The U.S., Europe, And The Second World War-Interactions In 20th Century History

Name: Natalie Hale
Type of Project: Education Abroad
1. My STEP Signature Project involved travelling to four countries and five cities across Europe with a history program known as “The U.S., Europe, And The Second World War-Interactions In 20th Century History.” My cohort and I explored various museums, memorials, and historical sites important to World War II.
2. This study abroad program was my first experience abroad. Not only was I immersed in the present local culture, but I was provided with the opportunity to connect the history I have spent the past semester learning about to the actual places in which the events took place. The United Space has an interesting perspective on World War II that shapes the way students learn about and understand the actions—it was not a “war at home.” Maybe in the sense that sacrifices were made, with women working jobs left behind by the men at war and even piloting aircraft domestically, as well as rationing and victory bonds. But the fighting itself was not domestic, nor did it really have the potential to be. This was a unique position, to be surrounded by vast oceans and allies. Now, this is not to be ignorant of events like Pearl Harbor, which resulted in the loss of war materiel and life, or the internment camps for those of Japanese descent. These experiences still shape life and policy, domestic and foreign, in the present day. The ability to set foot in the countries where the war took place gave us all the sense of history happening here as opposed to over there. I found that I was able to connect the events I’d spent the past semester researching with a physical location. There is something quite powerful about standing in the place where immense military operations or unthinkable atrocities took place.
3. I found that it was both the experience as a whole, as well as the different places I visited that made my transformation feel more complete. France and Poland provided me with my most influential experiences.

Bayeux was our first stop in France. It is a small coastal town, quiet but home to beautiful architecture and close to the beaches of Normandy. While Utah was fairly well preserved, an empty stretch of coast meant to give visitors a sense of what the soldiers faced as they landed on the beach, Omaha was strikingly crowded. A large monument seemed fitting, but there was a flurry of activity around us. French schoolchildren played in the sand, tourist shops lined the roads, and towering vacation homes were perched on the hills that rose beyond the sands. We also visited Point du Hoc, an American memorial to the men who scaled cliffs and took out a German post that would have drastically impacted the success of the Americans during the invasion of Normandy. My cohort and I explored the various parts of the post that have been left to nature. This included climbing in and out of bunkers and turrets. I was taken aback by the various ways in which time marches on and people choose to remember while trying to balance moving forward and recovering from the pain of occupation.

My time in Krakow made me pause to think about the way in which smaller countries remember World War II. Poland was under the heel of its occupiers, which includes Germany and the former Soviet Union. The identity of the Polish people sprung up and grew through the gaps in other peoples’ cultures. There was no neat bookend to the destruction of the German occupation–it was followed by a Soviet presence that is still seen in the architecture of cities outside Krakow today. The Schindler museum is a monument to the new identity of Poland that only began to develop in the last 30 years, a reminder of the pain that led to the pride visitors see today. There is a reclamation of culture happening in Krakow.
4. As a student of sociology and history, this study abroad program provided me with an opportunity to explore not only different cultures in the present day, but the memories of a global war that shaped the way these people live. This understanding of an interconnected world cannot be taught in schools, it must be seen in the differences of collective memory and cultural customs. Relations between countries may still be cool based on events that feel so long ago, with individual prejudices not so far under the surface. It is a new lens to add to my interpretations moving forward in my research.

Education Abroad: London and Rome

During our Multicultural Histories and Legacies experience we traveled to London and Rome. The purpose of these destinations was to learn about the cultural backgrounds that make up these diverse and historic locations. Through visiting these ancient cities, we could witness first-hand how different cultures and religions shaped the cities and the overall progression of the region. In both London and Rome, we could learn about the diverse people and regions through visiting different ancient sites and religious buildings. Influences from all over the world contributed into making London and Rome into the economic and cultural powerhouses they are today.

During our time in both places we had meetings with people of all different backgrounds and religions whom all spoke about how their specific culture influenced the history in each city. Even our tours guides were often locals or had a strong attachment to the city they were explaining. This all made my abroad experience unique and helped me to immerse myself in the culture of London and Rome. By having the detailed tours of each city and interacting with all the different cultures and members of society, it helped to connect the different cultures with their contribution to the city’s history.

