Sustainable and Resilient Tanzanian Community

 

The Sustainable and Resilient Tanzanian Community (SRTC) education abroad program is a joint effort between the School of Environment and Natural Resources and the College of Civil Engineers to create and implement a long-term, drinkable water source for the villagers of Marwa in the Same district of Tanzania. This was the first year of actual implementation for the project in which a rainwater harvesting unit was constructed for the village’s medical dispensary. In addition, data was collected on the water quality, survey points were mapped for future construction, an evaluation of implementing a possible solar pump for an existing well was done, and extensive work was conducted with the community to build relationships, receive feedback, and brainstorm long-term education and independent economic opportunities.

Going into this education abroad experience, I had completed two years of my animal science major, had unofficially declared an environmental science minor specializing in water quality, and had decided that I wanted a public health career. I chose public health because I felt it offered the opportunity to encapsulate all my passions – the wellbeing of humans, animals, the environment, and making a difference. However, these last two years of school I’ve really struggled with being certain about my major and the career path that I want. I wanted to change my major every single semester that I’ve been at OSU because I was worried that I would end up in a career that I wasn’t passionate about. Now, after being a part of the SRTC team, I can confidently smile when people ask me what I want to do because I know that I chose the right career. I was tired every single day when we returned to where we were staying but beyond happy, and if someone had asked me to go back to the village because they forgot to do something, I would have said yes in a heartbeat. There was an experience every day of the trip that made me feel confident about public health, but the one that stands out to me was the day we tested multiple different water sources and talked to some individuals about their water usage.

My undeclared environmental science minor is two-fold in that I’m interested in water’s impact on human health as well as its significance in relation to a sign of how we’re treating the Earth. The water tests we did were testing for things like turbidity, pH, salinity, and coliforms. These tests provide quantitative data which can then be compared to drinking water standards to give more information about what water treatments need to be done. We collected qualitative data as well to accompany the water tests via talking with villagers and asking them questions like “how often do you collect water?” “what do you use your water for?” “do you boil your water?” “why or why not?” “where do you collect your water?” It was these questions that made me have my “aha” moment – when everything about my major, minor, and career choice clicked, and I knew that this is exactly the type of work that I want to be doing.

What was so unique about this transformational experience is how the program was structured and the things it emphasized. The word “sustainable” is in the program title because it refers to the intensive community work that ensures long-term success once the project construction is complete. A lot of our commitment to the community worked on reinforcing “community buy-in” which gives the community value in what is being done for them. For example, there was a public health initiative that gave free, smoke-free stovetops to a community, but it failed to be sustainable because the community ended up selling the copper parts of the stovetops instead of using them. This is because the community didn’t have a value that it could associate with using the stovetops. Instead, it saw more value in making a profit from a free stovetop. The community buy-in aspect of our project were the four ceremonies that we were invited to attend, as well as the conference we had with them about the details of building the water plant. The four ceremonies demonstrated our appreciation and willingness to experience and understand their culture, and they were absolutely incredible to attend. One of them was a coming-of-age ceremony that only occurred every forty years. The conference was based around asking the community for feedback about the water project so topics like where they want and don’t want the pipes, if there’s a good spot for the inlet, and who is going to maintain the water plant.

Anyone can create and execute a project for a community. But true change comes from the community seeing value in the change. I appreciate true change, and that’s why I’ve been interested in joining the Peace Corps – to do my part in making a difference. This project has given me a peak of what the Peace Corps mission is and how they go about instigating change. And with this experience, I’d like to apply the “sustainable” approach to my career so that I’m not just putting bandages over a leaky pipe. Something else about this project too is that I was part of the SRTC team. This is a long-term project that started last year, this year is the first year of actually building, (a rainwater harvesting unit was installed at the medical dispensary), and the actual water system construction is projected to start in two years. That’s at least four years of Capstone engineer and SENR students. This trip we had a total of forty students on the trip, and each one of us brought a unique talent to contribute to the success of this project. I brought my animal science knowledge which I soon learned was very respected among the Marwa village because agriculture is what feeds them.

In short, this trip enforced my career choice and taught me what it meant to be part of a larger community working towards a common goal. Patience, flexibility, creative problem-solving, and initiative are all things that helped me in achieving my job to evaluate water quality. I surprised myself too, in working on my leadership skills because I’ve always viewed myself as a follower, not a leader. I’m too indecisive to be a good leader. But when plans changed and we were looking for work to do, I brainstormed questions that we could ask the community about how they were using their water. What was a three-week trip felt like a ten-day trip, and I would love the opportunity to see the project fully completed and then its resilience in the future as the community takes responsibility for sustaining it.

