Corfu, Greece STEP Study Abroad

Jordan Wade

Education Abroad

  1. The main purpose of my STEP signature project was to learn more about influential European history starting with the ancient Greek Empire and going up through the second World War. By being in Corfu, Greece for a month there was the first hand experience of being immersed in a culture that has been so influential throughout history and in the world. The program itself consisted of being in class 3 hours a day, Monday through Friday and every few days our professor would change and we would be taught by someone who was considered to be an expert on what we were learning that particular day.
  2. My education abroad experience through STEP was the first time that I had been to Europe and I didn’t know exactly what to expect from a place where I was completely unfamiliar with the food, language and culture. I went into this trip very open minded and eager to learn a bit about a new culture through this immersive experience. When I arrived in Corfu I was pleasantly surprised to learn that while most of the island’s residents spoke English, they also held tightly to their culture through the festivals celebrated, history in the city, and ornate orthodox churches all about. There was always something new to witness or be a part of and in the month that I was in Greece I really broadened my horizons from things like trying new foods, to going to a church festival to celebrate saints, to something as simple as making new friends. I believe that this experience helped pique my curiosity in other people’s cultures and regular ways of life and allowed me to be less hesitant to try new things. I love to travel but prior to this trip, all of my abroad experiences have been with my family which always made things a lot easier. In this instance though, I was by myself and didn’t really know any of the people on my trip prior to the trip either so it was especially necessary that I branch out and put myself out there to be a part of new things with new people.
  3. I truly believe that every part of my experienced helped assist me in my transformation. From sitting on a 9 hour flight alone and navigating an international airport, to going to the Parthenon in Athens towards the end of my trip. The trips and experiences such as going to see the Parthenon in Athens or the Tombs of Alexander the Great’s father on the mainland were really fascinating and helped me learn more about the culture and the country itself by being there first hand. On both of these instances I was astonished to see how well maintained these structures are. It is incredible when you’re standing there looking at something that was built over 2,000 years ago and you can still depict every image and read every letter. It really makes you think about several things-(1) just how young our nation actually is and how little history we have relative to many other civilizations, and (2) how everything that was once great eventually falls when someone bigger and better comes around. At another point, closer to the beginning of our trip, my whole class was informed about a festival that was taking place at a church down the road from our hotel. I went to the festival with a couple of the other members of my class and got to try a lot of good food, listen to music, and then stay after and even talk to some members of the church to learn what the festival was all about. The church members informed us that the celebration was about someone who had become a saint and they told us the story of what the woman did and how she plays a role in their daily life still in this day in age. It was really impactful and transformational to get a first hand look into a culture that I was so unfamiliar with. Another thing that was really cool was when we went to Athens for the last few days of the trip it was interesting to see how Athens is such a modern and large city-almost similar to New York or Chicago-yet it has maintained all of it’s history and culture throughout all of these centuries. At one point you could be walking though the city and be right in the center of a massive, modern shopping center and then one block over there would be an ancient temple that’s been around since 1060 BC. I liked the fact Greece in general seemed to be able to modernize with the times but still stick to their roots. Everyone that I met while traveling was so nice and open to teaching us all about their traditions and customs which was great and only positively contributed to the experience as a whole.
  4. This whole experience and trip to Greece was a really incredible experience that I feel so lucky to have taken part in. I truly believe that my travels allowed me to branch out more and made me more open to try and embrace new things. I feel as though many people, including myself sometimes, don’t partake in certain experiences because they are scared of the unknown outcome or results or because they’re comfortable where they are, however, stepping outside of your comfort zone helps you to grow as a person and learn more about yourself and this trip taught me that more than anything. It is also important to be able to interact with people who are different from you and learn about the things that are important to them, while also sharing what is important to you and being immersed in a new and foreign culture is a perfect way to do this. The more you interact with people who are different or unlike you, the more open and understanding you become to different ways of life which is something very important in our ever changing and growing country. I thank STEP for this wonderful opportunity and look forward to being able to travel more in the future, keeping in mind the things I learned from my first experience to Europe.

Shanghai

My STEP signature project was a study abroad program. I did the Shanghai 1750-2050 program during the first summer session. The program was a historical class focusing on the evolution of Shanghai and it’s role in the world via a structured history course with field trips to places throughout the city/country. The program also had a cultural/language class component as well.

My views on China changed drastically throughout the time of my project. I came into the trip with a preconceived notion about what the country was like. Most of my life I’d only been shown images and stories depicting China as a 3rd world, godless country that oppressed it’s people. The China I experienced was so different than everything I’d been told. Firstly, it’s defiantly not a 3rd world country. They have rural areas and villages, but they also have sprawling metropolitan areas. It felt very similar to the U.S. in many ways. Another surprising aspect of China was their huge gardens and “green spaces.” I had not expected to see many parks, but was blown away by the dedication and respect people have towards nature. On the godless notion, I saw more spirituality in the month I was in China than I have in years. I think people often confuse being religious with being spiritual, and just because they aren’t your religion doesn’t mean they believe in nothing. The Buddhist and Confusion temples I saw were stunning, and were filled with people worshipping/paying their respects. This trip helped peel off this idea I had about the rest of the world. There are so many amazing people and places in the world, and this program has really strengthened my desire for scientific collaboration.

