Journey to the End of the World

For my STEP Signature Project, I studied abroad in Argentina and Antarctica in the program Antarctica: Human Impact on a Fragile Environment through the Office of International Affairs. Over the course of two weeks, student from universities around the country went to Ushuaia, Argentina and various locations around the Antarctic Peninsula, conducting research and appreciating the unadulterated nature.

I initially sought a journey to Antarctica to acquire a perspective of the world that not many people get to see; now, after my trip, there’s a conflict inside me whether people should visit the continent. The magnitude and majesty of Antarctica is incomprehensible, with towering glaciers and exotic wildlife unaccustomed to humans everywhere. But the cruel irony of ecotourism creeped into my mind throughout the trip, wondering how sustainable my actions really were. I wanted to share this amazing place with the whole world, but simultaneously, I knew increased human traffic would irreversibly mar the Antarctic ecosystem. This is not to mention the impact humans have had on Antarctica from thousands of miles away. From these revelations, I’ve become more aware of my global impact, through local and legislative actions.

Also, through my trip, I had a smaller change in my mindset that will still affect me greatly in my college career. Like many undergraduates, I always just assumed faculty were people absorbed in their work without much else to their personalities, but through some interactions on my trip, I was able to overcome this undergraduate hurdle and view faculty with more depth.

It was our second day of making excursions, and we had just landed at Petermann Island. We were given a mandatory briefing in English and Mandarin before the landing about the importance of not getting within five meters of penguins and to not step on their frequented paths, also known as penguin highways. After taking in the scenery for fifteen minutes, I approached one of my friends that appeared disgruntled and asked how he was doing. He grumbled to me about witnessing tourists walk across penguin highways with complete disregard, as well as seeing some people actually chasing down penguins to get the perfect picture instead of respecting international law and preserving the environment. I glanced around in disbelief, and then in horror. He was right. I spent the rest of the excursion on an isolated rock, watching the penguin colony struggle in the presence of dozens of humans and reflecting on the irony of my journey down to Antarctica. Even now I still wrestle with the ethics of my visit and if ecotourism should still continue.

We were at Brown Station, and had just finished climbing a steep mountain that gave us a breathtaking view of the bay on a backdrop of an icy mountain range. Before heading back to the vessel, the expedition leader took us on a Zodiac cruise of the surrounding area to check out some local cormorant colonies and some napping seals. We cruised by a cliff face with a small streak of green peeking through, and he explained that was a copper deposit, and how Antarctica is full of resources that many nations would love to exploit if they could. He ended with the importance of the Antarctic Treaty and how it’s the only thing standing between Antarctica and heavy resource extraction. This gave me a sense of urgency that I need to be aware of how my country and other countries handle policy concerning Antarctica and other natural havens.

Much of the time in Antarctica was not spent on land, but instead on the ship, especially the lounge. Trapped for ten days on this vessel with a limited amount of people to talk to, I made an unlikely connection and overcame one of the biggest fears of undergraduate life. Sitting around in the lounge, I started a conversation with one of the advising professors, and night after night, day after day, through small exchanges, we got to know each other and had intriguing conversations about his studies and our thoughts of various subjects. After the trip finished, it dawned on me that he was actually a professor: someone that stands in front of a class and leads discussions! It was bizarre to think that my professors were all normal people with opinions on things other than calculus.

Increased global awareness will continue to benefit me throughout my life, and hopefully beyond it too. Caring for our planet is extremely important, as climate change is one of today’s most pressing concerns. I hope this change of mindset can manifest itself into tangible progress in minimizing my impact on the planet, and also all of humanity’s impact as well.

With a newfound understanding and appreciation of professors, I hope that I can more readily approach professors and make stronger connections. These connections can enhance my education, as well as lend me future opportunities through recommendations and guidance.

Human-Animal Interactions: Spain Style

Throughout our journey to Spain through the Human-Animal Interactions Education abroad, we visited several different places that exemplified the diversify of animal care practices we as humans utilize, being given the opportunity to compare and contrast the cultural implications behind how we care for our animals. For example, we visited the Madrid Zoo, an animal rescue, several farms and animal research facilities, the Plaza de Toro (bull fighting arena) and more. Overall, throughout the places we visited in the wonderful country of Spain, there were many human-animal interactions that are similar and different that in the U.S., holding a good amount of pride and tradition in each.

“A country and its people should not be judged based on size. Nationalism is something you feel in your heart.” Dennis, the van driver and 9th generation Gibraltar native caught something that seemed to be prevalent throughout our trip through Spain: pride. No matter where we went or what human-animal interaction seemed to be in practice, there always seemed to be a certain amount of pride associated with it, whether that be due to tradition or just general production. Through animal practices such as entertainment and sports, production animal welfare, and commercial/touristic use, there were many human-animal interactions in Spain that were comparable to the United States.

Personally, this diverse belief system in the practice of animal use and care really opened my mind to how much a certain culture or way of thinking can change really effect an entire lifestyle different than my own. Yes, animal welfare and care may not seem that important to everyone, but entire industries in not just food production, but sports, education, conservation, and so much more are effected just by the way we care for our animals, and to travel somewhere seemingly similar and have it turn out to be quite different is eye opening in a way. While some things about their farming style, bull fighting, and expert practice in equestrian riding and show can be considered very controversial on several different levels, there is a huge amount of cultural belief and practice behind those practices that have been occurring for longer than the United States has even been a country. To see how much can play into our societal view of animals as human communities was very enlightening, and now I have a better understanding of why certain practices may be put into place because of the diversity behind the humans in control of animal life.

