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.