My Semester at Sea

Jessica Cohen

Education Abroad

For my STEP Signature Project I participated in Semester at Sea, a four-month study abroad program that takes place on a cruise ship and travels to 11 different countries around the world. My specific voyage included travels to south-east Asia and Africa. During my travels I was also enrolled in four courses such as Global Studies and Global Health. In these courses I was able to learn about various topics that directly relate to the countries I visited.

Before embarking on this voyage, I thought had a pretty good understanding of how the United States compared to the rest of the world. We are a well-developed country with a functioning health care system, quality infrastructure, and a diverse population. I was aware of various crises that other countries face, however I only knew what I was taught. Being a part of Semester at Sea and traveling to countries that are far less developed than the United States truly opened my eyes to the hardships that people outside of the Western World face. For example, Myanmar has a large lack of proper infrastructure due to the many controversies faced by its citizens and refugees. At first glance, it is easy to assume that the lack of infrastructure is due to the prevalence of poverty within the country. However, it is important to take a step back and look at underlying factors that influence the level of poverty in the country. This is just one example of how participating in Semester at Sea has re-shaped my understanding and view of the world. After having traveled around the world, I feel as though I am coming back to the United States with a fresh pair of eyes and a new appreciation for living and learning.

During my time on Semester at Sea, I had the opportunity to meet people from all around the world and interact with other students from different walks of life. Because this program takes place on a ship, there was no Wi-Fi and we had extremely limited means to communicate with the outside world. So, instead of watching Netflix and surfing the internet, we were all forced to interact with each other on a much deeper level than through technology and social media. I believe this is what sets Semester at Sea apart from all other study abroad programs. I was able to build connections with other people through personal interactions, storytelling, and heated debates about pressing worldwide issues. This helped me gain insight into different ways of thinking and interpretations of various topics that impact my everyday life. There is so much value in learning from peers, in addition to learning from professors. While traveling through the different countries on the itinerary, I challenged myself to look at the places through different worldviews, and not just my own.

One of the components of my study abroad program includes field classes. Each course taken on the ship corresponds to a field class that takes place in one of the countries that we traveled to. For my Global Health field class we had the privilege of visiting Tema General Hospital, located in Ghana. During the field class I spoke with many different health care providers, all of whom talked about the lack of resources needed to maintain optimal health outcomes. I had a more personal interaction with a woman who ran the delivery ward. She explained that they are currently lacking midwives to help out with all the deliveries and they often have too many patients for the amount of beds they have. This results in women giving birth on the floor of the hospital, which can lead to many complications for both the moms and the babies. Hearing the stories she had to tell was heart-wrenching. I could not imagine having to go through that trauma, in both the perspective of the mom and the health care workers. Living in the United States, it is easy to take things for granted. Such things include basic necessities needed to live like running water, shelter, food, and access to health care. This experience has made me feel grateful for the way health care runs in the United States.  However, it has also inspired me to learn more about public health interventions and ways to combat these health care issues. No matter where you are in the world, you have health. Therefore, everyone has the right to adequate health care and ways to improve their health status.

Another important component of my study abroad experience that has contributed to my overall growth is my studies while on the ship. Every voyager is required to enroll in a Global Studies course. In the course we are tasked with learning about the people, history, and culture of every country we visit. This class has taught me invaluable skills for how to look at cultures that are different from my own. One of the most important lessons I will always keep with me is the different between learning about cultures and learning from cultures. Learning about cultures is the idea of taking your own worldview, which is developed by your own beliefs, culture and ideas, in order to understand another country’s worldview. Doing this is a disservice to the culture you are learning about, because it is impossible to try to understand another culture without taking into consideration their beliefs and ideas. On the other hand, learning from cultures is where you understand another country’s culture by looking at it through their worldview. This allows you to look at a country’s culture, beliefs, and ideas without judgement and bias. I think this concept is especially transformative because it can be applied to many different aspects of life. Taking in new perspectives and challenging your own is the key to successful learning and growth.

Having seen how other people from across the world live and view the world around them, I feel as though my own perspectives and judgements have shifted. This has already been an incredibly valuable transformation because it allows me to think critically about things I used to often overlook. I plan on working in the field of public health. In this field it is especially important to understand that things are not black and white. There are often many underlying factors for why people get sick and live in the capacity that they do. I am so thankful for the experiences I have shared as a result of Semester at Sea, and I am eager to continue my travels in order to learn more about the world in which I live.


