Dominican Republic 2017: My First Experience Abroad

Christie Johnston

Study Abroad 2017

Question 1: Provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. 

For my STEP Signature Project, I decided to go with the Study Abroad option. I browsed through all the study abroad choices on OSU’s website and I finally landed on the project that goes to the Dominican Republic over winter break. The trip was an 8 day trip beginning in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and ending in Jarabacoa, DR. Over the course of the trip, we traveled around the city and learned about sustainability and the natural resources that are available in the Dominican Republic. The main focus of the trip was a service project in a rural village outside Santo Domingo. Here, we installed a water pump and a water distribution system for the village, and got running water from a well all over the village.

 

Question 2: What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

My view of the world definitely changed when I was in the Dominican Republic. Being over there made me truly realize how many simple things we take for granted in the United States. Running water, reliable internet connection, water that is safe to drink from the tap; these are all things that the U.S has everywhere, but are few and far between in the Dominican Republic. I definitely have a greater appreciation of the way other people live, and I am more aware of the things we can and should be doing to help the people that need it.

 

3. 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?

Although the Dominican Republic is somewhat developed, and definitely farther along than some other countries, a lot of what I experienced was extremely different from the United States. The biggest realization that I came to over there was the fact that U.S. does not really realize how good we have it when it comes to things like running water, electricity, cell phone service, internet connection, higher education and other things we take for granted. In most places in the DR, the tap water cannot be consumed because it isn’t treated and is not sanitary enough for consumption. That was the biggest change for me, because throughout the trip we had to plan out our drinking water for the day and make sure we all had enough to drink since we couldn’t just fill up at a sink.

In the U.S., untreated tap water is almost unheard of, and we take for granted the ability to just refill a water bottle in the kitchen sink. Having to experience this myself really made me realize how much we take for granted in the U.S. Another thing I had to get used to was the internet connection or lack thereof. Although our hotels had wifi, and one even had Cable TV, the internet connection was nowhere near the quality it is in the U.S. I couldn’t imagine how frustrating it would be if you really needed to get work done via the internet, and the speed interfered with your work.

Also, I really noticed in Santo Domingo, the electrical grid was extremely disorganized, almost in a dangerous fashion. If you look up when walking the streets, the power lines hang very low to the ground and are almost in knots above you. It does not appear to be very safe, and was a huge change from the United States’ fairly organized electrical grid. I was used to seeing power lines in rows beside streets, but here there were power lines wherever they were needed, with no organization to them whatsoever. The disorganization probably makes maintenance much more difficult for workers, which is likely not efficient on time or money.

The most life changing event that I felt on the trip was probably when we did our service project in La Piedra. Even when we were driving up to the village, you can look out the window and see the poverty that these people are experiencing. Most of them live in small shacks made out of either wood or roofing tiles. They don’t have electricity or running water for the most part, and they have minimal space to cook, sleep, and live. The weirdest part about seeing the poverty that the people were living in, was that most of them had cell phones in their hands. This was interesting because of their living conditions, we see them as being extremely underdeveloped and anti-technology, but they all had fairly new smart phones. Again, seeing these people that live this way, and that have always lived this way really struck a chord for me. We take for granted so many things in the United States that these people wouldn’t even dream of having, and that most American people cannot live without.

 

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

I think that as a college educated young adult, this was a very important experience for me to have. I have never left the country before and I think that I will be able to carry these experiences and the greater appreciation for my education and things that the United States have all throughout my future career and life.

During the trip, we learned a lot about the importance of not only environmental sustainability, but also the outreach and education in order to teach other people about the environment and how to preserve it. As I chase a career in extension education, my main goal in life will be to educate children about agriculture and our environment here in the United States. Having experienced this in a different country, I will be able to bring a little more to the table in that regard. The environmental problems that the DR faces in it’s current state are much greater than what we are facing here in the United States, and I think that I will be able to bring attention to that and spark the younger generation to have a passion for helping people and protecting the world we live in.

 

The National Botanical Garden of the Dominican Republic

 

Boca Chica Beach, Dominican Republic

 

Jimenoa Falls, Dominican Republic

 

Studying Human-Animal Interactions in Spain

I spent a week travelling throughout Spain studying human-animal reactions.  During this time, I was able to make connections between animal use and the Spanish culture while also making comparisons to human-animal interactions in the United States.

When given any opportunity to travel internationally, one grows as an individual.  Before, I had only travelled to Nicaragua and not to any European countries.  I had many preconceived notions that Spain would be similar to the United States in how they interact with animals.  Since this was an animal science program, I thought the majority of our program would be production related.  I feel to the most part my ideas were proven correct, but at times I felt what I believed was challenged.

