STEP Reflection Questions

Name: Ana Clavijo

Type of Project: Education Abroad

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

For my STEP project, I travelled to Barcelona, Spain to take classes at Menendez Pelayo University to finish my Spanish minor. I spent over a month there, practicing Spanish and learning about the culture and history of Spain and Barcelona.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

I had never left the United States before my Education Abroad experience. Though I had studied many other nations and places in my history classes, I lacked the first-hand knowledge and perspective that can only come from seeing and experiencing a place for myself. From the new experience of international travel, I was able to gain a more international viewpoint regarding other cultures and people. One thing that was immediately clear upon my arrival was the need to adapt and learn the customs and traditions of a new place in order to fit in and get along during my stay. It was very jarring to experience this as a foreigner in a new place. Adapting to the Spanish way of life was a very interesting challenge, and one that I was only partially prepared for. I had been very excited to try all the foods, get around using the trains, and practice my Spanish, but there were many more customs and cultural differences that were totally unexpected. I learned a lot about culture, history, architecture, and language of Spain and Catalonia, but those lessons were not the most important things I brought back with me. The experience of adapting to and assimilating into another culture was a very powerful transformation. By receiving a very small taste of the monumental challenge of assimilation, I was able to see the challenges people face when moving to new areas and have a new sense of empathy for their struggles. I was also able to watch myself grow in confidence and my ability to adapt and be flexible. I hope to take these important lessons with me throughout my life.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

This major change in perspective and increased confidence was caused by my near-total cultural immersion in Barcelona. In many ways, Spain, and Barcelona specifically, is very similar to the United States, but in other areas the two nations are very different. Some of these differences are small and funny at times, while others are more serious and take a lot of adjustment. I found it very difficult at first to accept the idea that the two cultures could just be different instead of one way being better than the other, when I should have been accepting the differences and trying to learn from a perspective that was different from mine.

Some of the small, silly things were what reminded me how far from home I really was, though I gradually began to get used to and even enjoy some of them. For example, at first the lack of air conditioning, clothes dryers and iced coffee felt like a form of torture, but I grew to accept and understand that electricity is really expensive so many people can’t afford or don’t want many home appliances and to appreciate the traditional Spanish cortada rather than my usual Starbucks in the mornings.

Some of the bigger differences are less obvious. For example, in Spain, there is a much smaller “personal space bubble” than in the US. People greet each other with a kiss on each cheek in place of a handshake; they stand much closer in stores, in lines, and on trains; and they are generally much more open to physical contact with people they aren’t close to. This was at first pretty hard to get used to and a little uncomfortable, but I gradually grew to appreciate it more as a friendly gesture rather than something awkward.

Throughout my trip, as I tried to learns as much about Spanish culture as I could, I did my best to fit in and adapt to my surroundings: I drank gallons of espresso, dried my laundry on a clothes line, gave cheek kisses to everyone I met, bought a fan instead of complaining about the heat, and tried out anything else the Spaniards were doing. While I may not keep all of these new habits forever, the ability that I have to understand someone else’s culture and adapt to different ideas is an extremely valuable skill I hope to exercise in my daily life.

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

This change has proven to be very important in my daily life. I learned many new ways of doing things and have grown to see that my way isn’t always the best option, and that the ability to be flexible and adapt is a sign of strength. In my personal life, this new perspective and ability to compromise will be an asset to many of my relationships. In my professional life, this will be an asset to me as I go through my next two years of college and hopefully later my years of medical school and additional training. Additionally, my much-improved Spanish skills will be a major advantage in my personal life when communicating with my family, as well as in my professional life when I treating future patients whose primary language is Spanish.