Taj Mahal

Great Wall of China

London Abroad May 2018


1. My STEP Signature Project was an eleven day trip to London with the Dunn Sports and Wellness Scholars program. While in London, we studied the origin of sports such as rugby, tennis, and soccer through museums, stadium tours, and walking tours throughout the city. 

2. Prior to traveling abroad, I was prepared to pack as much into each day as I possibly could. I am not a “go with the flow” type of person and most of the people on my trip seemed to be better at that. I needed to learn how to deal without that much structure in order to enjoy my trip with my peers. I was able to take a step back from being the organizer and I let other people take the lead. This was out of my comfort zone but by the end of the trip, I realized that I was enjoying just walking places instead of feeling rushed.

Another thing I realized while abroad is that, it is easy to make your way around the area by using public transportation. We were able to travel anywhere in London through the use of the tube system or bus system. It took us one day before we felt we had mastered the tube system. We were able to figure out how to get to the places we wanted to see and it wouldn’t take more than a glance at the train map. My knowledge of the NYC subway system helped me understand the tube system.  

3. A few of my peers who were traveling abroad with me met up a few days before our trip to discuss what we wanted to see while in London. I originally thought we were going to sit down and fully plan out our days and fill our free time. My notes were prepped with sites to see, tours to take, and places to eat. The other 3 people didn’t do as much research and came in with the thought that we would figure things out one day at a time. This is not the way I grew up going on vacations because everything was always planned out to the minute. Once I came to terms with the idea that I couldn’t plan everything, the trip became less stressful. While on the trip, we took it one day at a time and tried to include as many people on the trip as possible. It was difficult for me to change my method of planning because I was so used to planning my days, but in order to get the most out of my trip with my peers, I knew I needed explore and try new things.

There were many times that the group would travel together in order to tour the different sports venues in London. Thirteen of us, traveling with no clue where we were going got a little tricky. Our group had a tendency to just stop in the middle of the sidewalk or train station or basically anywhere we went. I realized early on that we needed to have a game plan in order to get to where we want to go without crowding the train stations or being disruptive to the people around us. This taught me to be aware of those around me and to be respectful of others. It made me realize how rude we can be when we only care about ourselves and what we want to do. In order to solve this problem, I attempted to learn the ways of the tube system and have an idea of where we were walking before we left the hotel. My friend Erin and I would look at the maps together before leaving and were able to explain the path to each other. This way, we didn’t stop on the streets and crowd the street, instead we were able to confidently walk around London knowing exactly where we needed to go and how to get there. In the future when I go to an unfamiliar city, I know how to be more comfortable walking around and will be more willing to go to unfamiliar sites or locations.

Going along with that, we also always seemed to be the loudest people in the room everywhere we went.  Overall, I became more aware of myself and how I held myself in public locations because we most likely seemed rude to the locals, adding to the ever present stereotype of rude Americans. I often felt that we were being stared at and judged because of how rude and obnoxious we were. I started trying to be quieter and more respectful and was able to observe those around me. By observing the people around me, I learned more about the local culture such as what clothes people in London wear to work, if they listen to music or if they have conversation, and if they spoke a different language. “People watching” is one of the best ways I have learned about the culture around me and how it differs from my own upbringing.

4. I’ve always been extremely independent in my life. Going on this trip helped me become a little less independent, and a little more inclusive in my adventures. I used to think that I didn’t need to do things with other people and that was a good thing. This trip made me realize that it’s good to be independent, but it can be a lonely way to live life. Instead of saying you don’t need other people to do things, think about how nice it is to travel places with friends and experience their company.

This will help in future group projects or trips that I will take, as well as in my personal relationships. Understanding this will help me relinquish control and allow life to guide me, instead of trying to control the uncontrollable. The saying of the trip was “everything happens for a reason.”

Global May Paris- Alaina Sliwinski

Question 1: 

My STEP project was Ohio State’s Global May Paris program. This project entailed 24 students spending 2 weeks in the city of Paris. Every day students had an itinerary of at least one major Parisian cite (e.g Louvre, Centre Pompidou), and on Sunday’s students were left to their own devices to discover local treasures of the ancient city.  