I was most surprised that a significant amount of our stops were not production animal related.  We made stops at the Madrid Zoo, Madrid Animal Rescue, and a bullfighting ring.  Coming from a livestock background, I guess I just had preconceived notions of what I thought human-animal interactions were supposed to be.  But all of the stops we made were excellent examples of human-animal interactions and allowed me to make comparisons to these interactions in the United States.

I decided to participate in this animal science program even though I’m not an animal science major because I thought I had a developed background in the topic.  However, during class discussions, I found myself sometimes being the one who was lost in conversation.  At times, terms were used that I was not familiar was and those other animal science students were expected to be well-versed in all species whereas I am mostly familiar with cattle.  Some of the discussions heavily referenced animal science course material and through these conversations I felt growth in my knowledge.

When I was in preparation to travel to Nicaragua, the pre-departure class focused heavily on the history, culture, and current events.  During the pre-departure class for Spain, our topics focused heavily on varying human-animal interactions so we would be better able to make connections to the U.S. while in Spain.  A week before departure, I realized how unprepared I actually felt.  While in-country, we were given so many opportunities to prove ourselves as adults.  Many meals were on our own and many evenings were left to us to decide what we’d do.  Being able to explore various Spanish cities really developed my appreciation for Spanish culture.

I hope to work with the Cooperative Extension Service and land grant universities have statements regarding the inclusiveness of their services.  By obtaining a hands-on experience of the world and different cultures, I feel that I will be understanding of different cultures and backgrounds in my future career.  Being able to relate better to others of different studies or backgrounds will be beneficial as I choose my next academic path, I am considering a master’s program but am considering various schools and academic programs.  I am grateful to have this chance to expand my view of the world and grow as an individual before I graduate and am considered a real adult.

Abroad in the Netherlands

Name: Alex Kratcoski

Type of Project: Education Abroad

1.) For my STEP Signature Project, I chose to study abroad in Rotterdam, the Netherlands at Erasmus University, Rotterdam School of Management. I utilized Fisher’s Business school, semester exchange to attend RSM. RSM is a top 10 European business school and provided a new, challenging experience.

2.) Although I’ve been fortunate enough to travel extensively throughout my life with my friends and family, I was able to to learn new things about myself and the world around me. Originally, I believed that most people in Europe were incredibly similar to myself in both values and world views. While studying in the Netherlands, I came to realize that those individuals abroad are as diverse as the broad population on a college campus in the United States, similar to Ohio State. Additionally, I found that some of the best conversations that I had while on my exchange came from individuals with vastly different backgrounds from my own. More often than not, I found myself gravitating toward foreign students that could expose me to alternative experiences that I had yet to encounter. That being said, I was also able to interact with other American students from all over the country, further diversifying the individuals I interact and expanding my world view.

3.) While I was abroad I was able to experience various interactions and activities that led to this change in world view while also developing a better understanding of myself. I can categorize them into two broad categories based on the geography in which they took place. First, in the Netherlands, the country I was born in and the campus, where I met incredible people, was exposed to an alternative education style and participated in a culture different from my own. Second, I will address the various countries I visited and the events I attended while there. One of the most prominent reasons I chose the Netherlands as my education abroad destination is because it is the country I was born in. My parents completed their MBAs and then entered into the workforce as bankers in Amsterdam. I utilized my experience to the fullest in order to try and put myself into their places, exploring their favorite places around the country and trying to immerse myself in the culture. I did this by visiting restaurants, attractions and monuments they had enjoyed and mentioned.  Not only did I use the exchange to better understand the Netherlands, but because I was surrounded by other exchange students from all around the world, I was able to build relationships with friends from Portugal, Germany, France, and much of South America just to name a few. Finally, one of the most interesting rewarding classes I have ever taken was called “Learning by Doing: Consulting for Social Enterprises.” During this course, I was paired in a team with two incredible friends and with a language coaching non-profit. There, I was able to work closely with 5 members of the organization, conduct research and provide suggestions on future improvements.

In addition to my adventures within my host country, I took this opportunity so far from home and so close to a vast array of countries. I began my journey with a week in Iceland, living in hostiles, exploring the city and making my way into the mountains and hot springs. I then flew into Amsterdam and saw where I spent the first years growing up as well as where my parents worked and socialized. After settling into Rotterdam, meeting my housemates and neighbors, we made our way to Oktoberfest in Munich, Prague and Belgium beer tasting and touring as we go.

One of the most incredible trips of my life was a week spent with newfound friends in Morocco. We began in Fez, staying in a traditional riad hostel before meeting our tour guide the next day. He took us around to various landmarks and geographic features around the country. On the third night we rode camels into the desert and spent the night under the stars. A truly amazing experience.

4.) I’d like to begin by commenting on how inspiring, exciting and rewarding the past 2 months working
living in the Netherlands, traveling abroad and working with a non-profit organization. Not only has this (intensive) experience facilitated the creation of new, lifelong friends, it has shaped my perception of the value of hard work, inequality around the world and developed my understanding of personal and communal benefits that non-profit organizations, a dynamic world view and volunteering promote.