When it comes to the entertainment and sports industry and animals, there seemed to be more practices with a much deeper cultural meaning to them in Spain than in the United States. The first one that probably comes to mind is bull fighting. There is so much controversy outside of the country (excluding Catalonia) about the practice, and, while is can be considered inhuman euthanasia in the broad sense of the term “humane”, there doesn’t seemed to be much understanding behind why it is practiced. The Spanish bullfighting sport/entertainment industry isn’t exactly based off of revenue or gain, but the tradition and passion behind the fight. The bull is revered as ‘brave’ for the progression of the fight, and the way that its life is taken is basically seen as sacrificial. With each stage of the fight comes a different story, youth to midlife to the end of life, the fight is not just a show to the people who are watching it, but an almost spiritual performance. When the bull’s life is taken, the people involved are fully aware that it might be painful or incredibly stressful to the bull, but they also see this pain and stress as a valiant and courageous way to go. The bulls are going to be harvested for their meat either way, but to be utilized for their inbred behavior and dangerous attributes is basically an artform to the people involved. Bullfighting is almost a worshiping lifestyle, not only for the people involved in the fight but the ones who raise the bulls, and there is so much pride and tradition within each layer of the practice. The same could be said for the Spanish School of Equestrian Art and the practice of showing their horses. While some may think that showing horses is wrong and that there may be abuse involved, the relationship between the horse and the trainer/rider is something very unique. They both work toward the same goal of showing a prestigious movement or jump, and along with that comes a reputable pride in the aesthetics of the performance. This sport is also a lifestyle: a human-animal interaction that lasts longer than most.

Furthermore, I was very interested to see how the animal welfare practices and views were in Spain, and it turns out there were many commonalities with several differences in the upkeep of humane animal care. For example, in the University of Madrid’s animal research center, they also contained a system for ethical committee checks on the research process, however, it was a little more involved than the process we go through at Ohio State, having two in person committee reviews annually for each project. The government also seemed to have a greater hand in the auditing and care process of not only the research and production facilities, but even the animal rescue, donating just enough money to meet the physical needs of the animals brought to the shelter. That being said, the welfare practices and regulations on the farms that we visited seemed very similar to those we have in the United States, but with more control and regulation behind them.

Lastly, I feel like the certain pride that comes along with animal use and production in Spain should be noted. For example, everywhere we went in Spain, there were bull-themed products and statues, not only honoring the tradition and sport that is bull fighting, but using the animal as a symbol for the country itself. The same could be said with Gibraltar and the territory’s commercial use of macaques as a selling point for tourism. This sort of indirect human-animal interaction shows how much the people within and outside of the country appreciate the animals used in various settings, and use this point of pride to gain revenue. That same sort of pride was also reflected in certain animal products, like the pork and the cheese. To advertise the product as being a certain type, like 100% Manchego cheese or Iberian pork, there were many strict guidelines in place to defend that advertised labeling. Everything down to the color of the sheep and the exact feed intake of the pig were taken into account, and the whole of Spain has become famous for its pride in food. Indirect human-animal interactions such as animal imaging on products and consumption still do show the large amount of pride the Spanish have in their animal interactions, being very particular about the tradition that goes along with it as well.

Overall, throughout the places we visited in the wonderful country of Spain, there were many human-animal interactions that are similar and different that in the U.S., holding a good amount of pride and tradition in each. Through the tradition of animal use for sport and entertainment, which has been evolving and growing to the Spanish prestige it is today, we could see how the relationship and view of the animal has come to almost a worship and large respect in comparison to other animal uses. The animal welfare practices in Spain were very comparable to the United States, having more governmental checks but very similar issues and care routines. Animals could also be seen as a sense of pride in a touristic sense as well, seeing the animals and the animal products they are most proud of wherever we went.

The realization of the amount of diversity and perspective change there can be among something as common as the practice of animal care and human-animal interactions is very impactful in not only my future endeavors, but my future understanding of the motivation behind why people view animals the way they do. With a future centered around studying the care of animals, whether that be graduate school in animal welfare or veterinary school, I think that how we as as society view our animals and interact with them is extremely important, because, whether we realize it or not, animals are very ingrained in our lives from pets to food to the environment and everything in between. To see that, because of certain societal aspects (culture, ethics, expectations, etc.) animals can have a completely different care practice and viewpoint in store for them, I have a better understand of what thought can go behind our interactions. Personally, I may not agree with all of the practices I may have seen, but I can objectively describe and reason through why the care is a certain way, and that is they kind of knowledge I wouldn’t have been able to discover in a classroom or on my couch at home. My change in perspective about the diversity among human-animal interactions really can reflect in my future in several ways, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity that made a significant impact on my view and future understanding.

 

¡Bienvenidos a la Pura Vida!

My STEP Signature project consisted of a 10-day long Buck-I-SERV trip, in partnership with the Outdoor Adventure Center, to Costa Rica. We spent the first five days traveling from San Jose, to San Isidero, to las Piedras Blancas, and then to Brujo where we completed two days of community service. Then we spent the last three days white water rafting to la Playa Uvita, where we spent our last days learning to surf.

The biggest reason that I advocate traveling is because it gives you a look at the world outside of the U.S. Often we can become wrapped up the bubble of the United States since it surrounds us on a day to day basis. However, it’s important to remember that there are many other cultures, values, beliefs, and lifestyles throughout the world that are just as important and relevant as ours. Travel, at a very basic level, promotes understanding and cultural osmosis.

