- This summer, for 5 weeks, I studied and practiced speaking French, both inside and outside of the classroom in Québec city. I went to class, participated in fun educational activities, and explored the city and what it had to offer.
- Over these 5 weeks, I became much more culturally aware. This was the first time I had ever been outside of the United States before. I also learned to speak French significantly better than before, and learned to effectively communicate with people who do not speak English. This experience has made me enjoy the French language much more, I now consider speaking French something fun to do, instead of something I just have to do for class.
- During this trip I made so many friends, including those from OSU, those from Québec, and those from all over the world who also participated in the same program. All of the friends that I made had such a huge positive impact on my experiences, and I consider myself lucky I got to share my experiences with them.
After class, each day, there were optional activities that we were able to participate in, most of them being free. These activities included: going to museums, going canoeing, playing soccer, going to a baseball game, wine and cheese tasting, hiking, karaoke night, improvisation, singing, and much more. These activities were to make friends and have fun; but they were mostly there so we could practice speaking French, with other students, in a relaxed setting. Some of the activities that I participated in made my trip unforgettable.
I made many friendships with people from all over the world, but the friends I became the closest with were the ones that came from OSU, because we spent so much time together. I felt consistently encouraged to go outside my comfort zone, and that feeling is what helped push me to have the best experience I possibly could.
- The way that the program has transformed me is something that I can use in my future. Speaking French better is personal goal of mine; but also something I require for my future academic goals. I currently plan on applying for OSU’s graduate program for French Education, and being able to speak French well is absolutely a requirement for that. The French I learned on this trip also allows me to do better in the French classes I am currently taking.
Not only will my improved French be beneficial to me in my future, but also the friendships I made and my better cultural awareness. Those are things that help in every moment of everyday life, and so I am so happy that I have them.
My Education Abroad – Prague Czech Republic – Jack Bernetich
Type of Project: Education Abroad
For my STEP Signature Project I studied abroad at Charles University located in Prague. I enrolled in an economics course focusing on the European Union and Asia at Charles University. Along with my coursework, I traveled throughout Prague, the Czech Republic and Europe for my STEP Signature Project.
During my STEP Signature Project, my assumptions and view of the world changed dramatically. Before my STEP Signature Project, I had never left the United States. Because of this, I did not know what to expect from the world that was previously unknown to me. I believe it is human nature to fear what is unknown or different. Because the rest of the world was unknown to me, I assumed that it would be very different. The largest thing I took away from my project was that we humans are very similar in nature. Regardless of the color of our skin, the language we speak, or the god we worship, we are not so different from one another.
Over the course of my STEP Signature Project, there were countless events, interactions, relationships and activities which led to my view of the world changing towards a more inclusive stance. Throughout my travels, the relationships I formed with two people changed my view of the world greater than anything else and made me realize that each person is similar to one another. At the time, I did not think these relationships had a great effect on me. Now that I am reflecting on my travels, I am noting the differences in thought which I know believe to be true.
The first of the two relationships that I formed in Prague which changed my view on the world was with my American roommate, funny enough. My roommate’s name was Muhammad. Although Muhammad was American like me, he was not like me, at least on the surface. Muhammad had brown skin and a thick beard. He grew up in California but was born in Pakistan. Muhammad practiced a different religion than myself and at home, spoke a different language. I never knew anyone like Muhammad nor had I lived with anyone like him. At first his differences to myself stuck out but we became good friends very quickly and I did not notice them for the remainder of our education abroad. Over our month in Prague, Muhammad and I travelled throughout the Czech Republic and Europe. Because of his appearance, Muhammad had a far worse experience in airports and train stations than myself. After noting this, I asked Muhammad if the racial profiling bothered him. Muhammad’s answer surprised me and was one of the lasting reasons for why my view on the world and people changed. Muhammad believed that people were just doing their job. He said that he knew he was the same as everyone else, and despite others not differing their judgements of him, he gave it no thought because he could place himself in their shoes. Muhammad’s ability to remain calm, defer his judgments, and confidently act out what he truly believed made me take a pause and think about how we are all truly similar.
My second relationship formed in Prague that helped change my view of the world was with my economics professor, Ondrej. Ondrej grew up in Prague and was Czech Republic through and through. Having spent nearly every day in class with Ondrej, and eventually time outside of class with him, I began to see similarities with him and his people in everyday life. Whether it was Ondrej’s unique style, to his hatred of grading papers in his non airconditioned classroom, to his hobbies in his spare time, Ondrej seemed familiar enough to be one of my past professors at Ohio State. After classes, Ondrej occasionally offered to get dinner and a beer with our small class. During these trips, Ondrej took us to local neighborhoods of Prague where he explained the culture and motivations for people’s actions in Prague. Aside from the language barrier, Ondrej, the people I saw and places I went were identical to the people i’d known my entire life.
My change in perspective of the people of the world is valuable to me because I still have not seen much of the world but now I hope to. After noting the similarities in culture and people, there is no more fear of the unknown in the world. By noting the similarities, differences in culture were highlighted, thus improving my travel experience. My future personal goal is to travel more because of my STEP experience. To aid me in this, I have altered my professional goals and added a Spanish minor at Ohio State in hopes of it helping me on my path.