I would like to mention one incredibly moving experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life. One morning, I was tasked with attending a group session, sitting in to observe on the group dynamic and how the language coach interacted with the students. Near the end of the session, each pupil was going around the circle sharing, in Dutch, about their jobs and describing what they did in their home countries before moving to the Netherlands. A Syrian man about 50 years old told us of his job as an Architect. He was very new to the language and had to supplement his explanations with a lot of English, which was then slowly massaged into Dutch with the coach’s help. He went on to explain he was a civil engineer that worked in a firm with his brothers and his daughters who were engineers and had been away from home for many months.

When the coach asked him about how difficult it was running a business from so far away, he sighed and replied, “There is no business. The building has been demolished. It is on the ground.” Immediately, the rest of the students and the coach expressed their sorrows and were able to offer him kind words of support. Appreciative, he continued to tell his story, expressing his excitement to see his family in the next 6 months, who he had been separated from. His daughters were in Saudi Arabia while his wife and son were in the United States. Again, endless support from the group mates around.

After the session ends, I’m on the tram home, thinking in particular about that mans story in particular, I realized that organizations that provide free services, like Taalcoaching Capelle, play a huge role in the lives of both the volunteers and those that they help. Their influential position not only completes the service promised, but builds a sense of community and fosters social integration. It was genuinely a moment that has shaped how I perceive volunteering, non-profit organizations and their incredible impact on those involved.

This experience, more than any other (although the entire exchange has followed this theme) has solidified in my mind what I want to do in my professional life. I want to work with non-profit organizations on a level where I can research, interact and guide them. I’ve found an interest in consulting and hope to continue to explore the field.

 

Human and Animal Interactions Education Abroad – Spain

Through my STEP signature project, I was able to travel to Spain to study human and animal interactions. Over the course of seven days, my fellow peers and I got to experience how people of a different culture interact with animals. We visited many places from a dog shelter to a Manchego sheep farm, which aided in expanding our horizons on the information we already knew.

During my time abroad, I learned that it is best to go into a different culture as open-minded as you possibly can. It is not for us to judge how other people in different cultures and countries live. They get by living the way they do as we get by living the way we do. I thought I had gone in fairly open-minded to the animal operations we were going to see, but I was slightly wrong. The hardest stop for me was an Iberian pig farm that we went to. I was completely set in the preconceived notion I had on what this place was going to be like that it was really hard for me to get past how their operation worked. Eventually, I told myself that this was the way they did things and they did it for a certain reason and I had to accept it. So that was what I did, I accepted the fact that not every country or culture raises their production animals the same way, and that that was okay.

Additionally, I was shown that some of the assumptions I had made into some of the stops we made were wrong. The one place that we visited that was the most similar to the practices in the United States was the dog shelter. Many of their adoption practices were similar to what we have here in terms of being interviewed to see what the new family’s personality is and then being able to bring other pets to the shelter to see how the animals interact with each other. The biggest difference between these places was that their kennels were ones that had access to an individual, outside cage for each dog. These dogs were mostly kept outside during the day and then taken in at night.

Furthermore, one of the biggest differences from the assumptions I had was the Iberian pig farm. I went in thinking that this pig farm was going to be similar to the ones in the United States, in the fact that there would be large white barns with rows of pens of pigs and farrowing houses. I was COMPLETELY wrong. The pigs lived completely outside and could roam where ever they desired. There were a few shelters that they could go in during bad weather if they so chose, but they were not forced inside. There were not only pigs in these fenced-in areas, but sheep, donkeys, and horses as well.

Moreover, being able to hear the opinions and perspectives of my peers that were also on this program was very beneficial. It allowed me to view the various human and animal interaction related experiences we had from the point of view of people with different backgrounds. I grew up around livestock while some of my peers did not grow up on a farm at all and lived in the city. Not all of the students on this program were animal science related majors either. This aided in adding to the diversity of the group and people who grew up around livestock may have one opinion while those who did not would have another. This also required me to be very open-minded because even though we are all from the same country, we are not all used to the same things and did not all grow up the same way.

All in all, the changes that I incurred during my time abroad will aid me in my future endeavors. It has taught me to be open-minded to people of other cultures and keep in mind not everyone has the same background or the same opinions. This will help me in the workplace in the future because I will have to work with people of other cultures and backgrounds. It will also help me be open-minded in other areas of my life as well and not rush to judgment of people or practices.