On our second day in Costa Rica we left our homestay from the night before and embarked on the journey to our next homestay, a house located in las Piedras Blancas, which is only accessible by climbing Cuesta Roja (“Red Hill”). As it turns out, Cuesta Roja is a four-hour hike of straight ascent. The fact that the locals considered the hill worthy of naming should have been the first sign that I may have gotten myself into a situation I wasn’t prepared for. Before this trip I considered myself an active, fit person, however, Cuesta Roja had me questioning everything in a near delirious state of mental and physical exhaustion. The point of this anecdote is more so the boy from the homestay who came to bring us lunch rather than my physical trials. After we had eaten lunch, we started the remainder of our trek with the 12-year-old boy, Daniel, acting as the leader. While the entirety of our group floundered on the side of the mountain, Daniel picked his footholds strategically and scaled the mountain with a grace only gained through years of practice. Daniel never complained that he was sweaty, that he was tired, or that he was out of breath. Leading our group was a part of contributing to the tourism business that supported his family, and so he waited patiently for us to catch up while we all watched, astounded at his hill-climbing prowess.

My objective in providing that short anecdote is to provide insight into the lives of the people we met in Costa Rica. I realize it’s said often, but the lifestyle we lead in the United States is somewhat cushy in comparison to other countries. The people of Costa Rica, especially those living in rural areas, must work for everything they have. They grow their own sugar, they raise their own livestock, they provide most necessities for their families themselves. The work ethic in Costa Rica is by far the aspect I am most impressed by, and an area in myself I spent a of time reflecting on as a result. Daniel never complained about Cuesta Roja, and subsequently I started noticing when I complained. If this 12-year-old could climb this hill multiple times a week, then I could climb it once with minimal griping. Daniel was only 12 and already helping with the family business by guiding tourists and delivering lunch.

It didn’t just end at Daniel, everyone we met seemed to work hard every second of the day. Our host families prepared us three meals a day, in addition to a small snack provided during afternoon coffee at 3:30pm every day. That’s a lot of cooking when they’re housing a group of 16 as well as their own family. Not to mention the fact that most of the food we ate had to be grown by the families themselves. It was about half way through the trip before we realized that any meat we were eating had been raised and butchered by the families themselves. This is something few people must deal with in the United States and was incredibly eye opening. Manos and Abraham, our guides, leave their families in Brujo for days on end to lead tourists and support their families. Some of the kids in the village walk two hours to get to the nearest high school.

Everyone we interacted with worked so hard at everything they did, and it caused me to evaluate my life back home in the States numerous times a day. If I want to eat chicken for dinner, I simply go to the store. I don’t ever have to hike, period, let alone hike Cuesta Roja weekly. The approach they have to life was probably the most memorable and admirable part of the trip for me, and my goal since getting back has been to give more of myself to whatever I do. If I could develop even a fraction of the work ethic they have, I’d be a much better person.

I hope to bring back to the U.S. with me a better attitude. That’s not to say that I’ve ever considered myself to have a bad attitude, but I want to incorporate more of the zest for life found in the people of Costa Rica into my everyday life. I hope that whenever work gets me down that I think of Daniel and his patience in getting us up the hill.

  

Buck-I-SERV Trip to Akokwa, Ghana

Colleen Harkins
Service-Learning and Community Service

This past winter break, I went on a Buck-I-SERV trip with the Akumanyi Foundation to Akokwa, Ghana for 10 days where we worked at an Orphanage in a very rural part of Ghana. Most of the daily chores we helped with included sweeping and mopping, dishes, cooking, and bathing kids. When we weren’t helping with these chores, we played a lot with the many kids there. On the weekend of December 30-31st we took a trip to Cape Coast and did a lot of sight-seeing and toured historic sights such as Kakum National Park and the Elmina Slave Castle. We also had the opportunity to go to various neighboring villages to see the foundation’s other projects.

Outside of school we painted

Helping cook lunch.

Going into this trip, I didn’t have many expectations. I knew I would experience some form of culture shock from seeing how different Ghana is from America, which I definitely did experience. The biggest difference I did see was how content the kids in Ghana were with the little they had. Because the orphanage houses over 85 kids, none of them really had anything that was their own. Everyone shared everything and was very open and willing to sharing with their brothers and sisters. This was so different from my experience with American children who always seem to want to take possession of “their” things. Related to this, another difference I also noticed was how everyone seemed to have a group mentality instead of a “me first” mentality so often seen in America. Almost everyone I encountered there had a very large focus on everyone around them and success as a group. This was such a refreshing change from the way of life in America that tends to focus a lot on “every man for himself.” I do feel like a lot of my own personal views on life were put into perspective because of these encounters and I reevaluated a lot of my life. This was evident solely by watching the kids work and interact with each other. They always made sure all of their brothers and sisters were taken care of and would share everything they had to make the others happy. One day, for example, one of the kids found a cardboard box that they started playing with and found so much joy in playing with. Another kid came up and immediately the other shared the box with them so they could enjoy it together.

Most of the kids saying goodbye before we left.

On the other hand, I feel like my biggest shock actually came from the large amount of similarities between Ghanaians and Americans. Many of the kids I interacted with reminded me so much of American kids at heart. Although they found joy in such different things, it made me realize that kids are kids and they all have the same spirit, which was really cool to see. This definitely opened my eyes to the idea that, while people may come from different backgrounds or situations, we are all still the same in some ways.