Summer Abroad in Italy

I spent 4 amazing weeks in a little town in southern Italy called Lecce. During my time in Lecce, I studied the Italian language while learning grammar concepts and also participating in conversational activities designed to help me use the language.
My whole perception of Italy was completely changed throughout this journey. This actually happened to be my fourth time in Italy but it was very different from all of the other times. The first time that I was in Italy, I was with my family and we visited the famous cities in Italy such as Rome, Venice, Florence, etc. The next times that we visited, we started to visit less popular places. As we started to visit less “touristy” cities, I started to experience authentic Italian culture. This is why Lecce was absolutely amazing. My favorite part was that almost no one in the city spoke English so it gave me the perfect opportunity to really speak a language that I have been studying for years. I also got the opportunity to live with a host family who did not speak much English. This really made me use the language a lot more. They also showed me how typical Italians live, how they eat, and what they do for fun. I truly got an up close view and it was absolutely amazing.
As mentioned before, my host family was a major force in helping improve my Italian. Since their English was very limited, it was absolutely necessary that I spoke Italian. My host family also gave me a different perspective of Italy. When I arrived in Italy, I thought that for every meal I would be eating pizza and pasta. I could not have been more wrong. When I actually look back at it, I rarely ate only pizza or only pasta. The majority of the things that we ate were made with fresh vegetables and some kind of prosciutto along with cheese. I was also very impressed at how they used leftover ingredients to make their next meal the next day. They truly didn’t waste anything.
The school that I studied at was also a key role in improving my Italian. Over the four weeks that I was there, I ended up becoming really close to my teachers. The teachers also knew my exact level of Italian and ended up gearing the class towards my exact goals which helped me a lot. Not only did they give me great lessons on grammar and different vocabulary words, but they also made it a point to make our conversations interesting and applicable. The conversations were never just the normal, “What did you do yesterday?” type of questions but they were actually interesting and sparked conversations like, “If you won the lottery, how would you spend your money?”
Another aspect of my trip that helped improve my Italian was really the location. Lecce itself is actually known as the “Hidden Pearl of the South.” It definitely lived up to its name. As mentioned before, almost no one in this town could really speak English. I think that basically having a full immersion experience was the best way to really get me to use my Italian. I was also able to travel very cheaply to the surrounding towns. Having to learn a new transportation system in a new language also posed a challenge for me. However, thanks to my constant practice in Italian, I was able to overcome the challenge rather quickly and continue to explore the gem which is southern Italy.
This trip and experience was absolutely incredible to me. My overall goal in life is to become trilingual and this trip has most definitely gotten me way closer to my goal. I also think that going to a different country always improves one’s point of view. Every time that I leave the country, I end up having a more enriched view of different cultures and this provides me with different perspectives. I truly think that people who are well traveled end up having more interesting and more worldly points of view and different opinions.

Summer in Copenhagen, Denmark


For my STEP Signature Project, I studied abroad for 10 weeks in Copenhagen, Denmark with the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS). I lived with both American and Danish students, and took three courses, with subjects that ranged from history, to fashion, to psychology. Not only was I able to explore and get to know the city of Copenhagen, I also had the opportunity to travel to Germany and Poland with my classes to receive a hands on, multicultural experience.

By living in Denmark for 10 weeks, I had the opportunity to get to know the Danes and Danish culture on a deeper level. Through this, I was able to get a sense of the differences in day to day life and cultural values. During my time in Denmark, I learned of the Danish word “hygge.” Hygge does not translate directly into English, but it means a feeling of coziness, comfort, home, and being grateful for what is contributing to those feelings. It is the Danes’ way of stepping back and appreciating their life’s simple pleasures, whether it be a cozy chair with a good book, or a room full of great friends. Before I left for Denmark, I did not see any problem with the fast paced, on-the-go lifestyle I had been keeping. However, after spending 10 weeks amongst Danes, absorbing their culture, I see the importance of taking a step back to appreciate the time and people I have in my life. This is but one example of the immense appreciation for new and different cultures I gained during my travels. I have become more aware of and sensitive to the experiences of others from different cultures.