STEP Japan Study Abroad

For my STEP signature project I traveled to Japan for two weeks in December 2017 to study the architecture, landscape, and urban fabric and development of the worlds 7th most powerful country. Over the course of 14 days, myself and 18 other OSU students traveled over 1,500 miles through over 15 cities and towns in central and southern Japan. On our sprint through Japan, we visited about 120 significant architectural sites that included traditional Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines and also many modern-day buildings. While visiting these incredible buildings and gardens, we analyzed the spaces through sketches, notes, discussions and photos.

Although this was not my first but third study abroad experience as an Ohio State student, I feel that this experience has been the most transformational of the three for many reasons. On my past experiences abroad (England and Chile) I found myself adjusting to and embracing the cultures relatively easily and quickly mainly because the languages were ones that I could speak and the food was already food that I enjoyed. On this trip however, I am not sure that I was able to completely adjust to the culture. Just about everything in and about Japan and its culture was completely different from life in Columbus, however after being immersed in the culture for two full weeks, I adjusted pretty well by then end.

My understanding of myself, my assumptions and my view of the world both changed and solidified while on this trip. This trip challenged me in a lot of ways but over the course of the two weeks, I found myself overcoming most of these challenges. Before going on this trip, my views of the world had already been altered by other experiences abroad, however this trip changed those views even more and to a greater extent than any other past experience had. After returning from my trip to Japan, I have a newfound appreciation and respect for Asian food, languages, religions, customs, ideas and overall culture. Traveling to Japan and even the Japanese culture and way of life was never really on my ‘radar’ until I began to think about going on this trip, so everything that I experienced and learned about the country both before going and while in-country was something new for me.

This trip taught me much more than my other trips abroad, not because it was ‘better’ or ‘more fun,’ but because the culture was so incredibly different than any culture I had experienced or studied before. Every new interaction while in Japan made me appreciate their culture and life style even more. From taking your shoes off when entering a home or restaurant, to bowing as a greeting or farewell, to walking on the left side of the sidewalk, to not talking on the subway, to not tipping waiters and waitresses, to wearing a face mask when you are sick, to eating slowly, everything had a rhyme and reason and most of the time it was out of respect and courteousness to others around you, and it is this that I admired most about their culture, the ample amount of respect.

At first, I admittedly was a little uncomfortable with the social norms and customs solely because they were so vastly different from anything I had ever experienced before. However over the course of the two weeks, after more and more interactions with locals, shop owners, hosts and hostesses, subway attendees, etc., I became more and more comfortable with these interactions and common mannerisms. Everyone that I encountered while in Japan was so friendly, and they were all incredibly understanding when it came to my lack of cultural knowledge. However by the end of the trip, I even surprised myself with how comfortable I felt in almost every social situation. I had learned so much, and appreciate it all that not only was I comfortable but in most cases I was confident in navigating the culture.

This newfound appreciation and understanding of the Japanese and Asian culture is valuable to me not only at a personal level but also at a professional and academic level. As a citizen of the world, traveling is something that I have always enjoyed and always will enjoy. It allows me to explore cultural differences on a first-hand basis and foster a deeper understanding and appreciation for them. As an architecture student, a worldly perspective and understanding is vital because culture, geography, history, etc. all effect the profession and the projects completed as an architect. While abroad in Japan, I learned so much that will not only influence my work as a student but will most certainly also influence my work as a potential licensed architect. I learned about different construction methods, materials, building systems and structures that I otherwise would not have learned about, all while exploring an amazing history, culture and country.

Service Learning in Ghana

 

   

My STEP project was a service learning in Ghana. We focused on implementing sustainable projects to help develop undeveloped communities. My specific focus was working on bettering the conditions of a water site.

A lot of media in America makes third world countries to be places of sorrow and suffering however that was not the case in Ghana. The living conditions people had to deal with were terrible and in no way to I want to disregard that, however every single person I encountered was happy and hardworking. There were many children we encountered that had obvious health conditions but they all still had smiles on their faces. On the flip side, I experienced severe culture shock when we arrived. Not even the capital of the country was remotely similar to any city in America. Most of the stores were just shacks and to shop for food people just went to a market. Everything appeared to be so run down which I was expecting but at the same time not prepared for.

The main interactions that changed my view of Ghana are those with the children in the community we worked in and their teacher, Moses. The children would see us arrive every day and follow us to our site and sit there while we did work. Most of them spoke well enough English to be able to communicate with us. They tried to teach us to speak Twi and it was constant laughter because they made fun of our “American accents.” The older ones had such a drive to learn and help. At one point we were sanding something and a group of 14 and 15 year old girls came up and asked what we were doing and why and if they could help us. There were several interactions similar to this one where people were eager to learn and so willing to help.

Moses, the school teacher, not only came every day to see how things were going, but he helped translate for us as he spoke almost perfect English. He told us a lot about his life as well. He has a wife and three children and he only makes $300 a month. He told us that he is broke by halfway through the month and that he prays every day he will get the opportunity to teach in America someday. He has so little but had so much love and compassion and such a positive outlook on life. There were many people that visited our site while we were working that had similar stories and I wish we had been able to communicate with them but not everyone spoke English and we don’t speak Twi.