1. STEP Signature Project
Dance Denmark was a five and a half week long performance, teaching and cultural exchange program that was committed to utilizing dance as a creative movement practice with many forms of expression. Partnering with Gerlev Sports Academy provided the rare opportunity to experience Denmark through the lens of a Danish student progressing from the pressures of high school towards a world of jobs and universities. While biking the cities of Copenhagen, Aalborg, and Slagelse acquainted me with the country’s quality of life, Ann Sofie Clemmensen’s (visiting assistant professor/resident director) deep-rooted dance connections opened the door to form intercultural bonds that will continue to be preserved and developed in years to come.
2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
Before traveling to Denmark, I aimed to attain a singleness of purpose, which revolved around dance. I believed that mastery of an art form was almost never the result of mere talent. It was, rather, the blending of a passion with a certain quality of sustained and intensive effort. Therefore, I was convinced that all of my training needed to consciously support the study of dance performance/composition in order to reach my end goal. Unfortunately, I’ve realized that this process of unification caused me to miss out on many rich learning opportunities.
Movement is big. It is bigger than any specific movement discipline and it contains within it huge ‘worlds,’ like the world of somatics, dance, martial arts, calisthenics, circus, sports and more. The information that is often isolated in these segregated practices can be extremely useful to achieve versatility and target atrophy. Specializing is great, but beyond my specialty I am human first, a mover second, and only then a dancer/choreographer. It is immensely important to note that I no longer have a fixed training regime, or restrict myself to any kind of movement. Instead, I desire to create a dialogue and experience a cross disciplinary exchange of information between various types of movers.
3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation, and how did those affect you?
As I mentioned in my STEP Signature Project Proposal, the sport of gymnastics is highly valued in Danish culture. However, after watching gymnastic teams from various Danish Folk High Schools and the renowned National Danish Performance Team, I noted a stark contrast between the objective of Danish gymnastics and the competitive gymnastics that I had previously trained in. The ultimate vision of a Danish gymnast is not the Olympics. Their training does not consist of a syllabus with multiple events and levels because there is no competition, scoring system, or coveted gold medal. Furthermore, the gymnasts are not distinguished based on their skill level, which eliminates any personal agenda. Instead, the sport is truly a way of life and part of a democratic and edifying development. The gymnasts function collectively as a group of ambassadors, performing in shows and teaching community workshops to promote a healthy, active lifestyle. Their performances included a mixture of technically advanced tumbling and what could be perceived as “dance.” Although, like competitive gymnastics, it is still lacking in artistry.
Despite the differences between the two versions of the sport, I was still able to connect on a mental, physical, and emotional level. There were gymnastics facilities in every school that we visited, which continually provided the option for me to reclaim my background as an elite gymnast. All of the nostalgia that I had been suppressing for the past six years came rushing back, but this time I embraced it. I decided to confront the thought of “what if I hadn’t quit” that came with returning to my roots. Yet, any feeling of regret quickly diminished because of the supportive community that surrounded me. There were no external pressures or internal expectations. I finally had the chance to simply enjoy the raw power and physicality of the sport. As I reveled being back in my element, I realized that the training and skills were not something that I had to leave behind once I left Denmark. Gymnastics is, and always will be a part of me. Just because I’ve changed the direction of my path does not mean that I have to completely convert from my inclinations as a gymnast. Instead, I want to train in both disciplines until I am able to find a way to integrate them harmoniously, without one overpowering the other.
During my time at Gerlev Sports Academy (Slagelse, Denmark), I was able to continue the diversity of my training. Although the school was only required to host us as guests, they cordially invited us to engage in their non-formal education. Among the many majors and minors that were offered— dance, parkour, beach volleyball, windsurfing, yoga and martial arts— I chose to participate in Natural Movement. Natural Movement was a minor subject that focused on trying to seek and reconnect with human nature as it relates to movement. According to the philosophy there are three fundamental human movement elements; manipulation, locomotion, and combating. The exploration and cross training of these domains formed the basis of the course as we exposed ourselves to different outdoor environments and various movement disciplines.
Throughout the three weeks, I was introduced to concepts inspired by judo, mobility training, catching/throwing, improvisation, hand balancing, gymnastics, and low gate locomotion. As we approached this intense method of training with a sense of play and curiosity, we brought simplicity back into complex movement patterns. We also had the chance to witness the body’s full potential in practice and theory. Reverting back to my inherent movement patterns made me realize how neglected functional activity is in our modern society and the cosmetic-driven fitness culture that comes with it. The truth is, no amount of exercise will undo the pathology that is sitting and remaining sedentary. I have learned to move for movement’s sake. Not only did I experience pure gratification, but I also gained real skill development that can be applied to my dance training.
4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
I am now a third-year in The Ohio State University Department of Dance, which means my entrance into the professional dance world is quickly approaching. At this time next year I will begin auditioning, but it is impossible to determine for who or for what. Although I would like to picture myself in a certain dance company with a certain salary in a certain location, that is not realistic. My past explorations and endeavors have taught me that nothing is that straightforward, nor should it be. Dance is a multidimensional, multidisciplinary, and all-inclusive field, and I refuse to close myself off to a world of possibilities with tunnel vision. Instead, I want to make myself available and adaptable to every opportunity, whether it is at home or abroad. Yes, the job market is competitive and shows no mercy or favoritism, but what better way to prepare myself than to train in a variety of disciplines. There is the derogatory saying “Jack of all trades, master of none.” While this may be true for some people, I deliberately avoid falling into this category by fully engaging in the present moment, whatever it may be. In this conscious state of mind, I am able to find connections between the different movement disciplines. From there, I can integrate them using dance performance/composition as a medium for innovation.
