Antarctic Exploration

With the support of STEP and The Ohio State University, I embarked on a research-based trip from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica this December, 2017. Our large group’s research was centered around three topics: the sustainable development of Antarctic tourism & its effect on the environment, seabird conservation, and iceberg census data analysis. We travelled through the Drake Passage to visit a variety of locations around Antarctica, including: Orne Harbor, Wilhelmina Bay, Lemaire Channel, Petermann Island, Pleneau Island, Dorian Bay, Paradise Harbor, Neko Harbor, Curtiss Bay, Mikkelsen Harbor, & Deception Island.

The journey that landed me on the bottom of the earth did more than open my eyes to our world’s undeniable beauty. This course engrained both a deep understanding of human and biophysical dimensions of life in Antarctica and insight into its history and potential future state. My interest in the exploration and conservation of the mysterious, fragile continent grew more and more throughout our field experience. Through travels from Argentina to Antarctica, we viewed and analyzed the positive and negative effects of ecotourism. I believe that we need to act as vocal advocates for the preservation of this ever-mysterious continent, so that we can protect it from the negative aspects of the tourist industry and other forms of exploitation.  Additionally, my critical takeaways of this experience are vast and varied. Not only was I able to further develop my intellectual maturity, my cross-cultural engagements, team positions and frequent self-reflections greatly enhanced my confidence. It is difficult to observe such an untouched environment and refrain from getting overwhelming feelings of appreciation and envy. I applied my learnings from this semester to conduct research over a combination of my favorite things: exploration and the environment.

Our team’s overall focus was on iceberg census and environmental data analysis, and idea generation regarding the potential impacts of icebergs melting. My sub-group was responsible for the analysis of the census data collected throughout our trip to and from Antarctica. The teachings from the course administered prior to our travel departure, as well as the specific readings assigned to our group focusing our team’s focus, were vital to ensuring knowledge was obtained and properly applied throughout the research assignment. The field experience substantially affected my sense of identity and growth, and widened my global perspective. Not only were we able to enjoy what the area had to offer, we were able to utilize specific knowledge to draw conclusions about our observations.

Additionally, this field experience greatly influenced my sense of global awareness throughout the journey from Argentina to Antarctica. From the beginning of our time in Ushuaia, we were exposed to the effects of tourism on a town based on the profits of this industry. Although large amounts of tourists coming to visit the bottom of the world may appear purely beneficial due to monetary benefits, there are negative elements to keep in mind. The town has an especially important responsibility to keep its ecosystem clean based on its proximity to the delicate ecosystem of Antarctica. Steps were being taken to ensure that this was accomplished, as special recycling bins were located throughout the hiking routes and store personnel only handed out paper bags to package items purchased. Although measures were taken to minimize pollution, I still viewed scraps of trash throughout the streets – a sad sight. Before our field experience, I had primarily contemplated the preservation of Antarctica focusing on the area around the continent, spending minimal time thinking about how the gateway cities must specially monitor their inhabitants’ pollution, as well.

Furthermore, our time spent in Antarctica largely expanded my global awareness. Our experience was especially interesting because our boat consisted of many passengers from different cultures experiencing Antarctica with less knowledge about the fragile ecosystem, a sole intention of observing the views and taking pictures, and/or less respect for described regulations. These factors were maximally prevalent through people’s actions when walking around wildlife. Penguin highways were stomped through, paths not followed, distances people were required to stand away from animals were disregarded, and people would encircle the penguins, overwhelming them. Because penguins are not the most intelligent animals, when overwhelmed, they may retreat into the water and never return to their egg, forget where they are going, or get startled enough to hop off their eggs – leaving them open for skuas to prey on. At times when I would witness these acts, I would be swarmed with guilt because I was an addition to the intrusion of these protected habitats. Overall, I am glad that our group of educated and intrigued students witnessed the negative aspects of ecotourism, as we are now able to advocate for Antarctic preservation. My global awareness of positive and negative aspects of life both in Argentina and Antarctica has massively expanded based on specific field experiences from this journey.

Finally, this field experience was not only educationally beneficial, it widened my sense of self-identity and aided in my ongoing personal development. I have always been strong-minded when the subject of nature and preservation arises. I believe that this experience further established my need to prioritize reusing, reducing and recycling in everyday life. Last summer I worked in the Environmental Health and Safety department of a L’Oreal manufacturing facility, where I worked to reduce carbon emissions, educate people on environmental issues, and brainstorm ideas to decrease the company’s environmental footstep. This trip further established my need to work for a company that is extremely focused on these issues. I have recently accepted a job working for Ecolab, a company that’s aim is to help make the world a cleaner, safer and healthier place. I believe that my passion for environmental sustainability must continue within my career path. Also, I feel extremely humbled by this experience. I have been privileged to visit many historic and beautiful places around the world, but Antarctica presented a new level of breathtaking. The undisturbed ecosystem reminded me to value the important things in my life, and take advantage of every opportunity. If the opportunity arises to return to Antarctica and visit the same harbors and bays, it will never look the same, as the ice melts and glaciers fall. This is a reminder to put down our phones, take out our headphones, and absorb the world around us.


STEP Reflection

Over winter break, I traveled to the Dominican Republic to study environmental sustainability. Throughout the week, we received many lectures about how the country of the Dominican Republic and its people are taking on sustainable development. In addition, we learned about the current status of the country and what efforts were needed to be taken in order to address the current issue presenting the people.

Throughout this trip, I learned much about myself and found myself beginning to grasp a deeper global awareness. I realized how beautiful others’ cultures are, and that the differences between my own culture and theirs are to be celebrated. There is no right or wrong way to live a happy life, and the people of the Dominican Republic were living their own version of a happy life. This to me was beautiful and I found myself appreciating others and their lifestyles. Another experience that transformed my way of thinking was how beautiful the nature was there. The people of the Dominican Republic are proud of the land they live in, and as much as they want to protect their land, they are just not given the opportunity to learn about the necessary sustainable steps to take in order to combat global issues, such as unsafe drinking water.