European Dairy Studies

Prior to travelling to Europe, I had observed the dairy industry in Central America. During my time in Nicaragua, I learned of how a portion of the global dairy industry functions. I was very grateful when the opportunity came for me to explore the agricultural industry in another realm of the world. However, I assumed that the European theater would differ greatly; however, I found a great deal of similarities between how Nicaragua ran their dairies and how Europe operates theirs. These differing strategies from the United States correlated with the countries resources and constantly finding new methods of raising their livestock to both support their families and the industry. In Nicaragua, they used more heat tolerant and dual purpose breeds, took advantage of the vast outdoor space available and focused on how to produce the most milk with those scenarios. European farms were far more different from the systems in the United States than I expected. During my travels in Nicaragua, I expected the vast differences just strictly based on the economic status and the climate, yet the differences in Europe surprised me greatly. After spending some time in the countries visited, I understood some of these differences a bit more.

One of the key differences from the United States that I observed was the external cleanliness versus the internal cleanliness. In the United States, it is crucial that the parlor is clean, the bulk tank is spotless as well as the room it is housed in. Since I was a child, I can recall going to my uncle’s farm and watching him hose down the bulk tank, cement floor and cleaning the milking units. I also have been to multitudes of dairy farms in my years, and this cleanliness holds true – our milk inspectors would settle for nothing less. I can even recall being at a farm for a herd check with the veterinarian and the grandchildren of the farm owners were helping to scrub the pipes under the parlor. The farms that we went to in Europe did in no means mirror this cleanliness importance. The parlors at many of the farms were dirty with manure caked along the sides of the walls, dirty floors, dirty gates and dusty bulk tanks. This held true for the cattle, sheep, goat and equine dairies that we visited. If a milk inspector from the United States would have seen these facilities they would not have been satisfied. This lack of cleanliness really shocked me, and I had not expected it from countries that we are always told are so

much more advanced than ours on welfare and advancements.

Another shock for me was the stalling situations of the animals in these facilities. The goat dairy that we visited was extremely overcrowded and very poorly ventilated. Though biosecurity was a huge factor of importance for this farm and the barns were closed, they lacked any internal form of ventilation – i.e.; fans – to help make up for the enclosed barns. When you walked into the barn, you could immediately tell how stagnant the air was. The lack of ventilation theme was repeated in nearly every barn we saw prior and post to the goat facility. My veterinarian taught me to look for cobwebs as a sign of poor ventilation, and the majority of farms did not pass the cobweb observation test. Most of these issues could have been fixed with a fan or two or just better ventilated structures. The Netherlands in particular was an extremely windy country and could naturally ventilate these facilities. One possible reason for this lack of ventilation in some of the facilities could be the commonality of the use of pasture systems. Europe has a strong base for pasture raised milk. This use of pasture could be why the ventilation of facilities internally was not as strong as we see in the United States where pasture systems are not common or practical.

Another surprising aspect of the cattle farms we visited was the housing situations. In general, you want to see dairy cows eating or lying down. At all of these farms we saw plenty of feed for the animals – actually if anything about feeding could be discussed, it would be that a great majority of their milking cows were too fat. Lying down was a much different factor though. Granted, most of these famers had adequate space in the manner of free stalls or area for the animals to lay down – overcrowding was not a large issue – but they lacked the correct positioning, comfortability, size and cleanliness of such facilities. This was not limited to the general industry either. These stalling issues were seen at both the university veterinary facility and research farm facility as well. Many cows could be seen standing in aisles of barns, occasionally affected with hock lesions, dirty, positioning themselves unnaturally and uncomfortably or hanging over the edge of the stall. The cleanliness of the stalls could be easily taken care of, and may have just been circumstantial with the time we were at some of the farms. The comfortability could also be taken care of by using more bedding. The positioning and size of the stalls, however, would be very difficult to change.

Though the internal aspects of the barn saw some faults, there were many good aspects of the farms that we visited. Many of these aspects included the owners genuine concern with their animals and their health and the external aspects of the farms. Aesthetically pleasing farms are very important in Europe. Prior to travelling to Europe, our pre-departure course discussed how the aesthetically pleasing aspect of the farms were very important, but I did not realize how important these aspects were until observing these things first hand. Rolling green pastures, laced with fields, cattle, flowers and well-kept farms dot the countryside, and undoubtedly, they have some of the best aesthetically pleasing landscapes. Occasionally, you can drive and see farms in the United States look not as aesthetically pleasing. I have often seen farms that have old rusty equipment outside, many piles of items that should be cleaned up and some fences and structures that could use some fixing. This does not speak for all farms, but the same can be said for not all farms in Europe being lesser than ideal cleanly on the internal.  