There are several different factors that led to my change in thinking. Firstly, I had incredible interactions with some amazing people while over there. My language teacher was so kind and understanding. She went above and beyond to help. Our trip coordinator at the university was also amazing. She did way more than I’ve seen any university staff go for their program. I don’t think a had a single negative interaction with anyone while I was over there. Another major factor was the trips we took. In Shanghai alone, I saw museums, historical sights, art, “festival market places,” scientific laboratories, etc. Shanghai was interesting because it is a part of China, but also very unique and different. At the Bund, we could see the historical presence of the British and the French, but also the amazing modernization of China in the Pudong Financial District. It was very life changing to experience and see how another group of people live. The biggest event that I think catalyzed this change was visiting Jing ‘an Temple. I had no experience with any sort of non Judeo-Christian religions before China. The temple visit was not scheduled; it was something we as a group decided to do in our free time. We originally only planned on being there for 45 minutes, and we spent almost 3 hours there. It was just very humbling and interesting to watch and to learn. I want to know more, see more, and to go visit different parts of the world.

One reason this change is really important to me is my academics. I hadn’t taken any Chinese before college, but I’ve spent my first two years learning how to speak and basic cultural skills. This trip was a big deal for me because it validated all the time and energy I’ve spent practicing and learning. It felt really good to be able to utilize my language skills. That feeling of validation made all the studying worth it. This program also helped to further my academic track. The trip counted as a cultural credit for my Chinese minor, one of the few remaining requirements I have left. The other reason this change is important is my career aspirations. I started Chinese because China is one of the world’s leaders in genetic research. I knew that in my field I’ll be interacting with people from China, maybe even work in a lab with them/there. I think collaboration is so important for the scientific community, and that can only happen once certain barriers are overcome. Language and cultural differences are the first barrier. I can’t expect every person in the world to speak English, so I’m trying my best to learn Chinese. This program felt like a first step towards my career, and I can’t wait to go back!

A view of the River Village Xin Tian Di.

A view of the T.V. sky antenna across from the Bund

Jing’an Temple

STEP Reflection- DIS Study Abroad

Grace Campbell – Education Abroad

For my STEP Signature Project I took a class with DIS, a third-party study abroad program. The class that I took, the Neuroscience of Fear, was based in Copenhagen, Denmark with an included week tour to Munich, Germany. This class discussed the physiology of fear, modern fear research, and the implications of fear neuroscience.

I thought that I had a pretty good cultural understanding of the world prior to this study abroad experience, even though I had never left the country before, and so I was not expecting a major change in my worldview during this trip. I was still expecting the Danish and German cultures to feel foreign to me however, since I had never experienced an organic European culture firsthand. I was very surprised after arriving then to discover that instead of these cultures feeling very distant and removed from what I was used to, they just felt overwhelmingly normal. This discovery was the biggest surprise to me while abroad. I was fully prepared to deal with some culture shock upon my arrival and ended up being more shocked when I felt the exact opposite.

After living abroad for almost an entire month, I came to realize just how secluded the United States is from the vast amount of countries in this world. I realized that I was expecting a bigger culture shock than I was actually presented with because of how distant Europe and the other continents feel to me when I am at home in the US. I was prepared to feel lost and out of place in Denmark and Germany and instead felt an overwhelming sense of similarity. Different languages are spoken and day to day activities are done in different ways, but it was really eye opening to see how the basic behavior of everyone was exactly the same in every country that I visited.

One specific activity that helped me come to this conclusion was observing how the locals who were about my age behaved. I’m not sure what I was expecting them to be like, but it was really comforting and also really humorous at times to see that they do the exact same things that I do with my friends back home- hanging out at bars and restaurants, laying outside in the nice weather, blasting music and playing games. I felt much less out of place while abroad when I was around this behavior that I was so used to.

Another specific activity that showed me the normalcy of these European cultures was the cultural information that I learned by taking this class abroad. The professors that I had were both Danish and very willing to answer any questions that we had about Denmark and the Danes. The in-depth conversations that we had about Denmark’s government, holidays, food, media, etc taught me how all of these differences  were only surface level. The day-to-day activities between the US and Denmark differed, and therefore so did a lot of opinions, but our societies as a whole were majorly similar.