I believe that the moments that transformed me the most was traveling through the cities of lower income and seeing the conditions in which they live. It was a definite form of culture shock for me, and really made me question the privileges that I hold. This trip also allowed me the opportunity to realize that the way that the people of the Dominican Republic live their life, although very different from American life, is not a “bad” or “wrong” way to live. I found myself making the mistake of holding American culture as a global standard, which is a dangerous assumption to hold. Because of this trip, I now have a better global awareness.

Another moment that transformed me was when we visited the factories that they run there. For example, when we visited the coffee plant, where they sort all of their beans and roast them in order for them to be ready to be made into coffee. The way that they ran their factory was admirable. It was a very small building, and most of the work was done by hand, although they did have machines as well to assist with the tedious work. It was amazing to see the passion of the factory workers who were doing the handiwork. It makes you appreciate the work that is now replaced by machines in America, and how the job still gets done and the product is still made.

I am extremely grateful for this experience, it allowed me to increase my global and cultural awareness. I believe that the experiences that I had in the Dominican Republic have made me into a better, more educated woman, and that the knowledge I gained will help me in academic and professional settings. Being a more culturally aware person helps you navigate diverse settings, which is an extremely important quality to exercise in your every day life.

Education Abroad- My Semester in Edinburgh, Scotland

For my STEP signature project, I studied abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland. While there, I took three classes: two linguistics classes for my major, and a history class. I also had the opportunity to travel throughout the U.K. and the rest of Europe on weekends and in my spare time.
Before I started my 4 months abroad I spent a lot of time researching various aspects of Scotland’s culture and the university I was enrolling in. This was intended to make me feel less nervous before I left, as well as to help me avoid any potential gaffes for when I arrived and it worked out very well. For example, I remember going to a pub quiz, a popular British pastime similar to a trivia night at a bar, during my first week abroad. I had 5 American teammates, yet it was only me and 1 other friend being able to answer the Scottish pop culture and history questions because we had taken the time to do our homework. This may seem like a trivial example of putting my knowledge to use, but it was more important in the bigger picture. After less than 2 weeks I felt almost completely acclimated to my new home, what was expected of me at the university, and I had already begun to travel outside the UK on the weekends. Overall, I felt that I had a smoother and more positive transition into life in Edinburgh than some of my friends.
One maybe “consequence” of this preparation was that my view of the world wasn’t radically changed and I didn’t deal with any huge issues that would have completely transformed my understanding of myself. That being said, this past semester helped to confirm a lot of things I already felt about my personality and let me notice and appreciate the minute differences between American society and British society. For example, my time abroad confirmed that I really relish being independent, as demonstrated by me figuring out how to budget my time and money, as well as planning a ton of trips, including a solo one to Paris. However, this time confirmed that I also really enjoy close friendships, as I was lucky enough to meet some people that I still am in constant contact with. If I plan to spend more time abroad in the future I will have to consider how easy it will be to create some sort of support network, as I believed my time wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable without a few strong friendships.
In terms of cultural learning, I really loved picking up on the small differences between Scottish culture and my own, specifically things you can’t find easily on the internet. One thing that really enhanced this was one of my linguistics courses, entitled Scots and Scottish English. This class was dedicated to the linguistic analysis of Scottish English, which is just regular British English with a Scottish Accent, and Scots, which is considered a divergent dialect of English that is so different that it is quite difficult for even Brits to understand. During one class we specifically talked about the unique accent that comes from Glasgow. A few days later I got dinner with an American friend who brought along her Glaswegian flat mate. Not only did I have a fun time talking to her and learning about her life, my background knowledge of her accent made the conversation so much richer and more interesting. Another example of cultural learning came from some of the weird quirks about Edinburgh and Europe in general. For one, out of all 8 countries I visited, water was never served at a restaurant without you asking for it, and many times you have to buy it, as tap water is not available. Also, I was intrigued to learn that most Brits have super strong opinions on American politics and it was interesting to hear from them what they thought the impact American policy had on the UK. One friend even told me he and his friends got up at 4 am to go to a viewing party at a pub for our presidential election. From the big to the small, it was stuff like this that added important layers of understanding and knowledge to my world view without neccesarily really altering it in a big way.
Overall, my STEP signature project enriched my life in so many ways and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to study abroad. Being at a different university with a completely different academic style really let me weigh all the pros and cons of Ohio State and led me to re-analyze how I was spending my time at Ohio State. I came back with a newfound sense of appreciation for how hands on and accessible the professors here are, but have also noted that a class can be taught successfully without a lot of homework, and OSU tends to be heavy handed on the amount of work due for each class.
One thing I did when I came back was slightly lighten the load of responsibilities I had outside of class. My time abroad led me to realize that I had been unhappy sophomore year because I had spread myself so thin that I had almost no personal time. Having almost no responsibilities outside of my education while abroad led me to ponder the idea of working to live vs. living to work. Since I’ve been back I have been much happier without having to sacrifice too many of the activities that will help me achieve my future goals. This leads to the impact my time in Scotland had on my future plans. Studying abroad did not change my goal of getting my masters to become a speech pathologist. However, it did make me contemplate a gap year after graduation where I could do a lot of traveling but still be productive. This led me to the idea of teaching English abroad after I graduate next spring and that is currently one of the options I am exploring or my future. On top of that, I have this newfound sense of calm that I can thrive anywhere, and that wherever my future takes me, I can adapt and enjoy all the experiences the world has to offer.