Lovester and I

Another big aspect of this trip, for me, was seeing the incredibly strong faith everyone had. Having faith in God is not even a question for everyone is there and it shows everywhere. In all of the villages and on all of the cars were signs and sayings about God and having faith in Him as a protector. Additionally, all of the kids genuinely enjoyed learning about and praising God and going to Church. They would openly ask all of the volunteers if we knew God and gave Him the praise He deserved. For me as a Christian, this transformed my view of my faith entirely and strengthened it tremendously. I also had the opportunity to go to Church on New Year’s Eve from 9 PM to 12:30 AM. The concept behind it was to start off the new year giving praise to God and praying for well-being in the upcoming year. This was such an incredible concept to me that I had never thought of before. I also got a chance to talk to a 14 year old girl named Lovester. This girl suffered through many hardships because of her situation but also because she relied on a prosthetic leg that didn’t fit very well at all. It was easy to see that she struggled to run and play with other kids or even do basic chores because of this. In spite of her situation, Lovester had some of the strongest faith in God I have ever experience in my life. She alone gave me an entirely new perspective on my life and what I consider to be problems.

Elmina Slave Castle, Cape Coast

Plaque outside Elmina

Lastly, an experience that had a big impact on my views was the tour of the Elmina Slave Castle in Cape Coast. The castle was the largest center for slave trade in Ghana. We were fortunate enough to be able to get a tour of the castle and it was extremely eye-opening for me. It is one thing to learn about the slave trade in history class in school but it is another to be standing in the place where part of it all occurred and to be immersed in the experience. To actually see how small and dark the rooms were the captives were held were and to walk through the “Door of No Return” puts a whole new understanding on the subject. For me, not only did it give me a newer and realer understanding of the slave trade, it also gave me a new perspective to modern-day racism in the United States and how we have gotten to the point we’re at now.

All of these experiences on my trip transformed my world view as well as my personal view. Overall, it was an incredible opportunity that I think everyone should be able to experience in their lifetime. I went into this trip with a pre-existing passion for service and came out with a new understanding for what that means in my life. Personally, I now have a deeper perspective to who I am as a global citizen and how important it is for me to do my part in helping others. Academically and professionally, I feel compelled to combine what I learned and experienced with my long-term professional goals. As previously mentioned, I have always had a passion of helping others but have always seen it as a hobby and not so much as a career path. Now, I am looking into ways of integrating what I learned about service to my future career. As an engineering major, this is definitely within my possible career paths. I was extremely inspired by Lovester and am currently looking into work with prosthetics for children with disabilities. Seeing her hardship with an ill-fitting prosthetic inspired me to fix that specific issue. Additionally, my trip made me realize that, no matter what I end up doing in life, I would like for it to involve helping others.

I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to go to Ghana and am looking for any chance to go back. If it were not for STEP, I would not have had this experience and would not be who I am now.

 

 

 

 

STEP Reflection: Education Abroad in Peru

For my STEP signature project, I traveled to Peru to volunteer for a week through Cross-Cultural Solutions. After getting acclimated to the altitude and culture in Cusco, I had the chance to visit Machu Picchu. I then flew to Lima to work with children and do some manual labor in a daycare facility in the shantytown of Chorrillos.

Before this experience, I never had the opportunity to embrace a new culture in such a personal way. Although I have been out the country numerous times, my family is not the adventurous type. We always were sure to stick close to resorts or tourist destinations. I was unsure how I would be able to navigate a country I had never visited before, never mind the fact that I do not speak Spanish! I knew this trip would challenge me physically with the long length of flights, mentally with the language barrier, and emotionally with trying out new things on my own. However, it has been the best experience of my life.

Through many hours of research and some long phone conversations with my CCS mentor, I hoped to have some background knowledge of Peru before I arrived. Of course, what I had learned was only the tip of the iceberg. I was fortunate to have made some Canadian and Peruvian friends in my hostel that showed me the ropes of Cusco and what to expect in Lima. When I arrived to my volunteer placement in Lima, I could not believe my eyes. Many of the poor in Chorrillos live in a dusty, overpopulated, and unsanitary shantytown. Some of the children we worked with have been suffering from respiratory infections due to the poor air quality. I knew that things would be much different, but I did not know to what extent.

While working with the children, teachers, and parents at the daycare and school for disabled children, I fell in love with their sense of community. Despite their limited resources and harsh living environment, they found ways to make the lives of the children better. Independence and creativity were fostered by the teachers in every way possible. Lesson plans and activities had dual purposes. One day we created a recipe for the children’s lunch, then went down the street to the market to purchase the ingredients needed. The children helped us pick out the fresh ingredients and pay the merchants.

Due to holidays, there where days where attendance was lacking. On these days, the other volunteers and I updated the appearance of the school by painting the posterior walls. Although it took many hours, the teachers appreciated it, as they did not have the time nor energy to devote to such a massive project. The teachers requested this project due to the distracting nature of previous paintings. Too many of the children often lost focus during lessons because they were distracted and discussed the old paintings. Although we had to paint over many of past daycare kids’ paintings, I know that the current students will get much more out of their daily lessons now that they can give their full attention to their teachers.

Despite the language barrier, the relationships I formed with the teachers and children will be ones that I never forget. The teachers were very patient with us when trying to explain concepts. They were so excited when we completed the projects they requested of us. The children were often very young, so they did not notice the language gap often, as they simply wanted to play. By the end of my trip in Peru, it became apparent to me that it does not matter where you travel, as long as you are willing to learn and try new things the world has so much to offer in experiences and ideas.

This experience has unveiled a new side of me that I did not know existed. Before travelling on my own, I did not know what I prioritized in my life or try new things often. Since coming home, I have found myself being much more willing to try new things and being more open minded to ideas other than my own. Thanks to this experience, I now plan to pursue a global health elective once in graduate school for physical therapy. I wish to take my knowledge and apply it in places where I will be more than repaid in experiencing culture, adventure, and new ways of life.