When given the opportunity to travel with my class during study tours, I was able to develop a deeper relationship with my professors and classmates. During my travels, I got to know other students that I had previously never spoken to, simply because they sat on the other side if the classroom. During the month of July, I took the class European Genocides, led by Professor Torben Jorgensen, or simply Torben, as we referred to him. European Genocides was unlike any class I had ever taken before. It took us through the course of several genocides, including the Bosnian and Armenian Genocides. The main focus of this class was the Holocaust, and we were afforded the opportunity to visit several killing sites of the Holocaust in Poland, which included Chelmno extermination camp, and Auschwitz concentration camp. Torben maintained a light atmosphere in his classroom, despite the dark subject matter. I felt comfortable asking him any question that popped into my head in class, whether it be about history or Danish culture, and he always provided a fascinating story or firsthand account to go with it.

There was no better place to take Cross-Cultural Psychology than in a different culture. Through this class, I had the opportunity to meet with a refugee from Afghanistan, as well as immigrants from Turkey to gain a look into the perspective of a person who is experiencing acculturation. In Berlin, I communicated with Turkish immigrants at a center aimed to helping Turkish immigrants acculturate into German culture. This experience has made me more attuned to and passionate about the experiences of immigrants and refugees.

Getting to travel to Germany and Poland with my classes provided a hands on learning experiences unlike any other. The Cross-Cultural Psychology class I took looked into the dynamic identity of Berlin, Germany, a city with rich history like no other. We particularly took into focus the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. It is easy to read about an event in a textbook, but getting to see the remnants left behind, and hear about it from a person who actually lived through it provides an educational experience beyond compare. In Berlin, we had a tour guide named Olaf who grew up in West Berlin during the existence of the wall. Hearing about the history of Berlin and how it shaped the current climate and identity of the city and its citizens gave me a wider worldview and allowed me to realize how much past events can shape a culture.

The transformation I experienced this summer is valuable for my life, as my newfound skills and open mindedness are important for future work environments. By living in and therefore getting acquainted to a new culture, I was exposed to new and different ways of approaching situations, which will aid me in my professional career. I have become more well-rounded, as I know there is more than one way to approach a situation. After being a foreigner in a new country, I have a better understanding of the experiences of a person who has immigrated to a new culture, and the kinds of thoughts and emotions they may be feeling. This newfound sensitivity is extremely important in a country as diverse as the United States.

Studying abroad afforded me the opportunity to travel independently, which gave rise to a number of new challenges I never dreamed I would experience. From managing last minute changes to travel plans, to grappling with cultural differences between my myself and the person who lived across the hall, my STEP Signature Project has made me a more flexible and open person. It has also made me more independent, as I had no one to rely on but myself. If a flight was canceled, I had to be self-reliant and resolve the problem myself, instead of depending on a teacher or parent. Although they seemed inconvenient at the time, obstacles I faced during my time in Denmark have made me a more resilient, confident in my ability to adapt to any unexpected challenges I may face in the future.

Summer in Tel Aviv

This summer I studied abroad for six weeks in Tel Aviv, Israel. I lived and took two 3 credit hour classes, “Arab Uprisings and Transitions” and “History and Memory in Tel Aviv-Jaffa”, at Tel Aviv University in Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv. By living in and attending the university I was also able to travel throughout Israel in my free time.

My time is Israel was incredibly profound and transformative. I was not expecting to learn so much about myself and my relationship with the world around me in during my six weeks in Israel, but in truly living abroad I was exposed to new challenges I had never previously faced. My understanding of myself changed in that I learned how I dealt with homesickness, extended amounts of free time, language barriers, and managing my finances without a steady income. I thought that in my previous travels I had encountered these things, but my experience in Israel truly challenged me in these aspects and I was somewhat surprised in how I reacted. I thought that I would enjoy the free time built into the program, but I found it difficult to take it upon myself to plan activities around Tel Aviv, sometimes opting to not do things at all when planning seemed too tough. Additionally, I had never been homesick in any of my previous travels abroad or had really dealt with homesickness in college, so I did not worry about missing my home, my family, or friends while abroad, but I found myself extremely homesick at many points during the experience. 