Question 2: 

I had never been out of the country prior to this experience. Arriving in Paris at 7 am, I had some time to explore the city by myself before other students joined. This really boosted my confidence because I was successfully able to navigate about the city, get food, and communicate with locals. A pleasant surprise were the Parisian locals. I had only heard negative rumors that French people were rude, especially to Americans. Once in Paris, I was blown away by Parisians chic personas and their tendency to always be dressed to the 9’s… even at the grocery store. With one or two exceptions, my two weeks in the city were met with exceptional hospitality and patience. I have full plans to do a semester abroad, and this experience made me all the more excited for this endeavor. 

Question 3: 

To begin with, I was only slightly familiar with one other student going on the trip. This made me nervous at first because I feared all of the other students would have a close friend joining them, or I would be too shy to create friends I would be comfortable with and have fun with. Two days into the trip these fears vanished. This again boosted my confidence in myself because I was not shy and many of the other students had admitted to having the same fears upon departure. I also learned how to work cooperatively in a group of 24 people when we did group excursions and meals. Both of these skills are essential to any career and I think show adaptability- especially because I was in a very foreign environment which already made me uncomfortable at first. 

There was one instance where me and 8 of my peers decided to get lunch while on a break during an excursion to St. Germain. Our waiter was not tolerant of foreigners and requested instead of speaking to him we write down our orders. Being polite, we did. We had decided to number our order 1-8 to make things easier for the server. Our server did not find this helpful and interpreted our order as we wanted 7 salads, 3 coffees, 5 sandwiches. When in reality, order number 7 was a salad, order number 3 had a coffee, order number 5 had a sandwich, etc. We had realized this horror quickly and did NOT want to pay for all of the unwanted food. Our server was not understanding the error and it was challenging to communicate the error. We then worked as a group to figure out how to say, in French, what had occurred and we eventually were able to convey this message to the waiter. In the end it became a funny misunderstanding and made our group even closer after working through this problem. Yet again I found myself adding to my professional skill of working in a group, and yet again in a foreign environment. This situation could’ve made us all bitter about French people, but we chose to see it as a funny misunderstanding and gave us more confidence in our French speaking ability.  

Lastly, I really gained cultural experience. Two of my favorite sites were Versailles and the Louvre. I was really grateful we had tour guides for these experiences because learning the histories of these places was fascinating. I find French ruling history quite confusion because they switched kings and type of rule frequently. It was also really cool to visually see the changes in French taste through art. Many people in the 1700s and such could not read, so the history had to be painted and visualized. I learn better by seeing and it was a lot more interesting than dryly reading on the subjects. America also has a rich history, but not quite as far back as French history. Also, in comparison, the art museums I have been to in the U.S have really solely focused on art, and the evolution of artistic styles. In contrast, French art museums depict these evolution’s as well as French societal evolution’s, which is fascinating to see the relationship between the two evolution’s.  


Question 4: 

This experience was really special and important to me. I have always had a desire to travel abroad from a young age. This desire has transformed into a want to study and work abroad as well. Before I pursued a semester abroad I wanted to at least visit the country of interest (France) at least once. I gained so much confidence that I am able to live abroad for a semester from this experience. Now, I also know what skills to hone in and improve upon so I can communicate better when I visit the country again. As described above I also gained many skills that can be transferred into a job. For example- working in a group, meeting many new people, and adapting to new environments. I am so grateful for the STEP disbursement granting me funds to pursue my dreams abroad.

STEP Reflection

My STEP Signature Project gave me the opportunity to study abroad in London, United Kingdom through the American Institute For Foreign Study at Richmond University. The STEP grand allowed me to go on this journey by covering some of the costs of my housing fees. While abroad, I was able to complete my general education courses and studio art minor while learning about culture and diversity in a new and unique way.

My education abroad experience made me realize how independent and self-sufficient I am. I was prepared to go on excursions independently and knew I would get the most out of this experience if I did so. Every day I had to navigate one of the biggest cities and frequently went on walks with no direction to explore and observe life in another country. I was also taught a new form of responsibility through my courses upon realizing my final grade was comprised of only three grades. I had to be responsible with serious time management while allowing myself to be equally involved in the social aspect of this experience.