Another finding that I had about this normalcy abroad was observing the rowdiness that also takes place in these countries. It is a very heavily stated stereotype that Americans are loud, obnoxious, and generally excessive. While the Danish people are quite reserved, it was refreshing to see them at night drinking in cafes and letting loose. In Munich, the locals’ behavior was even more similar to what I’m used to in the US. The local Germans reminded me a lot of the people who I see all of the time at home. It was a nice reminder that there are loud people everywhere and that it’s not something that Americans should necessarily feel shameful of.

Overall, this study abroad taught me things about the world that I could not have learned from reading. It is 100% different experiencing something firsthand and I know that I learn and retain information so much better that way. The feeling of normalcy that I gained from this study abroad experience has made me feel so much more connected to the world as a whole. The realness of all of these other countries has expanded for me and I feel more confident in myself personally as a global citizen.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark

Munich, Germany

Global May Hungary

Ryan Ams

Education Abroad

My STEP signature project was an Education Abroad trip to Budapest, Hungary. In the Global May Hungary program we spent the month of May studying the culture and history of Central Europe at the Metropolitan University in Budapest while also travelling to Slovakia, Poland and Austria. Led by Daniel Pratt, it was a month of trying new foods, meeting many locals and exploring the foreign culture.

Going into the trip I had travelled once abroad to London. That trip for me was mind blowing and made me intrigued by the possibility of going overseas again, hence my choice to participate in this program. At first I was nervous about spending this much time in a country that spoke a different language and had less similarities to the United States than the United Kingdom had had. What I found out about myself is that I am entirely capable of exploring a different culture alone. It was the uncomfortable situations that showed this to me. The interactions with a native who did not speak any English or the times travelling on public transit with friends or even booking a weekend in Bratislava without the guidance of our program advisor.

When I returned to the Chicago O’hare Airport in June I was full of emotions. I was excited in part to return to my home, to the things I was used to, to see friends and family again. But I was also incredibly sad because my time of freedom and exploration had come to an end. I wanted almost immediately to hop on another plane in the international terminal and see what was out there in the world for me to find.

I think a big influence on this change was our awesome leader, Daniel Pratt. He always encouraged us to explore the unknown. To check out that restaurant we had passed and were curious to try, to talk to the Hostile works and students at University about their lives and to think critically about the things we were seeing and experiencing and question how they were different and alike from our own lives back home. He always emphasized the importance of being abroad as a traveler rather than a tourist. To not just see the pretty sights, snap a picture and say, “that’s nice.” He wanted us to see this beautiful and historic sights and to ask why. Why it was built? What purpose did it serve then? What purpose does it serve now? How do locals interact with it? How do tourists?

Another big source of influence on the trip were all of my classmates and peers participating in the program alongside me. When you are away in a foreign country with a small group of people spending every minute together you become close quickly. A support system formed and everyone always encouraged one another to try new things and conquers fears and trepidations.

One particular moment that will be forever engrained in my mind is the evening my peers and I stayed up all night to watch the sunrise over Budapest. Late in the evening, or very, very early in the morning (it was hazy as to which was which at that point) we made the tiresome trek up to the Citadel atop the hillside on the Buda side of the city. The night lights quickly faded into the morning sky of light blues and yellows. As we sat there we reminiscenced on the memories of the near month that we had spent together. We discussed what we would miss about the city when we left and how much were going to despise not seeing one another every morning for the rest of the summer. We laughed at the funny moments, skipped over the moments of annoyance and frustration and hardly even stopped to realize just how much we had changed in less than a month.

I will always have a deep love for the city of Budapest and all the people in it for teaching me to be self-reliant and determined and helping me find a new piece of myself that I had yet to uncover. It is wild to think how drastically the program has changed the trajectory of my life. I cannot wait to explore and discover more places, learn more stories from far away people and to spend the rest of my life continuing to discover who I am.

I think this transformative experience will be something that sticks with me for a lifetime. The opportunity to travel and see the world is an incredibly motivating one. It makes me want to find success and to work for an engineering firm that reaches globally. I also think that I just pay more attention to the rest of the world now after spending time away from home creating a well-rounded individual.

As I leave the community of Ohio State and move into the professional world I will work with people from all sorts of background and cultures and I look forward to bringing this experience into that dynamic. I will move onto the next chapter a little more worldly, a little more empathetic and whole lot more curious and eager to try new things.

Abroad in Cuba

This summer I had the most privileged opportunity to study abroad in Havana, Cuba. My educational program was housed in the college of Art and Sciences and focused heavily on the influence African history on Cuban culture. Even further, the course explored the role race relations played in the development of Cuban identity and provided context for a cross-cultural analysis between the United States and Cuba.

