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.