One of the biggest things I learned while abroad was the importance of being able to leave your comfort zone so that you can get the most out of every experience. During my abroad experience in London in Rome I put myself out of my comfort zone multiple times to talk to tour guides and even locals. This helped me to learn more about their culture and the people that make up the cities I was living in for a month. By doing these outgoing acts, I made my trip a very memorable experience filled with interesting conversations from soccer to crumbling economies of Britain and Italy. This incredible journey would not have been possible if I didn’t go out my way to meet people and create memorable experiences. This whole abroad trip made me realize the importance being a yes man and going outside of your comfort zone to make the most out of once in a lifetime experience.

My abroad experience not only helped me to appreciate leaving my comfort zone but also showed me that I am capable of living and surviving abroad. This trip made me feel more comfortable communicating with people of all different backgrounds. During our time abroad, we had discussions with people of all different religions and ethnicities and even visited sites like the Great Mosque, the Vatican and a Hindu Temple. We interact with people such as Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Italians, British and Indians. Through this abroad experience, we had the opportunity interact with people and religions we don’t normally experience but exist all over the globe, not just Europe. This whole experience help me feel the similarities and interconnectedness between all of humankind. We all aren’t very different from each other so I feel more comfortable talking with people that are different than myself more than ever now.

This education abroad experience helped me realize that I am willing to work or live abroad in a major commercial center like London or Rome. Also, this experience helped me to realize that I would not struggle to be independent living in another country outside of US. This is a big deal because now I know that I would feel comfortable to potentially pursue jobs outside America. This trip also made me realize how lucky and privileged I am to speak English and be a white American male even abroad. Speaking English was crucial to my survival in Rome because many Italians had a baseline in English, so therefore I didn’t need to know Italian to get by. Also, being a white English male meant I didn’t experienced any racism or sexual harassment and it also kept me out of any awkward situations that might have occurred between my myself and law enforcement. Now that I have recognized my privilege of being a white English speaking male, I will try not abuse it and rather I will try to be equally accommodating and caring for people that don’t share the same privilege as myself


Corfu, Greece: May Study Abroad

My STEP project was taking an ancient Greek history course at the Ionian University in Corfu, Greece. Along with having class five days a week, we went on supplementary excursions to Gastouri, Vergina, and Athens.

I have great pride in being American and living in the States, and I do not take it for granted. One transformation that took place for me was gaining perspective on how citizens of different countries view America. It forced me to take a step back and reflect on how we as a country portray ourselves to the rest of the world. Our unique political climate is under quite a microscope, and it seemed most Greek persons were greatly interested and somewhat humored by our politics. I entered my summer abroad feeling nervous about the reactions we may receive from locals, especially while in Greece (a country which accepts and sponsors thousands of refugees), yet everyone I encountered was more curious to ask our opinions on our culture than to judge us based off their understanding of America.

One of the most prominent experiences I had that led to this transformation was during a guest lecture by a lawyer/ professor from the University of Athens. He spent half the class period asking us our thoughts on how American politics compares to Greek politics. The discussion was very academically based and without personal attacks to any party. The great curiosity of the guest lecturer to prod our minds was a proud moment for us as a class. We felt valued to such an accomplished lecturer who was unbiased towards us and our politics.

Another experience that led to this transformation was one our first time renting boats for the day. The owner of the boats, Lenny, was instructing us on how the gas tank refilling system worked, and was reminding us to be conscious of our accelerations in order to save gasoline. He made a quick joke that “even if Uncle Donald doesn’t believe in climate change, we still shouldn’t waste gas”. Lenny’s comment about our president’s denial of climate change did not seem angry or passive aggressive. He was merely letting us know if we wanted to use his boats, we were not allowed to waste gasoline. It did not feel like he was making this comment to offend anyone; it was just a casual comparison for us to reference.

The final experience that helped this transformation take place was at a restaurant far out of the city. We were in the area for a hike and stopped at a restaurant for a quick lunch. Our waiter had broken English but was very curious to learn where we were from and why we were travelling through. After talking with him for sometime, he told us he had always wanted to move to New York, ever since his cousin moved there when he was a child. Again, he made a casual joke about how the immigration laws were tightening and our politics were getting crazy. Yet he seemed undeterred that his hopeful new home would be fitting and everything he had hoped for.