From my stay in Havana I have developed a better understanding of myself. I realized how important education is and how inaccessible it is for some people. Normally inaccessibility would refer to money or family etc,. However, teaching and learning methods also matter. This moment of reflection came to me after a lecture in with an educator in Old Havana. His conversation-style of teaching encouraged many behaviors frowned upon in traditional classroom settings. In example, always asking questions, never being afraid to ask for help, and more. I learned that adjustments in learning approaches can change how material is absorbed. And furthermore develop a more interested students and enthusiastic environment.

Studying abroad has greatly influenced my love for learning, diversity, and openness for change. Through my interactions with different professors, students, and locals throughout the country I became aware that there is so much gain from every situation. The woman you run into on the side walk, speaking Spanish to her child teaches you something about her culture. The lectures tell stories about the nation’s history. The people bring the traditions and culture to light.

Throughout the trip we learned different aspects of Cuban culture through dance lessons, religious museum tours, and required readings. Many of the traditions have roots from the enslaved period and resonates with the history of the United States. The stark similarities of discrimination such as racial cartoons that depict Africans with big lips and eating watermelon, to the systemic failure that lends to the growth of poverty, amazed me in a wild way about the historical nature of racial imbalance.

Cuban culture, restaurants, people, all embody art and outward expression. As a spoken word poet in the United State I often find myself defending my method of expression. In Cuba, art is seemingly everywhere and apart of everyone. Seeing art, people, and social awareness matter to an entire country made me feel appreciated as an artist. The value art has within Cuban culture has fueled my energy for expression.

This trip further my desire to explore careers in justice and study the African history and influence throughout the world. Cuba showed me that there is a place for people who value people. There is a lot we can learn from one another historically and personally. However we must not be afraid each other and henceforth, valuable information. Education matters because people matter.

 

Dr. Esteban Morales

Varadero, Cuba

Exploring Jamaican Culture & Art

My trip to Jamaica has been one of my most memorable trips yet. Going into this program I had some expectations about what I hoped to gain out of the experience and how it would benefit me with my academic and personal goals. I remember thinking that after this trip I would cultivate more insight into the Ethio-Jamaican history, develop my interest in international affairs and learn more about cross cultural relations. Just like I hoped, I gained all of these and more. As a political science and communication major, I was anxious that I would be disconnected with the goals and expectations of the program. However, after reflecting upon the trip and course, I realized what a great investment it was to make the decision to participate in the education abroad even though it wasn’t directly related to my major.

My STEP signature project was an education abroad trip to Jamaica through the Exploring Jamaican Arts and Culture program. My trip focused on learning more about Jamaican culture and Caribbean culture at large through the lens of the Arts.

From day one, when we arrived at Kingston airport I knew that there wasn’t going to be any shortage on exciting and educational moments along the trip. I was immediately mesmerized by the African influence and culture retention in the everyday lives of the locals. From the lectures we sat through to the small talks I had with the locals, I noticed that the shaping of Jamaican identity and the “Back to Africa” movement was very widespread. During our visit at the Edna Manley art exhibit, I had a fruitful conversation with one of the artists and a graduating senior about his art piece that I felt like perfectly embodied this search for self-identity. His three-piece panel depicts a young black girl lost in the jungle not knowing where to go or where she came from but fearlessly following an enlightened path guided by a torch that her implied ancestors from Africa lit for her to travel through. When I asked Will why he decided to pick a girl to illustrate his story, he told me that it wasn’t just him that had a similar story to share and so he picked a girl to separate himself from his art and allow others to give it their own definition.

My time and experience in Jamaica was transformational and eye-opening in many ways. Ever since I have been back to the U.S. I can’t seem to stop talking about it. From sharing that KFC can only be legally called “Kentucky Fried Chicken” there to talking about the forgotten yet very important story of the Taino people, I have not had a shortage of meaningful conversation with my friends and family about my experience. This program has also taught me the power of art in uniting communities and conveying uplifting messages. I have a deeper appreciation for street art and loved what one of our hosts Dr. Petrona Morrison said about the “community owning the walls” and the arts reflecting the ideas and thinking of the people in the community. It was also very refreshing to see the investment that the high school programs put in to promote arts endeavors for their students. Although I learned that the national arts curriculum has some shortcomings in catering to student’s artistic needs, the youth movement toward preserving the arts and the increased quality and dedication of the art educators entails a promising future.

To put in plain and simple: Jamaica was amazing. I am already arranging plans to revisit the country next summer. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the entire group and I appreciated the guidance that our program directors were always eager to give us. The program was educational and immersive, and exactly what I hoped it to be.

 – Portland Beach, Jamaica

Trench Town Studios –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Link to my slideshow from the trip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMaMsdO7YV0

My Education Abroad in Valencia, Spain

This summer I was fortunate enough to travel to Valencia, Spain to participate in a study abroad program. During my program I spent time with American students from all over the nation while we studied for our culture and cinema classes, traveled, and experienced the daily lifestyle of the locals. One of my favorite parts was living with a host family – my host parents and siblings made me feel welcome and at home in such a foreign setting! The fact that they didn’t speak any English was unnerving at first but I quickly fell in love with being able to practice my Spanish speaking whenever I was at home.