One of the biggest elements of my education abroad which taught me about myself was the extreme independence I had in Israel. My STEP Signature Project was the first time I had been to another country without a detailed pre-planned itinerary. In high school I spent three weeks traveling throughout Western Europe with around forty other high school students through People to People International. Last May I participated in a Maymester with my Scholars program, International Affairs Scholars, living and attending school in the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico. I’ve also traveled with my Scholars program to Toronto, Canada during Fall Break of last year. Each of these trips so positively affected my life and are the source of some of my best memories, however, these trips were all planned and facilitated by a group bigger than myself which allowed me to travel without much stress or responsibility. This study abroad program is Israel was much different in that besides my class schedule which was continually changing, no part of my time in Israel was planned ahead. This required me to plan all of my own meals, travel arrangements, and excursions. While this freedom had its advantages, it was also very difficult at times.

In my first two years at Ohio State I lived on campus and had a meal plan to take care of all of my meals, so until traveling to Israel, I had never had to buy my own groceries or cook for myself on a regular basis. Aside from the difficulty of planning and making my weekly meals, actually purchasing food from the grocery store was at times very challenging since most packaging and all signs around the store were written in Hebrew which I know very little of. In our free time we were able to visit many different places around Tel Aviv and the country of Israel as a whole. Visiting different restaurants, clubs, museums, zoos, and other attractions was absolutely incredible, but figuring out the public transportation systems like the train and and bus was another great challenge, mainly due to the language barrier but also lack of knowledge about the geography of the country. And while every activity we planned taught us more about the country and created lasting memories, keeping track of my finances while abroad was an overarching challenge I had yet to experience since in my other travels I had paid a program fee prior to traveling, which included most activities and left me to only keep track of spending money.

Although I just wrote an entire paragraph about all of the challenges during my time abroad, in a way I am thankful for them, as they really taught me about myself, specifically when and where I am most comfortable and how I handle adversity. I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio and so even though I live on campus, my parents are never more than a fifteen-minute drive away if I were to need any and everything. At 6,000 miles away in Israel, I was the furthest I had ever been away from home and for the longest amount of time. I learned that I truly depend on my family, but also that I am perfectly capable in surviving on my own without them. I actually enjoyed cooking for myself and enjoying meals with friends. I learned that despite the prevalent language barrier, I am fairly unafraid of asking strangers for help and typically found them to be quite helpful. Something I believed about myself which was validated in Israel was my preference of spending my money on experiences, rather than material goods. I returned with very few souvenirs, but hundreds of photos of the places I visited and the meals I enjoyed with old and new friends. I found immense joy in making lifelong memories with two of my lifelong friends with whom I traveled to Israel.

Unlike my previous travels abroad, my trip to Israel contained hardships, but these difficult times made the joyous times so much more precious and meaningful, and for that I am grateful. In making memories with old friends and new friends from around the world, my interest in human connection was strengthened and validated. I was constantly exposed to a cultures very different from my own, enhancing my understanding of other people and their culture, while simultaneously enhancing my respect for them. I do not know the opportunities which await me after graduation, but my time in Israel validated my desire to dedicate my life to promoting and facilitating understanding and respect among all people of all cultures, and I now feel motivated and excited to explore the ways I can do that in my personal, academic, and eventually, in my professional life.


For my STEP project, I studied history and International Studies at Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel for six weeks in the summer of 2017. I used the money to pay for my transportation to and from the country.

