Type of Project: Education Abroad
1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two
or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project
My STEP Signature Project was an Office of International Affairs educational abroad program to Hungary called Global May Hungary. I studied at the Budapest Metropolitan University and learned about Slavic culture and language. During my stay, I also visited Czechia, Slovakia, Poland, and Austria.
2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your
view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP
Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or
transformation that took place.
I have never been outside North America and I had no idea what other countries and other people were like anywhere else in the world. I was so excited to be able to see so many amazing things and meet such diverse individuals during my trip. This trip gave me an overall better understanding of the history and culture that is still alive and present in Eastern Europe. It made me realize my place in history and in this world. It put my whole life in perspective when considering everything I have done and plan to do in the future. It was crazy for me to realize that there are billions of people on this planet all leading different lives with different perspectives on their own reality. The knowledge that I gained on this trip is definitely something that will stick with me the rest of my life. It certainly made me appreciate other cultures and languages and the general diversity of the world. If anything, this trip has made me want to travel more in order to better understand the lives of people around the globe. Being able to see things from another person’s perspective truly broadens your understanding of basically everything. Just the basic principles of living can be so dissimilar between cultures given their own ethics and values. I think that concept is amazing and is something should be appreciated and celebrated everywhere. I hope that some day, everyone is given the opportunity to travel and experience the lives of people in order to realize that they are not just part of some country that you read about in history textbooks or something you see on the news.
3. 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? Write three or four paragraphs describing
the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project
that led to this change/transformation.
There were so many little things about each country I went to that surprised me and took me out of my comfort zone. One of the most impactful changes I had on this abroad experience was during my time in Poland. I’m sure everyone in my age group thinks of World War II and the Holocaust as being quite a long time ago, but in actuality my grandparents both were living their early lives during this time period. My grandpa was living in Italy at the time. The history of these events is still alive and fresh in Poland. Entire cities in Poland were leveled and Jewish people were forced to live inside ghettos with walls built around them. It was incredibly sad to visit areas where parts of the ghetto wall still stand to memorialize the victims of the war. It was crazy to think that many people still living in Poland may have had many family members affected by the atrocities that took place there. I have had the privilege of never having my family threatened by war or genocide. However, for many living in Eastern Europe, this is a significant part of the history that affected millions of lives. So for me, this was a very humbling experience as I realized that this event was significantly more important than I thought. I’ve always known that many people died during this time, but never took the time to consider the years that followed this tragedy. It made me put more importance in the understanding that history is not just a moment in time, but a continuum that still carries weight in the present. That although some things in history may have happened hundreds of years ago, the effects of these moments make up the here and the now. My entire life I have never thought history was that interesting of a subject in school, until I went on this trip and realized history is always happening and I am a part of it. My time in Poland was one of the many experiences on this trip that made me put my own life in perspective.
Another amazing thing that happened to me in Poland was that I met a group of students who were working as English teachers for children in Warsaw. They were all between the ages of 18 to 20 so all my age. Two were from Canada, two were from Australia, one was from New Zealand. They helped introduce me to their local friends and we went out together a few nights and it was truly awesome! It was super interesting to meet people from so many different backgrounds in one space and hear them talk about their lives. Especially talking to people who were basically the same age as me, it was insightful to see how we were all at different points in our lives. The time I spent with these people made me realize that everyone will have a different path to their future and some take longer or shorter than others. Also, the place in someone life right now should not be compared to others because everyone is different. For some, having a career already suits them better and for some getting an education is the right move for them. It doesn’t mean that the person pursuing a higher education is behind, it just means that their path is different and better for them. This was a lot more comforting to me to realize as I am trying to figure out my life. Many people are at different points in their journey and it doesn’t mean I am ahead them or behind them. Everything takes time.
On a lighter subject, the culture in Eastern Europe was so completely different than in the United States. It was crazy to see so many young people outside and walking around. The nightlife was so much different in Hungary especially since the drinking age is lower and there seems to be no open container laws in many areas. People just gathered in outdoor spaces, especially in parks and patio bars. There were so many places in each city where there was a lot of open space and no cars allowed. In Vienna, so many people would go out with friends to parts of the Danube river just to talk and drink. These people could also get safely home as not many people owned cars and would either walk or take public transportation everywhere. I think this is just a completely different experience than anything in the United States. Students would never be able to gather in the Oval to drink and to talk. Due to the higher drinking age and the open-container laws, students go strictly to bars or to their friend’s houses. So overall, the night life in both places is very different. The food culture in Eastern Europe was also very different. If there were any drive-through restaurants, I did not see them. There was still fast food like some Mcdonalds and tons of gyro places. However, most people would go to restaurants and have long meals with family. It was just expected that meal times were more valuable because it meant time for people to sit down and talk over food. The varieties of food they had were much different. There were a lot less burgers, pizza and ice cream and more of gyros, pierogies and gelato. The weirdest thing is that it seemed like Americans drink a lot more water. The first few nights at our hostel they expected that we just wanted beer or wine instead of water. They also did not put ice in their drinks which was my least favorite since I love ice cold water. Overall however, eating so many different kinds of food was so amazing and I still crave some of their famous gyros and flavored gelatos.
4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your
life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or
development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or
professional goals and future plans.
I believe that my overall transformation is significant because I realized that people are selfish. This includes myself. Not that people mean to be, and many people probably actively try to make sure they act selflessly everyday. The problem is that many people only consider themselves when thinking about heavy topics. Topics such as politics, religion, beliefs, and the meaning of life. These affect everyone and when a country or a cultures changes their political stance or religious beliefs, this can greatly impact the quality of life for many people. Not many people take the time to research opposing views, or take a moment and understand something from someone else’s perspective. It needs to be realized that people of different cultures were raised completely unlike you and that their values are representative of what they think is right and true. People will never fully agree with each other on everything, and that’s fine. Humanity would not exist without the diversity of cultures and people that currently make up our present day lives. However, some people constantly push their own agenda and dismiss the views of others without a thought. As a society, we will never come to an agreement on anything if we are constantly focusing on ourselves as individuals instead of thinking of ourselves as a member of society. Certain groups of people are constantly dehumanized on the news, on social media, and in everyday life because people do not take the time to understand these groups and their beliefs. I think it’s incredibly important to meet new people and broaden your perspective everyday. It’s important to not take things at face value and to work to gain a better understanding. Overall, this study abroad trip made me realize that I am just one person and there is such much in the world that I still don’t understand. I hope through my academic and personal life that I will be able to keep an open mind and think more selflessly about my everyday life. As a health science major who is currently concerned about the health care of this country, I hope to broaden my political and economic views in order to help millions of people in need.