Exploring France and Morocco

This past summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the study abroad program, Between France and Morocco: Diversity and Inclusion in the Francophone World. During this program, I was able to travel to various cities in France and Morocco where I learned different ways each managed religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity within their respective country. As someone who has always had an appreciation for diverse cultures and people, it did not take me long to adjust to each country.

Many countries are presented with the challenge of managing diversity within their borders especially with the increased amount of immigration happening globally. Naturally, being an American, I have always had an American-centric view on race and ethnicity.  I identify strongly with my racial identity and constantly engage in discussion related to systematic racism. In contrast, France takes more of a colorblind approach than the multicultural approach America attempts to adopt. Morocco, on the other hand, perpetuates a rigid Moroccan identity. An ideal citizen is one who is ethnically Moroccan and identifies as Muslim among other characteristics in comparison to America, where being “American” has various interpretations and meanings. It was enlightening to see the various perspectives different countries have in regards to identity.

While in France, I was able to explore the country’s contentious relationship with immigration and colonialism. I visited various museums that glossed over the dark and brutal history France has with its colonies. This was exemplified by the Quai Branly museum in Paris. This museum was condemned for its haphazard method in portraying various cultures around the world who—in some point in time—were colonized by France. Our tour guide tended to avoid the topic of colonialism when discussing the artifacts of the museum. Many of these artifacts were sacred to the origin country and were not given the autonomy and respect they deserved. France like many Western countries are attempting to find methods on how to address its past sins as a colonial power. It will be interesting to see how France will manage this problem in the coming years.

I had the privilege to travel to Morocco during Ramadan. Since it is a Muslim majority country, many stores and restaurants were closed in observance. As typical during this time, many Muslims fast during the day and break fast in the evening. I was able to participate in a traditional ftour dinner after lightly fasting. It was enlightening experience. I was able to learn more about Islam and bond with my Muslim friends who were also on the trip. I was also able to break fast with a Moroccan dance crew that was famous around the world. We were able to bond with them through art and dance.

In France and Morocco, I was able to meet various individuals from diverse backgrounds. Not only did I befriend people from Ohio State, but I was able to interact with the natives from each respective country. While in France, I was able to live in the house of a native of Aix-en-Provence. I was paired with a single mother who had a daughter around my age. We both got along very well since we appreciated solitude and were natural homebodies. I appreciated the opportunity to experience typical French life. In Morocco, I was able to meet with elementary students at the Sidi Moumen Community Center. This community center was in a neighborhood that was notorious for producing terrorists. To see these students fight the stigma and go against the odds, was inspiring. I was truly able to feel the hopeful spirit of Morocco.

Through this adventure, I was able to discover the various global opportunities I can pursue in the future. I fell in love with France and I plan to study and work there after graduation. My desire to travel has become insatiable after this trip. I hope to study how various countries around the world address the challenge of managing diversity and promoting inclusion. I look forward to more adventures abroad!

-Amber Heard





Cuba 05.2018

  1. 1. For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in an education abroad trip to Cuba. We toured Havana for 10 days, visiting different museums and cultural hubs with a special focus on the Afro-Cuban history and influence.

2. Beginning this journey, I knew very little about Cuba, its history, or culture. The American education system lead me to believe that it was a hostile, communist country that disapproved of Americans and everything related to the United States. What I learned was quite different. They have as rich a culture as any other country with a lot of African and Spanish influence. This experience has created further doubt, for me, in the American education system and has made me wonder how much more censorship is occurring in everyday classrooms. I also learned that I am quite capable of conducting myself in a foreign country with little trouble besides that of a language barrier; this has given me a new sense of confidence when I hope to travel next.

3. The main aspect of this trip that has lead to this new sense of confidence was the interactions that took place between students, lecturers, performers, and locals. The majority of us did not speak much Spanish at all, but the locals were extremely accommodating and were almost eager to show us the different parts of their culture. The lecturers and performers, similarly, repeatedly told us to show other Americans how rich and friendly their culture was when we got back to the States. This demonstrates to me that they are really trying to break that misconception of Cuba to the US, presumably so that there are better relations between the States and Cuba.

The lectures by performers also demonstrated a sense of solidarity between feminists and those affected by feminism that crossed cultural lines. When speaking with members of a rap group, La Fina, we all were able to relate to their message and their social activism because they are fighting for the same causes as many feminists are in the States. The fact that they are speaking about the same topics many WGSS classes at Ohio State speak about really helped bridge the gap for me. Prior to that visit, the trip very much felt like we were outsiders looking in on their “exotic” culture when we really are very similar people with similar goals in life (gain basic human rights and further ourselves in our futures).