My STEP signature project was a 6-week study abroad trip over the summer in Seoul, South Korea. During my time abroad, I took 2 classes at Korea University that would transfer over to Ohio State to satisfy a General Education class and my minor in Political Science. Besides taking classes, I also participated in excursions planned by ISA (my third-party study abroad program) and Korea University to places such as the KBS Music bank, Lotte World Amusement Park, and Busan. The objective to these excursions was to understand and interact with modern Korean culture and then compare and contrast with ancient Korean beliefs and practices.
During my trip abroad, I found that I have grown up a lot and my view of the world has definitely matured. Before, I would see going out to eat a meal as a waste of money because I was raised on the concept of saving every penny I earned. So, it could be said that I saw material goods as more important than quality time prior to my trip. As a result, I would often reject offers from friends to do anything that require spending money. Because of this misguided belief, I failed to see the beauty of creating wonderful memories that sometimes can be created by spending money. This study abroad also cleared up past misconceptions I had about Korea and its history in relation to the US and the rest of the world. I now have a better understanding of North Korea and South Korea.
The dorm that I stayed in didn’t have a kitchen so I was forced to eat out for every meal. I was annoyed that I couldn’t cook my own meal because I had only budgeted my food based on food that I would cook. However, I quickly find that eating out every time has its perks because I was able to try different food with friends. It hit me then that what was the point of studying abroad if I only eat food that I can cook. So, through eating Korean BBQ and picking through street food vendors, I was able to savor different types of Korean food while making lasting memories with my newly-made friends. Even more shockingly, I went along with a plan to rent an enormous duck floaty during atrip with my friends to Jeju Island, which cost $20.00 just to rent it for about 1 hour. The fact that I agreed to go on the trip for only a day for $250 would have been a shock to my old self. But, I would definitely agree to go on the trip if I was given the choice again because I truly appreciated the fun I had with my friends. Moreover, I was glad to see the other side of South Korea that I would have never seen if I had only stayed in Seoul. In Jeju, I saw farmlands and wonderful scenic spots such as the Hyeopjae beach and Cheonjiyeon waterfall that contrasted greatly to the glitzy urban scene of Seoul.
My trip to Seoul also tested my independence. I have never travelled so far on my own without anyone I know. I can proudly say that I am a very independent person compared to someone my age in terms of making sure my school account is right or securing the necessary documentations for an application. But, I am someone who needs supportive people and affirmations for me to power ahead. I was really nervous on the day when I flew from China to Korea for my study abroad as I say good-bye to my grandparents. Although I put on brave face on, I was really worried about getting lost because of the language barrier or if I can’t make any friends. The language barrier was an issue in Korea but I was glad that menus and signs are often translated into English. I was also glad that I was able to make wonderful friends because I was really worried about being lonely during my trip since I didn’t know anyone.
Besides my personal development, I also truly learned a lot about Korea itself. I took two classes in Korea with one being History of Korean American Relations and the other being Introduction of Korean Modern Art. In my history class, I was able to learn the blessings and sufferings America had on Korea. America’s interference with other country’s politics has always irked me but I learned that positive results can come out of it. In my art class, I learned the struggle Korean artists have in order to create their work with modernity and holding true to their Korean identity from western artists. Also, I was able to understand North Korea more with a propaganda video that I watched about this small North Korean girl who was very excited about her dance performance for Kim Il Sung. Overall, I was able to appreciate art more after this class since I have always failed to understand art when I approached art prior to this class
During my trip, I have truly transformed astonishingly to become a stronger and more confident person. To me now, I am more willing to spend money on a good experience than shopping. This transformation will personally make me a happier person and a better friend for my friends. In fact, I am already planning a family winter trip because I realized the short amount of time I will have with my family as my sister graduates and we all move to different areas. In terms of career, my confidence is making me think outside the box and challenge me to really consider medical school. Prior to my trip, I was hesitant because of the time commitment and uncertainty, but I am now willing to give it a try.
This summer I was in Barcelona, Spain for six weeks taking two Spanish themed courses at a local University. I attended Universitat Pompeu Fabra and there I took courses about Images in Spain (a Spanish film class) and the Vanguards in the Silver Age of Spain. However, my experience was not only about the classes. I had the opportunity to reside in a homestay with a local Spanish woman and her daughter. I ate with them, spent time with them, and asked questions. This aspect of my study abroad was probably the most impactful because I had a direct connection to Spanish culture. I also was able to go on multiple weekend trips of other parts of Spain as well as other countries such as France and Italy.
During my time abroad in Barcelona, I experienced several different types of transformations. The first change in myself that I noticed was a higher degree of independence. This was the first time in my life I was truly alone for such an extended period of time. I did not have my family only 2 hours away as I usually do, I did not previously know any of the students in the program, and I was in a completely different time zone that restricted my contact with friends back home. This forced me to leave a comfort zone that I have spent years building. At first, it definitely made me uneasy and a bit anxious but once I got accustomed to more independence I was able to successfully transition into life in a big city.
I also noticed a transformation in my interaction with people from different cultures. Coming from the midwest, I noticed that the stereotypes of midwestern people being generally warm is for the most part true, at least from my experience. It was a transition getting used to people who did not smile at you in the streets or say hi when you passed them. Everybody avoided eye contact, and it was deemed disrespectful which I had never experienced before. I am the type of person who likes to greet people with a smile, a nod or a simple hello, but I found that I had to morph my typical daily behaviors here in the United States to better match the culture I was living in. Neither one was better or worse, it was simply something that took getting accustomed to.