Upon arrival, I became outgoing and enthusiastic to make new friends and meet as many people as possible. This was a completely different experience from coming to Ohio State University 3 years ago because of the plethora of people I knew were coming along with my from my hometown. This experience made me realize I am able to be extroverted in situations I may have otherwise never been exposed to. The students on my program and in my classes were mostly Americans studying abroad for the semester, along with a few from all over Europe. Knowing that there were others in the same position as me made me more comfortable and willing to reach out. I was expecting to come to this school and be surrounded by locals who already had their foundation in London and at Richmond University. I also expected London to be populated with British residents and to hear British accents from every person I passed. Neither of these were the case. British accents were few and far between when mingled with the variety languages I heard when talking even a short walk.

My classes were small and with British instructors who were very involved and interested in the lives of their students. I was not sure what to expect from my teachers but found them to be extremely helpful and informative. I was able to learn about British culture outside of the classroom frequently in all my classes. My History of London instructor took us to various locations around London to explore the history and culture of each neighborhood. In my video production course, we were encouraged to work frequently outside of the classroom to film either in London or when visiting other cultures. These courses allowed me to experience London in a way that would have never been possible independently and without guidance.

I had the frequent and fortunate opportunity to travel frequently to different countries while abroad. This great amount of responsibility quickly became routine when planning and going on these adventures. I was able to learn so much from so many different cultures and people. I found the quickly changing culture after passing over the border of a country to be the most fascinating. In the United States, we are accustomed to state lines where not much changes over the line. In Europe, each country is like a state in its relative size, however, each country has a different language, religion, and history that influences the people and their beliefs. Becoming aware of these comparisons made me grateful for each interaction I had with people from each place I visited.

This transformation of independence and self-reliance will be valuable for my life because now I am confident in my abilities to be responsible and balance several tasks at once. While these qualities are explicitly applicable to my academics, they also play a role in my career goal of being a physician’s assistant and managing several responsibilities. I have also become more aware of cultural differences and the importance of being appreciative of diversity.

STEP Reflection

My STEP project consisted of a study abroad program through International Studies Abroad (ISA) in Granada, Spain during fall semester 2017. It mainly consisted of living with a host family and taking core classes for my major in Spanish at El Centro de Lenguas Modernas at La Universidad de Granada.

I feel that through my experience in Granada, my view of the world changed in many positive ways. One thing that changed my view is that I realized just how profound of an effect the Spanish have had on the world throughout history, especially with the conquest and the discovery of the Americas. Also, my understanding of their culture became much more advanced because I got to learn about their culture and history in their own country which is still saturated with remains of numerous historic cultures and religions, and this allows people to see very accurately how they interacted with each other and influenced what is now Spain centuries later.

A key experience that I had over the course of the semester was that I was able to live with a host family. This really allowed me to get an intimate feel for what everyday life in Andalucía (the southern, more traditional region of Spain where Granada is located) is like. My host family consisted of my host mom and dad, and I lived with another student in the program who is from Pennsylvania. Additionally, since my host parents didn’t have kids, their brothers and nieces and nephews would come to visit rather frequently and have lunch with us a few days out of the week, so I got to know their relatives as well (lunch is the bigger, more important meal of the day for Spaniards; most comparable to how we view dinner in the United States). Spanish families are very close knit and affectionate, so it was quite comforting for me because my own family is this way and it helped me feel a sense of belonging.

Additionally, I was able to travel to various other key cities within Spain on the excursions that were included in the program. One that stuck out to me a lot, however, was when I went to Sevilla and Córdoba. These two cities are extremely important in Spanish history and culture. In Sevilla, I learned that it was the main entry point for all of the crops and goods, especially precious stones and metals, that were brought back to Spain from the Americas during Columbus’ expeditions. Given its inland location on the Guadalquivir River, it provided a highly secure place to keep all of these materials safe from being attacked by other European powers of the time. On the other hand, Córdoba has an ancient mosque that still stands today from the Arabs that once ruled the Iberian peninsula (the other popular tourist attraction is the Alhambra in Granada, which is an old muslim palace from when the muslims ruled the peninsula). However, this mosque was eventually taken over and added onto by Christians, so this structure is very captivating for historians because you could clearly see all of the blending of ideas and beliefs from the two religions. It was also interesting because my professor talked about this mosque in my Islamic Culture in Spain class. Although, in essentially every major city in Spain, there are still well preserved remains from the times of the conflicts between Jews, Muslims and Christians that had all been on the Iberian Peninsula.