While finding the similarities in our different cultures was extremely interesting, I also found it transforming to see the cultural focus on religion amongst the Afro-Cuban people as a contrast to our culture. In the States, we like to think of religion as an afterthought and prioritize patriotism, but in Cuba it almost seemed as though both were equally important. Many Afro-Cubans practiced Santeria—somewhat of a combination between Christianity and a myriad of African religions—and much of our trip focused on different lecturers that were knowledgeable on the subject and visiting museums about their Orishas. Seeing how their sense of community was formed around their religion really made me appreciate the idea of religious influence on a country’s culture.

4. I believe that the only way to really appreciate the world is to travel and experience different cultures. I have traveled to quite a few countries throughout my life for the basic tourist experience, but this trip focused on the core of the Afro-Cuban culture, its history, and its influence on every day society. This kind of exposure has lead me to crave that kind of knowledge about other countries, whether or not I have visited them prior. This trip has also lead me to question the American education system more and more; while some censorship is to be expected, I believe that children and the American people deserve more truth than not. This trip fulfilled an academic requirement for me, but I really believe it has helped me understand my drive for more peaceful international relations even more.

European Architecture Studies

The purpose of my STEP signature project was to learn about architectural form, tectonics, and theory. This was done by traveling to several countries throughout Europe; France, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, and Belgium. While visiting sites we previously researched, other main components were sketching and analysis exercises, lectures, and museum tours. The travel opportunity focused on the roots and continued development of modern architecture.


My views of the world have changed tremendously since studying abroad and seeing how others live their lives on a day-to-day basis. I had never been out of the United States before this program, so it was a shock to see how differently cities are used in Europe vs. American cities. I have also learned not to judge others so quickly. This may seem like a juvenile thing to learn at 21 years old, but I feel as though we are conditioned to think of people a certain way until we get out and see how their lives may be different than ours. I am more open to think about why someone may be doing something, or how someone’s needs are different than my own.


Before even leaving the country, I knew that this experience would make me come out of my shell. The program is mainly for architecture students, and I am an interior design major. So, going in, I did not know anyone. I was worried that the rest of the students (40+) would all have already met each other, and I would feel like and outsider. But the outcome was the opposite. Since I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t feel like I had to conform to one group of friends or anything. This way, I was able to meet so many more people and not feel restricted in meeting anyone. This was so enriching for my experience; I made new friends with people of all ages and years in school, which allowed me to here many different points of view in architecture, their education, and how they were experiencing the trip.

Seeing how European cities are different that American cities was another huge realization for me. In the US, I feel that cities are much bigger hubs of professionalism and business, but we have a larger amount of smaller “community” areas that are outside of cities. In many of the European cities we visited, the community aspect was much larger. Yes, there was still business and professionalism but there was a much higher population of small businesses and fewer big brand names. So, this made cities feel more personalized; like the people working in them actually made up the culture and affected the daily lives of others. It felt nice that each city we visited was personalized in this way, and that whatever goods and services you experienced in one area may be completely different than another. I also did not witness may large corporation names like are everywhere in the US, which made experiences feel more personalized and singular.

People there don’t seem to be as much as part of a “machine” as we do in the United States. They seem to live in smaller bubbles, but more concerned with their well-being and state of life than we do. Thinking about it now, we seem to be more concerned about our status and career, material objects, etc., and how these choices may affect how others think of us. But it didn’t seem this way abroad. It seemed like people were just living their lives, doing what they needed to do to provide for their families. I also felt like there was a lot more leniency there for certain activities that would be frowned upon in the US, and this made people feel more comfortable and justified in their own skin. Maybe it is just how we are raised differently as separate cultures, but I did find myself feeling more confident while abroad, which I enjoyed.



I believe this education abroad experience has been my most eye-opening experience I’ve had yet, and I am so thankful for it. It has not only affected my thought process, confidence, and view of the world, but has also influenced my professional goals and future plans.

One of the biggest fears I had before this program was the fact that I had to travel alone. Before this experience, I had never been on an airplane or left the country; and I was about to do both by myself. I was a little nervous, but also excited to say that my first time would be by myself. So just this feat that may seem like no big deal to others was a huge confidence boost for me. Along with the travel was navigating my way through countries where English may not be the first language spoken, so this was stressful at times. But, I am happy for the struggle, because it pushed me out of my comfort zone.  Another point of significance was meeting a ton of new people and getting to hear their lectures and opinions. I gained so many friends from this trip, and feel like my connections are still growing from it afterwards.