Calton Hill, one of many beautiful views in Edinburgh

Some friends, the Scottish highlands, and the Scottish flag.

One of my favorite trips outside Scotland was beautiful Florence, Italy

STEP Reflection Laura Falb

For my STEP signature project I participated in the Prague Theatre study tour this past winter break. In 10 days we visited the historical attractions of Prague, Czech Republic and took an excursion to Dresden, Germany. While abroad I was able to attend theatre performances as well as experience exploring a new culture and take in the sights of Europe during Christmas time!

While in Prague, I found myself completely humbled by the sheer power of human beings every day. The city and surrounding areas are so incredibly picturesque and awe-inspiring. We visited countless old cathedrals, castles, and other almost inhuman architectural structures that I couldn’t even imagine being built in the present day, let alone hundreds of years ago. Walking every day in a city so full of history made me completely aware of my place in the timeline of humanity and how small I really am (in the best way possible). It’s so peaceful to be among such a different pace of life and be walking in the footsteps of incredible artists. I had so many moments of inner peace throughout the trip and I really taught myself how to put things into perspective and care less about the little things. The world is so big and there is so much we have not seen.

Every day, our group was fortunate enough to see a new part of the city (as well as nearby historical towns). Each morning we were guided by our incredible tour guide as she told stories of the different historical facts of each building, statue, street, store, etc. Standing on the historic Charles Bridge, being guided through Prague Castle, walking up the hill in the village near Karlstejn to the castle to name a few were really triggers to that deep emotional pull I felt toward the city. Additionally, seeing theatre performances in a different country was also a huge moment for me – as theatre is my major and future career, seeing how different life perspectives affect performance brought out those humbling and inspiring feelings.

One of the most important aspects of my STEP project experience was developing the relationships with my peers and professors. Before the trip this winter break, I was required to take a pre-departure course covering Slavic history spanning centuries. With the help of Professor Joe Brandesky, I was fortunate to have a background of knowledge about the sights, locations, and performances we attended in Prague before departing. Professor Brandesky’s knowledge was so expansive and fascinating, and it was so important to me to have that relationship with him before being in country. He, along with his colleague and friend Dáša Antelmanová were incredible guides, stopping to explain the details of locations we visited as we toured the city – Dasa’s enthralling storytelling and incredible kindness and hospitality allowed me to feel at home in Prague. In addition, I only knew 2 other students going on the trip prior – my high school best friend and a close friend I met while at OSU – the rest of the group consisted of students from the OSU Lima campus. Because I did not know them prior, I was a little nervous at how we would all get along. However, I was pleasantly surprised by our bond. I could not imagine the trip without them and experiencing a foreign country with new friends and acquaintances added to the experience and was very monumental in my life.

Another trans-formative experience in Prague was taking a day trip to the concentration camp Terezin. Reading about the Holocaust growing up and seeing evidence of it in person are completely different experiences. You don’t quite grasp the unbelievably sickening truth of it until you’re standing in the footsteps of it. Standing in the crematorium, seeing some of the actual tools used in the experiments – made me sick the whole time I was standing there. While it was overwhelming, I truly feel grateful to have been there. I have a new perspective on just what humanity is capable of. I felt powerless and powerful all at the same time. While brief, those few moments spent there gave me the conviction to create art aimed at the goodness of heart – and how important it is especially in today’s world to promote the goodness in humanity and never ignore the hate in people. It was so beautiful and being surrounded by my peers made the experience that much more special.

Having this brief trip to Prague has opened my eyes in so many different ways – the city itself is a work of art. As an artist, it’s so important to me to be surrounded by things that make me excited to be alive. Every detail of the city made me breathless just to walk down the street. Having the chance to be in historic buildings (including theatres) made me aware of the ability of human beings. In my career I will be constantly pushed to share the human experience with others, and what better way to see the creativity of humans than in a city such as Prague. I’m further inspired to re-visit Europe and explore what else it has to offer. It is so important to travel and gain a new perspective on life and I’m so excited to allow my experience here with OSU study abroad to continuously inspire me.

An Antarctic Adventure

Thanks to Ohio State and STEP, I had the opportunity to travel to Antarctica via the Antarctica: Human Impacts on the Environment program. From December 15th to December 30th, myself and 28 other college students embarked on the journey of a lifetime to the coldest, harshest, and driest continent on the planet. This study abroad contained a research component as well, so gained valuable skills related to conducting research in a changing environment. The journal began in Ushuaia, Argentina, where I learned about ecotourism and the impact of tourism on a small town. From the Ushuaia port, we sailed on a small research vessel through the Beagle Channel out to the infamous Drake Passage, known for its history of sinking ships and producing waves to make your stomach churn. Upon our arrival to the Antarctic Peninsula, our group and other tourists aboard the vessel stepped ashore on the most ecologically pristine continent to view penguins, pinnipeds, whales, and birds seen nowhere else in the world. Between the glaciers, icebergs, mountains, and wildlife, this trip was truly magical.