Beyond keeping the external aspects of their farms, European farmers are very good at taking and working with the opinions of the public. One could also argue that there is almost too much of a strictly public dictation of the European dairy industry, but there is also a fine line between that and compromising. The dairy industry relies heavily on the public opinions and we will be certain to see more of in the United States, is the consumer dictating the means in which farmers produce their products. In the past year, we have seen new legislation in regards to tail docking and the Veterinary Feed Directive – guidelines that are in place to have medicated feed additives managed and regulated by veterinarians. These two avenues of legislature are highly fueled by public concern and perceptions with the production agriculture industry. Other hot topics include but are not limited to antibiotic use, organic versus conventional methods, genetically modified organisms and so on. However, in the United States, things have not been as impacted as the Netherlands. One example of this is the idea of grazing herds. One issue with grazing these herds is a decrease in milk production from these cows. With land in short supply and cattle limited by milks quotas, this conflict can be great for some producers. The Dutch have professed and proven as consumers that they will pay more for milk from herds that have a set allotted time on pasture. This idea going with the fact that the milk is produced less efficiently and in a manner that is more appealing to the consumers. However, producers must choose between producing more milk as efficiently as possible and satisfying consumers. This topic of consumers holding a greater stock in the means in which farmers produce their products holds many new, daunting ideas. These ideas and how they play a part in the Dutch dairying way of life currently may be a potential foreshadowing to what can be seen building over time in the United States.

One thing that I really liked about the Dutch dairy industry was the means by which they did their organic forms of dairying. In the United States, organic dairying means absolutely zero antibiotic use. This can cause many issues when cattle get ill – which they will, despite the best efforts of any farm – and the farms cannot treat the animals. Some farms have been known try to use herbal medicines, but these have never been proven to be more effective than conventional methods of treating diseases. I have always found issues with this type of farming. As an individual looking to a career in veterinary medicine, I find it crueler to leave animals untreated than worry about not using medications. In Europe, organic dairying involves a very limited use of antibiotics. Only a small percentage of the herd can be treated for a very limited amount of time. GMO’s are not allowed in the EU, so that is not a factor of the organic dairy situation. Pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are not allowed in organic dairying and the cows must be on pasture for an allotted time of a certain number of days throughout the year. However, the ability to treat cows allows for the farmer to easily convert to organic farming and receive a higher premium for their milk. I find this method organic dairying to be much more ethical for the cows, and it still allows the farmers to receive a higher premium for their milk.

As a whole, I found a greater appreciation for the way that the United States runs their dairy operations. Though there are many regulations for the way that farms are run, I have found that the manner in which we run our farms is a better option for both the farmers and the animals. Though the United States has similar issues with ventilation, stalling and many other issues that I observed as issues in Europe, I believe that we are more focused on these issues and bettering the lives and health of ours cows. In Europe, I believe that they are more focused on the environmental effects of their cows than the environment that the cattle live in. I personally, believe that the cattle should live in a comfortable environment and that they should be fed the best possible diet, and then the environmental effects of the cattle should be considered. I also believe in the importance of cleanliness in the parlors and bulk tank rooms. This helps to keep the product clean, the mechanics that carry the product and the equipment that handles the animals. This helps to limit infection and foreign agents in the milk. The importance of this is to keep the animals healthy and to better the product that the farmer produces. For me, this is important. For me, the methods and manners in the United States as a whole are more tailored to what I find important. This is a strong matter of opinion, but I would much rather prefer to function in the agricultural industry in the United States where my ideals are better held by the industry. I learned a great deal about what I am really looking for in my life. Veterinary medicine is my intended career path and that has not waivered since my first year of college, yet what I wish to do and where I wish to go along with that career path differs greatly. I learned that I really do not wish to travel outside of the United States again. I have seen what I wished to see and travelled to beautiful places, and that is all that I wish to see. This trip helped me see this. This trip also helped me to reinforce something that I thought I already knew – I love Ohio. I love my beautiful, hilly, Appalachia Ohio. Any place in Appalachia Ohio is home to me. Seeing similar countryside in Germany really affirmed that for me. I know where home is, and I really do not wish to leave. This trip also allowed me to think and realize some things that I had been struggling with prior to leaving. In addition to this, I met many great people on this trip and got to experience both history and agriculture. I am very grateful for this experience and everything that I learned about myself and where my life will lead me.

 

 

Australia: Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment

My STEP signature project was entitled Australia: Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment. During this three-and-a-half-week experiential program, I explored relationships between people and their natural environment and focused on sustainable development under the guidance of knowledgeable field professionals. The program took place in northern Queensland and included snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, camping in the Outback, and experiencing the aboriginal cultures.

After spending a little over three-and-a-half weeks in northern Queensland, Australia, I have learned so much about the country and the people. While there are many aspects of Australia that are similar to the United States, there are many differences between the two countries as well. A few similarities I noted during my stay included the language, modernization and urbanization of the larger towns and cities we visited, and the history of European settlement and colonization and displacement of Australian indigenous people. The Australian English language is very similar to our English language, however, occasionally it was difficult to comprehend and understand some of the different words they used in their everyday dialect. Also, the larger towns and cities we visited looked just like cities in the United States, but the Australian cities felt cleaner and safer than cities in the U.S. Also, when we met and talked to aboriginal people, such as the Nywaigi people from Mungalla, it was interesting to hear the destructive impact European settlers had on the Australian native people. As Americans, we only ever learn about the European impact on Native Americans, so it was eye-opening to hear and realize that indigenous people all over the world were and still are facing discrimination and setbacks in their lives.