Along with social and personal changes, this experience has contributed to my academic and professional goals. I signed up for this trip because I have always been interested in architecture. But I never thought I would go further with it after undergraduate education. But, throughout the program I met several students and faculty that have had similar and different paths from myself. I met one graduate student, specifically, who studied interior design in undergrad, and was studying architecture now. She reassured me that the background major was not as important as I was thinking in my head, and this made me more confident to look into architecture for graduate school. I still have a couple of years left for my undergraduate education, but I feel confident now that I want to study architecture afterwards.

Overall, I feel more confident in myself, my work, and my ability to take on any situation I am placed in.



Victorian Crime Ficiton – London Study Abroad

My signature project was a study abroad trip given through the English department. The program was Crime Fiction in the Victorian Era, where the class went to London to study some of the iconic pieces of detective fiction that helped shape the genre while also learning how they helped shape the British culture.

My view of what effects literature has on society as a whole changed completely. While studying detective fiction, I learned how impactful the genre really was on British society. Because of the genre, policing all throughout the United Kingdom changed, going from a militant style to a governmental style, and again changing to include detectives as an actual profession. It just showed me that things that may not seem very connected, like crime fiction and society, can come together in unsuspecting ways. It also showed me the weight that literature carries, how it can work to change views and shape societies.

There were two important assignments during the class that deeply affected how I saw literature and its power over society. These helped to shape my views because during the course of them, I was asked to think about impacts, both of literature and culture, on space and place, themes central to the class. While doing these projects, I saw that changes we want to see must be manifested in our own work, be it literature or anything else. I think this a lessen that can apply to anyone, in any subject, and has help foster my motivation to carry on in the medical field, because I know now that whatever changes I want to see, I must make myself.

The Sherlock Holmes Statue outside the Baker Street tube stop

The first of these assignments was a blog post in which we were asked to discuss the impact that a piece of detective fiction had on spaces and places. I chose to talk about the Scotland yard detective series and talked about how they shaped perceptions of countries and areas that the general Victorian public didn’t have access to. Again, this served to show how a change, in this case a shift in societal perception, came to be. The story I read was about the American “wild west” and was full of stereotypes about the American culture. The people reading them had no other way to contradict the information they were given, so the view that all Americans were brash, lawless cowboys was upheld.

The second assignment was again a blog post, but this time on the impact that a space or place has on the British culture. I talked about London’s “green lung”, or the series of parks smack dab in the center of the city. Essentially, these parks influenced the way British culture experienced leisure. The assignment showed how it was peoples changes and the way they manifested such changes, that made them permanent.

The Prince Albert memorial in Kensington Park

It’s important to note how change comes to be in societies and starting with literature helped me because it was tangible evidence of how thought process can be altered, and through thought process, actions, then norms. My plans are to join the medical field and create changes in the way we treat patients and produce new treatments. This trip helped me realize that change can be manifested in many different ways, but that it must first be created and pushed onto the public.

Sustainability Global Lab Study Abroad – Scandinavia

The purpose of this program was to learn about the practices and innovation used in a progressive Scandinavian business climate that emphasize sustainability. This program aimed to address the common misconceptions about how sustainability is just an additional cost to business operations. The companies that were visited emphasized that sustainability is a great opportunity for additional revenue streams, cost savings, and innovation.


The program gave me the opportunity to understand how much of a bubble we live in in the United States. Being an economic world power has a tendency to have everything be accommodated to us. One aspect of my experience in Scandinavian countries that gave me this inclination is that fact that everyone in these countries speaks their native language in addition to English. This is a common trend around the world except for the United States, and makes traveling abroad for many citizens more difficult. This has a tendency to close us off from the rest of the world and makes us appear closed-minded.

In addition to language barriers, Scandinavian countries believe in the idea of “the collective”, which I found incredibly fascinating. The collective puts emphasis on sharing and doing what is collectively best for the nation’s well-being. The main way that this is expressed in Scandinavian countries is through governmental structure. Their governments, while not all so directly, encapsulate socialist ideals. While historically socialism has a bad reputation, it works very effectively in these countries. The downfall is a higher standard of living, but the advantages definitely outweigh this. Because of this, these countries make the simplest of jobs more attractive, such as being a waiter/waitress. These jobs are paid liveable wages, and it is not a social norm in these countries to tip because of this, making dining cheaper for patrons. Additionally, there is a high emphasis on using taxes for public infrastructure. Public transit is used all the time, and bike lanes are incorporated into the roads, which makes that option more attractive in terms of accessibility. These options in transit also emphasize these countries high regard for the environment. Many of the citizens who reside in these countries take these modes of transit in order to actively reduce carbon emissions, which not only benefits their immediate environment, but also the environment for the rest of the world.