Lastly, an experience that I had that helped me learn more about the different cultural backgrounds in Spain was my independent trip to Barcelona that I took. Barcelona is one of Spain’s largest cities and it is also in the region of Cataluña, the northeastern part of Spain. As has been in the news lately, there has been a political referendum in Cataluña because there is a distinct cultural group living there called the Catalans, who have their own language and identity, in addition to being Spanish. During my time in Barcelona, I was able to see first-hand how Catalan is different than the Spanish language, even though they are strikingly similar as they are both romance languages. Additionally, I was able to see the Sagrada Familia, a very famous basilica in the city of Barcelona designed by Antoni Gaudí, a famous architect from Cataluña who had numerous projects around Barcelona. I learned that Gaudí designed the Sagrada Familia to be very symbolic of the Catholic faith, and this is significant to Spanish and Catalan culture because the grand majority of people in Spain are of this faith.

Over all, the transformation that I experienced of my world view is valuable for my life because I can use it to benefit in my future goals. It is beneficial for me because I am also studying International Relations in addition to Spanish, and I hope to work for the government and maintain the great relationship that the U.S. has with Spain, so having this cultural experience will allow me to be more effective in this. I find my experience to be quite valuable for me since I would one day like to be a Spanish teacher, and the experience of studying abroad in Spain will allow me to be a better teacher because I will be able to use all of my experiences and interactions that I had in Spain to teach my future students more accurately about the country and paint them a better picture of how diverse the culture is and how it is different from Latin American countries even though they all share a common language.

Semester Exchange in Madrid

For my STEP Signature project, I did a semester-long exchange program in Madrid, Spain. I lived in an apartment in the city and took classes at La Universidad Pontificia de Comillas.

I was not quite sure what to expect when I began my study abroad journey. I had been to Europe twice before, so I was familiar with some aspects of the cultures that existed within the EU, but Spain was a bit more of a mystery to me. As a Spanish student in the US, we are often taught more about Latin America than Spain, which is tough for someone who is going to be studying in Spain. Once I got to Spain, I began to understand how different the culture was from anything I had experienced. I think sometimes European countries are lumped together but after studying in Spain and having the opportunity to travel to 9 countries through the semester, I have now realized that the cultures are in fact quite different. Before I went abroad, I genuinely thought that I was going to be one of the people that became enchanted by Europe and would want to live there after I graduated college. I have since adjusted my views, and I have realized a lot about what I want from a place that I call home.


While in Madrid, I met a lot of people from around the world on exchange, and my interactions with those people helped me learn a lot about how other people view the world, and why they view it that way. I lived with a French girl, and throughout the semester she had several friends visit. I found that many stereotypes of French people that Americans have are in fact somewhat accurate, but I also found why French people act and do some of these things. It was interesting to see what fellow Americans felt about other countries and other people, but it was even more interesting to see what other Europeans thought about these subjects. I gained an immense sense of cultural understanding and I realized that I don’t necessarily have to like a culture to respect it. I also realized that language has a huge impact on culture and knowing Spanish made me understand the culture of Spain so much more.

Spanish culture for me was a particularly frustrating experience at times. I am from the mid-Atlantic and enjoy efficiency and a faster pace of life. Spain beats to a very different drum, and I very often found shops closed when they said they were open online, customer service lackluster at best, and it seems like any request made to a Spanish person takes forever. I eventually adjusted more to the “go with the flow” lifestyle: eating dinner at 10 pm, and going into things without a plan, but I also realized that I would not want to live in Spain when I was older. This was a disappointing and enlightening realization because I really wanted to love Spain so much that I would want to live there, but the fact is that my personality just did not mesh well with the culture. That being said, through my travels around Europe I realized which cultures would mesh well with my personality. I found that southern European countries mostly those on the Mediterranean didn’t seem like the best places for me to live, Scandinavian countries and  The Netherlands and Germany however, seemed much more appealing. I think one of my biggest takeaways from the semester is that sometimes things don’t live up to your expectations, but if you learn things along the way it was worthwhile.