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Antarctic Exploration

With the support of STEP and The Ohio State University, I embarked on a research-based trip from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica this December, 2017. Our large group’s research was centered around three topics: the sustainable development of Antarctic tourism & its effect on the environment, seabird conservation, and iceberg census data analysis. We travelled through the Drake Passage to visit a variety of locations around Antarctica, including: Orne Harbor, Wilhelmina Bay, Lemaire Channel, Petermann Island, Pleneau Island, Dorian Bay, Paradise Harbor, Neko Harbor, Curtiss Bay, Mikkelsen Harbor, & Deception Island.

The journey that landed me on the bottom of the earth did more than open my eyes to our world’s undeniable beauty. This course engrained both a deep understanding of human and biophysical dimensions of life in Antarctica and insight into its history and potential future state. My interest in the exploration and conservation of the mysterious, fragile continent grew more and more throughout our field experience. Through travels from Argentina to Antarctica, we viewed and analyzed the positive and negative effects of ecotourism. I believe that we need to act as vocal advocates for the preservation of this ever-mysterious continent, so that we can protect it from the negative aspects of the tourist industry and other forms of exploitation.  Additionally, my critical takeaways of this experience are vast and varied. Not only was I able to further develop my intellectual maturity, my cross-cultural engagements, team positions and frequent self-reflections greatly enhanced my confidence. It is difficult to observe such an untouched environment and refrain from getting overwhelming feelings of appreciation and envy. I applied my learnings from this semester to conduct research over a combination of my favorite things: exploration and the environment.

Our team’s overall focus was on iceberg census and environmental data analysis, and idea generation regarding the potential impacts of icebergs melting. My sub-group was responsible for the analysis of the census data collected throughout our trip to and from Antarctica. The teachings from the course administered prior to our travel departure, as well as the specific readings assigned to our group focusing our team’s focus, were vital to ensuring knowledge was obtained and properly applied throughout the research assignment. The field experience substantially affected my sense of identity and growth, and widened my global perspective. Not only were we able to enjoy what the area had to offer, we were able to utilize specific knowledge to draw conclusions about our observations.

Additionally, this field experience greatly influenced my sense of global awareness throughout the journey from Argentina to Antarctica. From the beginning of our time in Ushuaia, we were exposed to the effects of tourism on a town based on the profits of this industry. Although large amounts of tourists coming to visit the bottom of the world may appear purely beneficial due to monetary benefits, there are negative elements to keep in mind. The town has an especially important responsibility to keep its ecosystem clean based on its proximity to the delicate ecosystem of Antarctica. Steps were being taken to ensure that this was accomplished, as special recycling bins were located throughout the hiking routes and store personnel only handed out paper bags to package items purchased. Although measures were taken to minimize pollution, I still viewed scraps of trash throughout the streets – a sad sight. Before our field experience, I had primarily contemplated the preservation of Antarctica focusing on the area around the continent, spending minimal time thinking about how the gateway cities must specially monitor their inhabitants’ pollution, as well.

Furthermore, our time spent in Antarctica largely expanded my global awareness. Our experience was especially interesting because our boat consisted of many passengers from different cultures experiencing Antarctica with less knowledge about the fragile ecosystem, a sole intention of observing the views and taking pictures, and/or less respect for described regulations. These factors were maximally prevalent through people’s actions when walking around wildlife. Penguin highways were stomped through, paths not followed, distances people were required to stand away from animals were disregarded, and people would encircle the penguins, overwhelming them. Because penguins are not the most intelligent animals, when overwhelmed, they may retreat into the water and never return to their egg, forget where they are going, or get startled enough to hop off their eggs – leaving them open for skuas to prey on. At times when I would witness these acts, I would be swarmed with guilt because I was an addition to the intrusion of these protected habitats. Overall, I am glad that our group of educated and intrigued students witnessed the negative aspects of ecotourism, as we are now able to advocate for Antarctic preservation. My global awareness of positive and negative aspects of life both in Argentina and Antarctica has massively expanded based on specific field experiences from this journey.

Finally, this field experience was not only educationally beneficial, it widened my sense of self-identity and aided in my ongoing personal development. I have always been strong-minded when the subject of nature and preservation arises. I believe that this experience further established my need to prioritize reusing, reducing and recycling in everyday life. Last summer I worked in the Environmental Health and Safety department of a L’Oreal manufacturing facility, where I worked to reduce carbon emissions, educate people on environmental issues, and brainstorm ideas to decrease the company’s environmental footstep. This trip further established my need to work for a company that is extremely focused on these issues. I have recently accepted a job working for Ecolab, a company that’s aim is to help make the world a cleaner, safer and healthier place. I believe that my passion for environmental sustainability must continue within my career path. Also, I feel extremely humbled by this experience. I have been privileged to visit many historic and beautiful places around the world, but Antarctica presented a new level of breathtaking. The undisturbed ecosystem reminded me to value the important things in my life, and take advantage of every opportunity. If the opportunity arises to return to Antarctica and visit the same harbors and bays, it will never look the same, as the ice melts and glaciers fall. This is a reminder to put down our phones, take out our headphones, and absorb the world around us.

 

STEP Reflection

Over winter break, I traveled to the Dominican Republic to study environmental sustainability. Throughout the week, we received many lectures about how the country of the Dominican Republic and its people are taking on sustainable development. In addition, we learned about the current status of the country and what efforts were needed to be taken in order to address the current issue presenting the people.