One experience I had while abroad that taught me about the challenges surrounding people globally to commit to their “collective” was a company visit at a think-tank. A think-tank is a a research institute/center and organization that performs research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture. Part of a think-tank’s responsibility is developing strategy for change management. Change management is term for all approaches to prepare and support individuals, teams, and organizations in making organizational change. The primary reason why a transition to a more “collective” mindset is that people are naturally resistant to change. Additionally, problems that affect entire communities are usually large-scale and overwhelm people with how to address it. Our lecturer at the visit pointed out a great way to start addressing these issues is to “make the problem bigger”. What he meant by this was that people often focus on specific components first, rather than the big picture. Starting broad and then focusing in can sometimes provide some solutions you are looking for.

The program also led to a change in how I will approach advocating sustainability to businesses. It is unfortunate, but when sustainable investments are proposed to companies, they do not care much about the environmental impact that can make. The primary premise of a business is to maximize shareholder value. Therefore, you have to propose these investments in a way that coincides with their primary goal. The main way that I see sustainability profiting businesses is through innovation. Creating products to be more environmentally friendly brings new technology that makes a company more competitive compared to the other competition. Additionally, a growing amount of consumers care about how their buying habits impact the environment, so you target a new niche of customers. Sustainability also can have a tendency to cut operating costs and make processes more efficient, which also makes businesses more profitable and competitive in terms of production. Finally, although we are far off of this as a society, the implementation of pollution taxes will become a factor that businesses will need to take into account. These taxes will be steep, so taking the necessary action as a company to make sure they do not overstep their limit will eventually be essential.

Finally, company visits embedded the idea that I want to work for a company that works to improve the lives of people and give back to those who make the company what they are. Companies who focus on providing societal benefits are more profitable and create stronger customer relationships by creating a sense of belonging for the customer. In some parts of the world, governments do not wish to take the threat of our environment’s condition seriously. The environment is one of very few aspects in which every nation must do its part to help alleviate the damage that we have done. Although some governments refuse to do so, some businesses have started to figure it out, and are becoming a platform for this change. Hopefully their contributions will help to pressure these non-compliant governments into making change. Businesses that focus of giving back to their environment and people hold a special power that would be interesting to invest myself in one day.


Investing in this program provided an invaluable experience that reinforced some goals that I had already, but also created new ones. The program confirmed my effort to graduate in with a minor in business sustainability and to source out career opportunities that use sustainability as a platform for innovation. However, one new goal of mine is to one day live in one of these Scandinavian countries. The idea of “the collective” taught me that the way I live my life can impact the opportunities for others is fascinating and a culture I aspire to be a part of. Most importantly, this program taught me that I want to work with an interest that I love. A career compensates for so much of your life, and it should not be wasted on something that you are just getting by with. I loved every aspect of this program and it is an experience I will never forget.

Studying WWII in Europe


Name: Mary Husk

Type of Project: Education Abroad

My STEP Signature Project was The U.S., Europe, and World War II- Interactions in 20th Century History Study Abroad Program, also referred to as the History of World War II (WWII) Study Abroad Program, which I participated in with 23 other students during May 2018. This program allows Ohio State students to travel to London, England; Normandy, France; Paris, France; Krakow, Poland; and Berlin, Germany in less than a month in order to see various World War II-related sites and museums across Europe. As a class, we engaged ourselves with the historical material at these places and had conversations about what we were seeing in relation to what we learned in the two classes we took during spring semester.

I have friends that have traveled abroad and told me that it changed their life; however, I never fully expected the ways in which it changed me. Before completing my STEP Signature Project, I had concerns about adapting to another country and finding my way around in unfamiliar surroundings. By the end of the History of World War II Study Abroad Program, I gradually felt more relaxed about getting lost, instead embracing the idea of wandering around unfamiliar places with my fellow classmates. I also assumed that I would get to know my fellow classmates, but I underestimated how my relationships with them grew and developed so quickly and strongly. As for my view on the world, I also did not truly internalize how different the rest of the world was from the United States, and my views of other countries and ideas expanded. I had believed that I would go to these countries and hear other countries’ perspectives of WWII, having a little preparation on what each of their histories would focus on before going. I did not realize the extent of details on different aspects of the war rather than others based on each country in the program.