Most of all, my transformation occurred in the form of my language development. Prior to coming to Barcelona, I already spoke a great deal of Spanish. I grew up listening my parents speak but given that I was raised in English speaking schools, I was never in an environment where I could practice my Spanish skills in a natural setting. Barcelona gave me the opportunity to speak in Spanish literally 24/7. The most simple settings, like buying my metro card or getting lunch at school, allowed me use Spanish in ways I would never get the chance to here in the United States. I was able to see a huge development in my Spanish during my time abroad and although I know there is no replicating Barcelona and its culture, I hope that I can continue to develop my language skills here at home for the next time I travel abroad.
Some of the key events that took place during my study abroad experience were weekend excursions that allowed me to discover areas around Barcelona and take advantage of the proximity of Europe. I had the opportunity to travel to three countries, Spain, Italy, and France, and discover numerous cities in each. I did the most travel in Spain, where I got to discover the south of Spain, an area called Andalusia, the northern coast called Costa Brava and prominent areas in the countryside where much of their agriculture takes place. This traveling within Spain allowed me to get a taste of Spanish culture from all over the country, not just the northern big city of Barcelona.
Traveling around a country that only spoke Spanish was incredible because I got to experience people with different accents, dialects, and traditions. I learned that in Andalusia the people speak drastically different from those in Barcelona. The culture in the south of Spain had tons of influence from the Moorish kings of the past, a prime example would be the Mosque of Cordoba. This mosque is a beautiful landmark with influential architecture that was unbelievable impressive for the time period, however when the Spanish kings (Ferdinand and Isabella) conquered the Moors they converted it into a church. Instead of tearing down the existing mosque, they were able to appreciate the architectural beauty and decided to keep the now world renowned arches and detailing in tact. Getting to see such a drastic difference from the North and South of Spain was a huge step in my cultural understanding of the country and the development of my Spanish language.
My level of independence was tested with my travels to France and Italy, while my grasp of the Spanish language is advanced, my French and Italian were not so developed. It was a trying experience to navigate a country where I spoke barely any of the language. I had to figure out how to use the public transportation system, how to order food, where to lodge, etc. My American identity felt much for present in these countries because I had to hope that someone either spoke English or Spanish, otherwise it could take me twice as long to complete a simple task, like asking for directions. But luckily, the people were understanding and wanted to share their culture with a foreigner, so I found it to be a positive experience even though I happened to be very lost in the language.
My language and independence development will be crucial to my future plans and professional goals because I want to one day work internationally and to do so I need strong language skills and the ability to leave home and function independently in a country where I may know no one. My Spanish level has developed from a very structured environment, like a classroom, to a most natural setting where it can be used conversationally, professionally, or very casually (with slang and dialectal differences). Having Spanish as a language asset will be so important in the future because it is the fastest growing language in the United States and almost all Latin American countries speak Spanish, with the exception of Brazil. It is my goal to work for and hopefully eventually run a nonprofit agency in a Spanish speaking country to provide adequate shelter, clothing, healthcare, education, etc. I have no doubt that the language skills I developed in Barcelona this summer will help me greatly in my future endeavors. The independence that I gained will also be crucial in my future development because I now I know how to navigate new and unfamiliar places with a sense of confidence and ability.
Name: Matthew McKelvey
Type of Project: Education Abroad
For my STEP Signature Project, I studied abroad in Suzhou, China for 7 weeks. While studying the Chinese language at Suzhou University, I was able to complete 6 credits (2 semesters worth of classes) at Ohio State needed to complete the Chinese major.
Going into China, I thought I knew what to expect. I thought I would be able to immerse without obstacles. I had never been more wrong. The first two weeks of classes for this intensive language program combined with the culture shock weighed heavy on me. 4 hours of classes a day, all 4 hours spoken in Mandarin Chinese, followed by 3-5 hours of homework plus various research projects was not my original perception of an ideal study abroad program. However, through the adversity faced early on, I learned a lot about myself that is only beneficial for my development moving forward. I learned that I can be tested, in different respects, to a far greater extent than I had previously imagined. For instance, my arrival flight was supposed to land in Shanghai, just in time to catch the charter bus for the 2 hour trip to Suzhou. However, due to inclement weather, the plane had to be rerouted to Beijing and I was already faced with my first obstacle. Within the 24 hours to follow, I had to use my limited, at the time, Chinese speaking capabilities, communicating with the hotel concierge desk, taxi drivers, and railway station employees, to get myself to Suzhou. However, after a couple of weeks, I started to adapt, adjusting to the Chinese culture.
Looking back on my time in China, compared to America, it was as different of a culture as I could have imagined. It is hard to pinpoint a specific, overarching difference within daily life between the two cultures; however, there are many aspects within the culture that caught my attention. The mail delivery system was suspect looking, the produce sellers on the streets were very abundant, the myriad of family owned restaurant/apartment complexes were always amazing, yet different experiences, the traffic/road system was incredibly hectic, etc. etc. All these aspects very different from that of America. On top of all of those cultural aspects, a lot of Chinese people would take pictures of my classmates and me, and ask to be in pictures with us. It was a very eye-opening experience being treated as a local celebrity.