One of the things that really struck a chord with me was that the majority of Australia believes in climate change, and both Australian political parties have climate change on their agenda. Sadly, climate change is a divisive, political issue in the United States. Most Australians understand and believe in man-made climate change and are committed to reducing carbon emissions. As an American, I feel shameful and embarrassed by our country’s division on and ignorance of climate change and lack of respect for the environment.

Although Australia is known as a mega biodiverse country, there are serious problems with conservation and management of specific Australian lands and ocean. Throughout the three-and-a-half weeks, we met with the Great Barrier Reef marine park authority and World Heritage employees to discuss the issues and complications with conserving the rainforests and reefs in Australia. For one week, we met with scientists and activists that created an organization called The Great Barrier Reef Legacy. We learned that rising sea temperatures, coral bleaching, poor water quality, coastal development, crown of thorns starfish and severe storm events have contributed to coral loss of more than 50% since 1985. After we learned about the coral reefs and the increasing destruction of coral reefs, we swam and conducted research on the reefs for three days to determine which reefs were more protected and restricted than other reefs. This one week that focused on the reef was truly a transformational experience. At home, I’ve read the journal articles and watched the news about the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef and how global climate change is affecting it, but to see the physical reefs and the thousands of different marine organisms that call the Great Barrier Reef home was breathtaking and truly indescribable.

Without taking this course and going on this trip, I would have never known the difficulties of fighting climate change and man-made problems such as agricultural runoff and destruction of wetlands and mangroves for urban development. I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures throughout the program that talked about the flora and fauna in the different environments and landscapes. This program has challenged me to reduce my carbon footprint and get others to do the same. I have also gained more respect and appreciation for marine biologists and climate scientists who face the everyday challenge of getting governments, political parties, and stubborn people to understand that the world’s climate and environments are changing and not for the better. In the case of Australia, it appears Australian scientists and communities are more united and ready to protect their environment.

I chose to go on this educational and experiential trip so that I could learn more about the environment and the sustainable relationship between Australian society and their environment. This program not only succeeded in giving me an abundance of knowledge about the environment and sustainability, but it also gave me new friends and memories that I will never forget. This trip allowed to me to share my curiosity and passion with others while being able to listen and learn about other people’s passions and stories as well.

European Architectural Studies

Vierwaldstatter See, Lucerne, Switzerland

My STEP Signature Program was the European Architectural Studies Program, offered through the Knowlton School of Architecture. During the month of May 34 students and I embarked on one of the most life changing journeys of our lives. Traveling throughout dozens of cities in Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Austria, we gained an incredible amount of knowledge pertaining to the architectural sites we’ve studied in class. During our time abroad we were able to gain a greater knowledge of each building we visited through experiencing key elements like site relation, architectural promenade, scale and lighting effects, in person. As the focus of our trip was on the architecture, each student was responsible to research five buildings and give a presentation during the actual site visit. Sketching was the main learning tool on our trip, in which we were able to record our thoughts and visual understandings of each space in person.

Prior to the start of my STEP Signature Program, I had many assumptions of myself, the program and the world I was about to see. Throughout my travels, however, much of my prior understanding of the world, myself and America changed. The main worry I had before my program was the fact that I would be traveling alone. Though I traveled with a small group of students also in my program, I still had to take on a higher level of independence and responsibility than ever before. Through this program I gained the knowledge and independence I need to travel alone in the future and am no longer frightened by the task.

My assumptions of America and Europe changed while studying abroad as well. I realized that I’ve only ever know the opinions about America from Americans, but no one else. It made me realize that America is in fact not superior in all that it’s said to be. The main thing that blew me away in Europe is their incredible efforts towards sustainability. They practice sustainability on large scales like powering their cities with the hundreds of windmills and solar panels I witnessed throughout each country, and on small scales where grocery stores make you pay for bags, encouraging you to bring your own reusable tote. There is also an incredible effort to keep their cities clean which is something I was not expecting. A common “myth” I heard time and time again was how dirty everything in Europe is. This reigned untrue, even with the lack of garbage cans on the streets, the cities remained impressively clean.

View from top of the Duomo, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower, Florence, Italy

Through Knowlton, the European Architectural Studies trip has been led by Professor Gargus for 10+ years and is a highly recommended and encourage program throughout the students and staff of the school. Having Professor Gargus as a teacher prior to the trip, I already understood the unbelievable amount of knowledge she has on the buildings she lectured. Having her as a teacher of a lecture with 100+ students, I did not know her on a personal level; nor did I know Professor Livesey who is the Architecture Department Head at Knowlton. With such impressive and high up staff leading the trip I was nervous to meet them. These nerves were completely diminished soon into the trip as these professors became close mentors and staff I now feel comfortable reaching out too. I hadn’t expected to gain such personal relationships before the program, and I am glad that I did. The trip also helped connect a large range of students in Knowlton. Being a sophomore, I was part of the youngest class of the group, which was mostly made up of rising seniors and grad students. I am lucky to have gained new relationships with older students of Knowlton as they have become mentors for my remaining undergrad career.