All three of these people proved themselves to be unbiased to Americans and the country itself despite its political climate. They were not prejudiced towards us based off our nationality even though, for all they could have guessed, we may have been the citizens who voted and led to our current political offices. My future plans are to become a Speech-Language Pathologist. I will be working with many different age groups with different speaking and swallowing abilities. My STEP project exposed me to a new form of unbiased treatment and sincerity. I hope to use their example in my career as I prepare to work one-on-one with many different persons from all over the country. Their curiosity and respect lays a foundation for me as I remember to listen to the patient when deciding upon a treatment program and remain unbiased to their abilities.



Education Abroad- Corfu, Greece

I used my STEP money to spend the month of May studying abroad in Corfu, Greece. During this month, the other students in the program and I went to class at the Ionian University and we studied Western civilizations from their start up until now. We also explored all the island had to offer outside of class time.

My views on a lot of things changed while I was on this trip. Since I had never been abroad before, I knew that being surrounded by a different culture and background would be a new experience for me. I was a little nervous about how I would adapt to it. Was it going to be a big change? Would I like it? These were questions I was considering before I got to the island. It only took living in Corfu for a couple of days for me to fall in love with the place, culture, and people. I think my favorite part about this was following the type of lifestyle the Corfiots lived, and at the end of the month, my group and I felt as though we were truly Corfiots as well.

One of the main difference in their lifestyle that we adapted to dealt with meals, specifically dinner. In Greece, dinner usually starts around 8 or 9pm and can take about 3 hours. Having meals together is a huge part of the Greek culture. They take their time eating and usually have multiple courses. They have a saying in Greek that means “slowly slowly” and we were often told this while at one of our favorite restaurants, Captain George’s, because we were eating too fast. No one ever rushed us to finish our meal to give our table to another group of people. It was nice to be able to go out to eat with our group, sit down and just take our time to enjoy our meal and spend time with each other. It took us a while to get used to this, and we usually only took about 2 hours, but now being back in the states this is something I miss.

The Corfiots were also some of the best people I have ever met. Our group developed great relationships with some of the locals. We frequently went to the same places and became friends with shop and restaurant owners. Every time our group would walk in they would greet us, ask us how our class was going, and see what our plans for the day or night were. They were very kind to us and took the time to get to know us. They would also do things for us just because they wanted to, not because they were expecting anything in return. For example, at many restaurants the owners would come talk to us and give us a free appetizer to try or a free dessert or fruit. Tipping is not a big thing in Greece, so they weren’t doing this to try to get us to pay them more, they only wanted us to try new things and welcome us.

We also lived like the locals and did the same things as them. We were always in Old Town. We would walk the streets, go shopping, eat gelato, or tour the old and new forts. We also asked people where the best beaches and hiking was. One of my favorite memories of the trip was when we took a bus to Paleokastrica, which was a beach on the other side of the island. We had heard that it was sandier than the rocky beaches we had already seen and that there was cliff jumping. The beach was beautiful. The water so clear and blue and surrounded by huge mountains. There was no sight of anyone cliff jumping though, so after spending some time in the water, we walked down to a boat renting place and asked them where the cliff jumping was. A man pointed us in a direction and told us it was a bit of a walk, but we were up for it. It took us almost an hour to get there and we frequently stopped and asked people if we were going in the right direction. We finally found the spot and I can now say I have gone cliff jumping into the Ionian Sea. I loved that day so much because there was no expectations. We randomly decided to do it and just let the day take us where it did. It’s the easy going lifestyle of Greece that I miss so much.

Taking 0n a new lifestyle was not always a simple thing. Even though I enjoyed it more than my normal one many times, it was still an adjustment. There were times I wanted dinner to only take 30 minutes because we were running late, and sometimes I wished there was more structure in our plans, but that just added to the experience. I saw the benefits of learning about a new culture and how that plays a role in someone’s lifestyle. Not everyone lives the same way and that’s okay, but it is something that needs to be respected. My career plans are to do something in the medical field. You have to deal with many different kinds of people from all sorts of backgrounds in this field. Having an even greater respect for others’ cultures and lifestyles will play an important role in how I will be able to communicate with and understand patients. I am so thankful that this is not just a lesson I was able to learn but one I got to fully experience.