There were other encounters with people that work for the local government that Ohio State partners with and several other random people that helped shape my view of Ghana. At one point we went to buy wood and one of the government workers was taking care of it for us since we were not able to communicate. We were concerned because he did not give us a receipt however he just said “If the product is bad and I am not satisfied, he will give me my money back; it is Ghanaian culture.” We did not have one negative experience when talking to people. A good word to describe everyone would be neighborly.

On a sadder note, the conditions people live in are overall terrible. We did water tests and everything except for bottled water had some sort of bacteria present. The diet most can afford does not have much variety or nutrients. It did not hit me until we were outside of a clinic one day and we saw a man running with a limp child towards the door. It really made me think about how in America if you see an ambulance or someone pass out you don’t have the same reaction we did towards seeing that happen. We weren’t certain if the clinic would have the recourses it needed to care for the child however almost any hospital in America would. Luckily the next day we saw the boy walk out however not everyone in third world countries is that lucky.

I learned a lot about myself on the trip. There were many instances where several people were debating design ideas in Twi and we would just sit back and let it happen and a design flaw came out of it. It made me realize that in my professional life if I am confident about something I need to be more assertive about it. I always think that since I am inexperienced in the engineering field everyone else’s ideas are probably better but that may not always be true. I could have good ideas and if I am confident in them I need to make them known.

This trip definitely opened my eyes as to just how lucky I am. You hear people say everyday how lucky everyone in America is however it didn’t hit me until the first night in Ghana and my gratefulness grew throughout the trip. I also learned so much from the Ghanaians. Personally, I want to be more like them. I want to have the outlook on life that they do and I want to be as hardworking and willing to help as they are. It was also very rewarding at the end of the trip when I saw how happy everyone was with our work. It made me realize that I want a career that I am able use my skills as an engineer to better people’s lives.

STEP Human and Animal Interactions in Spain

My name is Michael Moore, and my STEP signature project was a study abroad experience in Spain. The class is a Human and Animal Interactions course (Animal Science 3797.03). To prepare for the trip I took Animal Science 2400.005. In this course, we discussed how history, culture, infrastructure, and geography can influence how animals are viewed and used in our society. We also took field trips to various locations such as Athens County Dog Shelter, The Wilds and Columbus Zoo and Buckeye Ranch just to name a few. These excursions allowed us to experience how animals are studied or used in a variety of ways. These weekend adventures and class discussions gave me a greater knowledge base for how we view and use animals in the United States so that I may compare these views on animals to the same human and animal interactions in Spain.

I grew up on in a suburb on the west side of Cleveland, and as a result, I have little understanding of the intricacies of raising animals and of the food industry in general. Due to my lack of knowledge I had always assumed that animal raising farms are loud, noisy and overall really cramped places. Most of my views on animal production were defined by Hollywood movies like “Witness,” or by little newsflashes about how PETA or a similar animals rights group were protesting a law. I had never actually challenged these ideas of mine until I had an opportunity to in Spain.

In Spain, I also had the opportunity to experience some cultural and political divides, unlike anything we have in the United States. This cultural divide exists over bullfighting. The cultural sport of Spain is not even legal across the nation and its territories and is opposed by half of all Spaniards yet the sport lives on. The political divide we got to experience was over the British territory of Gibraltar. The rock of Gibraltar is a small British port town located on the south coast of Spain, and its nautical importance has made it a hotly contested territory between the Spanish and English governments for Centuries.

In Spain, we visited a Manchego Sheep farm south of Madrid. Here at the farm, I was enamored with the details that dominated how the sheep were raised and how they were housed. This farm is in a very dry and mountainous region of central Spain so the housing of these sheep is very important.  The main housing barn separated sheep based on their milk production into 6 large pens. These pens have concrete flooring which is consistent throughout the complex but the floor is covered in straw to simulate the soft feeling of natural pasture. Massive windows spanned the sides of the barn letting in natural light and bringing in air from the outside. Despite the rocky conditions and dry soil outside this housing is extremely efficient. It eliminates the worms and parasites that sheep often pick up while grazing and keeps the sheep producing milk daily.

The next farm we went to was a fighting bull breeding farm outside of Seville. This was an eye-opening experience for me as I know very little of the culture surrounding bullfighting in Spain. At the farm, we got to see the behavior of the bulls in a more natural setting. Bulls are sold to the rings in sets of six and male bulls are likewise penned together in groups of 11 starting around the age of 2. It is common practice, to begin with, 11 in a group because over the course of time the bulls will often fight and end up breaking each other’s horns rendering them useless to the ring or in some cases the bulls will kill each other while dueling. We got to see this aggressive behavior as soon as we entered the fenced pasture with a group of 4-year-old bulls. Within the first five minutes of entering the pen, two bulls locked horns with each other in a duel. While I was a little nervous by this aggressive behavior the rancher leading us was very calm despite being in the general area of the dueling animals. This experience gave me insight into the very culturally relevant and divisive bullfighting industry.