Despite being a global traveler, this trip challenged me in ways I could have never expected. Simply traveling to Antarctica requires a physical stamina that shouldn’t be underestimated. The total commute from my hometown of Chicago to Ushuaia took a whopping 33 hours. Airtime alone was 17 hours in one direction – overnight. This required an adaption to flying and the ability to sit still for an extended period of time. Traveling through the Drake Passage takes about two and a half days so tolerance of seasickness was also required. Despite these trying experiences, I also saw the most beautiful sights. The mountains of Patagonia are not to be missed, nor the bow-riding dolphins, whales, wandering albatross, and penguins in the Drake Passage. My understanding of the beauty in times of difficulty developed simply from traveling. I also became more aware of nature and its strength and beauty from the trip. While traveling about the Antarctic Peninsula, I also realized much about myself. As an Earth Science student, I have always had an affinity for ice, rocks, and earth processes. While in Antarctica, I was able to exercise these skills in the field by corresponding with geologists on the research vessel, conducting iceberg census data, and simply marveling at the sights. Most people don’t know that Antarctica has mountains, so seeing these untouched geologic wonders and glaciers that were sitting on their cliffs was truly incredible. This experience helped me develop my sense of place in the world. I definitely learned that my niche lies in the polar regions and that I truly enjoyed sharing my knowledge of glaciology and geology with others. Frequently during the trip I was asked about various geological or glacial formations (as I was the only Earth Sciences student on the ship), so I took great pleasure in sharing my understanding of the physical environment. This solidified my long-term career goal of continuing academia and pursuing a doctorates degree to become a professor at an accredited university. I want to share my passion of the polar regions with others in hopes that they would also appreciate and marvel at them. This was a transformation that took place during the trip!

I also learned a fair bit about ecotourism, so this has also shaped my views of the world and traveling. Ecotourism was a module of research taken on by a few students (not myself) within our group. Essentially, they were in charge of calculating and quantifying the environmental and social impacts of traveling to Antarctica. Some of these impacts were visible to me. For example, Ushuaia does not have the infrastructure for an influx in tourism, so they are falling behind in waste treatment and infrastructure for employees in the tourism. As a result, much of their waste is dumped in the harbor, and some homes are made of spare materials. There are beautiful parts to Ushuaia, however I was bothered by my own ecological impact. In addition to this, I also recognized that Antarctic wildlife was not accustomed to tourists. Despite some sites seeing up to 10,000 tourists daily, some wildlife expressed discomfort when being closely photographed by tourists or when we hiked close by. As an outsider, I recognize that I am not able to do much, but as an employee, I may be able to contribute more towards sustainability and wildlife protection. A shorter-term job goal would be to work in the tourism industry as a wildlife guide. The rewards of this are two-fold; I would be able to teach others about the things I love, such as glaciers and rocks, and I would be able to help others respect and appreciate the wildlife at a safer distance for all parties involved. Therefore, I learned that I may not want to jump into graduate school immediately after graduation. Rather, I am heavily considering contributing to ecotourism in a positive and constructive manner.

This trip was not only fun, but it was also a massive educational experience. First, there is a research component involved with this study abroad, so the students participating in the program were required to read peer-reviewed literature and gather data towards this research. We worked in teams and in shifts to gather data, and again in small groups to analyze said data. Using our data, assigned readings, and addition material taken from the ship’s library, each research group had to create a 15-minute presentation on their subject, a 20-page research paper, and Ohio State students will be presenting at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. To be able to gather data, analyze it, write about it, and present it is essential for any research project. These skills are also essential for a future in academia. During this trip, I found that I enjoyed conducting research and in fact, I looked forward to each time I got to gather data from the field. This is promising and helped me develop as a scientist. I hope to further improve these skills by conducting undergraduate research during the academic year and doing a separate research project this summer as an intern.

Another learning opportunity came from the pre-departure online lectures and the lectures held during the travel through the Drake Passage. The college group tuned in every Wednesday evening to hear lectures by several professors. The subjects covered in these lectures varied from history and psychology to ecology and geology. Lectures on the boat also were catered towards our Antarctic adventure. We learned in more detail the role of krill, about pinnipeds, bird, glaciers, and history. These lectured removed any ignorance I had towards Antarctica and replaced it with awe. These lectures deepened my understanding of all processes and history surrounding Antarctica and allowed me to enjoy my trip from an educational perspective. During the trip, I was able to identify birds and better understand the wildlife and glaciers around me. This fueled my love for learning and my love for Antarctica. From this experience, I feel more well-rounded as a student.

This extraordinary one-in-a-lifetime experience helped me solidify my short and long-term career goals, my major, and my love for learning. I gained valuable tools related to conducting research as a student and professional in my field, and I planning to carry those tools well into my career and into my internships. I also learned my place in the world as an environmentalist, a teacher, and a student. I would like to strive to teach others and share my passions with others, while simultaneously helping travelers and students alike develop an appreciation for the environment and the wildlife around them. This trip also re-ignited the craving for adventure. Some personal goals I have now set for myself is to continue traveling, climb the highest summits on all seven continents, run a marathon on Antarctica, and pass the Antarctic Circle. I still have yet to see an orca or a wandering albatross, so I must go back to accomplish these goals. Being disturbed by some aspects of ecotourism has changed the way I live my life. Even though I have traveled to so many places, I plan to continue doing so in a more sustainable matter. I am also trying to live more environmentally-consciously. I found myself in Antarctica and will be going back in the near future, hopefully as an employee, but even more so as an explorer. This trip has been the experience of a lifetime, but it has also positively changed me, and these changes will last a lifetime.

Education Abroad in Spain (1/15/17-1/23/17)

After returning from a wonderful week-long study-abroad in Spain, its time to reflect on the trip and the tremendous amount of things I learned while I was there. There were many times on the trip where the way that I view animals and how I believe they should be treated affected how I interpreted the conditions of the animals we saw in Spain. I also noticed, on multiple occasions, many differences in the ethical principles and societal views towards animals than the ones that people in the United States may hold. That being said, there were also many similarities between Spain and the US in the way that animals are treated in both countries. Lastly, there were a few cultural experiences in relation to animal use that we witnessed or learned about such as the suckling pig, the tradition of bull fighting, and the running of the bulls that differ from the traditions that we have in the United States that involve animals.