Through the people I met, my view of the world and its differing cultures and people changed. I originally imagined China to be a lot more similar to America in terms of every-day life. For instance, not many people drive cars, as obtaining a license plate, something Americans often take for granted, is very difficult in China. However, through this program, my view on diversity and way of life has changed. While studying, we, Ohio State students, were paired with students from a university in Northern China to guide us during our studies. Through my conversations with my two language partners, Liu Xin and Li Siyou, and the experiences we had exploring a city, Suzhou, both foreign to us, I was able to gain insight into how different yet, at the same time, similar our lives are. It is not that I have become more knowledgeable about the diversity of people around the world; rather, I have become more open-minded about the varying societal structures. Although many day to day aspects of Chinese society, transportation, etiquette, etc, are very different to that of which I am accustomed to, the particular society fits the culture of the people.
Through my first-hand experience of living within a different culture and furthering my understanding of diversity and the many facets it plays a role in within a particular society, especially one foreign to me, is very important to my career moving forward. Due to the fact that I am a double major in finance and Chinese, my goal is to one day be able to represent a company on the international scale. In order to successfully and smoothly work abroad, I have to be knowledgeable about many various cultural aspects, regarding both everyday life (i.e. transportation) and professional life (i.e. proper business etiquette). Through this program, I was not only able to complete my tangible goal of obtaining the credits for the courses, and improving my Chinese abilities, but I was also able to open my eyes and learn to accept and adjust to the cultural differences. This experience has truly been life changing, it was more than just an experience, and it is in part thanks to STEP.
1. For my STEP Project, I studied abroad at Stellenbosch University in South Africa for one month. Afterwards, I volunteered for a month at a community center in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
2. I feel changed by my study abroad experience as clique as that sounds. The experience exposed me to a host of important societal debates about the definition of progress, equality, and individual value. For example, when learning about the history of South Africa since the end of apartheid, I was exposed to the concepts of economic freedom vs. political freedom. I saw how the two are often linked in people’s minds, but they are not linked in policy strategies. I learned how perception can influence an outcome more so than ability. I learned to disconnect the merit of one’s contribution from the merit of their intentions. I witnessed how some people value reconciliation and some value progress. I saw how luxuries make life easier but not more fulfilling. These realizations had a large influence on my way of thinking, and I feel more intellectually mature because of this experience.
Additionally, my view of the world has changed because I saw the inherent similarities between cultures and people from different parts of the world. Not that I didn’t know this before, but it always surprised me at the end of the day that people acted predictably based on their environment. My view of the world changed because I learned a lot about poverty and inequality while spending my time in a normal campus environment similar to the US. My friends and I would go out to eat and individually spend in one meal the same amount that some people would make in a week. This was hard for me to reconcile at the beginning. I had never been directly exposed to this extent of poverty. South Africa, due to its history and role as an African leader, was, in all, a very unique place to study.
3. First off, the classes I took most contributed to the transformation in my mind set. In particular, the first class I took on the Political History of South Africa was powerful because of the other South African students in that class. The students provided moving accounts of the lingering effects of apartheid today. They described how their family members were killed, or their houses destroyed. Hearing these kinds of stories first hand is something I will never forget. We have many of the same debates about inequality, race, police brutality, and controversial monuments in the US, but we are handling the enduring mindset of history that is 150 years ago compared to in South Africa where it was 23 years ago. And in South Africa, some of the perpetrators are still teaching classes at Stellenbosch University today. The social debates are more poignant, the policy issues are greater and the political climate is worse than compared to the US. I learned so much just from hearing about the current events and being a part of the social tension that exists in South Africa today.
In addition, the class I took on China in Africa was extremely interesting. When we visited the Chinese consulate in Cape Town, I saw how individuals, especially on the political stage, make decisions which they genuinely believe to be beneficial while ignoring the potential negative consequences. I thought it was fascinating to see this kind of cognitive dissonance. Besides the classes and the South African students I interacted with, I learned a lot from the other international students. About 2/3 of the international students were from the US, but we all were from different parts of the country and it was fun to hear their diverse backgrounds. Plus, we had some great discussions comparing political debates in the US to South Africa.
Another aspect of the trip from which I learned a lot were the excursions we took around Stellenbosch and Cape Town. On our last week, we went on a sight-seeing trip along the southern coast of the country and we saw lions, elephants, giraffes, zebra, rhino, hippo, water buffalo, ostrich, penguins and baboons. I loved the natural beauty of the country—climbing Table Mountain and Lion’s Head had some unforgettable views. But all of this beauty and diverse wildlife was contrasted with the poverty which we saw along the way. In Stellenbosch, we lived in the college dorms on campus and we were shielded from the need around us. It was like being on any college campus in the US. But on the days when we toured around, we saw the townships and the slum communities. We saw long people lived in shacks which were the same size as the 12-seater van we were driving in. The area was littered with trash, yet almost every single house had a satellite dish connected to it. It was hard for me to understand this mindset, and the priorities of these poor people. Yet, after volunteering in a township for a month, I understand how this can be rational to them. The visible inequality in South Africa affected me because from my classes I knew it was due to the policies of apartheid. It was hard to see a bright future for a country with these stark problems. All of this I experienced just from looking out the window.