One of the strangest things for me while abroad was that for the first time in my life, I was completely on my own. Any question or problem I faced was something I was going to have to figure out myself. I think the language barrier was one of the first challenges that I faced. I have studied Spanish for a long time, but being in Spain was the first time that I completely emersed in it. Madrid has a lot of people that speak English, but I decided that I would try to speak Spanish to everyone when possible. Often times listening to other people speak in a different language causes me to zone out their conversation, but for the first time, I found Spanish to be familiar. I didn’t realize the progress I had made in my Spanish until the end of the semester when I thought about all the things I used to struggle with. My main goal in studying abroad was to become fluent in Spanish and I feel like I have successfully accomplished that.

Since I was in high school, I have wanted to become fluent in Spanish. I knew that if I didn’t live somewhere that spoke it, I would have a lot of trouble achieving fluency. My decision to study in Spain was simple, they spoke Spanish and it was close to a lot of other countries that I wanted to visit. Now that I feel comfortable with Spanish, I am eager to explore South America and more of Central America. Knowing that I do not have to rely on English makes me feel much more cultured and I am happy that I have spent the time to understand the second most spoken language in the world. I am also inspired to learn more of some other languages such as French and German, because through my travels I realized how difficult it is to be somewhere and not understand anything that is going on around you. I am extremely grateful for the experience to study abroad and overwhelmingly happy that I went through with it.



Palacio de Cristal, Madrid


Generalife, Granada

Park Güell, Barcelona

Strasbourg Reflection

My STEP Signature Project was to travel abroad for my Spring 2018 semester through the Fisher Student Exchange Program. I studied in Strasbourg, France at the business school there: EM Strasbourg. I went abroad to be able to learn about other cultures, to learn about myself, to challenge myself, and to be in a new environment. My project entailed all of that, and more. I became friends with students from all over the world: Finland, Germany, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, Australia, India, Asia, and many more places. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity.

While abroad, I feel like I grew so much as a person. To start, I will talk about myself. When I left for abroad, I thought that I was going to (in my own words from my application): “learn about new ways of life, expand my educational and cultural horizons, and learn everyday in a community where I can engage and absorb in their rich history”. I did this of course, but something I did not imagine was learning about myself and my own culture in the process. I realized this first when I watched a Ted Talk by Julia Middleton in my International Marketing Strategies class. I wrote a blog post about it for Fisher if you would like to know more in depth about my experience, but in short she talked about how to have “cultural intelligence” or “CQ”. Julia mentioned how a huge part of acquiring CQ is understanding your own culture first. While abroad I found out so much about myself, and something I worked hard at pin-pointing were parts of me that could use improvement. The three main points I came back with a focus to work on are 1) my emotional resilience towards people and frustrating situations, 2) my stress level-I stress WAY too easily about things that require very little stress, and 3) I need to focus more on doing things for myself than going way out of my way to please other people. Coming to this conclusion was an extremely important revelation for me, and I have been very proud of myself for working on these things even in my last couple of days being back in the U.S.

Besides learning about myself and my culture, I learned so much I didn’t know about European culture, traveling, and life. While abroad I had the opportunity to speak to so many Europeans; we talked about their lives at home, their school systems, their friends and family, their political views. It was truly amazing to hear things and view points that I don’t normally get exposed to. My two Finnish friends were some of the best people I met abroad, and they taught me so much about life in general. One specific moment to describe a transformation I had was when I traveled to Berlin with my Finnish friends. We went to the Brandenburg Gate, and there happened to be a women’s march going on. We stood and listened to the speaker for a moment, and I heard her talking about Trump. My first reaction was anger. ‘Trump is OUR problem’ I thought to myself. It actually brought me to tears, thinking about how I felt waking up in a sorority house of 37 girls, finding out that Donald Trump was our President, and thinking how could it possibly be as bad for these people in Germany, when he isn’t their problem to deal with. My second reaction was immediately realizing how naive I was being, and how much America’s actions affect every other country. This all happened in about a three minute period. It was a breathtaking and growing moment for me.

There were a lot of events, relationships, and interactions that led to my own personal growth and transformation. One of them was what I discussed in the previous paragraph, but there were other times that stand out as well. I think what is significant about my Berlin, Germany story is that sometimes it is so easy for us to live in our own little bubble. I was under the assumption and mindset that what happened in America, mainly affected Americans. When I was standing there, listening to the speakers at the women’s march talk about women’s rights and Donald Trump, I realized that this was not the case. This was a huge recognition for me, and affected me greatly. I stood there at the women’s march in Berlin, with my two Finnish friends by my side, listening attentively to the feelings of these women. This moment made me grow and affected me by allowing me to see how important the actions of America are, and how careful we need to be in the future regarding other countries and our affect on them.

