The U.S, Europe and World War II: A Historical trek Through Europe

This May I traveled to five different countries and six different cities while studying the political, cultural, and military histories of the second World War. As a participant in the Ohio State history department’s WWII education abroad program, I had the privilege of visiting numerous historical sites of monumental importance throughout the course of my four weeks in Europe. These included the underground war rooms in London, England where the British government spearheaded the British war effort under Winston Churchill, the beaches of Normandy, France where the D-day landings of June 6, 1945 took place, the enamel factory where Oskar Schindler saved the lives of 100s of Jews in Krakow, Poland, and the Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, Germany where the final major conference of the war was held between the “big three” leaders—to name just a few. In addition to greatly expanding my academic knowledge of the war, the program also gave me a chance to expand my personal self, immersing me in new languages, cultures, and peoples and allowing me to grow into a more conscientious and engaged global citizen.

When I first applied to this program, I was excited at the prospect of merging my love of travel with my love of history through an up-close study of World War II’s impact on Europe. In the end, my time abroad—though undoubtedly fulfilling this initial desire—gave me so much more, benefiting me in ways I never could have predicted. I truly believe it is impossible to participate in this program without coming back changed. My time spent in Europe was definitively transformational, shaping me intoa better version of myself—academically, professionally, and personally. Spending a month in unfamiliar, and constantly changing, territory forced me to become a more capable and adept problem-solver, communicator, and intellectual. I grew more comfortable with stepping outside the box and expanding my limitations, more willing to try new things and adapt to the changes around me. This program allowed me to more deeply understand the nuances of culture, nation, and identity. As a result, I became a better historian, more capable of both applying my classroom knowledge and expanding beyond it. I also became a better global citizen with a much greater awareness of the different shapes of humanity across the globe. As a result, the experience was truly invaluable, teaching me to look beyond my day to day life and its familiarities and instead see the world in its more robust, interconnected form.

It is one thing to learn about European events during WWII while sitting in a classroom and another entirely to stand in the places where these events occurred and see them come alive before you. When my plane landed in London, England, I began a journey that would consistently challenge me, surprise me, and move me as I walked in the footsteps of soldiers, citizens, politicians, and prisoners from an era gone by. This was my experience from day one, when I presented my research on Winston Churchill’s wartime leadership to my classmates from outside the underground bunker that had acted as his headquarters. The presentation was something I had been working towards since Spring semester, and I was excited to finally share my work with my classmates. However, it was even more incredible to do so whilst standing on the streets of London, envisioning what that same spot might have looked like over 70 years before. After giving my site report, I entered the Churchill War Rooms, today a museum that preserves much of the site exactly as it was left at the end of the war in 1945. As I stood in the map room, surrounded by maps charting the final decisive, phase of the war, I could vividly imagine the energy that must have engulfed that cramped space in 1945. Employees—a mixture of government and military officials and everyday British civilians—slept, lived and worked in the underground space for weeks and months on end, seeking shelter from the bombs falling on their beloved city above, or finding strength and hope in the heavy demands of Churchill as they tried to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The ability to personally see a space that I had read and studied about at such great length was truly a definitive moment in my academic experience abroad.

Perhaps the most profound moments of the trip, however, were those we spent at Omaha beach and the American cemetery in Normandy, as well as those we spent at the former Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz/Birkenau in Poland. These visits were incredibly impactful and moving to an extent that is difficult now to put into words. Each location reduced me to tears as I reflected on the enormous sacrifices that millions, from all walks of life, were forced to make throughout the war in their pursuit of freedom or survival under the face of Nazi oppression. At the American cemetery, we laid flags at the gravesites of Ohio State buckeyes who had perished in the battle of Normandy while adamantly serving their country. This action made the enormous scale of the cemetery much more personal, bringing the scope of the American sacrifice a little closer to home. At Auschwitz, no personal connection was needed to be taken aback by the site’s immediate and immense impact. The camp—surrounded by barbed wire and still haunted by the suffering of the millions of Jews who were murdered there—spoke for itself. It is difficult to imagine a more solemn experience than standing in a gas chamber or walking through a concentration camp barrack. Yet despite the difficulty of visiting these sites, they were also perhaps the most important stops on our itinerary. Acknowledging and confronting the horrors of the past is imperative to building a better tomorrow. This lesson was reiterated again and again for the duration of this program, and it remains one of my lasting takeaways from the trip.