As someone who wants to be a vet and help better the health of animals for the rest of my life, animal welfare is always my first concern anywhere I go. I walk into a situation thinking first about how the animals are being treated and their well-being before I think about anything else. So, this mindset affected the way that I thought about many of the places that we visited such as the Madrid Animal Rescue and the Manchego Sheep Farm. My first instinct when we arrived at the animal rescue was that it was a little run down and mostly outside which made me worry about the dogs’ cleanliness and health a little bit because there was a decent amount of feces in their runs and it was a little chilly for them to have no option but to be outside. It was a little different than the shelters I am used to visiting, mainly because it was almost all outdoors, but after learning more about the facility and the people that work there, my first impression was proven wrong. It was clear that these animals were very well taken care of because they had animals come to them in need of medication, surgery, etc. and instead of euthanizing (which they do not do unless they have a terminal illness) they get the animal what they need. The shelter also has many volunteers that give all of their animals daily enrichment whether it be giving them a toy or taking them on a walk around the facility. It was extremely refreshing and encouraging to hear that Spain has very strict laws and heavy fines for people that abuse animals and that things like declawing are completely illegal. I believe that this should be much better enforced in the US and that we are definitely behind Spain in the aspect of laws that involve animal abuse. From an animal welfare aspect, I also felt fairly positively about the Manchego Sheep Farm. I was very pleasantly surprised to see how clean the facilities and the animals were and how calm the sheep seemed to be, even when they were being milked. I believe their relaxed behavior is very telling of how the people working in the barn treat the animals. For example, I noticed that when the sheep did need to be guided somewhere, the workers just gently touched their backside rather than hitting or yelling and the ewes were also rewarded with a special feed every time they were milked. One thing that did concern me about the welfare of the animals at the sheep farm was that they waited until two months of age to band their tails which would cause them more pain because their tail is longer, thicker around, and the lamb has more pain receptors at this point in its life. Overall, the welfare of the animals in most of the places that we visited were very good and in some cases even better than in the United States. As someone that has always been a lover of all animals, it made me very happy to see how well they were treated, even in the production business.

In some instances, I noticed differences between the US and Spain in how they treat their animals which may result from differences in ethical principles and societal views of each country. The places where these differences stood out the most were the Zoo and Aquarium of Madrid and the Jamones y embutidos Vazquez (the Iberian Pig Farm). The zoo was a very interesting experience because at first it seemed like any other zoo, but the longer we were there the more things we noticed that we were not used to seeing at zoos in the United States. The biggest difference that really surprised me was people feeding the animals in the enclosure. I watched people throw peanuts into the bear enclosure and it was clear that this happens a lot because the bears were conditioned to wave to the guests to get food. I’m not sure if this is something that the guests were allowed to do or just something that has become a norm at zoos in Spain, but it was very shocking to see because that is something that would never be allowed to happen at zoos in the US for the safety of the animals and the guests. Another place we experienced while we were there that was quite different from the way we do things in the Unites States was the Iberian Pig Farm. Although there are pig farms in Spain that are much like the large production farms in the US, the traditional Iberian pigs are raised very differently. The pigs are raised free range in a forest type environment with trees, water, and soil to lay on. The pigs have very little human interaction with only the occasional vet visit and they get to live out a very natural life until they go to market. I really enjoyed seeing that the pigs got to roam and perform natural behaviors in a very open setting because that is something I had never seen from a pig production farm before. It was very interesting to see how things that we do in the United States are done differently in Spain and to understand why these differences exist.

Lastly, there were some cultural events that we experienced while in Spain regarding the use of animals that, because of Spain’s cultures and beliefs, differed from any animal type traditions that we currently have in the Unites States. The two biggest cultural traditions that stood out to me were the traditional suckling pig meal and bull fighting or using bulls during celebrations such as the running of the bulls. The suckling pig was a very interesting experience because the whole baby pig is served on a plate still with its skin, bones, etc. and is then cut/smashed in front of the customers with a glass plate. It was definitely very different than what many of us were used to eating and took some getting used to, but it was clear what an important tradition it was to the people of Spain so it was very cool to experience nonetheless. The biggest cultural difference that involves animals, in my opinion, is the bull fighting in Spain which is a very controversial subject with people in the US and in Spain because of welfare concerns for the bull. Although there is controversy and I’m not sure that I agree with the sport, after touring Plaza de Toros it was clear how much history and culture is behind the sport. The people of Spain are very proud of it and think very highly of this tradition. Even though I personally believe that bull fighting is inhumane (and not to mention, very dangerous for the bull fighter), it made me happy to hear how highly our tour guide talked about the bulls, calling them brave and saying that the sport could not exist without their bravery. In the end, the sport really is about the relationship between the bull fighter and a beautiful, strong animal and it truly is rich with tradition.

Spending a week in Spain really taught me first-hand so much about human and animal interactions and how they differ from country to country. Each person’s attitudes about animals going into the trip affected the way that they interpreted the things they experienced in Spain. It was very eye opening to see the differences in the way that animals are treated, produced, and used in different countries based on their cultural and societal views.

Alexandra’s Semester in Segovia, Spain STEP Signature Project

I used my STEP funds to fuel a semester abroad. I was the first student from Ohio State to attend the Segovia, Spain Psychology study abroad. I arrived in Segovia on August 29, 2017 and spent the semester learning about who I was in the context of another culture. While I was in Segovia, I made friends with people from across the globe. Now, I quite literally, have a new friend on every continent (excluding Antarctica). About every other weekend, I traveled to a new city in Spain, or a new country. I visited Salamanca, Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, San Sebastian, and more. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to travel to Marrakech, Morocco, and Lisbon, Portugal.No automatic alt text available.