In February, I took an intensive Organizational Behavior course. I needed this course in order to get credit at OSU, but the international version of the class was full, so Strasbourg put me in an English speaking class with the French students. On the first day, I was so incredibly nervous. I walked in, was the only non-French person among about 20 other girls, and sat alone in the first row. When the teacher walked in, it was a huge relief for me to find out she was a professor from Pennsylvania State University. The class went really well, and I was happy to be meeting some French students. However, we had a group paper due at the end of the month, and I had never written a paper as a “group” before, let alone with students who did not speak English as their first language. We did an activity where we chose from six different slips of colored paper to show what strengths we had (communication, research, English, organizational skills, etc) and you had to find group members that accounted for every skill. I was nervous because all of the girls knew each other, so I just went to the first group that offered me a spot with them. These two girls did NOT have the slip of paper for “English skills”, and therefore I could already predict that this would be a challenge. This proved to be true when we met to work on the paper, and it was extremely hard to understand each others’ point of view about what we should be doing. I persisted, and learned that to work with them I had to be extremely patient, and remember that English is not their first language, and it’s amazing that they could even take a class in English while I would never be able to sit through a class in French. It took a long time, but we managed to work together and complete the paper with a good grade. This experience helped to transform me into a more patient person, and a person who can work effectively with students of other nationalities. This project was a huge challenge, but I believe it shaped me into a better student, a better team player, and a better business person.

There are so many occurrences that I feel like shaped me into a better person while I was abroad, but if I had to pick one more I would say that traveling around and meeting people of other cultures and nationalities really affected me. There were so many instances where things did not go perfectly as planned, and we had to all work together to figure out the best solution. These instances are what made me realize that I need to work on my emotional resilience and stress level! There are so many images of myself that pop into my head where I think that if I had stepped back and taken a deep breath, I could have handled things differently. One person who specifically impacted me was my friend Rebecca from Toronto. We learned very quickly that traveling was no piece of cake; it takes a lot of planning, it can be extremely stressful, and nothing ever goes according to plan. We had a mishap when traveling to Greece, where our flight on one of those budget airlines changed an entire day without telling us of the change. We had missed the flight, and I was up until 3:00 am the night before we were supposed to leave trying to deal with the airline. They finally put us on a flight we wanted the next morning, and we were set to take a FlixBus to Basel, Switzerland’s airport at 10:00 am to catch the flight. In the morning, we showed up to the FlixBus station, and the bus simply just didn’t show up. We waited an hour. At this point, I was freaking out inside. I could tell that I was about to start crying—I had gotten no sleep and was completely stressed that we would miss our flight. Somehow Rebecca remained calm the ENTIRE time. She found a train for us to take, got us on it, and we made the flight right as it was boarding. This is just one instance out of the many instances where traveling did NOT go according to plan, but one of the ones that stood out to me the most. I was SO incredibly stressed, that I felt stressed the entire weekend. Rebecca remained calm, collected, and says that that weekend was one of her favorite weekends from abroad. Rebecca taught me that I need to take a step back, and realize what’s important in the moment, and that way I will be able to find a clearer solution to any given problem.

All of these realizations, transformations, and changes that I experienced will reflect in my every day life from now on. I am so incredibly grateful for the time I spent abroad, and there will never be a way to actually express how much this semester meant to me. I was in Europe for 4.5 months, and yet I feel as though I grew 3 years older. The knowledge and life experience I gained while abroad is so important and is something I will remember and continue to grow from forever. I feel like I have had so many new experiences that will help me in all of my goals, personal, academic, and professional. As for personal goals, like I mentioned in a previous paragraph I was able to pinpoint three of my major weaknesses that I really want to tone in on and work at now that I am home. I think working a little bit each day by reminding myself of these three things will help me grow into a better person and allow me to reach my personal goals. While abroad I participated in many group projects with people of many different nationalities, and I think this taught me so much about being a team player, because I had to really work on sitting back and listening to every persons’ ideas before we decided on a game plan. When working with Americans, it is very easy for one person to take charge and be the delegator. Abroad, I learned to not take charge, to share my ideas without forcing them onto people, and to work as a team with students from different backgrounds. This is such an amazing experience that I had, and I think it will help greatly in my academic and professional life. It was extremely challenging and frustrating at points, but I think it is something that turned me into a better person.