What I was most proud of myself for was my eagerness to communicate in Spanish. Prior to my trip, I was nervous that my level of Spanish knowledge would not have been enough to get by, or that I would sound ‘stupid’ trying to speak. Once I arrived in Spain, however, all of my doubts disappeared because I was so excited to be in a place where everyone spoke the language I had been studying for so long! My excitement for a new experience surpassed my fear of sticking out like a sore thumb when I spoke with my American accent. And although it was sometimes difficult to get my thoughts across to a local, I discovered that, for the most part, they realized I was trying my hardest to communicate and really appreciated my effort. I also realized that my foundation of the language was way sturdier than I had originally thought. There’s something about being forced to think, speak, and write in a non-native language constantly that really brings those random I-learned-this-in-eighth-grade-and-will-probably-never-have-to-use-it verbs to the forefront of your vocabulary. I know a lot more about the Spanish culture and language than I thought I did, it just took this six-week study abroad to really put my knowledge to the test.

This trip abroad also changed my perspective on the world by allowing me to experience a lifestyle so different yet so similar to my own. I learned that, at our core, everyone is the same. Everyone enjoys spending time with their friends and family; everyone enjoys eating good food and making unforgettable memories; everyone has good days and bad days, but the bad days don’t define who you are. If you put your best self out there and are friendly and open toward everyone you meet, you should have no problem making genuine connections and friendships. The differences between cultures, though not drastic, are surely noticeable and have made me reflect on some of the things I have never questioned. In Valencia, the locals are much more environmentally friendly and use public transportation, bicycles, and walking way more than us Americans. It was no problem for me to walk or bike almost two miles to class every day in Valencia, yet back home in the suburbs of Columbus I drive my car every time to go to a gym that’s only half the distance – .9 miles! I want to start living a healthier, more active, greener lifestyle like that I witnessed and lived in Spain. Another thing I learned is that most Spanish locals have little possessions. Many live in small apartments with no yard, little clutter, and only have what they need. The Spanish are a much more social group of people than I think Americans are, and they get fulfillment from spending quality time with their friends and family and doing the things they love. Where I’m from, it seems that people always want to have the biggest houses and the nicest cars and the newest technology, but in the end that isn’t what we need to make us happy. I wish to adapt the Spanish view on life and eliminate wants and needless possessions to make myself happy with my loved ones, passions, and what I already have.

The main component that led me to my increased confidence in my Spanish abilities were the incredible people I spent time with during my trip. My host family was so much greater than I could have imagined they would be. My host mom, dad, sister, and brother never talked down to me, never talked slowly like I was incapable of understanding, encouraged me to keep talking my way through difficult explanations, and had a genuine interest in helping me and my abilities. They made me feel like a true member of their family and were always happy to answer questions about my homework or help me figure out the best ice cream shop in Valencia.

The other group of people that helped increase my confidence was the amazing students I was lucky enough to meet through my program. These college students, of all different states, backgrounds, and Spanish comprehension levels, made the program so much richer by providing different insights and viewpoints on what time abroad really means. We were all so eager to make the most of our experience, so it was wonderful to have friends to challenge each other to do the most and be the best. I’m so happy that some of my closest friends abroad happen to attend The Ohio State University as well, and I’m looking forward to continuing our friendship!

My favorite purchase of the trip was definitely my Valenbisi pass, the city’s bike sharing system. This system was so accessible and was used by locals and tourists equally. Valencia is incredibly bike-friendly, with bike paths on almost every main street. This led my friends and me to bike everywhere and anywhere, sometimes with no destination at all. I hope more cities install safe bike lanes like this so that communities can enjoy the outdoors, be healthier, and respect the environment more. Because of the accessibility and enjoyment from biking everywhere, I now have the mindset that I can make a difference by using public transportation and no-emission transportation options.

A conversation with a friend’s host mom led me to analyzing American desires. My friend and I were trying to explain what living in a suburb is like, since she had only ever known the countryside and the city. After telling her our families have houses with front and back yards, where each person has their own bedroom, she commented in Spanish something equivalent to, “That’s so wasteful.” I realized that, to most Spaniards, Americans long for the biggest and the newest and the prettiest – things that really shouldn’t mean so much but in our culture, unfortunately they do. After spending six weeks in Spain, living with only the necessities at home and the things I packed in my suitcase, I realized that so much of what I left at home I don’t need at all. I was able to refocus my priorities and spend time hanging out with my friends and enjoying the outdoors instead of focusing on distractions and physical items. Since being home, I have sold or donated a portion of the clothes, games, and decorations that I once owned that I know I don’t need. I realize that life does not need to be flashy to be great, and I am forever grateful that my study abroad has shown me that.