-Cassie Wisbang

Global May Hungary STEP Reflection

Name: Meredith
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.

STEP Education Aboard Rwanda

My step signature project was a Global May trip to Rwanda. This study aboard program consisted of living in Rwanda for three weeks. This experience gave me a chance to explore the country’s culture. Within those three weeks we studied the genocide by observing sites we visited, such as memorials, and developments boards across the town of Kigali. One week throughout our trip was dedicated to living with a host family there in Rwanda. This gave my colleagues and I the opportunity to gain more insight of the Rwandan culture, and ton have chance to view their daily lives in depth during our visit.

For my first time traveling aboard there were many things I had to adapt to. From flying in the air for a long time, all the way to not being able to understand Kinyarwanda. I learned a lot about Rwanda, and their culture, but I also learned more about myself. Prior to traveling to the country my views about it were drastically different from my insights after being physically there. I didn’t think they would have cars, or even roads. I thought there will be no type of service or technology present. I was unsure if I would eat three meals a day, let alone one. It wasn’t because I thought they were extremely poor, and didn’t have food to provide us with, but because I was not sure if they would have a wide variety of things to choose from. However, the first day there we had pancakes, which happens to be my favorite. They provided all kinds of fresh fruit, and veggies. The food was amazing, and also very healthy. On top of that there were many people who owned cars. There were tons of store buildings. I didn’t expect for the country to be as developed as they were because of the horrible act of the genocide. There is so much nature, life, and happy people who enjoy their lives, who cherish their lives, and it moved me to see, and talk to people who have lost family members in the genocide, or who have participated in it forgive themselves or others, and try to move forward and be happy. I didn’t meet one rude Rwandan there. It made me appreciate my life more, and the things, and people who are in it. It made me look at things in bigger picture, and to know holding grudges will not get me any where. It made me appreciate the free water we have in our own house for free. To know I can wake up and brush my teeth with faucet water and not get sick is a good feeling. The assumption of Rwanda being in need for help was one of my views I had prior to coming on this trip, but after being there for three days I could see they they didn’t need anybody’s help. They have created the most beautifulest country I have ever seen. I don’t think anything will compare to the nature, and the alive atmosphere there. My biggest take away message, and understanding is that everybody’s diamonds, or treasure, or even happiness are all measured at different levels. Rwandans are happy with how they live their daily lives, and wouldn’t change, or move away from their country because they feel safe, and feel at home there.

On this trip I have made many connections with people. I became close to some of my colleagues. It was nice to have interactions with each of them. They all have great personalities. I also made a connection with my teacher and TA. However, the biggest connection that I made while I was there was with my host family. On this trip we visited many places that put my mind in deep thoughts about life in general. Some of these place left an impact on me. While we were there we visited memorials. Some memorials told the whole story about the genocide, and while others mainly focused on the area where the memorial were located. Visiting those memorials, and watching videos about it made me appreciate my family more. Now that I am home I stay home more, and try not to go out with my friends as much because you never know what is going to happen. I don’t know what I would do if I was to lose somebody who I am so close with. The memorials gave me a wake up call to live life to the fullest, and to do it with the people I love. They also reminded me that there are bigger, and deeper problems than the little ones I complain about throughout my life. I appreciate my life, and every single minute in it. Every since I’ve been home I have been seeing, and doing things differently. I am a much more understanding person, and I try to think about solutions before I overreact to something.
Another thing I picked up there was being more engaged. When I’m at home I tend to stay to myself, and not go no where, and just watch movies by myself. I was just so antisocial. The first few days there in Rwanda I still was antisocial, but some of my colleagues were busy bodies. After awhile I noticed that being by myself, and alone while everyone else was out exploring was making me feel sick physically, and mentally. My roommate convinced me one day that I should go out and explore with her and the others. I felt completely better after engaging with my colleagues and, having interactions with them. Being back here in Columbus I try to go out and do outings with my family, and friends more often instead of sitting in the house and wasting my life away. I want to be more ganged during the school year also, and start doing more organizations and just make a change some way some how. My colleagues helped me transformed in to a active, social person.