To conclude, going abroad through Fisher was the best decision I could have made. Had I gone through a third party organizer, I would not have been able to meet students from all over the world and would not have been pushed outside of my comfort zone. My development abroad has affected my future plans by solidifying the fact that traveling isn’t just a hobby of mine, it’s something that is a part of me. I know that I need to have a job position that allows me free range to travel and explore what the world has to offer, and I think that this project was just the first step to growing into the person that I aim to be. I am forever grateful for this past semester, and I would not trade it for anything in the world.

New country, new friends!

10 Galentines, 5 Nationalities!

London, Europe, and More

For my STEP Signature Project, I studied abroad at City, University of London for the Spring 2018 term. Through this, I was able to explore London, as well as twelve other European countries! I also made many long-lasting relationships in the process.

In all honesty, my initial reaction to London was that it was similar to the US. There were many skyscrapers, a diverse crowd, everyone spoke English; it really felt like any other big US city. However, my first change in perception came in the classroom. On the first day of class, I interacted with my British classmates. They were very interested in the fact that I was American and wanted to learn much about me. I was then able to ask about them and their culture, and the exchange of information truly made me understand the differences in background that I had with them. Additionally, traveling to the other European countries and seeing unique things in each place made me experience this same thing.

The key aspects in my time abroad definitely are the relationships that I made with people. These are the people that I traveled around Europe with, spoke to, and spent time with. I was quite nervous my first week arriving to London. The first few people that I met were the people that were a part of my program. To be honest, I did not get close to them. I can recall hanging out with them on the first two days and things just didn’t seem to click. This made me frightened. I was scared that these were the people that I would be stuck with for the entire time.

After the first two days, the university that I attended hosted a welcome reception for all study abroad students. This meant that I had the chance to finally interact with students from different programs and not just my own. When I arrived to the reception, I was with the people in my program. We began talking in a circle, not interacting with anyone new. After a while, they decided to leave and I was about to leave with them, however, in that moment, I felt that if I had left, I would have let myself down. Therefore, I decided not to leave and told my group that I will be staying behind.

From there, that’s when I met three important people. These people are the ones that ultimately became the friends that I stuck with for the remainder of the study abroad. The ones that I clicked so well with, traveled around Europe with, and remained friends with. I am so thankful to have met them. The establishment of the relationship with them truly taught me to really go out of your comfort zone if you want something. Fortunately for me, I managed to do so and made long-lasting relationships.

As stated before, the aspect of this study abroad that I valued greatly were the relationships. Even though it has been three weeks since my study abroad ended, I am still regularly keeping in contact with the friends that I had made. Aside from that, I still think about Europe every day. When will I ever get the chance again to visit a new country every weekend? That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I am so glad that I was able to use it to my advantage.

Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica – Day 9

After our long bus ride early this morning we made our way to Jaco for a crocodile boat tour. I’ve never seen wild crocodiles before, so that was a new experience for everyone.

We’re spending the night here in Jaco and heading to Manuel Antonio National Park tomorrow. Everyone walked to the beach nearby to watch the sunset before dinner – it made for some great photos. I can’t wait to try running here tomorrow morning when the sun comes up, and for our final day at the beach.

Environmental Sustainability in Costa Rica – Day 10

(Written one day after, during my flight home)

Twenty four hours ago I was enjoying vegan pizza at a luxury hotel outside Manuel Antonio National Park after swimming in the green-blue waters on the beach. Looking underwater at the tropical fish in the reefs, looking into tide pools, taking care to avoid stepping on the tiny scuttling hermit crabs, and watching squirrel monkeys race through the trees. I never thought I’d get to see the places in calendars and travel pamphlets, but I finally did.

I started my last day with a 5am run on the beach in Jaco before we left for Manuel Antonio. Everyone was tired from the sun later in the day (and the sunburns) and wanted to get to bed early for our flight the next morning. We had our last dinner at the same place we had our first, the hotel in San Jose. I gave Mario a drawing I did of the first frog we found, with everyone’s signatures – he absolutely loved it, just as I’d hoped. Of all the aspects of Costa Rica I’m going to miss, I’m going to miss him the most.

Hasta proxima vez, Costa Rica.