4.What I saw and learned while in South African has had a significant impact on my life because I want to be a development economist. Having a better understanding of the issues a unique country like South Africa struggles with will directly help me in my career with creating research questions. Just looking at decision making of people who live in slum communities who have a satellite dish mounted on a house made of metal sheets and cardboard would be fascinating. Also, seeing the role of the government in trying to equalize and reconcile a country which just marginalized 90% of the population a generation ago was quite informative for me in understanding policy implementation in economics. This experience furthered my interest in doing research in developing countries and my desire to find ways for these communities to build themselves up. This experience was invaluable to me professionally.
The classes I took were also valuable to me because, more than just applying towards my major, they exposed me to topics I know I never would have learned about in such depth in the United States. Additionally, being with South African students in a class about apartheid when their families had directly experienced its effects was eye-opening. Also, learning about China’s role in Africa from a South African perspective was unique. Then, understanding the perspectives of the Chinese students who told us what they hear on the news about projects in Africa was very informative. This experience, without question, diversified my education. Outside of the classroom, I believe I became more intellectually mature in understanding sensitive issue of race and poverty. I met a lot of great friends there and I feel more emotionally whole and grateful for the opportunities I have been given in the US because when compared to other people I interacted with, this type of economic liberty is rare.
My STEP Signature Project was studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea through ISA for a month and a half. I took a watercolor class and a history class about the Cold War at Korea University. During my free time, I traveled all around Seoul and saw what it had to offer and engaged myself in the culture.
I don’t know if I had changed per se, but I feel that I have matured a lot through this trip. It was the first time I’ve ever traveled internationally alone, and it was very stressful for me. I am very afraid of traveling, for it seems like I am direction impaired and I panic very easily whenever I get lost. Against my expectations, I traveled like a madwoman in South Korea. I had fun getting lost with my friends, asking the locals for help with my charades, and discovering the country little by little.
I am a very introverted person, and I had prepared myself to be alone for my whole duration there. It’s how I’ve always lived and how my social life has been, so I didn’t feel a particular sadness about my thought. However, opposite to my prediction, I have gained many friends who accompanied me on my adventures and shared their joy with me. As I traveled through the bustling city of Seoul, I was so thankful for their company, and I realized how lonely and miserable I would have been if I didn’t have them with me. I’m very timid, so I always try to do everything by myself and not trouble anyone. However, in such an unfamiliar territory, I have learned to be assertive and confident when asking for help. I learned to speak up more and let people know of my opinions. Maybe I’m still the timid person that I was, but I have also gained bravery and a little bit of a backbone from my project.
I have lived in the US for quite some years, and a part of me has forgotten how Southeast Asia looks like. The US is a very diverse country; I can walk down a block and see people with different ethnicities and skin color, and see it as normal. However, South Korea is a very homogeneous country. When I attended the orientation for my program, I have been warned that many Koreans do not have much exposure to foreigners, and some of them might ogle and try to touch you. Many students were surprised by the announcement, but forgot about it soon after. However, we got a shocking reminder when soon after. My friends and I were walking down the street, and we could see that we were the focus of attention. People stared at us, some whispered, and some avoided us. Their attitudes were baffling to us and we were self-conscious about ourselves. We felt that we were sticking out like a sore thumb. As time passed, we learned better. The Korean students were so kind and explained to us that people don’t ogle with ill-intention, but with pure curiosity. Our misunderstanding was cleared then, and we were more comfortable and relaxed as we walked down the streets. It really showed me how the culture difference can chafe a person if they don’t attempt to understand the whole viewpoint.
I have never flown without encountering any obstacles. It might sound like an exaggeration, but truly I never flew without my planes being delayed, cancelled, or gates being changed. It seems like a curse that follows me around. Due to my past experience, I dislike flying at the core of my being and get very anxious every time I have to go on an airplane. Thus, I was not able to sleep the night before my plane departed to South Korea. Many thoughts plagued my mind and I was very afraid that my curse would act up and I would not be able to catch my flights at the right time. I was right with my prediction. My two flights got delayed, and I was stuck at the immigration checkpoint for one hour. However, what shocked me the most was not the problems, but how I dealt with them. I was so calm when everything happened, and I was able to arrive at my destination safely. When I recall the event now, my hands would sweat, but the me during that troubled time was able to carry herself half way across the world, and I’m proud of myself for that.
I really love to travel, but I’m always afraid of getting lost during my trip, and so my fear has always put a stop to my desire. However, when I was in South Korea, I became a different person. Maybe because it was a different country, maybe because I spent a lot of money for the project and didn’t want to waste my money by doing nothing, I learned how to use the public transportation system, and went sightseeing all over Seoul, some accompanied by my friends, while some were my own solo adventures. It was difficult and scary. My phone did not have service over there, so I was not able to use the navigation system, nor could I call someone if I were to get lost. Even when I looked up the directions on the Internet beforehand, they were still vague and confusing. However, I made it to all the places I wanted to go to, I got lost and I wandered around for hours at times, but I arrived to my destination at the end, and when I saw the sights, all my fatigue had melted away.