As I mentioned earlier one of our weeks was dedicated to living with a host family. I was extremely scared of living with another family due to personal history, but Professor Holley made sure I was safe, and secure. I am so glad I had the opportunity to live with a host family. I can’t stop bragging about them. I created a bond with them that can not be broken. We still talk almost everyday. My host family were two very loving newly weds who were expecting a baby. They took me under their wing, and made sure I was fed, safe, secured, and loved. They helped me over come my fears on being under a strangers roof. They were always so happy everyday. They loved waking up and going to work. They enjoyed walking me to the bus stop every morning. They didn’t complain about anything. They were very understanding people who didn’t hold grudges when people made them upset. They are the ones who made me open my eyes to things that should really matter to me. They gave me a different outlook on how life can be. Because of them I cherish myself more, my friends and family more, and just life more. I have went through tough situations throughout the years, and I had opened up to them about my situations, and they told me my life is to precious, and that I need to live a little more. I will never forget them and the lessons they have taught me. I appreciate everything they did.

The changes, and the transformations I have picked up on this trip are valuable to my life because it will help me in many ways as I grow up and become a adult. If I appreciate my life more it will push me to do great in school. To strive above, and beyond for high GPAs, and passing exams with flyings colors. Knowing what my life is worth will help me love myself more. It will help me to do things for myself sometimes, and not only for others. Being happy with my life, and myself can play a huge role into my future plans. I am not sure how they will impact them yet because I am unsure of my future plans, but I know the characteristics of loving your self, and loving your life always impacts something in a positive way.
Here is a link to my blog post I uploaded during my strip. I hope you enjoy!

A life-changing experience

Maya Wagner
Education Abroad Public Health Perspectives: Japan

1. My STEP Signature Project was a two and half week journey throughout the country of Japan, learning the culture, through a public health perspective. The program explored all aspects of Japanese public health care which included nursing homes, hospitals, and daycares just to name a few. We also learned about how Japan has handled natural disasters, manmade disasters (bombing of Hiroshima), and large quantity of an elderly population.

2. Learning about Japanese public health was an amazing experience, but my biggest takeaway was the personal transformation I had experienced. My perspective on life through the exploration of such a unique culture, customs, and healthcare has fully changed for the better.

3. I am half-Japanese, and prior to this trip, I had never met my Japanese family. Due to a divorce my Japanese heritage was ripped from me at a very young age. This was my first time to Japan, as well as my first time meeting my biological father and the rest of my family. Along with this, it was my first time experiencing and engulfing myself in my other culture. I learned so much about myself and life through this adventure, which was a priceless experience that I owe to the STEP program for making this happen.

a. The STEP signature project helped me dive deeper into my culture. Learning the healthcare, hearing testimonies, and first-hand experiences of such a different country, developed connections in myself in a field that I am so passionate about. I plan on opening my own practice as a nurse practitioner and I will apply what I learned in Japan, for a better patient experience and overall practice.

b. Learning the facts and visiting the sites in Japan was life changing, but I benefitted most from the personal interactions with the Japanese college students. This was how I really became to understand the culture through these interactions. Conversing with Japanese students in such a similar place in our lives was an awesome connection to relate and compare our lives. We ate dinner together, laughed together, and learned so much from these experiences. I learned about the individuals but also so much about this world. We may be so different on the outside, but within we are all the same, and I think that is an awesome perspective many need to experience. We were all just college students, still learning about ourselves, what we want to do in this world, while having fun throughout the process. This shared aspect made many conversations easy because we have had a similar experience at this time in our lives.

c. Lastly, the relationships that I formed with the OSU students are ones that I will cherish forever. Experiencing a different culture with the amazing group of students as I was with, will always hold a lasting bond between us. This trip not only made this world feel a little bit smaller, but it also made OSU feel smaller as well. It’s important to get involved in a college that may seem overwhelmingly big at times, but through the two years I have been at OSU, I can say that it feels smaller and smaller everyday. Seeing familiar faces around campuses is a daily encounter that becomes more prevalent every year.
4. I already mentioned how this experience has changed my future plans but I will like to elaborate on it. Learning about the Japanese healthcare and actually being apart of it are two totally different things. I can definitely see myself working in a Japanese hospital for a few years, to gain more knowledge and expertise to bring back to the US. This is a dream but I would love to make it a reality and I would have never known I would have wanted to do this without STEP and without this life changing journey. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, STEP!