In my life, I have never traveled outside of the country, so many cultural difficulties that occur when people travel or move internationally was something I had never experienced. One of the first changes I underwent during my STEP Signature Project started when I learned how to be more relaxed and independent even in strange surroundings. I do not speak a second language fluently, which quickly became a real problem once we entered the ports of France. I did not truly realize how tough it would be to communicate my needs and wants with local people due to language barriers and cultural differences. It was the biggest issue for me on the Normandy leg of the trip, the first place where English was not the primary language. In the town of Bayeux, which is the actual town in Normandy we stayed in for six days, very few people actually spoke English. I could not read the menus or street signs and blindly wandered around except for the occasional times I was with someone who spoke French. The quaintness of the town, as well as staying there for the longest period of time of any other location on the study abroad program, helped me gradually assimilate into the feeling of not knowing everything about where I was going or what I was doing. Eventually, I understood words and basic phrases and could use body language to attempt to communicate. I have an even greater respect for people who can speak multiple languages and helped me on my journey, both members of my class and local inhabitants of the cities I visited. I wished I had a stronger understanding of other languages and that, as it seems more normalized internationally, wished there was a stronger emphasis on American students becoming at least bilingual during their education. Outside of Bayeux, many people I encountered in public could speak English as well as Polish or German. As we kept moving through new places, where I saw and heard new foreign languages, it gradually became less burdensome to readjust to a new culture. I even enjoyed the unfamiliarity more and more as time progressed during my STEP Project.

Another transformation about my world views for the better stemmed from a newfound vision and understanding of historical events. I learned how to observe history through a critical and multicultural lens. While the other students and I had extensively studied American versions of WWII, we had also prepared for the potential contradictions and varied viewpoints of the same events we had studied for months. In France, we confronted a nationalist history, one that showed France as the true hero of WWII when they remained under Nazi control for most of the war. In a world where I had only experienced how the U.S. interprets historical events, it dawned on me that what we read in French museums was what French students learned about WWII. I began to rethink what I learned, piecing together why French historians tell this version of the war for their people and how the U.S. also tells their own biased versions of historical events. Another example of undergoing this transformation occurred while I was in Berlin. I never expected how much Germany had come to terms with their past in WWII, sharing very matter-of-factly how the Nazis came to power and used terror, even devoting a whole museum to this part of WWII and German history. The entire study abroad program that I went on focused on WWII, and we spent a great deal of time as a class discussing the differences between the United States’ retelling of it and other countries’ retellings of it. Specifically, the rest of the students and I realized that there was contradictory information surrounding certain events or details that as students we never learned about in previous history classes and their WWII lessons. The introduction of this information challenged me and my peers to determine what the truth was and see how other countries viewed the United States in this subject. I believe that it was much more beneficial to see in the world’s WWII history in person rather than simply reading other countries’ histories and experiences in a classroom setting in the United States. After the STEP Signature Project, my abilities as a student transformed in checking for bias and taking on different perspectives to understand the full story of topics that come up in my studies beyond WWII.

My third transformation comes from my classmates. I took classes with the students on the trip prior to leaving for Europe, but none of us knew each other very well. By the end of the program, we were all very close. We spent less than a month together, but all of our time traveling throughout this time period meant that we spent a lot of time trying to get to know each other. Going to Ohio State, I have surrounded myself with friends that are mostly in the STEM fields and do not often share any passion for history. It was so refreshing and different involving myself in this program, because for once I could talk about history with people who were also fascinated by the subject as well. The students on this study abroad program were all incredibly intelligent and together, we took in the sites we saw and had conversations about WWII and other topics that helped us understand each other’s backgrounds, beliefs, values, and expertise much more. Each of these people on the study abroad program changed me simply because I got to meet them, but also through offering ideas and perspectives I had never thought of or understood before.

These changes I experienced in the History of World War II Study Abroad Program made me a better historian and a better individual. I had the opportunity to see so many different places and got a chance to live in five cities over the course of a month, something that few people can say they have done. As a history major, I believe this trip was important for my knowledge of history overall and helped me develop an expertise on WWII. For myself, becoming a stronger student will help me in my future career in the education field. With the STEP Signature Project, I got to meet other Ohio State students with different backgrounds and beliefs that had very intelligent conversations with me about the themes and facts we encountered while studying abroad. I learned a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses when in a new place and I learned how well I could adapt and be independent. I am happy that I chose the History of World War II Study Abroad Program as my STEP Signature Project.


Sustainable Urban Planning Practices: Becca Finkes

My STEP funding helped me study sustainable urbanism in Europe for a whole MONTH. The trip was through the Knowlton Sustainable Urban Planning Practices program which traveled to Copenhagen, Berlin, and Barcelona. The study abroad program focused on environmentally, economically, and socially friendly planning practices in these innovative European cities. 

This trip made me really grow in a way that I wasn’t able to back home. I was forced out of my comfort zone, which I admittedly didn’t like at first. Most European restaurants-at least all that I visited- do not serve Kraft mac n cheese, my mom was in an entirely different time zone, and I don’t speak more than maybe 3 phrases in any language other than English. I won’t lie, this past month was really hard. Regardless, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I had so much fun adventuring in the cities we visited. Copenhagen’s winding pedestrian streets, Berlin’s historical preservation, Barcelona’s chaotic city center- it all came together to define one of the most incredible months of my life. The diversity I was exposed to on a daily basis was so humbling in the sense that it reminded me that it isn’t such a small world after all. There is so much to see and learn and understand, and it’s so easy to forget that. From speaking to an Gambian refugee we ran into at a park in Berlin about his experiences and hardships to the freedom I felt biking around Copenhagen with almost literally no care in the world, this trip was surreal. I’m still thinking, did that really happen?