Finally, these observations and experiences have certainly proved or will prove to be helpful in my professional and personal life. I had never been out of the country, never been immersed in a new culture, never spent six weeks in a place where I didn’t know a single soul. I am immensely proud of the courage I put forth to apply and follow through with this study abroad. I tend to be hesitant and a bit shy in new situations, but this study abroad has proven to me that there’s no harm in trying my best. In professional settings, such as internships or jobs, I will try my hardest and approach each task with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Learning is a part of everything, whether that be a language, a skill, or learning about other people. In my personal endeavors, I know that I will take the lifestyle I lived in Spain to foster a healthier mind and body. I lived a more active lifestyle (even spontaneously ran a 15k race), tried new activities and foods, and spent less time on my electronics because I was having such a blast experiencing new things. My mind and body had never felt so free and energized as they did during my study abroad and I’m looking forward to feeling this way every day here in Columbus.

STEP Reflection Valencia, Spain

Haley Jenkins

Education Abroad

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in an Education Abroad in Valencia, Spain. On this trip, I took Spanish classes that went toward my Spanish minor, and I had the opportunity learn about a different culture and engage in a new learning environment.

Being in a new country with a different language gave me a new perspective and insight to people from different backgrounds. I was also able to greatly improve my Spanish skills, since I was immersed in a Spanish-speaking country for five weeks. Although I am still far from fluent, I was able to work through many challenges I had communicating and gained much more confidence in speaking a foreign language. I also have a better understanding of the hardships people have who come to the United States not knowing English.

One of the key aspects of this trip that gave me this new perspective was living with a homestay. For the duration of my stay in Valencia, I lived with a Spanish mother. This day to day interaction required me to practice Spanish because my host mother didn’t speak English. It was challenging at times, but she was patient, and I was able to improve my Spanish skills as I worked at communicating with the language. I was able to have many conversations with her and learn more about her viewpoints and the Spanish culture. I also shared my thoughts and opinions with her to teach her about life in the United States.

Another important aspect of this trip was navigating through a foreign country. On a daily basis I had to use public transportation to get throughout the city of Valencia. Being able to speak Spanish was helpful when I got lost or when I needed to understand street signs. I was also able to take a trip to the island of Mallorca on our free weekend with some other people in the program. This opportunity gave me more confidence in traveling through foreign countries, and it also required me to use Spanish when I needed help.

During this program I was able to meet a lot of new people. This included other Americans in my program and people from Spain and Europe. I was able to learn about various generalizations people had of Americans and learned about some generalizations of Europeans. Through interacting with each other we were able to realize that generalizations aren’t always valid and that you shouldn’t assume things about people simply based on where they are from. I was able to make a lot of new friends on this trip and make lasting memories with them.

Overall, this trip was very valuable to me because I was able to improve my Spanish skills and gain a new perspective. I hope to be fluent in Spanish one day so that I have more career opportunities and so that I can travel to more places. I also think it is important to know more than one language so that you can communicate with people and break down barriers. The new perspective I gained will help me personally and professionally. I will be able to communicate and work better with people from different backgrounds and have a better understanding of those from another country.

European Architecture Studies Reflection!

For my STEP signature project I went on a May European Architecture Study Abroad trip. Throughout this trip, we went on site visits to many major sites and cities, tours by locals, sketching and diagramming practices, and lectures on architecture history, form and theory. The countries that we visited are Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, France and Austria.

Studying abroad helped me develop a deeper understanding of myself and my interests. I experienced a lot of new ideas and cultures on this trip as well as some new challenges. Experiencing all of these new ideas helped me to gain a better understanding of how things work and helped me become more open minded. These challenges also helped me to become more independent and confident in taking care of myself even in a new and unfamiliar place. There were plenty of moments when we were required to navigate around foreign places and figure out even basic things like where to grocery shop, do laundry, etc. This was all especially challenging with the language barriers. Being completely immersed in a new environment helped me see my strengths and weaknesses much more clearly. This also helped me collaborate better with others when we planned “family” meals and free days in groups. Additionally, it helped me learn the value of things that I usually take for granted in my everyday life such as proximity to family and friends, access to electronics, etc.

This trip also helped me a lot with time management. There were free days on this trip that we explored on our own. These days were used to expand more on our individual interests in each place. In order to maximize our time we had to know how to zip around each city with public transportation, and figure out how to make things happen and budget time. My favorite free day was in Venice where we spent the morning seeing incredible art from all around the world at the Biennale art festival (Viva la arte!), spent the afternoon at Lido beach and the evening shopping, eating gelato and sitting by the iconic Realto Bridge.