I documented my trip on Instagram! Check out #OSUSTEP to see my pictures @mayawagner1. I also documented my foodie experience on @foodies.gone.wild!

New Friendships & Perspectives // China Global May 2017

The cliché statements you hear about people who travel abroad are everywhere:

      “It was so beautiful!”

      “The people were so nice/rude/beautiful/happy/sad/etc.”

      “The culture was so different.”

Although these sayings are not incorrect, I am reluctant to necessarily use them without deeper thought. After all, there’s no easy way to describe an extended stay in unknown waters to people back home who can’t understand your experiences first hand. How do you describe the good parts and the bad parts without leaving your listener with the wrong impression? Overemphasize the good and they’ll be left with a picture of an utopia without flaws, but stress the bad too much and they’ll picture a dangerous and unhappy place. There is no country, culture, or people in this world without flaws or redeeming characteristics. For this reason, it’s important to experience these things for yourself rather than to take the word of another. But this isn’t always possible- travel can be very expensive, and I was lucky enough to be able to travel to China thanks to funding from STEP. I want to express myself and my experiences as realistically as possible, but know that no matter how much detail I put into this writing, I lack faith in my own ability to properly represent the rich experiences I had, or the country which I have only just begun to dip my toes into.

The China Global May program is unique, and a program which I highly doubt could be successfully replicated elsewhere. It promises a crash course in the minority ethnicities living in China by offering interesting lectures given by scholars of various realms. These lectures are supplemented by field experiences which gives students the opportunity to meet the people behind the cultures which they read about. The real jewel offered by the China Global May program is the partnership which was cultivated between Ohio State professor, Dr. Mark Bender, and Southwest University for Nationalities, Professor Aku Wuwu. Because of their deep friendship and professional work together, we were lucky enough to be partnered with students from the SWUN College of Yi Studies. This allowed us to navigate the history, pop culture, and streets of China, while also developing deep bonds. My partner, Sha Sha, was by far the most memorable part of the trip for me.

The first picture (of many) which Sha Sha took of us.

This trip came at an interesting time for me. I had recently just decided that I was unhappy with my Management Information Systems major, and wanted to look into other majors where I could interact with people and understand them better. From this desire, I began leaning towards Sociology, but I was still unsure. The China Global May program was the perfect diving board into exploring the field. I was exposed to various types of societies and cultures where values and taboos were widely different from those which I was used to back home. I became very interested in understanding how my gender and skin color changed how people treated me in the streets of the large southwestern capital of Chengdu versus the rural mountainside which we reached by a fifteen hour train and an additional four hour car ride through some dirt roads which were snuggled up against the edge of mountains.

Here we taught our partners an old game we learned way back in elementary school.

Sha Sha helped me navigate these new rules which I was so unused to. Having grown up in a more rural conservative village before heading to college in one of the more liberal cities in China, she understood the many faces of the country well. She helped me understand how skin color, gender, sexuality, ethnicity (something she understood particularly well, being an Yi minority), and many other things were interpreted by her peers and her elders. Thinking about these issues and experiences was stimulating, and I enjoyed learning about the good and the bad behind different political and social issues in a country which very few Americans fully understand beyond what the media informs us of.

Some of the people in our group got “cupping” done. It’s a form of traditional Chinese medicine used to alleviate a variety of ailments.

I thought I understood China relatively well. After all, I have been taking Chinese classes for a while, exposing me to not only the language, but also the deeply intricate and lengthy history and culture. However, although this education gave me a strong foundation for understanding the basics behind the country and people, the intricacies were new territory and I found myself gaining a better perspective. Coming home, people asked me, “Is it true they can’t use FaceBook there?” My response was always, “Well… Yes and no. Many of the students I interacted with had a FaceBook because they used a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to get around the firewall.” This is just a small example of how I believe Americans (including myself) are when it comes to foreign countries. We learn small, one-sided tidbits of information about a country and feel very well informed. But there’s always more to the story than just the perspective which we hear about.