During this trip, while spending so much time with people who were not American, I realized just how much being from this country shaped who I am. Many of my friends and acquaintances said that I was a “stereotypical American,” and at first I was incredibly offended. In the international community, American are regarded as fat, loud, lazy, and uninterested in learning about the world. While I can be loud sometimes, all of those other qualities are the opposite of my personality. And everyone agreed with me on those accounts.Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing, shoes, sky, outdoor and water

I learned that, while many people associate Americans with these negative qualities, they associate us with positive ones, too. Being hardworking, bubbly, enthusiastic, and excited to meet new people are all qualities that my friends associated with Americans, and with me as well. Spending so much time on my own, only having to worry about myself, allowed me to focus more on the person that I am, and the person I am becoming. Now, since returning, I am more confident, outgoing, and willing to try new things even though they might be hard. I am also more willing to try and convince others to try those new things- places, activities, foods- with me as well.

The changes I experienced were gradual, and I did not realize that they had happened until I came back home to the United States. But I know that certain people had an enormous effect on my time and experiences in Spain. First of all, the most significant person I encountered was a woman, a mother, named Rosario. She lives in Madrid with two children, aged three and five. She was a far acquaintance of the family, and my mom asked me early on to meet her for lunch. I groaned. I did not want to spend my time with a woman who- I was convinced- would be incredibly boring. But I decided to meet her in Madrid one day, and it was the most important day of my four months there. Rosario and I really hit it off. We began spending days and weekends together. She met my family when they came to visit me in Spain, and I had the opportunity to practice my Spanish and meet her family. I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Being abroad all alone without anyone from your previous experience can be incredibly difficult, and Rosario gave me a Spanish family. For that, I will be forever grateful.

Another incredibly important person that I met while I was there was Rosario’s father, Diego. He lives on a ranch about thirty minutes outside of Segovia, and I met him when Rosario invited me to spend the night with their family at his ranch. I was apprehensive, because I did not want to infringe on their family time or make them feel uncomfortable. Furthermore, my Spanish was not particularly good and I was worried I would not be able to understand anything. But when I arrived, Diego and I hit it off. He is a humorous old man with kind eyes and an open heart. After that night at the ranch, the best night I had during my entire trip, Diego and I began getting tapas in Segovia every few weeks. He introduced me to new Spanish foods, and told me about his life. This experience really opened me up to meeting new people, and taught me that although it might be awkward at first, if I push through the uncomfortable feeling, it will almost always disappear.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, tree, outdoor and nature

Everything that influenced my time in Spain started out by making me feel uncomfortable, it seems. I had been set to room with three boys that I had never met- one from California, one from Peru, and one from Japan. I was nervous to have a bunch of messy male roommates, but it turned out to be the best living experience I could have asked for. At first, I was not sure how to approach living with my Japanese roommate. He was kind and cordial, but I knew that a variety of my actions offended him and I did not understand why. For example, if I said that I did not want to try his food, or that I did not want to go out for drinks with him, he would become sad and look frustrated. This was my first experience with a culture gap. After finding out what this was, and understanding which of my actions made him feel frustrated, I changed my behavior. Almost instantly, our relationship shifted and we became incredibly close friends. Now, he is one of the people that shifted my experience the most, because he allowed me to see inside another culture that is vastly different from my own.

No automatic alt text available.

But the individuals who shaped my experience the most were my close group of friends- Paula, a third culture kid who grew up all over Europe, Guus, a Dutchman through and through, and Margret and Hildur, two fun Icelandic sisters that I met through my classes. Through each of them, I learned how the culture that they grew up in shaped their personality. I learned that Northern European cultures, particularly Scandinavian ones, can be more reserved, but that does not mean that these individuals are shy. I learned about the gay culture in Europe, and what it means to be accepting of someone,their vastly different political ideology, and how to have a civil conversation with an individual whose viewpoint is light-years removed from my own. I learned how to make friends with people who, before August 29, I had absolutely nothing in common with, and afterwards, that I shared everything.

At the end of the day, these experiences taught me how to be open and accepting. I learned to face new people and situations with a smile instead of a grimace, and I learned to take difficult and uncomfortable encounters in stride. All people are united by our fear of the unknown, and our distaste for uncomfortable experiences.  In learning how to embrace this, I grew as a person- thanks to the STEP signature projec

Study Abroad STEP

My STEP signature project was studying abroad in Madrid for Fall 2017. I lived with a Spanish family and went to school at Universidad de Nebrija de Antonio.

I traveled basically every weekend to new cities and countries, improved my Spanish immensely, and made friends both within my program and locals from the places I traveled to.

My view of the world definitely changed during this trip. I was able to see the world from a new point of view and expand my own cultural understandings. I discovered that it is okay to criticize your own culture as well as other cultures as long as you are doing it in a productive and honest way. For example, I could see how certain efficiency techniques were clearly better in the US, while cultural norms about the importance of family and being social seems to be much more prominent and beneficial in Spanish culture. Even more than criticizing, I am not much more understanding. I see how norms truly shape a person and how in certain cultures, people may seem rude, but in reality it is just the way they were raised and the society they are in.

One thing that  particularly impacted my worldview is the obvious fact that I am now an experienced world traveler. Just within Spain, I traveled to Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Granada, Escorial, Avila, Salamanca, Segovia, and so many more cities and towns. Outside of Spain, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Morocco. I camped out in the Sahara Desert with locals for several nights. I learned about my own heritage, being part Berber and staying in a Berber village. We explored throughout the day, traveled to an Oasis, rode camels, learned the language, listened to live local music, and so much more. We traveled to the cities, like Rabat and Fez, and experienced city life in Africa. We went to the largest medina in the world and experienced night life in a Moroccan city. Morocco taught me about what it truly means to go into culture-shock. I learned so much about food, language, culture, etc. and was able to talk to countless people about their lives. My world view most definitely changed simply on now having the ability to compare myself and my life to them.