I learned about successful spaces by being in them and seeing firsthand what they look like, what they feel like- I finally truly understand what it means to plan for people. I heard from practicing professionals what I can do with a career in city planning to make that positive impact that drew me towards planning as a major in the first place. I saw some incredible architecture, and climbed a HUGE mountain. I tried a couple of new foods, and learned how to ask “Can I pet your dog” in Spanish. I found comfort in the time I was able to explore in my own, and learned to appreciate being alone. I also learned a lot about being a leader- which is definitely a lot more difficult being in another country.

This trip was so much more than I ever could have imagined. It equipped me with invaluable knowledge and skill sets. My critical analysis of public spaces in these cities can be cross referenced with my experiences in cities in the United States, which will provide me with a distinct perspective in my future career. The self-confidence and adaptability that came with a month of traveling in an entirely foreign space with strangers has already positively impacted me personally. I learned A LOT that I could have never read in a book. City planning is something I am very passionate about, and the month long immersion in it was so good to me. I am so thankful for what this month taught me- about planning and myself. I know it will be a lasting impact I carry with me the rest of my life.


STEP Signature Project: The Second World War: European Tour

For my STEP signature project, I attended a study abroad program centered around studying the history of WWII. During my three-week long program, I had the joy of visiting England, France, Poland, and Germany. Prior to departure, we were expected to gain an expertise on a subject to share with our classmates as well as learning as much as we could from visiting historic sites in the European Theatre of the war.


For this trip, we were asked to become historians and therefore take a more critical look at the events of the past and the way in which that information is presented today. Prior to departing on our trip, most of my education surrounding the Second World War was based on the American narrative of what occurred. I believed what I read to be fact, with little questioning if that information contained any biases. While abroad I gained a whole new perspective on how each country records its own history and the potential biases that could be lingering in the United States’ recording of history.


I came to this realization as I walked through the many different museums in the varying countries that all covered the same topic; The Second World War. For example, my specialization for the trip was the German Enigma Code and British Codebreakers.  I was shocked to see that the museums in England, France, and Poland all held different accounts of how the Enigma Code was broken. Each account was written to put that country in the best light, often by exaggerating their contributions to the code breaking.


This is not the only area in which countries were altering their perception of events. Both France and Poland were occupied by Germany during the war. During these occupations, many speculate that there was collaboration between their governments and the Nazi Regime. In the Polish museums, rather than addressing any acts of collaboration, they focus on their own oppression under the occupation and not the exportation of Jews to the concentration camps set up by Germany. In regards to France, it was odd to see how they highlighted their limited resistance movement and lesser involvement in the Allied invasion of Normandy, but did not mention any acts of collaboration between the Vichy Government and the Third Reich to deport French Jews to concentration camps.


I was stunned to see how different countries had shifted their focus to the elements that highlighted their good and hid away their bad. As someone in academia, it forced me to question what I knew and harshly evaluate the information being presented to me. In the case of some museums, it felt as though I was being fed propaganda, not historical fact. However, this is the very reason I am so thankful for my experience abroad. Being abroad and seeing how different countries saw the war changed my perception of it as well. It also made me change the way that I intake information.


There are many things that changed in me going abroad. I feel more confident in my myself to handle new situations, to think on the fly, and open myself up to new challenges and experiences that are foreign to me. However, the most prevalent change I received from my project, was learning to think for myself, question what I was being told, and search for the truth. While going through museums, I was forced to question sources and intentions in a whole new way. I will no longer go through life taking in information without adding my own thoughts and knowledge to it. In addition, I will be more aware of my and my countries own biases and how those still affect our country today.


While in the German Resistance Museum in Berlin, Germany, there was a section on German youth who rebelled against the Nazi Youth after not agreeing with the propaganda and hateful ideology the Nazi Party presented.  They were a group of college student called White Rose and they worked to dispel the misinformation the Nazi Party was spreading. They refused to accept the information given and rise against what they felt was wrong. The museum asks the question of what would have happened if more people had been like the White Roses and question what information they were given.