We tried on some of our partners traditional Yi clothing. The patterns were beautifully intricate.

My month long experience was both vast and limited in what new opinions and facts I was exposed to. I learned so much more than I ever knew about China and the many different types of people living there; however, I cannot claim to know it perfectly after visiting a small, small fraction of the country. I want to learn more about the way Chinese values differ from American values, or understand the ways that the many ethnicities which I didn’t have time to learn about have learned to navigate a Han-majority China in the 21st Century. Of course I would like to return and visit my many new friends, but I also see possibility of future trips, perhaps in graduate school, which focus on sociological studies and research. Maybe there will be an opportunity for me to better help Americans understand the somewhat complicated and multifaceted landscape of China, providing information on the good, the bad, and the in-between.

A picture of the sacred Lugu Lake.

Summer in Denmark – A Cultural Experience

For my STEP signature project, I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark for three weeks. I studied at a University in Copenhagen, DIS, and took a class called Roskilde Festival: Culture, Creativity and Community. The course was designed around one major cultural event that occurs in Denmark every summer, the Roskilde Music Festival, which is an 8 day long festival that is an experience unlike anything else in this world. The course dove in deep on what it is like to run a festival, the community that goes into it (it is run almost entirely by volunteers), and the different challenges that we face when putting on an event so big. Throughout the course, I was specifically assigned to a project on sustainability and how a festival the size of Roskilde can be sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Of course, the saying always goes that travel changes your worldview and I experienced nothing short of complete culture shock while in Denmark. It may be a Western city, but the way that the people live is completely different than people from the States. My three weeks in Denmark pushed me outside of my comfort zone, whether it was the overwhelming amount of work on sustainability I did at the Festival, the language barrier, or the other multiple personal life problems I was having while there. This study abroad experience challenged me. It challenged me to make new friends (something that is hard to do for me), to live in the moment, to learn different ways of doing things, or to be in a classroom with only 20 people (something almost unheard of at Ohio State).

This entire experience showed me there are more ways to live than the way we do in the United States. In Copenhagen, they bike everywhere, their grocery stores are more like the typical American Dollar Store, finding over the counter medicine is extremely difficult, and they have different priorities than people in the States. I cannot say I liked the culture of Denmark more than my home country, but I can say that they are extremely different. At first it was hard to adjust to this difference in living. They lack the amount of competition in the market place that we have, they rely so much on the honor system, and in general they go about things in a different way.

Where I saw these changes were mostly in my personal endeavors outside of the classroom. Wandering around the streets of Copenhagen or in the festival site, I learned so much about the culture that I was visiting. I learned so much about trust from this experience. The public transit is based on an honor system and, if you get caught, it’s a hefty fine. They leave their children and dogs outside of stores when picking something up. All in all, it was a very strange experience for me to witness, but it also opened my eyes to how untrusting we as Americans can be. Why are our first thoughts that someone is going to steal something of ours? Why do we expect the worst in people? It’s a question I do not have the answer to but I wish to someday figure out.

The lack of competition was most prevalent in the grocery store. Copenhagen has a law that says grocery stores cannot be bigger than a certain size which resulted in many little grocery stores. The small grocery stores do not all carry what you need and, if they do have what you want, there is only one brand. That is so completely different than the United States and it could be frustrating when I was shopping.

During my course I specifically learned about the cultural differences between the United States, Copenhagen, and the way the Danes act at the festival. I got to experience how a cultural event such as the Roskilde Festival is able to transform a group of people. Danes tend to be very reserved and quiet but at the Festival they transform into a more American type of culture. The festival turned the Danes (and other international attendees) into the typical American college student. They strike up conversations with strangers, are more outgoing and focus on having a good time. I talked to more Danes at the festival in the first 3 or 4 days than I had in the 2 weeks I had lived in Copenhagen before. I think this showed me that people aren’t always who they appear to be and that cultural norms have such an impact on how we interact with one another. It opened my eyes to the seemingly unfriendly cultures and how it may be that they’re friendly they’re just restricted by these unsaid rules of their culture. All over the world people have the same desire – to be accepted, and in certain areas of the world that means being ‘unfriendly’ in the American sense, being overbearing or whatever it is that separates the two cultures from one another.