As an architecture student, our major way of expression is through visual art: sketching, drawing, drafting, and modeling. We use visual graphics to create, understand and portray projects and ideas. Sketching was one of our main focuses on the trip. Sketching allowed us the chance to record our feelings and thoughts about the site and its components while recording the details of the buildings in front of us. Prior to the program I had never truly sketched before, so I was nervous but eager to start. Our Professors and graduate teaching assistants lent help and advice of how to create sketches that reveal what you are trying to say. I gained an incredibly useful and important tool on this trip and a souvenir, as I will keep my sketchbook forever as a reminder of the time I had.

My time abroad opened my eyes to a major difference between America and Europe. In America we are prone to the task at hand, trying effortlessly to get it done in a hurry, only to start the next task. This also means multitasking on the go, phone in hand, head down, dodging people on the sidewalk as you hurry to your next destination. Meals are rushed, often insignificant and rather lonely. In Europe, however, socialization is not an effort made but rather a natural interaction. You can walk down the street and see people huddled around tables, sipping coffee and enjoying the presence of each other. Never do you see cellphones out, but instead people making eye contact and communicating face-to-face. Meals are events in which you take your time and enjoy your family and friends, often spending hours in the restaurants. It was eye opening to see how focused Americans are on technology instead of the world around us. In Europe, I quickly adapted to their way of life, often leaving my phone out of site all day so that I, too, could fully experience the city and people around me.

Sketching at Schlosspark Nymphenburg

My STEP Signature Program left me with multiple things that I want to work on to better myself; one, I want to continue traveling and experiencing the world, two, I want to learn more about the cultural and political views of places other than America, three, I want to make any effort I can towards living a more sustainable life, four, I want to continue sketching and analyzing the architectural world around me, and five, I want to make an effort to exist more in the present and to appreciate my company and surroundings. Though I went to Europe to study Architecture, I learned about culture, transportation, sustainability, communication and so much more. This program taught me more than I ever expected to learn in a month, things not only about the world and architecture, but about myself. This eye opening experience has left me with the urge to travel more, improve myself, continue learning and to live a more present life. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity STEP gave me and will forever be thankful.

 

European Cities and Sustainable Urban Planning Practices

Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin, Amsterdam

This May, I studied abroad in the European Cities and Sustainable Urban Planning Practices program. We visited Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin, and Amsterdam to examine their city planning practices and analyze sustainable urban design. The program included group case studies to key sites of interest, visiting urban design and architecture firms, meeting with city officials, and discussing how different practices could be brought back to the United States.

The night before I left for our trip to Europe, I faced a suitcase dilemma. I had one carry-on sized suitcase that barely zipped shut because it was so full, and one medium sized suitcase that held everything and left space for souvenirs if I wanted to take anything back. My parents told me to take the bigger one, but I knew that would be a bad move if we found ourselves running through train stations. I panicked about it in the 24 hours leading up to my departure, switching to the small carry-on sized suitcase only minutes before I left for the airport.

The reality was that I wasn’t actually concerned about which suitcase I brought. It’s true that bringing the larger one would have been much more difficult to manage when traveling, but it wouldn’t have changed my experience on this trip and what I got out of it. The suitcase fiasco just masked the fact that I was freaking out. I had never been out of the country before, and had only been on a plane a handful of times. I could easily recite that I was going to learn about sustainable urban planning practices and that I would be stepping out of my comfort zone, but I didn’t understand what that truly meant. I knew I’d learn from the diverse perspectives of my peers, but I didn’t know how much. I was excited, but as my mind raced with what-if’s the night before, I began to realize that I had no idea what to expect. The unknown terrifies me, and there were a lot of unknowns before heading to Europe for three weeks.

This experience allowed me to learn so much about urban planning, and how other cities in the world function. I recently added City and Regional Planning as a second major, and the experiences on this trip confirmed my passion for it. I got to see what sustainable cities looked like–how to implement successful biking infrastructure, how cities can repurpose their old buildings, and so much more. I learned more about how attention to small details can make a huge impact, and how the cities we visited plan with people in mind. Each city challenged me to think beyond my conventional understanding of urban planning, and each one offered so much to learn.

I saw buildings that were built before the United States had been founded, making me question the resilience our structures today. While we sometimes try to focus on historic preservation, many of our buildings cannot maintain their structures as long as they can in Europe. This made me question why we build everything with the materials we do, and how we can move towards building long-lasting buildings and more sustainable construction practices. Another fascinating experience was biking in each European city. A lot of our cities do not have comprehensive bike infrastructure, and being able to get anywhere easily on bikes completely changed how we interacted with a city. There were essentially no transportation barriers to where we could go, and it was exciting knowing that we could get anywhere at any moment. If for some reason biking wasn’t feasible, the public transit systems could fill that gap. This keeps these cities interconnected and allows all people to enjoy different spaces.