 

While most of our trip was spent learning about Spain’s animal industries we also visited politically relevant places as well. When we first drove up to the rock of Gibraltar the first thing I noticed was how out of place it looked. The crag seemed to simply rise out of the rough sea and rocky shores beneath it. From a distance, it’s hard to believe this small mountain is so geographically significant. While on the rock we were shown around by a guide whose family had been on Gibraltar for eight generations. He was very passionate about his heritage and shared with us his views on national identity. He shared with us the true value of Gibraltar is its three dry docks which are the only dry docks in the Mediterranean, and are vital for repairs to ships taking goods across the sea. He also took us up to the top of the rock which the famous Gibraltar rock apes. These apes came across the Mediterranean from Morocco and live on top of the rock. They are very comfortable around people. They seemed to almost “pose” for pictures and even partook in social grooming in view of our cameras.

Before my trip, I had a very limited grasp on the culture and regional politics of Spain and a very poor idea on animal industries in general. This trip allowed me to learn about culture, politics, and industry all in one quick trip. I’ll admit I took this trip as a chance for personal growth. This experience didn’t really relate to my academic goals and I don’t plan on working in the food industry or in animal industries as a professional. However, I will always be able to share the lessons I learned and take these experiences with me for the rest of my life. If this trip taught me anything its that as long as I keep an open mind I’m sure I will find a use for the experience and knowledge I gained abroad.

STEP Reflection

My STEP signature project was education abroad in Perugia, Italy. I studied Italian, the history of the Roman Empire, the food and culture of Italy and the European Union.

Before beginning my project, I was nervous about leaving my friends and family for four months and move across the world. I had never taken Italian and never been to Europe. Once I arrived in Italy, it hit me that I was here and I was also alone. I did not know anyone in my program and was nervous to meet people from so many different universities. After a couple of hours of moving in and meeting people, the nerves went away. The people I met were the one who helped me grow. There is something unique about being surrounded by people you don’t know and in a place that everyone is unfamiliar with. It gave me the opportunity to explore so many new things from food to figuring out the grocery store. Sometimes without even knowing about it, you can always depend on your close friends to take care of little things like planning a dinner or helping you pick out an outfit. But with entering a place where you are alone forces you to realize the things in your life that other people have always helped you with and pushes you to start taking care of those things yourself. Of course, you make plenty friends along the way, but with everyone trying to figure each other out it leaves a lot of room for personal growth. This helped me have more confidence when it came to doing things by myself. I could travel to Switzerland for a weekend alone and have the time of my life running off the side of a mountain to paraglide over the turquois lakes. I could walk through Florence and order my favorite gelato in Italian. I think in strengthening yourself you, it also helps you form better relationships with the people you meet. I made some of the closest friends in such a short period, and I think that it because I was pushed to become more independent and self-assured.

After living in a new country for four months, so many things led to personal growth. A huge part of Italian culture is their food and the traditional cooking methods. Before going to Italy, the only thing, I could cook was eggs and microwavable mac and cheese. I was nervous about having to cook for myself, and when I saw that their grocery stores did not sell microwavable meals, I wondered how long until I withered away into nothing. But after my first day of my Food and Culture class, there was a ray of hope, my professor Elisa. She spent hours answering questions from my class about how to cook, and she showed us her family’s recipes and how to make them. I can definitely say that after coming home, I am much more comfortable turning on the stove and making myself a meal. The Italian culture also largely focuses on getting locally sourced food and making healthy meals. It’s not all pizza and pasta like I thought. After coming home, I can see a difference in the way I eat where I now want to take the time to make my meals instead of the quick and easy premade ones.

I think after studying abroad I realized how much immersing yourself in a new culture can teach you about the world but also yourself. In a setting that is so different, you can see yourself in a new light. I think it is probably the most personal growth I have gone to in such a short period. It has opened my eyes to all of the different ways of doing things and makes me want to pursue a job with the opportunity to live in another country.

Engineering Service Learning – Ghana

My STEP Signature Project gave me the opportunity to participate in the Engineering Service Learning trip to Ghana, Africa. This program is focused on implementing sustainable projects for an undeveloped community in Ghana. My focus was working to better the conditions of a village water site. We got to choose these projects based off the needs of the villagers, OSU partners with.