This STEP project in Israel played a valuable role in changing my view on the world. Having never been to the middle east before, I did not really know what to expect of the region. The only impressions I had were negative but at the same time I knew most of that was an exaggeration created by the US media and their portrayal of the middle east focusing primarily on terrorism and corruption. During my time in Israel, I noticed the ever present religious tension and heightened state of alert among its people, but was also able to appreciate everything that makes the country a place full of life. I always appreciate the beauty in things, and Israel was a country full of amazing food, people, experiences, and opportunities for locals and tourists alike.

During my time in Israel, I managed to add to this growth on my world view through the relationships I had with my fellow students. I traveled with two of my best friends from Ohio State, and met another student from Yale who was our other roommate. Two out of these three people were of Israeli descent, so they had a leading role in helping me really see and understand everything that Israel has to offer. A big aspect of this was the religious ties in Israel. With these two friends also being Jewish, they made excellent tour guides and provided meaningful insight on trips to holy sites such as the western wall in the old city of Jerusalem.

This experience was enriched completely by my travel to Jerusalem itself. The old city was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The entire city is essentially one large market with vendors selling everything from food to off brand clothing to knick knacks. Paired with the intense military presence and religious divide between the quarters of the old city, my two days in Jerusalem were a definite highlight of my time in Israel while simultaneously serving as a formative experience to shape my worldview.

One key interaction that helped shape my transformation of my worldview was my interaction with the student counselors, called the Madrichim. These are essentially the Israeli university equivalent of RAs in american colleges. The Madrichim made many of my amazing experiences possible through planning and leading trips all around the country, hosting parties, and being a resource to talk to about anything during my time in Israel. It was because of all the effort put in by the Madrichim that I was able to get so much out of this experience.

This transformation of my worldview is incredibly valuable to my future. One of my main goals for myself is to one day live overseas. My time in Israel is one of the most important experiences in my life that has not only prepared me for life abroad, but fully cemented in my mind that it is something that I definitely will pursue in my post graduate career. Hopefully, it will not be my last or even my most meaningful experience abroad, I fully believe that this experience was just a  foundation of greater things to come.


Exploring Jamaican Arts and Culture

     The STEP signature project I chose was under the study abroad option and I did it through the Art Education department here at The Ohio State University. I chose this because it directly aligns with my major and I wanted to experience an arts culture completely different from what I have experienced in America. During this trip 10 other students, 2 advisors, and myself traveled on a bus throughout Jamaica to experience the historical significance art expression holds throughout Jamaica.

    A statement we often heard the art teachers in Jamaica repeat was that they were artists who happen to teach. This is significantly different than what most people expect of art teachers in America. It is expected that an art teacher will solely teach art, and their own artistic expression will no longer exist. I do not know why this is what happens to many artists who go into teaching, but the exact opposite is expected in Jamaica. The art teachers assume the position of the teacher, but they continue to grow and create. This changed the connection I originally held between art and the classroom, and now I want to be able to continue my own personal growth as an artist, while also teaching children to do the same.

    Another huge difference between the art of Jamaica and the art of America is the approach towards controversial topics. Art is one of the strongest ways to express feelings towards political, social, racial, and other radical opinions. An issue that is very prevalent in America, race, is not nearly as discussed in Jamaica. A few of the black students on this trip asked some of the student artists how being black affects their art, and the answer shocked them. Jamaica is a Country of mostly black people, and this is just something that they live with, not something they must constantly think about, unlike black americans. While race was not the focus of their pieces, they often addressed other conflicts or cultural differences in their artwork.

    Finally, as an art education major, my outlook on my future classroom slightly changed after experiencing the ones in Jamaica. There were radically different classrooms, some were choice based with many mediums available, while others didn’t even have a real classroom. Through the few courses I have taken in my major I have learned that the government has a decent amount of control over what can be discussed in the classrooms. There was one classroom in Jamaica that was unlike any I have ever seen in America. There were posters about safe sex, disagreement with religion, and much more. The teacher claimed, “Since the arts are not important to the government, they often forget that I am here. This is how I can get away with discussing controversial topics with my students. Discussion is vital to the classroom.” This was surprising because arts are so prevalent in Jamaican society, however, the government does not restrict it as much. Hopefully I will be able to change the views of American society when it comes to controversial subjects, and teach them how important it is to be educated, and not sheltered.