Throughout this trip, I learned much about myself and found myself beginning to grasp a deeper global awareness. I realized how beautiful others’ cultures are, and that the differences between my own culture and theirs are to be celebrated. There is no right or wrong way to live a happy life, and the people of the Dominican Republic were living their own version of a happy life. This to me was beautiful and I found myself appreciating others and their lifestyles. Another experience that transformed my way of thinking was how beautiful the nature was there. The people of the Dominican Republic are proud of the land they live in, and as much as they want to protect their land, they are just not given the opportunity to learn about the necessary sustainable steps to take in order to combat global issues, such as unsafe drinking water.

I believe that the moments that transformed me the most was traveling through the cities of lower income and seeing the conditions in which they live. It was a definite form of culture shock for me, and really made me question the privileges that I hold. This trip also allowed me the opportunity to realize that the way that the people of the Dominican Republic live their life, although very different from American life, is not a “bad” or “wrong” way to live. I found myself making the mistake of holding American culture as a global standard, which is a dangerous assumption to hold. Because of this trip, I now have a better global awareness.

Another moment that transformed me was when we visited the factories that they run there. For example, when we visited the coffee plant, where they sort all of their beans and roast them in order for them to be ready to be made into coffee. The way that they ran their factory was admirable. It was a very small building, and most of the work was done by hand, although they did have machines as well to assist with the tedious work. It was amazing to see the passion of the factory workers who were doing the handiwork. It makes you appreciate the work that is now replaced by machines in America, and how the job still gets done and the product is still made.

I am extremely grateful for this experience, it allowed me to increase my global and cultural awareness. I believe that the experiences that I had in the Dominican Republic have made me into a better, more educated woman, and that the knowledge I gained will help me in academic and professional settings. Being a more culturally aware person helps you navigate diverse settings, which is an extremely important quality to exercise in your every day life.

Education Abroad- My Semester in Edinburgh, Scotland

For my STEP signature project, I studied abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland. While there, I took three classes: two linguistics classes for my major, and a history class. I also had the opportunity to travel throughout the U.K. and the rest of Europe on weekends and in my spare time.
Before I started my 4 months abroad I spent a lot of time researching various aspects of Scotland’s culture and the university I was enrolling in. This was intended to make me feel less nervous before I left, as well as to help me avoid any potential gaffes for when I arrived and it worked out very well. For example, I remember going to a pub quiz, a popular British pastime similar to a trivia night at a bar, during my first week abroad. I had 5 American teammates, yet it was only me and 1 other friend being able to answer the Scottish pop culture and history questions because we had taken the time to do our homework. This may seem like a trivial example of putting my knowledge to use, but it was more important in the bigger picture. After less than 2 weeks I felt almost completely acclimated to my new home, what was expected of me at the university, and I had already begun to travel outside the UK on the weekends. Overall, I felt that I had a smoother and more positive transition into life in Edinburgh than some of my friends.
One maybe “consequence” of this preparation was that my view of the world wasn’t radically changed and I didn’t deal with any huge issues that would have completely transformed my understanding of myself. That being said, this past semester helped to confirm a lot of things I already felt about my personality and let me notice and appreciate the minute differences between American society and British society. For example, my time abroad confirmed that I really relish being independent, as demonstrated by me figuring out how to budget my time and money, as well as planning a ton of trips, including a solo one to Paris. However, this time confirmed that I also really enjoy close friendships, as I was lucky enough to meet some people that I still am in constant contact with. If I plan to spend more time abroad in the future I will have to consider how easy it will be to create some sort of support network, as I believed my time wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable without a few strong friendships.
In terms of cultural learning, I really loved picking up on the small differences between Scottish culture and my own, specifically things you can’t find easily on the internet. One thing that really enhanced this was one of my linguistics courses, entitled Scots and Scottish English. This class was dedicated to the linguistic analysis of Scottish English, which is just regular British English with a Scottish Accent, and Scots, which is considered a divergent dialect of English that is so different that it is quite difficult for even Brits to understand. During one class we specifically talked about the unique accent that comes from Glasgow. A few days later I got dinner with an American friend who brought along her Glaswegian flat mate. Not only did I have a fun time talking to her and learning about her life, my background knowledge of her accent made the conversation so much richer and more interesting. Another example of cultural learning came from some of the weird quirks about Edinburgh and Europe in general. For one, out of all 8 countries I visited, water was never served at a restaurant without you asking for it, and many times you have to buy it, as tap water is not available. Also, I was intrigued to learn that most Brits have super strong opinions on American politics and it was interesting to hear from them what they thought the impact American policy had on the UK. One friend even told me he and his friends got up at 4 am to go to a viewing party at a pub for our presidential election. From the big to the small, it was stuff like this that added important layers of understanding and knowledge to my world view without neccesarily really altering it in a big way.
Overall, my STEP signature project enriched my life in so many ways and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to study abroad. Being at a different university with a completely different academic style really let me weigh all the pros and cons of Ohio State and led me to re-analyze how I was spending my time at Ohio State. I came back with a newfound sense of appreciation for how hands on and accessible the professors here are, but have also noted that a class can be taught successfully without a lot of homework, and OSU tends to be heavy handed on the amount of work due for each class.
One thing I did when I came back was slightly lighten the load of responsibilities I had outside of class. My time abroad led me to realize that I had been unhappy sophomore year because I had spread myself so thin that I had almost no personal time. Having almost no responsibilities outside of my education while abroad led me to ponder the idea of working to live vs. living to work. Since I’ve been back I have been much happier without having to sacrifice too many of the activities that will help me achieve my future goals. This leads to the impact my time in Scotland had on my future plans. Studying abroad did not change my goal of getting my masters to become a speech pathologist. However, it did make me contemplate a gap year after graduation where I could do a lot of traveling but still be productive. This led me to the idea of teaching English abroad after I graduate next spring and that is currently one of the options I am exploring or my future. On top of that, I have this newfound sense of calm that I can thrive anywhere, and that wherever my future takes me, I can adapt and enjoy all the experiences the world has to offer.