In conclusion, my time abroad during my STEP Project changed me in many ways, big and small. It if from this experience that I grew as a person, a citizen, and a student. I intend to take the lessons I learned abroad and apply them to the rest of my education, future employment, and duty as a citizen of the United States. I am excited to return to campus and reevaluate some the knowledge I always held to be true and gain a different perspective. Lastly, what I learned the most was that in a world often full of thorns, I can be a White Rose.

On top of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany.

Greece Study Abroad

Alec Jacobs

Study Abroad



My signature project was a study abroad in Greece. This trip was meant to expose students to some of the historical sites of Greece with the goal of teaching students about the engineering and architecture that went into these historical sites. Students would regularly discuss the sites we visited and the significance of each.


One major transformation that I noticed was in my perspective of the world around me. After experiencing the culture of Greece I feel more knowledgeable of other cultures. Additionally what I expect when visiting other countries has changed. First my knowledge of other cultures was expanded because now I understand Greek culture. This change came from talking with locals, eating the food, and exploring their cities. The interactions I had with locals taught me about the economic struggle and how it affects the common working class person in Greece. I learned that the locals were always very nice even when speaking English to us. They would apologize for their English being bad but they are speaking a second language to us when we are visiting their country. I loved everybody we met because they were so helpful and nice. The food showed me how differently people eat in different countries. I loved all the food I had in Greece and I wish our diet was more like Greece’s diet. Exploring the cities was interesting. I saw a lot of graffiti on every building and a lot of buildings looked run down. Maybe this is due to the economic crisis. I was expecting the city to feel more like a tourist city but it didn’t. I also shopped at a lot of local shops, most of which were for tourists, but also some clothing stores. The clothing wasn’t significantly different but enough so that looking at these stores was a learning experience for me.

As for expectations I was expecting the locals to be helpful but seem annoyed by our presence. I was expecting some locals to be rude and indifferent toward us visiting but everybody was so nice and friendly. This expectation might have been from how I have seen Americans treat tourists from other countries. I expect locals to be nicer now but obviously it can vary from country to country. As for Greece if I ever go again I expect locals to be very friendly again.


One interaction that led to this transformation was a conversation with a bartender at a hotel we stayed at. His name was Chris and we talked to him about a lot of things. One of the first things we learned is that he doesn’t make enough bartending to live on his own in Athens. He still lives with his parents because rent each month costs around 450 euro and his income per month he said was 600 euro. After paying rent he said he wouldn’t have that much money left over to pay his other bills. One of these other bills he had was the cost of using his car to drive to work. He said it costs around 10 euro per day to drive to work. This is some of the culture I experienced from the locals about how the economic crisis is hurting everyone.

One of the pieces of this event that was so crucial to the transformation above is that the bartender stayed open later than he had to while he was talking to us. Most bartenders in America would probably kick people out when they are closed but Chris was very nice and seemed to enjoy our conversation. The second thing is everything he told us about how he financial struggled in Athens. This impacted me because I didn’t know a lot about the economic crisis to begin with and hearing a testimony about how it impacted a bartender was really interesting. He also told us about the city of Athens and how tourists are targeted. Chris said if we went a couple blocks away from the hotel at 11pm alone he guaranteed we would be mugged. This impacted me because it changed how I viewed the city of Athens. Most cities in America are safe (certain areas obviously are not always safe but most areas are) so it was surprising that even where we were near the Acropolis which is a large tourist attraction that it still isn’t very safe.

Another interaction that lead to the change above was one of the lunches we had on Patmos. The food was about the same as everywhere else in terms of quality and items on the menu. It was family/feast style and we got bread and tzatziki, Greek salad, entrée, and dessert which was fruit. The best part was after eating lunch we got to see traditional Greek dancing performed by the men working there. Then after they finished they taught us a couple basic Greek dances and our whole group got to try it.


This lead to the transformation above because it was a firsthand experience of how a meal would be served in Greece. It wasn’t significantly different from an American meal other than the food served and dessert. The dessert differed because it was fruit and not something very sweet and heavy. The dancing showed me traditional dancing in Greece which I had never seen before and this was very interesting. During this whole lunch I got to see how friendly the staff was to us. I was expecting the staff to be nice when serving us because that’s how it is in America but they went above and beyond to make sure everyone had fun. When showing us the dancing the staff also had fun and wanted to make sure we had fun and learned something about Greek culture. This was one of the points where I knew that it wasn’t a streak of luck that everyone we had met up till this point had been very nice. Being nice is something that I believe everyone in Greece places very highly.

This transformation was significant because it sparked my desire to travel more. Before going to Greece I was interested in traveling but now I am looking at other study abroad for next year. It showed me that not everywhere I go will the locals be rude to me. I felt at home in some of the hotels and cities in Greece. This trip was also significant because it changed how I personally will treat people of different cultures and it will be how I was treated by the locals in Greece. This matters because as a whole America should be more open and accepting to different cultures and backgrounds, more so than we currently are. The changes I experienced helped to make me a more inclusive person which will help in my professional career and my personal life. I am grateful for this change I experienced because there was no better way to experience the culture of a different country than being immersed in it.