    My STEP signature project taught me so much about what kind of artist, and what kind of teacher I want to be. The encouragement from the Jamaican art teachers has driven me to embrace controversial concepts and to challenge myself to continue creating even after I graduate. I want to create an environment where my students can feel safe to discuss topics like race, but also a place that can coexist with the restrictions of the government. It will be challenging to find this balance, but I strive to be an art teacher who grows along side her students.


Sophia Strazinsky

My 6 weeks in . . . Canada?

it was awesome!

My STEP project consisted of a 6 week program in Quebec, Canada with the goal of bettering my ability to speak French. During the 6 weeks, I lived with a host family, took classes at Laval university, and participated in many extracurricular activities. The classes were taught by professors and during all the extracurricular activities were run by people our age who were like camp counselors.

I went through many changes during my stay in Quebec but one thing I noticed after finishing the program is that I find starting conversations with strangers to be much easier. There were times before going to Canada when I wouldn’t do something or I wouldn’t ask something because I was afraid of an awkward interaction. That is definitely no longer the case. There is no conversation that is intimidating now because they’re all in english! There’s nothing like trying to walk into a gym with a tank top on and having someone tell you can’t go in because you need sleeves (but you don’t understand because it’s the 2nd day). Sleeve is une manche by the way.

Another big change that happened while I was in Quebec was my decision to pursue a doctorate in french. I had been on the fence about the idea, but after the program I’m almost certain about it.

I had the great pleasure to live with a host family during my stay. They were a retired couple; he was from Quebec and she was from Mexico (but spoke french also). They were extremely nice and very accommodating. I also had two roommates, one of which was in Quebec doing research for her doctorate. Each night at 6pm sharp, we would have a 4 cours meal (soup, meat, salad, desert and coffee).

It was at these dinners that we had many awkward moments but also learned so much! If the night was particularly interesting, the other two roommates and I would go for a long walk to continue the dinner conversation. I was so lucky to be living with a student who was currently doing her doctorate, to ask questions and get a feel of what it would be like to do a doctorate in French. She gave me so much information of which I was completely unaware.


Other events that were extremely important to my development in my ability to speak French were the hikes. On three different occasions, the university went on hikes. The hikes lasted about 6-7 hours and the bus rides there and back lasted from 2-4 hours. It was during these hikes that I defiantly spoke the most french and for the longest amount of time.  I tried my best to stick as close as possible to the “group leaders” (who were from Quebec, and there to help us speak french). By the end of the hikes I was babbling in french without even thinking about it. Not to mention the absolutely beautiful sight that I saw during the hikes.

All of these transformations have effected me in many different ways. Academically, I now plan on doing a doctorate in french. Personally, I have a goal to travel more and explore outside the United States. Professionally, the logical choice after finishing a doctorate is o become a professor. Without this STEP program and the experiences that it gave me I don’t know where I’d be. Thank you STEP.


My Education Abroad Experience in Siena, Italy: STEP final reflections

For my STEP signature project I spent eight weeks in Siena, Italy, a smaller but very important city in region of Tuscany for an education abroad experience. While in Siena I took multiple classes to both further my knowledge of the language and of the culture as well as spending a good deal of time doing a variety of community service projects and living life in a foreign city with my host family. This education abroad experience allowed me to travel thorughout the Italy as well as Europe, broadening my mind and allowing for some of my perspectives to change.

My initial thoughts with going overseas for an entire summer were that I would eat a lot of good food and see very beautiful things. My mind didn’t wander over to the challenges I might face when it came to language barriers or socio-cultural differences. I didn’t dare take a guess at what my host family would be like or the lack of information I had been given about them before hand, I had only cared about finally being about to study abroad in Italy, one of my dream destinations.

