My STEP Signature Project was originally to travel abroad with the help of Ohio State’s study abroad programs. I selected the program, “The British Invasion: British Popular Music of the 1960’s,” and embarked on a 2 weeks on-campus/2 weeks off-campus expedition to London, U.K., and Liverpool, U.K. After learning about the British Invasion and living in the environment itself, I took an extra few days to embark on some adventures to Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Paris, France. This way, I could compare different cultures with different countries, and gain more international experience than I had prior to the trip.
Being in a different English-speaking country, I discovered that the culture is very different despite the lack of a language barrier. London is a very big and busy city, and nothing like Columbus, Ohio. The streets are constantly packed with people, and cars/buses/bikes are constantly zooming up and down the streets. There were different things like pubs and metro trains in London, which we took the opportunity of while we were there. We were constantly learning about British history and understood how much the Great Fire of 1666 affected the Brits and the city of London, but since they have built it back up to be as strong and successful as ever.
After having the wonderful experience in the United Kingdom, I decided to use my STEP money to travel to two other countries in order to accurately compare different environments. And I was surprised to see that each was very different from the other! I was amazed to journal my experiences and the differences between the look of each city, the atmosphere, and the overall history and culture. My final travels to Amsterdam, Netherlands and Paris, France, exposed me to other environments without English being the primary language.
We arrived to Amsterdam on June 1st, where we checked in to the hostel that had looked nice in the reviews. We soon found out that it was unairconditioned, and extremely small. We looked forward to the tour of Amsterdam that we had scheduled for the next day, which would take us across the different landmarks that make up the Netherlands. We started at a windmill farm, which was a beautiful part of the countryside. We learned how the Dutch have been using them for hundreds of years, and this particular one made their own olive oil. It was amazing to see that they still used their traditional methods to create their products.
We continued on to the Dutch cheese factory, where we learned the process of cheese making and got to sample the cheese. There were so many more options than I have even seen in America. After that lesson, we took a boat ride to the wooden clog demonstration, where we learned that the reason they wore the clogs was for farming, and avoiding broken feet from being stepped on by the livestock. In between these stops, we looked around and really took in the beautiful countryside that is the Netherlands. I learned so much from the tour, and felt that I understood the Dutch culture so much more after the tour.
Windmills of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Before traveling to France, we did not do as much preparation as we should have in learning some French. I took Spanish in high school and also at OSU, but it was just as useless to use as it was to use English. The hotel staff knew English well, but other French individuals gave a vibe that they were not happy speaking English with us. Which in their defense, we were in their country and did not know more than 4 words of French. It was sometimes difficult to order food in restaurants because of the language barrier, and you had to accept that you ordered a large glass water bottle that was 7 euros, when you just wanted tap water at no charge. My traveling partner and I were relieved the moment we were in an English language zone.
Although the Dutch were also fluent in 2-3 languages, their atmosphere overall felt friendlier than the French, and more laid back than the British. There were times when I did not like the laid back feel, but it was a country that I enjoyed very much. And although France was my least favorite country, I still enjoyed exploring Paris and the monuments they had to offer to the public. I am glad that I experienced a language barrier, because it made me understand how it felt to be in a country with a language barrier, especially if you were not good at speaking the language or did not know it at all.
When I worked at Subway in high school, we would have a group of Spanish-speaking men that would come in and struggle to go through and order, since Subway ordering includes much variation in the sandwich and many questions are asked. I would get impatient, and sometimes even wonder why they were in Ohio when they could not speak very good English. Two years later, I shake my head at my high school self. It is so hard to learn a second language, and I should have been more understanding and patient with them. I walk away from my STEP Signature Project with more understanding for diversity and cultures, and aim to be more welcoming and helpful to natives whose first language is not English. Wherever I end up in my profession, I want to be more welcoming of different backgrounds of clients and their families. The world is such a big and different place, and each country has different norms and such. I thank the STEP organization for this opportunity, and helping me see more of the world with the help of their funds. Thank you for the experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.