Through the Eyes of Others

Brittany Baab
Education Abroad

For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled abroad to complete a World War II tour in Europe. This entailed going to museums, monuments, and historic locations related to the second World War in England, France, Poland, and Germany. Additionally, every student in the class had to research a specific World War II topic, unique to them, and present it at a related site in Europe.

Since I’ve been back in the States, I’ve been asked many times what I’ve learned, if I’ve changed, and if this trip will have an impact on the rest of my life. These questions are so difficult to answer because while a simple yes or no may suffice, the explanations behind them are complicated, interwoven, and messy. Yes, I’ve learned a lot. Of course, I’ve changed. 100%, this trip will forever have an impact on my life. But I think one of the things I’ve learned has changed who I am and will impact how I live the rest of my life – perspective. Before this study abroad I could look at things from another person’s perspective and I was good about taking myself out of situations and looking at it differently, but I’ve never had to do that on such a big scale before. I had to look at a whole war from multiple different countries’ perspectives and see how it affected each one.

Although we spent the spring semester studying the parts that England, France, Poland, and Germany played in the war, nothing brought it to life for me as much as being in the countries did. While the U.S. was a part of World War II, we did not experience any fighting in our country. I didn’t fully grasp this until I was standing on a site I had learned about my whole life and realized – the war happened right here. This realization never ceased to amaze me in each country: walking through the bunker that Churchill lived in during air raids in London; standing in a bomb crater at Pointe du Hoc in France; getting whipped with the wind on the beaches in Normandy that were stormed on D-Day; standing in the same place as those who were torn apart from their families at Auschwitz in Poland; and walking through the house that Churchill, Truman, and Stalin determined the reparations for Germany after the end of the war. At each of these sites, I was forced to look at this war through their eyes. These countries were bombed causing many families to lose their homes or even loved ones. Some of these countries were occupied and terrorized by Nazis. Most of these countries were on such strict rationing that citizens would have to wait in a line for hours to get a loaf of bread. I had to take myself out of the American perspective and really try to view this war and its effects through these countries eyes.

Walking along Utah Beach in Normandy

The bomb craters at Pointe du Hoc

Location of the Potsdam Conference

Not only did I learn how to view difficult matters from the perspective of a country unlike my own, I improved my ability to appreciate others’ different perspectives. I received the privilege of traveling with 23 brilliant students. With that privilege, I was honored to be able to engage in hard, thought-provoking discussions that gave me insight into their perspectives and allowed me to view topics in a different way. The most memorable museum I visited was the Caen Memorial Museum in France and I only remember it the most because of the incredible discussion I had with some of my classmates.

During World War II, part of France was occupied by Nazis and the other portion, Vichy, was unoccupied but they still collaborated with the Germans. This is a tricky spot in history in France as they want to emphasize their French resistance while maybe not put as much emphasis on the collaboration. In the Caen Memorial Museum, there was a portion on Vichy and it was worded ambiguously where it left me wondering if they were trying to excuse their collaboration or simply explain their reasoning. I asked a couple of my classmates which led to a 20-minute discussion in the middle of this exhibit. One of them brought up that it could be a translation error as everything was translated from French to English. This hadn’t crossed my mind because I naïvely assumed everything could be translated directly. This led me to ask one of our classmates that speaks French and it turned out that the Vichy collaboration was his specialized topic. Through this discussion, I learned much more than I would have going through the part of the museum we missed because of our lengthy conversation. The perspectives that these classmates brought to the discussion made me see this topic at many different angles and really engaged my critical thinking. Conversations like these happened all over Europe whether they were in a museum in France, at dinner in Poland, or a park in London.

Having a better perspective on the world and being able to appreciate others’ perspective will be valuable in every facet of my life. This will obviously have a significant impact in my personal life. I will be able to better relate to others because I spent 4 weeks understanding 23 different minds and perspectives. I have already found in my time back home that I can relate to others better because I’m able to look at their position from their perspective. I have also found that I don’t get as upset about things not going the way I planned because of this perspective I gained in Europe.

As for my professional goals, I plan on becoming a physical therapist and perspective is everything. I will be working in close contact with many different people who are going through a difficult time that I most likely haven’t experienced myself. After this practice in Europe, I will be able to empathize and understand my patients better. I wasn’t anticipating this change to be so prominent after my time in Europe but I have only been back a few weeks and already see ample benefits.

Part of our group in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London

The East Side Gallery in Berlin