Calton Hill, one of many beautiful views in Edinburgh

Some friends, the Scottish highlands, and the Scottish flag.

One of my favorite trips outside Scotland was beautiful Florence, Italy

STEP Reflection Laura Falb

For my STEP signature project I participated in the Prague Theatre study tour this past winter break. In 10 days we visited the historical attractions of Prague, Czech Republic and took an excursion to Dresden, Germany. While abroad I was able to attend theatre performances as well as experience exploring a new culture and take in the sights of Europe during Christmas time!

While in Prague, I found myself completely humbled by the sheer power of human beings every day. The city and surrounding areas are so incredibly picturesque and awe-inspiring. We visited countless old cathedrals, castles, and other almost inhuman architectural structures that I couldn’t even imagine being built in the present day, let alone hundreds of years ago. Walking every day in a city so full of history made me completely aware of my place in the timeline of humanity and how small I really am (in the best way possible). It’s so peaceful to be among such a different pace of life and be walking in the footsteps of incredible artists. I had so many moments of inner peace throughout the trip and I really taught myself how to put things into perspective and care less about the little things. The world is so big and there is so much we have not seen.

Every day, our group was fortunate enough to see a new part of the city (as well as nearby historical towns). Each morning we were guided by our incredible tour guide as she told stories of the different historical facts of each building, statue, street, store, etc. Standing on the historic Charles Bridge, being guided through Prague Castle, walking up the hill in the village near Karlstejn to the castle to name a few were really triggers to that deep emotional pull I felt toward the city. Additionally, seeing theatre performances in a different country was also a huge moment for me – as theatre is my major and future career, seeing how different life perspectives affect performance brought out those humbling and inspiring feelings.

One of the most important aspects of my STEP project experience was developing the relationships with my peers and professors. Before the trip this winter break, I was required to take a pre-departure course covering Slavic history spanning centuries. With the help of Professor Joe Brandesky, I was fortunate to have a background of knowledge about the sights, locations, and performances we attended in Prague before departing. Professor Brandesky’s knowledge was so expansive and fascinating, and it was so important to me to have that relationship with him before being in country. He, along with his colleague and friend Dáša Antelmanová were incredible guides, stopping to explain the details of locations we visited as we toured the city – Dasa’s enthralling storytelling and incredible kindness and hospitality allowed me to feel at home in Prague. In addition, I only knew 2 other students going on the trip prior – my high school best friend and a close friend I met while at OSU – the rest of the group consisted of students from the OSU Lima campus. Because I did not know them prior, I was a little nervous at how we would all get along. However, I was pleasantly surprised by our bond. I could not imagine the trip without them and experiencing a foreign country with new friends and acquaintances added to the experience and was very monumental in my life.

Another trans-formative experience in Prague was taking a day trip to the concentration camp Terezin. Reading about the Holocaust growing up and seeing evidence of it in person are completely different experiences. You don’t quite grasp the unbelievably sickening truth of it until you’re standing in the footsteps of it. Standing in the crematorium, seeing some of the actual tools used in the experiments – made me sick the whole time I was standing there. While it was overwhelming, I truly feel grateful to have been there. I have a new perspective on just what humanity is capable of. I felt powerless and powerful all at the same time. While brief, those few moments spent there gave me the conviction to create art aimed at the goodness of heart – and how important it is especially in today’s world to promote the goodness in humanity and never ignore the hate in people. It was so beautiful and being surrounded by my peers made the experience that much more special.

Having this brief trip to Prague has opened my eyes in so many different ways – the city itself is a work of art. As an artist, it’s so important to me to be surrounded by things that make me excited to be alive. Every detail of the city made me breathless just to walk down the street. Having the chance to be in historic buildings (including theatres) made me aware of the ability of human beings. In my career I will be constantly pushed to share the human experience with others, and what better way to see the creativity of humans than in a city such as Prague. I’m further inspired to re-visit Europe and explore what else it has to offer. It is so important to travel and gain a new perspective on life and I’m so excited to allow my experience here with OSU study abroad to continuously inspire me.

An Antarctic Adventure

Thanks to Ohio State and STEP, I had the opportunity to travel to Antarctica via the Antarctica: Human Impacts on the Environment program. From December 15th to December 30th, myself and 28 other college students embarked on the journey of a lifetime to the coldest, harshest, and driest continent on the planet. This study abroad contained a research component as well, so gained valuable skills related to conducting research in a changing environment. The journal began in Ushuaia, Argentina, where I learned about ecotourism and the impact of tourism on a small town. From the Ushuaia port, we sailed on a small research vessel through the Beagle Channel out to the infamous Drake Passage, known for its history of sinking ships and producing waves to make your stomach churn. Upon our arrival to the Antarctic Peninsula, our group and other tourists aboard the vessel stepped ashore on the most ecologically pristine continent to view penguins, pinnipeds, whales, and birds seen nowhere else in the world. Between the glaciers, icebergs, mountains, and wildlife, this trip was truly magical.