Morocco was not the only place I visited and learned from. I did a United Kingdom trip with my friend, we traveled to London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dublin. Also, we did a Highland tour in Scotland and got to travel around the countryside. Learning about how different some places can be culturally, despite speaking the same language (although many times I did question if they were indeed speaking English form my lack of being able to understand them), was a very interesting experience. For example, Scotland has so much pride for their state and their nationality. I learned so much about their culture through native music, drinks, food, and people. London is most definitely the most similar to American, but even they are different. It was fun meeting people from different parts of England and hearing the difference in accent and opinion on topics like Brexit and the monarchy. I also traveled to Amsterdam where I learned about what it is like to live in a place with totally different laws and norms. For example, it was almost impossible for me to distinguish which lanes were for bikes, which for cars, and which for humans. I probably almost got killed by a bike at least ten times, and I guarantee each time was because I was in the wrong lane.

Another major impact on my views came from living with a family. I learned about the cultural norms of a country in a familial way. For example, my host mom was brutally honest. In America, many things she would say or do would be considered rude, offensive, and not pc. However, it was not that she was rude as much as she was honest without the consideration of holding back. I actually found I much prefer this style of speaking instead of feeling the need to hold back. I remember bringing over a bottle of wine, in an attempt to be kind and considerate. Instead of drinking the wine, she explained that she prefers beer and drank her own beer. She was very kind and appreciative, however, she did not feel the need to drink the wine out of courtesy like many americans would. Same goes for many teachers. I had a professor who would explain how she hated Trump, but dislike Obama as well. She was not scared to share her opinions as an outsider, and was not worried of disturbing some students with her views. Rather, she explained what she felt, and did not mind, and even encouraged, if you disagreed with her.

This experience was unequivocally transformational and the value I would put on it is priceless.

My major is international studies and I am on the pre-law track. For starters, this experience clearly related to my major. I not only studied international studies in the classroom, but I studied while walking through Retiro park in Madrid, while meeting locals at a pub in Ireland, while arguing about the EU along Las Ramblas in Barcelona. I studied through the people I met, through the language I learned, and so much more. Language was a huge factor for me in the journey. I really wanted to learn as much as possible and be as conversational as possible. While I certainly am not fluent, the amount I improved in just a few months would have been unbelievable to me prior to going. Everyone talks about the value on immersing oneself in a culture for language benefits, and I now understand why. I spoke Spanish countless times a day, learned new words by with hour, and improved my grammar immensely. Not to mention the value of taking classes in Spanish, and only in Spanish. On top of everything else, this experience helped me validate my desire to go to law school. I found myself being so curious in the different laws in policies of each region and nation I visited. I would look up the difference in laws and compare them to American laws. I would discuss politics and learn about how the laws affected issues such as the Catalonian Independence. Overall, it is difficult to express in words how much of a value I put on this experience and how thrilled I am that I did it.

STEP Reflection — Danny Rodgers

Boarding the plane back in August, I felt a wide range of emotions. I had wanted to study abroad since senior year of high school and that dream was finally coming true. My STEP project this past semester was a semester long exchange offered by the Fisher College of Business at a university in Madrid, Spain. In Madrid, I attended Comillas Pontifical University, where I took business classes with students from all over the world. In addition to my classes, I  lived in a homestay where I practiced using the Spanish language daily and experienced the cultural immersion that comes with living in a homestay.

In the past few weeks, I have been able to reflect on my experience in Spain. The biggest transformation that I feel I experienced is in regards to my language abilities. Before my semester abroad, I felt like I had a strong academic grasp of Spanish. Now after my 4 months living immersed in a Spanish speaking country, I am amazed at how much my language abilities have improved.  I now feel confident using the language. The benefits of having a second language are wide-reaching in the business world, and I am excited to see what opportunities present themselves as I progress into my professional career.

Without a doubt, the experiences of my STEP project directly contributed to this transformation. To start, living in a homestay exposed me to daily opportunities to practice the language. Each night, my housemates and I spoke Spanish with our host mother during dinner. These meals provided me a wonderful environment to practice speaking Spanish which was instrumental to improving my language skills.

Secondly, by partaking in a education abroad experience in a Spanish speaking country, I was required to use Spanish outside of my homestay in every day interactions around Madrid. Whether it was ordering coffee at a corner cafe or helping someone out on the street with directions, I found my self speaking Spanish with friends and strangers alike. All these interactions on their own were not entirely significant, but together they helped contribute to my overall confidence in using the language.

This change in my language abilities will have great impacts on my professional goals. As a business student, I desire to work globally in some function during my career. Whether that may be working from the US for a company with global reach or even as far as working abroad on an assignment, possessing a second language will be instrumental in achieving that goal. Although English is the global language of business, having the ability to communicate in the native language of the country in which you are doing business goes a long way in building relationships—and great relationships are critical to success in business!

Knowing a second language also has benefits far beyond simply communicating in a different way. For example, you learn how to step outside of your comfort zone; speaking to a native speaker in their native language can be stressful! The benefit in this example is that now when I feel like I am outside of my comfort zone, I think back to my experiences during my semester abroad and realize I am fully capable of thriving outside of my element.

As I settled back into the routine at Ohio State, I had lots of time to reflect on last semester. I will forever cherish my experience abroad, and appreciate how STEP helped me guide my efforts in making this experience as wonderful as it was.

— Danny Rodgers

Education Abroad: Human and Animal Interactions in Spain

Alice Noschang
Education Abroad: Human and Animal Interactions in Spain

Animal Sciences: Human and Animal Interactions in Spain, is an education abroad program focused on exploring the numerous ways humans and animals impact each other while exploring Central and Southern cities in Spain. The group traveled to a farm, university, laboratory, zoo, or shelter to compare the types of human and animal interactions experienced in Spain to those we experience in the United States, with a focus on how government, history, and culture influences the relationships. We also experienced the local food and culture with tours of a castle and watching traditional tango and flamenco dances while at group dinners.