Studying abroad also definitely made me more open minded and simply more aware of the world. I have lived in Columbus my entire life, so it was sort of shocking to see how different it was compared to other places. Being surrounded by iconic designs and rich culture gave me a better sense of what is out there.  I loved trying tons of new foods and noticing the differences in the architecture, climate and urban fabric of the different places. An example of this is the traffic lanes in Germany versus Italy. In Germany the lanes are very clearly separated for pedestrians, bikes and cars whereas in Italy it is just one lane for all three. Understanding different cultures is so essential to being a citizen of the world. Understanding the ways that other people live and interact is also vital in understanding how to be innovative in global design.

 

One of the main things that made these transformations possible are the incredible people I met on this trip. Being surrounded by people with similar interests really encouraged more thought provoking conversations. This exposure to a static group of people on such a fast paced trip really helped give me a sort of family while so far away from home. Having this support group there made me feel like I could rely on people if I needed to. I definitely made some lifelong friends on this trip and I am really excited that we will be back together at Ohio State and even at Knowlton Hall together in the fall.

This trip also pushed me to learn in a different way than I am used to. Instead of learning from your basic powerpoint presentation lectures and textbooks, I was completely immersed in the architecture, history and culture. Throughout the duration of the trip, we learned from each other as well as our professors and mainly translated this knowledge through sketching and diagramming the sites. This was a more critical and interactive way to learn that allowed us to have more discussions and learn more about the theory of architecture. These sketching and diagramming exercises really helped me with these technical skills and allowed me to realize a bit more how designs are communicated before they are actually fabricated. I also learned unconventionally outside of architecture through just trying to figure things out in an unfamiliar place. It was really interesting to get to know the different norms and ins and outs of things that may seem so bland to people living there like public transportation systems. This trip definitely makes me want to travel to even more cool places!

This journey was also really valuable to my professional and academic goals. Since this trip revolved mainly around architecture it gave me the opportunity to become more in tune with a field that I am not directly in, but will be working closely with in my landscape architecture career. I also realized how much I care about design in a broader sense than just landscape and this trip inspired me to consider pursuing a design degree for graduate school as well. On a similar note, this trip also helped me increase my international job prospects. I really started to see what kinds of opportunities are out there for people in my fields, and even took note of a few cities that I would like to explore more or maybe even live in someday. Now that I have been to so many different places I will feel more comfortable going back, orat least have a better idea of some similar places to visit as well.

Additionally, it was really stunning to be in places that I had heard and learned about. This journey made me really excited to return to my studio class to really put all of the things I learned to good use. I am so excited to implement the ideas and inspiration that I gained in this trip in my future projects. This trip really allowed me to gain a global mind-set which will help me become more comfortable with backing up my arguments and informing my beliefs.

 

Overall, this trip was vital to my growth both personally and professionally. This experience helped me understand myself better, and helped me become more open minded and self reliant. It also pushed me outside of my comfort zone and allowed me to see the world in a new and reflective light. This project helped me enhance my experiences by becoming more open to new experiences and more likely to keep a lookout for other interesting and diverse opportunities. I feel much more ready to take on new adventures, interact in new situations and discuss new ideas.

Additionally, throughout this journey I gained an incredible amount of unforgettable moments including the Gondola ride in Venice, climbing the Duomo in Florence, experiencing Ronchamp, seeing peacocks in parks in Prague, sleeping in an Italian Villa, attending a Berlin Philharmonic concert, standing in front of Michelangelo’s David, climbing an Alp, and even doing karaoke in Munich. The list goes on and on; this trip was full of so many incredible moments that I would never trade for anything. This trip was truly a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. Thank you!

Reflections on my first trip to Cuba

My STEP signature project was traveling on an OSU Study Abroad trip to Cuba. The subject of the course and the trip was Race, Revolution, and Culture. We visited museums, heard lectures from professors, and attended musical performances that described the fascinating, complicated history of Cuba’s race politics. The day after I returned I wrote the following:

The fundamental basis of global capitalism is the systematic extraction of wealth from peripheral economies. The implications of this extractive relationship between core and periphery are vast, and in studying them the answers to the planet’s most challenging questions can be found. For example, we can see that this extractive relationship explains why the world produces enough food for eleven billion people but only feeds about half that many. We can see why for the first time in the history of humanity more people live in cities than in the countryside. The world system of core and periphery, along with all the contradictions in its execution, provide explanations for the root causes of environmental destruction, public health crises, war, and a million other global problems which have traditionally caused thinkers to shrug their shoulders. I brought with me to Cuba a strong understanding of these ideas. It seemed to me that I already knew the answer to all the questions that the country could possibly ask of me; I was confident that nothing viewed during my travels would pose any sort of challenge to the theoretical framework that made so much sense. I was wrong. In the past when I have studied countries through the lens of critical political economy I have done so as if I were solving a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece seems to have its peculiarities, but broadly speaking they are easy enough to sort and eventually fit together once arranged by their color and shape. When I picked up the piece of Cuba, it seemed to me that it must have been from another box. All of the crucial patterns in the global capitalist system – urbanization, the widening of inequality, the destruction of sustainable food systems, an uptick in all forms of xenophobia and “otherization” – act in a dizzyingly different way in Cuba that doesn’t quite match anywhere else in the world. The country seems to have its own set of rules and logic that separate it from the predictions or prescriptions of any sort of foreign “experts” who, like me, claim to have the answers to every single possible question.