I quickly realized that as my host family didn’t speak any English and all of my classes were in Italian that everything was going to be a bit more challeneging than I had previously anticipated; however, I rather enjoyed that extra challenge and it pushed me to learn more and further immerse myself. I had to be open to making mistakes and making a fool of myself in front of other people or I wasn’t going to thrive. I had to be willing to put myself out there or nothing was going to change for me. I am so glad that I did. I’ve grown a great deal more confident, and not just in my Italian speaking ability, but in myself and how I work with others and navigate my daily life. There was a point on my way to my program that I had a flight delay and thus was going to miss my ride from the airport to the city where I was going to be living for the duration of the summer. Because of this, I had to learn to do and try a lot of new things on my own. It was rather frightening. Thankfully, I made it safely and everything worked out after I fumbled around for a while. It felt both satifsying and terrifying to try and have to figure out verything for myself in a foregin country and in a foreign language, but I was able to do it. Experiences like these and many more have helped me to realize just how much this education abroad experience has hepled me change or the better.

What things/aspects led to a change in you, and how did that affect you?

The main aspect of this project that led to a sort of personal transformation were the cultural difference between the United States and Italy, as well as the lanugage difference. There were a lot of little differences that built up to a challenge, some of these were the amount of money spent on things, or how the difference in water and electric bills affect the usage of both in daily life. Another change was the slowed down pace that life seems to go to in Italy. Everything is a lot more relaxed and people appear to be a great deal more understanding of time delays and other mishaps that are out of any person’s control. For instance, everyone runs very late. This could include everything from buses to planes, although rarely trains, to arriving at a given destination or starting class. My classes often started ten minutes after the specified start time. There were times that when I was waiting for the bus to come, that I would just opt for walking instead because the buses could be both late and unpredictable. Professors, families, and friends understand that things just happen sometimes. It was a change for sure as everything in the States is scripted, on time, and if something does go wrong, there should be a back up plan.

This was incredibly inspiring for me because many people just took time to enjoy life. It was weird. Meals lasted longer and involved direct eye contact and conversation. Showers were very short and there was no air conditioning, so we were always sweating. Lights weren’t turned on until sunset and they didn’t stay on for long after that. Family time was regular and speding time without electronics was both common and encouraged. It was a culture shock to be sure. This made me appreciate my time more and who I spent it with. I was very cognisant of the amount of water and electricity I was using as well as amount of time I spent with both my host family but also with the people I met on this trip. I adapted to the long meals spent talking and the late nights spent outside looking at the stars. I have a greater appreciation for differenct cultural variations such as keeping my shoes on in the house and not going outside or to bed with wet hair. I also have a greater appreciationg for being able to take long showers and having air conditioning everywhere I go.

It is strange. In a world that is full of industrialized countries there are still so many differences between countries and customs. Of course everyplace has their own language and manner of doing things, but we don’t always realize how long it truly takes to become accustomed to something until we travel somewhere else and attempt to live there. I lived in Italy for over two months. I spoke Italian everyday and lived as if I were an Italian. I walked almost everywhere and talked with strangers out in the campo and in different resturaunts and shops. I made new friends and learned new ways to do things. Of course I also learned more Italian. I was able to learn about Italian politics, art, and food. I got to see and new perspective. It was amazing. There are so many wonderful opportunities in this world. For me, this was one of them. I made some amazing friends, both with my fellow classmates and with my host family, who I still keep in contact with.  I recieved a new and improved outlook. This program affected me in many ways, and I am excited to be a part of something like STEP.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