The most memorable trip I made had to be to Boryeong for the Mud Festival. My roommate read about the festival in a travel guide and suggested that we make a trip outside of Seoul and see it for ourselves. However, we did not know how to book a subway and or buy train tickets, and we didn’t know what to do if we were to get stranded on the way. I was fueled by optimism, and I urged her to go through with the trip. We picked a Saturday, and we traveled to Seoul Station at 7 in the morning, only to find out that all the tickets were sold out, and the weather was stormy on that day, so our trip fell through. We were saddened, but we decided to go to the festival on the next Sunday instead since the festival is more than a week long. This time, we did extensive research. We found out how to book train tickets online, even though the tickets were at an ungodly 5:00 AM in the morning. This was a trip of a lifetime, so even if we suffered, we still wanted to see it through the end. We got up at 3 in the morning and managed to get a cab to the train station with our broken Korean. Everything was a blur, we were functioning on auto-pilot and were so focused on our mission. When we arrived to the beautiful beach, it was all worth it. We wrestled in mud, and played our hearts out. I was thirty pounds heavier with all the mud on me, but I was so happy that I didn’t let my fear stop me from experiencing the festival with my friend. I’ll always be afraid of getting lost and worry about every small thing, but that anxiety won’t stop me from doing what I love, but instead, it’ll help me be prepared every time I plan a trip, and I’ll funnel it in a way that will make my dreams come true.
I did not know any Korean, and I still only understand the most fundamental phrases. I did not know how I was going to survive in Korea without understanding the language and without people being able to understand me. I was just hoping to be quiet most of the time, smile and bow, and hope that’ll get me out of the obligation of engaging people. However, to my surprise, that did not happen. I did a lot of charades to get directions from locals and did a lot of pointing and grunting when I ordered food. I learned to be assertive when I spoke as it was already hard enough trying to charade my intentions, it would be impossible for the people there to understand me if I was going to mumble or do vague actions. I knew that even though I can’t speak the language, if I persist in my explanations, they’ll have to understand me sooner or later. It was embarrassing at first, but it was a necessity, and I found it fun later by being able to communicate with people just not through words, but also by gestures.
The project was unlike anything I’ve ever done in my life. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, tested my independence and my guts. I’ve learned to not let my fears get the best of me, but actually channel them into guiding tools to help me on my journey. Though it was difficult, I also gained more confidence in myself. I have done things that I thought was impossible for me to do, and easily so. Of course there’ll always be a little bit of doubt in the back of mind, but I now know how to trust myself and know that I have more capabilities than I give myself credit for. I was also able to make myself more outgoing and understood the importance of companionship. I don’t think I would’ve been able to accomplish so many things through my trip without my friends and the help of strangers. The world is interconnected, and there’ll always someone who knows the answer to my problem, all I have to do is ask. The trip has made me more mature and calm, but at the same time showed me how to relax and enjoy my hobby. I’d love to travel to another country again if the opportunity arises.
Name: Hanna Rosenblum
Type of Project: Study abroad program
My STEP signature Project entailed studying abroad for a month in Spain, specifically Madrid. I took classes for my Spanish minor and experienced the culture of a new country while living with a host family. The host family allowed me to thoroughly immerse myself in the Spanish way of life! For the month that I was in Europe, I visited 4 cities including Rome, Valencia, Barcelona and of course Madrid.
Studying abroad in Madrid was my first time in Europe and therefore this experience was one I will never forget. There were many expectations I had of Spain in general but you can never really understand a certain way of life until you live it. I always knew that I grew up in a ‘bubble’ so absorbed in our own world and only truly aware of life in the United States, therefore I was expecting to experience some culture shock.
While completing my STEP project, I could appreciate the myriad of historic places to see in Europe as well as the culture of being able to relax at times. Living with a host family was the most nerve-wracking component of my experience before I arrived and I can truthfully say it made me get the most out of my time in Madrid. Partaking in meals every day with a family of 2 young kids allowed me to converse in my target language and learn. It was also amazing to see how many people spoke English and how common, or may we say required, it is for kids to begin learning multiple languages at a young age. I personally believe bilingual ability is something so beneficial and this tactic will hopefully spread to the United States. My perspective of Spain’s culture and everyday routine was transformed from my exposure to it after a month.
Many interactions throughout my STEP signature Project helped me grasp a new perspective on the daily routine of a Spaniard or Madrileño. First, being welcomed into the home of a family of 4, a 4-year old girl and an 8-year old boy, allowed me to step into the mindset of someone who truly lived there. The meals we shared together allowed me to get a feel for the type of foods that are common. I tried more new dishes in one month then I have in my entire life. I had to become flexible and more open to trying new things. I could abandon yet also verify some of the stereotypical Spanish ideas as the family was also able to get a more accurate understanding of some American stereotypes since this learning experience was a two-way street. I also ate out and got to try some classic Spanish dishes as well as the style of eating which includes tapas most of the time. Tapas style dishes are meant for sharing and are an important way of life in Spain.
The school I attended was also a huge learning experience as well as a new perspective. The student-teacher relationship was different than in the United States and my professors were a key part in my success during this program. The style of learning was also something I had to get accustomed to but I believe it was a positive influence during the project. Specific to one of the classes I took, Art in Spain, I was able to directly apply my learning as I visited many museums featuring artists I had learned about. The Prado museum and the Reina Sofia, which are free for students, are well renown museums and helped to further my understanding of the history of Spain. I found it very valuable to learn about the history of Spain, as the American history is something we learn growing up and is a fundamental part of a country’s culture. I meet multiple other students studying internationally at this University! Many wanted to explore the city of Madrid in the same sense I did therefore it was nice to meet people to adventure with. Many of the greatest places I saw in Madrid include the Royal Palace, Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Puerta de Sol, El Parque Retiro, La Casa de Campo, El Rastro, and so much more.