I now have a better understanding of what career path I want to take because of this trip, as I could talk about these topics forever. I learned to question the conventional way of doing things, and how to think outside of the box to solve every day problems. I learned more about planning as a profession, and how much the decisions that planners make impact the lives of everyone. Furthermore, I did step out of my comfort zone, and I now understand what that truly means. I tried to keep an open mind throughout the trip, willing to try new food or experiences. I was much more open to trying new things there than I usually am at home, and I’m glad I was. I tried things that I probably never would have at home, and found that I really liked them. As my first trip abroad, I also realized how little of the world I’ve seen. These experiences have made me want to travel more, moving it to one of my main academic goals. We have so much to learn from areas outside of where we live, and I hope to take every opportunity to do so.

 

MUNDO 2017 Multicultural Histories and Legacies of Rome and London program

I participated in MUNDO 2017 Multicultural Histories and Legacies of Rome and London program with another 23 OSU students. We mainly travelled to different historic sites in Rome and London, talked to different religious groups, and did some community services.

First of all, traveling in Rome and London gave me many new insights toward culture differences. In this program, we first discussed cultural differences through a spring semester course required by the program, and then experienced those cultural shocks personally. We made comparisons between America and Europe, Rome and London, and even the different cultural groups within these diverse cities. We found that some cultural differences such as how to take buses, how to order food, how to use the bathroom and even how to cross the street sometimes troubled us. Within these cultural differences I found situations where I was part of the agent group, the dominant group, and situations where I was in the target group, the inferior group. These situations allowed me to learn more about multiple and complex identities which in turn gave me opportunities to know myself better.

As the only Chinese student in this trip, though I have already studied in the US for two years, I was still shocked by some viewpoints held by most Americans in my group. For example, at the Pompeii in Italy, we encountered a group of sellers who tried so hard to sell their goods that made most of people in my trip uncomfortable. More specifically, if you showed any interested in their shops, they would never let you go easily. They patted you back, and sometimes even dragged your arms. However, I felt that they did those things were not due to any bad intention. They were just over enthusiasm in selling their goods to make money. However, we had a heated debate over this experience. Most Americans in my group regarded this incidence as sexual assaulting. I myself did feel uncomfortable, but I did not think it was such a big deal. Through discussion with my group members, we realized some cultural differences between the U.S. and China, and between the U.S. and Italy. In Italy, our instructor told us, it was totally fine for body touching. The same was also true in China. However, America is an individualistic country. Most Americans value privacy most. They feel that strangers are no way allowed to touch their body without asking for permissions.

Moreover, during our trip, terrorists attacked one theater in London. Coincidently, we planned to talk to Muslim people on the next day of the terrorism attack. About half of students in my group decided not to go to the Muslim place. Some claimed that their parents worried about their safety, and some simply claimed that they needed good rests. Afterwards, we had a specific discussion about this incidence. Through conversation, I realized that as tourists, we had this privilege to choose to avoid some places. But local London people have not. We were in the agent group, the dominant group, in this sense. Recognizing privilege is the first step of realizing potential hierarchy. Only by realizing some latent hierarchy can we actually start doing something to reduce such inequity existing unconsciously.

To be honest, at the beginning I sometimes felt lonely and excluded out by other students. People in this trip formed small groups during first week. But I was unable to find my group. Even though everyone in this trip treated me nicely, I felt they did not regard me as their real friends. They were just nice to people naturally. I simply did not know what I could do to change this situation. I hence did not do anything. I dined alone, went shopping alone, and hardly talked to other people in my trip. Nonetheless, one incidence changed my attitude. On our last day in Rome, I went to a Chinese restaurant on my own. However, when I checked out, the Chinese restaurant informed me that they did not take credit cards. But I did not have enough Euros left. I was so embarrassed and did not know what to do. I then sent out a GroupMe message to see if anyone was willing to help me. To be frank, at first I only expected that one of our instructors could see my message and came to help me out. Surprisingly, one American in my trip replied immediately. She asked me where I was and she run to the Chinese restaurant with another American. They helped me with paying for the meal. I was so moved. If this is not called friendship, what else can friendship be? I then realized that I was too sensitive during my first week. I started to talk to Americans in my trip voluntarily, and realized a fact that actually they all wanted to be my friends but they were just like me: they were afraid or did not know how to start a conversation. At the end of this trip, I eventually found my group and became very good friends with several Americans.

After this trip, the best lesson I learned is about myself, including all the potential privileges I have, how to make friends and how to accept cultural shocks. I know myself much better after this trip. I am really glad that I chose this program. I will recommend this program to my friends.

Iceland: Environment and Natural Resources

My STEP signature project was an education abroad trip to Iceland, where we got a firsthand look at Iceland’s geology, soil erosion/degradation, geothermal power, and the environmental dichotomies of Iceland compared to the United States. In addition to this, we had the opportunity to visit several farms to view the operational differences from those of U.S. farms.

