the third time, she told me that she would tell me when to get off. This was a totally new experience; I had never seen people go to such lengths to help someone lost in the States. Surely enough, the bus driver stopped the bus for me when it was my time to get off. Then I was faced with my next problem: which side of the street to stand on? Of course I picked the wrong side and took the bus in the wrong direction, but I realized it quickly and got off to switch sides. Even with all that, it took less than an hour for me to get home. After reflecting on situations like this one, I have realized that the number one thing to being successful in exploring a new country is to ask the locals. Experiences like these made me realize that I am well equipped with ways to problem solve. Also traveling in a large group where none of us were familiar with the country was a lesson in coordination and how to “go with the flow,” something I have never been very good at but nonetheless tried to embrace on this trip and since then.

My trip to New Zealand provided me with important realizations and experiences that are relevant in my personal life and my future professional life. As a visual communications designer, I have the skills and ability to reach a large number of people with the things that I can create and in the future, I will have a job that will put me on an even larger platform to be able to do that. However, the things that I design and promote need to be globally conscious as companies never operate in a vacuum these days and large companies are becoming increasingly global. In addition, I need to be aware of world affairs to ensure that the things that I design will be ethical. I also learned how to operate in a large team of people and how to learn to be aware of others’ strengths and weakness and leverage them for the group’s greater benefit.


Study Abroad: Psychology and Culture in Europe

Jordan Cognion

Study Abroad

For my signature project, I chose to participate in the Psychology and Culture in Europe study abroad program during May semester of 2016. During the program, I travelled to Rome, Venice, and London touring various psychological museums as well as places of cultural, historical and religious significance.


I feel my time abroad has been very transformative for me in many ways. For starters, I feel that I have gained a better understanding of myself. I was able to leave my comfort zone to try new things, and as a result I feel a greater sense of independence and confidence in my everyday life. I am no longer intimidated by public transportation and don’t mind getting lost while exploring big cities. Thanks to my trip, I have discovered a newfound love and appreciation of theater. My signature project also taught me how to stay positive during stressful, anxiety provoking situations, and most importantly, to laugh at myself.


Before this trip, I had this idea of Europe being a huge, intimidating place in which I would most likely feel out of place. What I experienced could not have been farther from that assumption. I felt so welcome and at home while in each of these amazing cities. Even with the language barrier in Italy, I felt right at home. Because of this trip, I got an inside look at what sort of cultural topics and conflicts are important to people in this part of the world. As a result, I feel that my cultural worldview has been broadened.


Although the entire trip has been a transformative experience, some events stick out in my mind as having the most effect on me. I found that leaving my comfort zone was one of the best ways to get the most out of my signature project. To expand my horizons, I tried foods I never would have thought to order in the states like clams, squid tentacles, and cuttlefish. One evening in Venice, I was feeling particularly adventurous so I decided to pick something at random off the menu. I wasn’t entirely sure what I ordered since the menu was in Italian. I was not so pleasantly surprised when my dinner came out with eyes still in tact… Apparently I’d ordered a type of pasta with crawfish and had no idea how to begin eating my meal. After a brief tutorial by one of my peers, I began to shell and eat my strange meal, and it was delicious! I’ve noticed a greater sense of confidence thanks to the repeated use of public transportation such as the Tube. I was so anxious about getting lost or turned around on the tube, but to my surprise, I mastered it relatively quickly and was able to navigate my way around the city with ease. My newfound love of theater can be attributed to my experience at the Apollo Victoria Theater in London where I saw the musical Wicked. I never knew how emotional and exciting musicals could be, but it is safe to say that I’m hooked and excited to see many more in the future.



One of the most important transformations I noticed was an ability to take a breath and focus on the positive when a situation becomes stressful and negative. Towards the end of the trip, some of the other students were becoming weary and burnt out, making a lot of negative comments and complaints. My advisor noticed my frustration and offered to show me mindfulness meditation. After practicing this method of stress relief, I was able to enjoy the remainder of my trip to the fullest. I’ve also noticed that I am able to laugh at myself now, and not take things so seriously. I think this is due to my special welcoming I received in London. I was practically bouncing with excitement to finally be in London, since I was looking forward to this part of the trip the most. While waiting outside for our coach, I received an unwelcome gift from a pigeon up above that landed right in my hair! Normally I would have been so embarrassed to have bird droppings in my hair in front of the whole group, but I was so excited to be in London that I couldn’t help but laugh to the point of tears! I am thankful for this memory that I will cherish and look back upon fondly.


My view of Europe was changed by how many American’s we met along the way. Instead of a huge unknown city, the world seemed much smaller as we encountered people from all different parts of the United States. It seemed that everywhere we went, there was someone from America to offer a friendly smile. We even ran into a few Ohio State Alumni! It really is a small world. I’m grateful that I was able to experience the different cultures first hand. For example, in Rome it is very uncommon to split checks when dining in groups. A waitress explained that in their culture, everyone shares their meals with one another, so when it comes to the check, it is just divided evenly amongst the group. This system is much less individualized than American culture. I also learned a great deal about Venetian artisan culture. Some examples include the handmade lace of Burano and the traditions that go into making it, the precision involved in the glass blowing trade of Murano and the tradition of mask making in Venice.


The transformations I’ve seen in myself thanks to my signature project are incredibly valuable to me. Thanks to this program, I have grown as an individual, become more confident and independent, and made lasting memories with new friends that I will cherish for the rest of my life. The confidence I have gained will undoubtedly help me further in life when I’m on my own and in the competitive job market. I’ve also confirmed by passion for psychology, which reaffirmed my choice in major. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share these once in a lifetime experiences with a group of my peers. The memories alone make this experience invaluable.


Apollo Victoria theater in London.

Apollo Victoria theater in London.



O-H-I-O in front of the colosseum.



Back yard of Down House, home of Charles Darwin.