Going off little information, originally, we were going to cover their local borehole used for water collection and implement a manual hand pump. After seeing the site and listening to the community members we created more than we ever imagined. We built the borehole up (~3 feet) with concrete, trenched the standing, contaminated water away from the collection site, and created a concrete platform around the borehole as well. We also created three access points of water with valves, a poly tank, and our pump. Now the water inside the borehole and poly tank is free from the standing, contaminated water around it, bacteria from the villager’s buckets used when collection water, and flood water during the rainy season.

With little background knowledge, I had the misconception that African countries are poor so they must be helpless, struggling, and therefore unhappy. I was completely mistaken. I met the happiest, most loving individuals while in Ghana. I aspire to have the kind loving spirit they do. You’ll walk down a hallway in the U.S., say a simple hello to the stranger heading in the opposite direction and not receive a response or even a glance in your direction. In Ghana, everyone says hi and really wants to know how you’re doing. They’re also sure to shake your hand firm and snap their fingers at the end (their traditional handshake). Holding hands is apart of Ghanaian culture so often you’ll see men hand and hand conversing. Muslims and Christians live and work together without the slightest indication. I just wish our tone of life was more like theirs and it was so apparent once I was back in the states.

The most memorable interactions I had while in Ghana were that with he children in the village where we were working, where the collection site was. The children would come running and follow us to our site as soon as we arrived everyday. They’d sit and play around us the entire time we were there. They tried to teach us some Twi and wanted to be involved as much as possible. The children often giggled with us when we tried to communicate with them, as are accent is so foreign to them.

A community member, teacher, and Christian pastor, Moses is someone I’ll never forget. He was so kind and caring and spoke great English, so he was of much help. He translated for us and gave us his honest opinion when others didn’t want to offend us because we were there to help them. But we wanted to be of the most benefit, as our project was for them not us, so receiving their criticism and learning from them was vital. He asked each of us about our lives and shared some about his. His dream is to come to America and bring his family here. He’d jump at any opportunity to. Moses has a wife, three kids and only brings home $300 a month. He told us that he is broke halfway through the month. He has so little, but is so vibrant, loving individual I’ve probably ever met.

Ghanaians are so handy and hard working. While us aspiring engineers were trying to figure out a solution they were already solving it with what they had at hand. It’s amazing what they can accomplish given some of the conditions. I hope I’m taking away some of their strength and having much more appreciation for everything I have and the opportunities presented to me because they’d kill to have the resources we do.

This experience really made me realize just how lucky I am. We hear people say how lucky we are to live in America, but I didn’t quite understand that until I went to Ghana. Not having easy access to living necessities such a clean water is mind bobbling. We take so much for granted and can be ungrateful. I saw and met the happiest individuals while in Ghana when they have so much less than me.

This experience really opened my eyes to just how much you can learn from other people and new places. It rooted a deeper desire love people and to try to understand where they’re standing. To be open to try the things that make their culture different and is apart of their everyday life. It sparked a desire to learn, get out and try, travel, and immerse myself. We’re all so similar but what makes us different is so interesting and beautiful.

My trip to Ghana was very rewarding. It was incredible to see how happy the villagers and government members were with our work and resources provided. It really made me realize that I want to do something where I’m able to use my resources and skills as a future engineer to help others and better their life.

 

STEP Reflection- Antarctica Study Abroad

On December 15th of 2017, I went on the adventure of my lifetime to the magnificent and remote continent of Antarctica. I went to Antarctica along with other students from The Ohio State University as part of a class titled “Antarctica Study Abroad” (ENR 5797.10). I remember scrolling down OSU’s study abroad website a year ago and picking New Zealand and Antarctica as my top study abroad programs. It did not take me long to decide that Antarctica would be the most exciting and life-changing trip that I could ever go to. So, I enrolled in ENR 5797.10 because I craved adventure and I wanted to learn about Antarctic wildlife first-hand. In the ENR 5797.10 class, we learned about the history, geology, ecology, and ecotourism of the Antarctic continent. As part of our midterm assignment, we had to choose between the seabird, ecotourism and iceberg modules to work on during our time on the continent. I chose to be part of the seabird conservation module. I worked with my team members on gathering data of the different bird species observed throughout our journey from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica and back. Observations were taken on the bridge of the ship, the Akademik Ioffe, from December 19 through December 26 of 2017. I learned a lot about Antarctic seabird identification, behavior, and conservation through observations, lectures, group discussions, and my time in field excursions. Most importantly, I learned more about myself during this time. I learned that working with animals and studying them is my passion. My time in Antarctica inspired me to pay respect to the Earth and all of its creatures by moving from a vegetarian towards a vegan diet. My time in Antarctica was a time of reflection and personal growth.