I thought that my transformation was going to come in the form of world view, but instead it came in the form of my view of myself. This is not to say that my world view did not change, as it most certainly did. I knew next to nothing about Iceland when first applying for this trip-now, the places and the people are some of the best around, in my opinion. And while these experiences were vital in my growth, it was a simple thirty-second argument with myself that changed the way I view not only myself but my future.

This was my first time outside of North America; both my first trip outside of the United States and outside of North America have been through Ohio State education abroad trips. From that first trip outside of the U.S. I knew that I wanted to continue pushing my comfort zone, and the Iceland trip was no exception. The trip itinerary was packed with hikes. I am an avid hiker and outdoor adventurer who is a fairly logical person and generally detests risk taking. However, I was worried that if the majority of our time was spent hiking and learning, I wasn’t going to be able to push my comfort zone; I hike a lot, so there was no room for change through a hobby I partake in so often. I could not have been more incorrect. As stated previously, I generally shy away from risks. I am an active person, but fear does scare me away often, and I find myself playing the role of the voyeur as I watch others push their limits. However, on this trip, I pushed myself. It was as though we had landed, and a change occurred within. I wanted to explore everything as much as I could, whether I could physically do it or not. Of course, saying something and doing something are two completely different things.

While I had pushed myself the entirety of the trip, there was one moment that I believe is where my transformation occurred.  We were in an area called Thórsmörk, named after the Nordic god Thor, that is rather remote and difficult to get to. The group was to divide up between those who were going on the longer hike through the mountain ridge, and those who were going on the shorter hike. I knew at once that I was going on the longer hike, despite warnings from our resident directors that if we were to get injured, it may take awhile for help to arrive (as I mentioned, we were in a pretty remote area.) I did not want to shy away from the opportunity to climb a 3,000 ft. mountain despite warnings, and I knew I was in the shape to conquer this feat. It took a few hours, but we finally reached the base of the mountain. Some began to ascend while some decided to hang back and rest. I began the uphill battle, and all was going well when suddenly, the trail had slowly disappeared. In front of me was a puzzle of rocks that I knew I had to climb to continue. I pushed my way up slowly when suddenly, I stopped. A wave of fear had begun to rush over me. “How was I going to get back down once I got to the top?” “Oh my god, if I fall, there is nothing to catch me.” “Should I just go back down?” These were the thoughts swimming through my head as I clung to rocks on the side of a mountain. I was panicking. But all of a sudden, I just kept climbing. My head may have been somewhere else, but my body was determined to summit. I finally was reunited with the trail, and about twenty minutes later, I was at the top.

This may seem like a rather odd transformation, to just simply get over a fear that came over me for thirty seconds. But this whole trip was about me conquering my comfort zone, which I had been doing. However, this was the first time I had ever felt genuine fear during a hike. Hiking is such a common activity for me, something that I find refuge in. To feel fear doing one of the most familiar things to you is such a foreign emotion. It made me crave to push the boundaries of things that I do everyday. This fear also put into perspective my future as a park ranger. I am going to be put into situations that I will fear, but will nonetheless have to remain calm. Situations where I am helping people who will feel what I felt; helplessness, lost, terror. I have now been on both sides of the scenario, and it only confirms my passions and career goals. I cannot wait to educate and aid those who are exploring the great outdoors while being there for them when they feel small and scared like how I was there for myself on the side of that mountain.

Jennifer Prewitt

Engineering the Castles and Cathedrals of England and Wales

Using STEP funds, I was able to participate in Engineering the Castles and Cathedrals of England and Wales. Along with twenty other students, primarily engineers, I completed a research project focused on my assigned site — York Minster — during class on campus at Ohio State, and presented with my partner an overview of the historical and social significance of the structure and its construction and design. Once in country, each group presented at their assigned location, providing further details and leading tours of each site to demonstrate in person the importance of each location in its own context.

Before the program, I treated foreign politics and history as irrelevant and distant, unable to appreciate the meaning of global events so far in the past and its extension to current global society. While in England and Wales, through both student presentations and interactions with local citizens, my eyes were opened to the lasting importance of such geographically and chronologically distant events. During a tour of Bangor University, our leader presented a lecture regarding all things Wales, including history, culture, and even the traditional Welsh language. Having learned about the English conquest of the smaller country by King Edward I during class on campus, observing the point of view of the conquered Welsh people, who still hold their individuality as a nation in high regard, enabled me to develop understanding of the importance of perspective.

Additionally, this awareness illuminated the importance of consideration for various perspectives in any given situation, as effects of decisions may reverberate far into the future in unpredictable ways. The Welsh pride and regard for their old King prior to their conquering demonstrates such possibility. This lecture also introduced a new appreciation for the relevance of history from across the globe to my own life despite my initial assumption of irrelevance. While I embarked on our trip subconsciously intending to study only the subject of focus for the course — Engineering Castles and Cathedrals — I found it equally imperative to relate current events closer to home in order to appreciate all I learned. Knowing the impacts of the English conquest of Wales on Welsh attitudes towards their government and nationalism, I was prompted to consider balance between the role of individual citizens in action and the power of governing forces in any country’s operation.