The best example of this occurred on our tour of Los Pocitos, when I was talking with Professor Sanchez. I explained to him that I had studied informal “unplanned” communities like the one we were visiting extensively. The key trend that facilitates their worldwide growth is the destruction of agrarian life throughout the Third World by American food overproduction and exportation. I asked him that if Cuba wasn’t importing American food, why did such communities of former peasants exist? He explained to me that people moved to Havana for all sorts of reasons – because it’s easier to practice their religion there, because of the way those religions function as mutual aid societies, because of the social isolation of life in the countryside, and numerous other factors. I hope to one day soon study that neighborhood and that trend in Cuba more extensively, but for now I know enough to say that I still can’t quite fit it into my puzzle. In fact, my academic, intellectual, and personal experience in Cuba was defined by similar experiences to these, in which I looked at things and could not understand them. This was a journey that at various points challenged me to reconsider my core analytical framework for understanding the world.

Even though I became involved in actual struggles for racial justice, like the campaign to divest Ohio State from private prison corporations in the US and corporations that profited off the occupation of Palestine, I never did this explicitly because I wanted to fight racism. I did it to fight capitalism and to fight imperialism. I was not a deliberate antiracist, but rather a default antiracist.

Then, I took this class and went to Cuba. Looking back now, a few key moments stand out to me. The first is our discussion of racialization that occurred during the first week of class, when I inadvertently started an argument by bringing up the historical facts of the racialization of Jews, Irish people, and Italians. My point was that race was not a definite, predestined reality, but rather a dynamic process that resulted from the social conditions in a society and its place in the world system. The strong negative reaction to these comments sent me several messages: first of all that comparing the Black struggle with others is a technique used too often by reactionaries with a racist agenda to be appropriate in an academic setting; second of all that the seeming immutability of race for Black people today makes such ideas as a shifting “racialization” seem at best overly theoretical and at worst preposterous; and finally that I needed to rethink my conceptualization of the role of Black exploitation in the world.

The next essential moment came during the trip, when we met to resolve the strange and uncomfortable racial divide that had appeared between classmates. For the most part I was silent; it felt as if everyone would appreciate me for once keeping my mouth shut. As I sat and listened to my frustrated Black classmates berate my confused white ones, I considered the fact that I was among the berated. I was as much of a beneficiary of racism as any other rich white American, and I had been critical of the parts of the trip that focused on Afro-Cuban identity and spirituality. I realized the implication of this criticism: the way that Black Cubans lived and the things that they believed were unimportant to me. For the next several days, I grappled with this. It felt as if some sort of strange divide had been drawn between revolutionary justice that improves the material conditions of Black people and the rituals and cultures which uplift the Black soul.

The resolution to this conflict came at the Triunvirato sugar plantation. It was there that I understood that the fundamental lever for the phenomenon I described in the first sentence of this essay has always been the exploitation of Black people. The reason we have global capitalism is because of the triangle trade, and as I stood at that ground zero of the world economy I thought about how slavery never went away and just became more insidiously bound to everything we use and produce. I thought about the workers in the Congo mining the metals in my iPhone. I thought about where the wealth of my country came from, thought about the thousands of plantations like the one I was standing on scattered across the southern United States which had inflicted a systematic torture upon millions of Black people. I thought of the dashed hope of a thousand Carlotas and a thousand unfinished revolutions. I thought of all the Black people I love, whose bodies have been ground up for centuries by the gears at the center of the huge global machine that spits out profit to people like me.

 

In response to the final prompt, about why this is valuable to my life:

First of all, I have been inspired to begin my senior thesis. The subject of this thesis will be the impact of tourism on economic, racial, and geographic inequality in Cuba. My desire to learn more and research this has finally convinced me that I would be happiest in an academic career. I have changed my major to geography and set my sights on a PhD in the discipline. I’m also a better Spanish speaker now than I’ve ever been before. For the first time since I began my Spanish studies more than 10 years ago, I feel comfortable conversing with native speakers and reading advanced Spanish texts.

Personally, this has convinced me to devote as much of myself as I can to fighting for justice and against oppressions of all forms. Outside of the complicated theoretical lessons described above, the most important realization that occurred to me in Cuba was simply this: A better world is possible. Castro knew it. Guevara knew it. Celia Sanchez, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Antonio Maceo all knew it. Now I do too.