This change in outlook towards different cultures has made me more aware of my own tendencies and preconceived notions. I saw in action that it is the situation that dictates how people act. This is an important realization for me due to my studies. I am studying Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability, and through this multidisciplinary major I have constantly been challenged to see the larger framework behind why people/businesses/governments act the way they do. This is such an important lesson in the field of environmental economics (the field I wish to go into) because at its core the field attempts to explain why people act the way that they do towards the environment and how economics can describe that. However, I will also be able to go deeper than just economics and understand the cultural reasoning behind actions and how, for example, a community can justify cutting down an entire forest by analyzing their culture as well as the economics that come into play. Overall, this experience has left me with a lot to think about going into my future endeavors.

Friends made during my three weeks in Copenhagen


The Orange Stage – main stage at Roskilde Festival

STEP Education Abroad Greece

My STEP project was a study abroad trip to Corfu, Greece during the month of May. During this time we took a class everyday from 10-1 at the Ionian University where we learned about European history and modern Greek issues. Outside of the classroom we had a few group excursions, time to explore the island in groups, and meet the locals.

Completing my STEP project by traveling to a new country and living there for a month definitely gave me a lot of time for self reflection and to branch out both socially and culturally. I had traveled out of the country before but I had never truly been immersed in another culture. I not only learned a lot about European culture and history in the classroom, but I learned about it from spending free time on the island exploring new places and meeting both locals and tourists. After studying abroad and spending a month with new people in a location that I was not familiar with, I learned what it truly meant to be open to new opportunities. Being in Greece I kept in mind that I would never have this chance again to spend some time with myself without too many responsibilities or obligations. During my STEP project I came to realize that I wanted to put an importance on both travel and paying more attention to world issues. Before this trip I knew a few of the issues that Greece is currently facing, but learning the history and modern circumstances really allowed me to understand it. Paying more attention to world news has helped me to learn more about the conflicts that the United States is facing, and I have taken a particular interest in environmental issues. I am now very interested in research and since being back I have been looking into internships in environmental services with the state of Ohio and other agencies. Living on “the green island,” which is a nickname for Corfu, allowed me to see a lot of beautiful places that have remained unharmed for hundreds of years.

There are many things that led to my transformational experience during my STEP project. One of the first ways that I learned about Greece and European culture was through the class I took there. Having different lecturers every couple of days allowed for us to have experts in each of the topics teaching us about different moments in time. Dr. and Mrs. Joyce were also very helpful when it came to understanding the material for tests and activities that we should do on the island and while in Athens. The locals and the other students that I went on the trip with also helped me to have a transformational experience. Corfu was a very safe place and the locals were happy to answer our questions about places we should go and understanding the language and culture.

Another thing that led to my transformational experience was the island itself. The public transportation on the island allowed for myself and others to explore different beaches, forts, and museums. From our teachers and guides we were informed about the best food and activities that Corfu had to offer. A few of the most transformational experiences were cliff diving with my classmates, visiting the old and new forts, and being apart of “Unification Day.” Going out of my comfort zone to try new things with my peers allowed me to dismiss my fears and just focus on being open to new things. The old and new forts were especially interesting because of the significance they had to the island while it was not under Greek control, and how intact they still are. Unification Day was especially interesting because  it drew very large crowds, included a parade with bands and marches with soldiers.

The change I experienced while studying abroad matters to my life because it showed me what it means to fully live in the moment. Having only a month in Greece pushed me to make the most out of every day, and I hope to carry this with me through out the rest of my life no matter where I might be. If I ever thought I was too tired to do something or a little afraid of the activity (like cliff jumping) I just reminded myself that I would mad for not taking the opportunity while I’m looking back on my trip when I’m in Ohio in a few weeks. Coming back from the trip I did a little reevaluating. I looked at some of the relationships in my life and saw where I wasn’t truly happy, or if I wasn’t being appreciative enough for the many gifts I have been given. I know now that I want to learn towards a career in environmental services in the government, either working with policy, education, or research. This area would require me to know a lot about what’s going on in different areas of the world and I would need to look outside of myself for answers. This trip made me realize how important others and the environment around us are for learning and growing as a person.