When a person goes to another country, they start to learn how to navigate life in that new place. There are variety of different customs and socio-cultural norms that a person needs to adapt to as well as compare to what they may have grown up with or been accustomed to. We live in a big world that is constantly changing, so it’s important that we are changing too. There is so much to learn from other people and cultures. I went into my study abroad experience not knowing quite what I had gotten myself into. I was going to live with complete strangers who didn’t speak my language in a foreign country that I had just started to learn. It was an entirely new experience and one that I wouldn’t trade for the entire world. My study abroad experience, while challenging, was beautiful. I was able to meet some truly wonderful people, become acquainted with some really great places, and truly immerse myself into the culture.  This experience forced me to not only look at myself in a new way but also where I came from  and how I choose to portray myself to others. I don’t think i’m the same person who boarded that plane back in May, as clichéd as that may sound. This truly was a life changing experience.

I know that I will be able to handle myself in a variety of situations, whether they be personal or academic, and I am very confident now that I am on the correct career path. This summer, with the help of my STEP Signature Project has helped me see that. I am very excited to see what is to come.


Seven Weeks in Europe

My STEP project was completed during summer 2017, when I took part in study abroad program in Europe. Specifically, I took a seven-week trip to Europe, spending three weeks traveling between cities, and spending the remaining four weeks in Dresden, learning German at the Goethe Institut. Over the course of these seven weeks, I visited London, Paris, Bruges, Amsterdam, Cologne, Dresden, Leipzig, Prague, and Berlin, and met so many wonderful people along the way.

Simply put, the trip was amazing, and perhaps almost perfect. I learned so much about myself, and met so many amazing individuals from around the world. However, it wasn’t always an easy endeavor. When I first arrived in London, I had no idea what to expect, and since I was mostly alone on this trip, I was extremely overwhelmed at times. It was a new experience, challenging to say the least, but I think I’ve gained a lot from it. By spending so much time by myself, meeting new people, organizing travel, and gaining experiences that only I know what they were really like, I’ve become more self-confident, and I feel as if I’m more comfortable being who I am and have a clear image of who I aspire to be.

The largest influence on my growth came from the various travelers and locals I met along the way, mostly because I could act like my true self with these new people, and I think this behavior occurred since I didn’t have a lot of time to spend with them, and I wanted to make the most with what I had. This directly led to genuine and even sometimes deep relationships being established at a fast pace, and I gained a lot from it. Although looking back, one person in particular made an incredibly meaningful impact on me, my aunt’s friend Johnny.

Now, Johnny is one amazing Londoner. He’s worked with Madonna, the Royal Family, Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga, and lots of other star-studded individuals. However, this isn’t the main reason why he made such an impact on me. He gave me the courage to tell my family that I’m gay. Johnny’s gay as well, and discussing his experience with coming out to family and friends, I learned about what life was really like as a gay man during the AIDS epidemic, and how societal prejudices negatively influenced his life. Hearing about his generation’s fight for equal rights, that’ve allowed me to be out and open in a more accepting world, really gave me a sense that I shouldn’t waste any more time not living as my true self, so I didn’t.

My German skills also vastly improved during my month in Germany, and contributed to my improved sense of self-confidence. By the end of the course, I could hold real conversations about such diverse topics with people who don’t speak English, allowing me to get to know people when I couldn’t have otherwise. I remember that right after finishing my final Goethe certificate exam, I was walking back to my apartment with my Russian exam partner, Mark, and our conversations felt so natural and so flowing; it was incredible, being able to communicate with others in a new language that feels comfortable to use. Knowing that I had achieved something of this caliber was unbelievable, and it completely solidified my belief that if you want something badly enough, and are willing to put in effort, you can attain it.

Learning to be more self-confident and to care for myself are probably the two greatest benefits to arise from my study abroad experience. I’m more emboldened now more than ever to continue to improve myself, to live a life as true to myself as possible, and to meet many more great people along the way. Going forward, I plan to use my improved ability with the German language to stay in contact with German friends, and to possibly be able to attend events and to intern at German companies in the future. I want to continue to plan new, exciting adventures in the future, to discover and learn what I, and the world around me, really have to offer.