Furthermore, our Welsh lecturer as well as other scattered locals heavily associated our origins in America with Trump’s presidency and the complex considerations associated with such government. The ability to observe foreign views on my own country again stressed the importance of developing a global perspective in order to relate to and possibly work with foreign citizens in the future.

As a student in engineering, I dream of working alongside professionals of myriad origins, applying my skills and knowledge to solve global issues and improve lives in any way possible. I realize, as emphasized by the connections observed and created between locals and our class, that perspectives on a given global issue are susceptible to the influence of an individual’s location and home country, as every country may be affected differently by a political move, environmental concern, or other global or local event. In order to understand the reality of the issues I hope to help solve and to determine the optimal solution, it is necessary to maintain an open and understanding mind regarding various views on a topic and to respect the perspectives and opinions of others in order to learn from them and benefit from others’ feedback. In order to achieve my engineering goals and develop social awareness, it is important to become a globally considerate professional by expanding my cultural understanding and keeping an open perspective whenever possible, as this program has taught me to do.

European Architectural Studies

My STEP Signature Project revolved around the European Architecture Study Abroad program through the Knowlton School of Architecture throughout the month of May. Throughout this month, a group of about 35 students traveled around Europe with the guidance of multiple amazing professors. We visited an abundance of significant architectural sites throughout these incredible countries having the opportunity to learn about the architecture in person rather than just through pictures and videos in a lecture. Each student was assigned around five buildings to research in advance and present when at the site, and we spent much of the month sketching observations of the sites.

Throughout the program, I gained a new understanding in multiple different aspects, some being ones that I was not expecting at all. I had expected to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the architecture that we visited. Seeing architecture in person versus on a lecture slide is significantly different – there is only so much one can get from pictures and a professor explaining it. Being there in person, one can completely understand the scale, the site relationships, the circulation throughout the space, the way the light comes into the space, things that are so difficult to comprehend in a lecture.

Travelling throughout Europe, my eyes were also opened to the cultural differences between many of these countries and the United States. Though some may be barely noticeable and seem insignificant, many of these differences would create a huge difference in multiple aspects within the countries. I think one of the main differences was how Europeans handle sustainability. Sustainability has been something that I have increasingly become more interested in as I have begun to understand how much significance it plays in our world. In Europe, they do things as small as having efficient toilets or making people pay for grocery bags, but things like this add up and can play a huge role in heading towards a better environment.

One of the site visits that stood out to me most on the program was very early on in the program to Villa Mueller by Adolf Loos. Going in I was expecting to not like it based on the lecture we had had on it. One of the first things that made me more open to the building was seeing it on its site. It was nowhere near where I thought it would be. Villa Mueller is located in a very residential area, right next to homes that normal people were living in. It sat at the top of a hill looking out into the city with an incredible view out. Walking through the house, I began to understand the way Loos designed the space. Before this walkthrough, I thought Loos’ style was an easy way out, using only simple boxes and no ornamentation. What I hadn’t understood before this program was that even though Loos’ buildings lacked ornamentation didn’t mean that they lacked detail. Villa Mueller was filled was so many details in every single room and catered especially to the people that were to live in the home. It was details like this that I had completely misunderstood in my classes and were exactly what made the spaces so incredible.

Being in the cities, I also gained a much better understanding of how all of these well-known architectural works were related to each other as far as location goes, as well as any other relationships present. Seeing the distance on a map versus actually walking the distance has such a different affect. Walking between sites, one can see how the city flows and how it addresses pedestrians and public transportation. Both were addressed very differently in Europe than in the United States which goes a lot towards the sustainability idea.
In Europe, at least the places we visited, there is much more consideration for pedestrians than cars. Almost every city is walkable or bike able, and it was almost rare to see cars throughout the streets. As a result, bike lanes were extremely present and sidewalks were much more maintained and significant. In the United States, it is the opposite, even if someone wanted to be more ecofriendly and not drive, it would be much more difficult just because of how the cities were designed. In Europe, their public transportation seems to be much better organized and efficient than most that I have used in the United States. There also seems to be a greater push for people to use that rather than driving their own personal cars. I personally think public transportation is amazing and I wish it was more significantly used here. There is just such a bad rep with the public transportation of America, but that is something that with some work could easily change.

I learned so much more on this program than I was ever expecting I would, more than just facts about some buildings. I learned how spaces can play a significant role in the world we live in and how important a site relationship actually is. Going forward, I will take everything that I learned and introduce it into my designs. I will have a huge amount of precedents just off the top of my head, places that I will actually understand how the design flows. I have become so much more knowledgeable on how to create sustainable designs which is something I am very interested in in my future career. This program will be an experience that I will never forget and will help me significantly with my design and general understanding of the built environment.