All of the field excursions that we went on as a group, were relevant to my seabird project and subgroup of Sphenisciformes (Penguins) because we interacted with penguins on a daily basis. On December 21st of 2017, we went on an excursion to Oren Harbor. There, we visited a colony of Chinstrap Penguins. Many of them were protecting an egg from the Skuas and waiting for their mates to come back from the sea. I was lucky to see a Chinstrap Penguin exchange an egg with its mate and then leave to the sea. On lecture 6 titled “Antarctic Birds”, Dr. Carey talked about penguin parental investment. Dr. Carey mentioned how female and male penguins take turns between going to sea for food and taking care of their offspring on land. It was amazing to see that with my own eyes and understand the purpose behind the observation. That same day we watched a Skua steal a penguin egg and eat it by the side of the Chinstrap Penguin colony. It was a tragic sight, but it brought me back to Dr. Carey’s lecture on Antarctic Birds. I remember Dr. Carey saying that Skuas were vicious creatures and that they were the only predators of penguins on land. Every place with a penguin colony that we visited had at least one Skua flying over the penguin colony. I realized that even though Skuas are not the nicest animals, they are highly important in the ecosystem. Without Skuas, penguin populations would grow exponentially and the Antarctic food chain would be disrupted.

   On other excursions, I was able to observe and learn about other penguin behaviors such as building nests, mating, and fighting with each other over rocks and territory.  In terms of conservation threats, I learned that Adélie penguins are of the most concern because they require more sea ice for survival than other Antarctic penguin species. The warming of the Antarctic Peninsula over the last decade has decreased the amount of sea ice available for penguins to rest on when they are away from their colonies at sea. As a result, Adélie Penguin populations have decreased in size within the last decade and Chinstrap Penguins have taken over areas that used to belong to Adélie Penguins (Soper, 2017). Chinstrap Penguins do best in places with low amounts of sea ice, but the mechanism explaining this is still misunderstood by the scientific community. I noticed that Oren Harbor, the location of a Chinstrap penguin colony that we visited, had little to no sea ice nearby. Global warming is not something politicians makeup, it is a real phenomenon. Global warming is the reason why certain penguin populations in Antarctica are gradually decreasing due to reduced amounts of sea ice available for them to thrive on.

   The main goal of the seabird field project was to observe, record data on, and learn about Sphenisciformes (penguins), Procellariiformes (tubenoses: albatross, petrels, shearwaters, diving petrels, and storm-petrels), Pelecaniformes (shags, and cormorants), and Charadriiformes (gulls, skuas, terns, and sheathbills).  We worked as a team to gather data on bird observations four times a day (before breakfast, before lunch, before dinner, and after dinner) for 15-minute slots. During each time slot, we recorded bird identifications and bird counts in the following locations: The Beagle Channel, The Drake Passage, and around the Antarctic Peninsula. We observed the largest amount of birds while we were crossing The Drake Passage because rough seas are advantageous for seabirds. Big waves stir the waters and move nutrients and fish closer to the surface of the water where they are more accessible to the seabirds. The majority of seabird species stay within their range. For example, no penguins were observed north of the Antarctic convergence because the water temperatures are much warmer there.

   The first excursion and landing in Antarctic soil was a significant day for me. That day in Oren Harbor was my awakening. I realized just how majestic, pristine, and breathtaking nature actually is when it is untouched by human civilization. I told myself that I want to do everything in my power to help Antarctica stay that way. I want to reduce my carbon footprint in this world and inspire those around me to do so as well. Later during the excursion, I saw a Skua steal a penguin egg and eat it in front of my eyes. It was not a pleasant thing to see, but it helped me come to a realization. Penguins and chickens are both birds. Penguins and chickens have many similar sounds and behaviors. In multiple occasions, during field excursions, I would hear penguins make sounds that were very similar to chicken sounds. So why is it morally acceptable to eat one and not the other? We are all being Skuas to chickens because we eat the eggs that are meant to develop into chicks. We are even worse than Skuas because eating eggs is a dietary choice we make, not a behavior we are born with or something we cannot live without. As humans, we have the choice to make moral decisions. Humans are mammals with dietary plasticity. We are not born carnivores, herbivores or omnivores. We have a choice. Ever since that day I chose to remove eggs from my diet, not only because it is the most moral thing to do, but also because it is a very sustainable course of action.  

My time in Antarctica observing and learning about the wildlife reinforced my passion for biological conservation and working with animals. I enjoyed learning about the whales, seals, and the seabirds of Antarctica. I wish that this study abroad was longer in days so I could gain a deeper understanding of Antarctica’s wildlife. I encourage students who are interested in the fields of biology and environmental studies to consider applying to this study abroad. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

   In conclusion, Antarctica was a time of learning and personal growth for me. I enjoyed learning about Antarctic seabirds and interacting with Sphenisciformes (Penguins) on field excursions. Antarctica helped me reflect on the morality of my food choices and as a result, I decided to shift from a vegetarian towards a vegan diet. Ever since Antarctica, I know without a doubt that I want to work with animals in the future; whether that is going to Vet school or working with a group of wildlife conservation.