Traveling and studying in Spain was a very unique and exciting experience, one that I will never forget. I learned so much about the culture, food, and of course, animals. I believe that this was a transformative experience for me. I am an introvert, so to go on a week long trip with people that I never really knew before, pushed me outside of my comfort zone in a good way. I also learned how to be a little more independent by navigating through situations, such as walking through the cities and restaurant etiquette, in a place that I have never been before and did not speak the same language. I learned that I am capable of handling new challenges that I may face in everyday life. I made friends on this trip that I would have never met otherwise. Their perspectives to the experiences that we had challenged and shed new light on my current views, helping to develop them.
I also learned quite a bit about my views of many human and animal interactions. I was able to develop my outlooks on certain topics. We had many different kinds of animal and human interactions, from zoos and shelters to research and farms. I was surprised at the similarities between the interactions and use of animals I had in Spain and ones that I have had in the United States. It was interesting to see how culture and tradition play a role in animal fighting, how similar research practices are, and how the care for production animals is similar and different in the United States and Spain.

The following three experiences led to the transformation and development of what I believe is correct and right regarding animals. These experiences were full of new discoveries, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about roles of particular animals in Spanish society and relating them back to the roles that animals play in our society in the United States.
The tours of the Plaza de Toros and the bull breeding farm gave me insight to a tradition that I have only heard of and never quite understood, bull fighting. I never could comprehend why people would put an animal through so much pain just for it to die a while later. On the tour, I learned that it was more about tradition. This tradition is only acceptable in certain places and prohibited in others. I was not expecting this to be such a controversial practice in Spain, but it is. On the bus, one of me peers and I were discussing the process, and she mentioned that it seems like such a waste, since the animals that do not make it to the third round of bull fighting are just killed, and I do agree with that. Only one bull will fight and several others are just killed, even though their meat can be used, it seems unfair. In my animal science classes, we talk about how you should cull animals only for genetics, not for human mistakes. In my opinion, I think that killing these animals because they are not the correct kind of aggressive, is a human mistake, since we are forcing them to act out by purposefully putting them in a stressful situation. I think that it might even be inhumane. However, I can understand why bull fighting is still around and probably will be forever. To people who watch it is like a religion, like baseball or football, so to ask people to give it up, probably will never happen. Unfortunately, I do not think there is any way to make it more humane without taking out the tradition, and completely changing the practice. It is also the only thing keeping the breed alive, as described by our host at the bull farm. Bull fighting is a taboo in some places in Spain, just as it is here in the United States with other forms of animal fighting, like pit bull and cock fighting. In both places, some people think of it as a sport and others think it as unnecessary cruelty depending on how tradition and cultural norms play into the practice.
One of my favorite stops was to the University of Complutense – Madrid Agricultural Department. I am minoring in animal nutrition and thought that the tour was very interesting, especially since I understood most of what they were talking about. I thought it was neat to see how all of the research is done in the labs on the feeds, and with the animals. One thing that one of the graduate students, Javier talked about is his research on olive oil extract as a replacement for antibiotics, which are banned in Spain. Based on the way things are going, I think in the next decade most antibiotics in the US will also be banned, and we will start feeding our animals in a similar way, and more research will need to be done on antibiotic alternatives. It was interesting to see the animals in a research setting and to be able to connect it back to what we learned from Dr. Kieffer’s talk here at Ohio State. Dr. Kieffer talked about the process of applying to do research and then how people are held accountable for making sure that the animals were treated humanely and had their needs met. Even though Carlos, a professor at the university, did not talk about the application process he did mention animal welfare many times. Carlos talked about how they have many internal and external inspections each year to make sure that the research animals are properly being cared for and have enrichment. He also mentioned how sometimes they have to change their ways in order to comply with the new and developing regulations. It is fascinating to see how the public pushes for welfare across the United States and Spain, and I wonder what is would be like in developing countries.
I thought the Manchego Sheep farm that we visited was also very similar to how dairy farms are run here in the United States. The facility and the housing of the sheep based on age and milking output was almost identical. One thing that stood out to me was how clean the milking parlor was, the employees cleaned up all of the feces after the sheep left. I attempted to ask one of the employees a question, and he started answering about something I did not understand, but he had a smile on, and I could tell he really enjoyed what he did. Later in the tour, the same man pulled out one of the lambs for us to pet. I think he enjoyed seeing us react to the rough wool and the smiles on our faces. I believe that keeping the facility and clean and the care that they provide to their animals is also beneficial to the animals. Keeping the sheep healthy and comfortable even though we are using them solely for our use is very important. The farm’s passion and work ethic for keeping the Manchego breed alive and healthy is directly seen I how they treat their animals, which then translates into a delicious product

In Spain, I explored many different types of animal and human interaction, and how culture affects our outlook on the interactions we have. I thought it was interesting to learn about the bull fighting and how some people enjoy it and other strongly disagree with it, and why that was. It was also interesting to compare and contrast how research is done here and in Spain. I was surprised by how the use of the sheep can also impact the wellbeing of the animals. I learned so much while visiting the beautiful country of Spain. I even changed some of my personal views on how we treat animals and what I consider as right and wrong. I will apply my experience and what I learned traveling throughout Spain, to my academics, life, and career. I will be able to provide a unique insight to class discussions when we talk about animal health and welfare in my minor classes. I will be able to apply the practical skills I learned, like branching out, not be afraid to face a challenging situation, in everyday life and maybe even during more traveling in the future. I also believe that I further developed my critical thinking skills which I can apply in everyday situations and academics. I also hope that the things that I learned on this experience I will be able to apply to my future career as a veterinarian.