Despite being a global traveler, this trip challenged me in ways I could have never expected. Simply traveling to Antarctica requires a physical stamina that shouldn’t be underestimated. The total commute from my hometown of Chicago to Ushuaia took a whopping 33 hours. Airtime alone was 17 hours in one direction – overnight. This required an adaption to flying and the ability to sit still for an extended period of time. Traveling through the Drake Passage takes about two and a half days so tolerance of seasickness was also required. Despite these trying experiences, I also saw the most beautiful sights. The mountains of Patagonia are not to be missed, nor the bow-riding dolphins, whales, wandering albatross, and penguins in the Drake Passage. My understanding of the beauty in times of difficulty developed simply from traveling. I also became more aware of nature and its strength and beauty from the trip. While traveling about the Antarctic Peninsula, I also realized much about myself. As an Earth Science student, I have always had an affinity for ice, rocks, and earth processes. While in Antarctica, I was able to exercise these skills in the field by corresponding with geologists on the research vessel, conducting iceberg census data, and simply marveling at the sights. Most people don’t know that Antarctica has mountains, so seeing these untouched geologic wonders and glaciers that were sitting on their cliffs was truly incredible. This experience helped me develop my sense of place in the world. I definitely learned that my niche lies in the polar regions and that I truly enjoyed sharing my knowledge of glaciology and geology with others. Frequently during the trip I was asked about various geological or glacial formations (as I was the only Earth Sciences student on the ship), so I took great pleasure in sharing my understanding of the physical environment. This solidified my long-term career goal of continuing academia and pursuing a doctorates degree to become a professor at an accredited university. I want to share my passion of the polar regions with others in hopes that they would also appreciate and marvel at them. This was a transformation that took place during the trip!

I also learned a fair bit about ecotourism, so this has also shaped my views of the world and traveling. Ecotourism was a module of research taken on by a few students (not myself) within our group. Essentially, they were in charge of calculating and quantifying the environmental and social impacts of traveling to Antarctica. Some of these impacts were visible to me. For example, Ushuaia does not have the infrastructure for an influx in tourism, so they are falling behind in waste treatment and infrastructure for employees in the tourism. As a result, much of their waste is dumped in the harbor, and some homes are made of spare materials. There are beautiful parts to Ushuaia, however I was bothered by my own ecological impact. In addition to this, I also recognized that Antarctic wildlife was not accustomed to tourists. Despite some sites seeing up to 10,000 tourists daily, some wildlife expressed discomfort when being closely photographed by tourists or when we hiked close by. As an outsider, I recognize that I am not able to do much, but as an employee, I may be able to contribute more towards sustainability and wildlife protection. A shorter-term job goal would be to work in the tourism industry as a wildlife guide. The rewards of this are two-fold; I would be able to teach others about the things I love, such as glaciers and rocks, and I would be able to help others respect and appreciate the wildlife at a safer distance for all parties involved. Therefore, I learned that I may not want to jump into graduate school immediately after graduation. Rather, I am heavily considering contributing to ecotourism in a positive and constructive manner.

This trip was not only fun, but it was also a massive educational experience. First, there is a research component involved with this study abroad, so the students participating in the program were required to read peer-reviewed literature and gather data towards this research. We worked in teams and in shifts to gather data, and again in small groups to analyze said data. Using our data, assigned readings, and addition material taken from the ship’s library, each research group had to create a 15-minute presentation on their subject, a 20-page research paper, and Ohio State students will be presenting at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. To be able to gather data, analyze it, write about it, and present it is essential for any research project. These skills are also essential for a future in academia. During this trip, I found that I enjoyed conducting research and in fact, I looked forward to each time I got to gather data from the field. This is promising and helped me develop as a scientist. I hope to further improve these skills by conducting undergraduate research during the academic year and doing a separate research project this summer as an intern.

Another learning opportunity came from the pre-departure online lectures and the lectures held during the travel through the Drake Passage. The college group tuned in every Wednesday evening to hear lectures by several professors. The subjects covered in these lectures varied from history and psychology to ecology and geology. Lectures on the boat also were catered towards our Antarctic adventure. We learned in more detail the role of krill, about pinnipeds, bird, glaciers, and history. These lectured removed any ignorance I had towards Antarctica and replaced it with awe. These lectures deepened my understanding of all processes and history surrounding Antarctica and allowed me to enjoy my trip from an educational perspective. During the trip, I was able to identify birds and better understand the wildlife and glaciers around me. This fueled my love for learning and my love for Antarctica. From this experience, I feel more well-rounded as a student.

This extraordinary one-in-a-lifetime experience helped me solidify my short and long-term career goals, my major, and my love for learning. I gained valuable tools related to conducting research as a student and professional in my field, and I planning to carry those tools well into my career and into my internships. I also learned my place in the world as an environmentalist, a teacher, and a student. I would like to strive to teach others and share my passions with others, while simultaneously helping travelers and students alike develop an appreciation for the environment and the wildlife around them. This trip also re-ignited the craving for adventure. Some personal goals I have now set for myself is to continue traveling, climb the highest summits on all seven continents, run a marathon on Antarctica, and pass the Antarctic Circle. I still have yet to see an orca or a wandering albatross, so I must go back to accomplish these goals. Being disturbed by some aspects of ecotourism has changed the way I live my life. Even though I have traveled to so many places, I plan to continue doing so in a more sustainable matter. I am also trying to live more environmentally-consciously. I found myself in Antarctica and will be going back in the near future, hopefully as an employee, but even more so as an explorer. This trip has been the experience of a lifetime, but it has also positively changed me, and these changes will last a lifetime.