Most people on the program came in knowing no-one, myself included. This was a bit nerve-wracking but also refreshing to meet new people from all over America during such an incredible experience. We had a planned trip to Valencia during one weekend and it was an incredible place. Valencia is the home of where Paella was founded, therefore I waited to try it for the first time there. It lived up to the hype to say the least. We played water sports in the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea, attempted to surf, and visited the largest aquarium in all of Europe known as Oceanographic.
Many of the other cities I visited has impressionistic influences on me as well. While in Rome, I was taken back by the beauty of many architectural and religious sites. I visited Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel, Saint Peters Basilica, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine hills. The history and long-lived lifetime of these places completely blew me away. While in Barcelona, I enjoyed the beautiful beaches (Barceloneta), La Sagrada Familia, as well as Park Güell. Traveling was an important part of my experience abroad in Europe.
This transformation of learning to travel solo, interact in a different language, and entirely immerse myself in another culture is an undertaking I will not forget. Traveling to a foreign country for the first time without any family or friends was a self-learning and growing experience. I was forced to be more self-dependent than ever and confident in my skills whether it was speaking Spanish or making my own travel plans. This experience helped me further academically, by studying the language along with the culture of Spanish. Additionally, I feel as though this trip helped me realize valuable life lessons as well as develop into adulthood. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. It was a wonderful adventure that I was fortunate to take on as a twenty-year-old college student thanks to my STEP signature project!
Name: Maggie Nachtrab
Type of Project: Education Abroad
- This summer, I studied in Quebec City in a 5 week Intensive French Immersion Program. I received 6 credit hours for 3 courses that I took every day of the week at Université Laval. After classes finished around noon, there were scheduled French workshops and activities throughout the afternoon to continue the language and culture immersion. I lived with a host family 15 minutes away from campus.
- The most important experience I had while on this program was living with my host family in Quebec. I lived with another Ohio State student from the program, which made the transition to living with strangers in a foreign country speaking a foreign language much more comfortable. We lived in a suburb in a small neighborhood, which gave me a completely different understanding of the francophone city as a whole. The family consisted of a mother (Julie) and father (Charles), both in their mid-thirties, who were fairly fluent in English. Their three children, Gabrielle (7), Laura (4), and Louis (2), knew no English. That being said, I spoke only French while spending time with the family. When not at the university with other students, I was with my host family. I adored being with the children and conversing with the parents. We would eat breakfast and dinner together, where they would cook every meal. I would watch French movies with the children cuddled up on the couch. We went raspberry picking as a family and went hiking a few weekends. I event met Julie’s parents (the children’s grandparents) for dinner! Not only did my host family force me to continue communicating and listening to French, they allowed me to fully experience the culture of Quebec. I have gained a greater appreciation to the everyday life of this Canadian province that I would have never imagined possible.
3. The relationship I formed with the three children of my host family led to the greatest transformation of myself. I have always loved being with kids, but I’ve never spent so much time living with little kids for so long. At first, it was a difficult challenge to fully connect with them since of our language barrier. Although I am highly proficient, it’s a whole new world conversing with children of a foreign language. They speak with different vocabulary, with a different pace, with poor grammar. I would not understand their jokes, when perhaps, they were confused by mine. Nevertheless, I loved those children as if they were my own siblings.
I also formed close relationships with the other students from the French Immersion Program. After hours of class, workshops, excursions, sports, and activities with the students and leaders, forming relationships was inevitable. Students came from all over the world; specifically, I became friends with students from Mexico, Switzerland, Germany,Brazil, and from cities all over Canada and the U.S. It was such an interesting experience communicating with these people where our mother tongue may have been different yet communicating in French, which may have not been the most comfortable language in which to speak. Nevertheless, I would play soccer and walk around museums making jokes and discussing homework in French. It forced me to speak confidently in French even if I made mistakes or blanked on my vocabulary. Everyone was in the same place in their French education, so there was no judgement.
Lastly, I formed strong relationships with my professors and student leaders from the university. The professors were obviously francophone and from Quebec, along with the student leaders of the immersion program who are actually universtiy students of Laval. For them, their summer job was helping with the program. I got a new perspective of the city and the French language as I discussed with them every day on campus throughout the program. It was amazing to make connections with the Laval students because they were francophone, they were the same age as us, and I could become friends with them as if I ran into them on Ohio State campus. Making friends with people my age in a different language was something I had never done. Firstly, because I never truly had the chance to do so, but that’s also seemed impossible. I am so happy I have grown in confidence not only in myself, but also my French abilities. I can make friends with francophones!
- This program will forever be one of the most transformational experiences of my life. I have traveled a lot within the U.S and around the world with my family, but never have I traveled without my family. I was scared to be on my own, where I had to lean solely on my own abilities and understandings. I learned how to ask for help (in French) when I was unsure. I was able to navigate the city and make friends who speak different languages all on my own. I grew an understanding of public transportation, the Canadian education standards, and what’s culturally acceptable in conversations vs. in writing in French. I grew as an independent young adult, who wants to take what she learned to apply into her future career goals and to life in general. I want to be a book publisher and editor in New York City, but I’ve never felt that I could “make it” there. I didn’t think I was capable of living in such a hectic and big city on my own. Traveling on my own in Quebec and Montreal while making lasting relationships has shown me how possible that is. My French has improved tremendously, and I can see my French fluency so close in the future!