While each of the historical sites I visited in Europe left a lasting impression on me, the highlight of my study abroad experience was ultimately meeting and traveling with 23 individuals who shared a common interest—the history of the second World War. Nothing was more rewarding than the conversations I was able to have with my peers about the sites and places we were visiting. This opportunity for shared reflection was enormously beneficial on this trip in particular because of how often we dealt in very heavy subject matter like that of Normandy or Auschwitz. Connecting with my fellow students and being able to engage them in intelligent and meaningful conversations greatly enhanced my time spent abroad and allowed me to get the most out of my trip both academically and personally. Through our shared travels and adventures, I was able to build a new network of peers who consistently challenged me to think critically and entertain complex and varied perspectives. Having the opportunity to interact with a diverse and varied group of people made it easier to digest the information I was constantly consuming and opened my eyes to a variety of different points of view. It certainly helped that many of these conversations took place under monuments, museums, or riverbanks that I had only ever dreamed of seeing until the moment I was actually standing before them. After all, nothing quite beatssitting under the Eiffel Tower at night and chatting with new friends about France, history, and life. It is these simple memories that I will cherish for a lifetime.

When I returned home from Europe in June, I truly believe I stepped off the plane a better version of myself. I am now more confident, more motivated and more prepared to step out of my comfort zone and dedicate myself to achieving my goals. This trip challenged my perceptions and expanded my mindset, not just in terms of World War II but also regarding history in a broader sense, Europe, tourism, culture, and more. This trip solidified for me the importance of historical preservation, particularly the necessity of making history open, honest, and accessible for all people across the globe. I have always been interested in public history, but witnessing the ways in which a nation’s collective memory closely correlates to its national identity has reaffirmed my desire to explore public history further and advocate for its importance as I move forward. In addition, my time abroad has challenged me to reexamine my own national identity and reflect upon the strengths, weaknesses and biases present in America’s own master narrative. Spending an extended period of time in other countries has prompted me to see my own in a new light. It has also put into a greater perspective my personal role in our vast world, a world that is both flawed and beautiful, structured yet constantly surprising, and awe-inspiringly fascinating at every turn.

Watching the sunset over Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland

Honoring fellow buckeyes at the American cemetery in Normandy, France

World landmarks and new friends…a night at the Eiffel tower

The beauty of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, France

O-H I-O at Point Du Hoc above Omaha Beach

STEP Reflection

Name:   Matelin Winer

Type of Project:  Education Abroad

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

 For my STEP project I participated in a study abroad experience that involved a week class on campus and then traveling to the sites we research as a part of the class. My program was called the Engineering of Castles and Cathedrals. Each group in the class was given a location to study. The location my partner and I were given was Chepstow Castle located in Chepstow, Wale, right on the boarder of England and Wales. We researched our location while still in the United States, using books we had found. At the end of the week of class we gave preview presentation of our site to the class. Everyone discussed the basic information about their site such as the location, dates in use, as well as a brief history. We then traveled over to England over the weekend and spent the remained of the program traveling to each of the sites we studied. When at each site the students who studied the site gave a tour. This presentation went more in depth and pointed out important parts of each site. At the end of the trip, we had one free day in London to see the sites we wanted. Finally, we all left each other the last day in London and traveled home on our own.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

 After traveling abroad, I have the ability to travel by myself. I have not flown many times in my life and I have never flown alone. After traveling over to England as group, I traveled home alone. Having navigated international travel on my own gives me more confidence to fly other places alone and the confidence that I can handle any domestic flights. I also experienced navigating bigger cities while abroad. I gained experience using the London Underground. Columbus doesn’t have a subway system even though many large cities do. I think it was valuable to learn how to navigate such systems. Finally, I also learned how to navigate through foreign cities that I have never visited before. Not having available cell service while abroad meant that reading maps correctly became very important.

Before I traveled to England and Wales, I was expecting the difference between the countries to be minimal. Both countries are first world countries that speak England so I was surprised to see that there are many difference between our ways of living. Their monetary system differs from ours. Their system of currency depends much more on coins than the United States. I found that this was actual enjoyable and paying for things in cash wasn’t as difficult once you understood the coinage. They also live in cities that can vary from our cities. There are not suburbs like there are in the United States. Most of the living spaces are much smaller than in the US and the cities have a much stronger sense of history and tradition to them. Finally, the speech patterns are different. While I was still able to understand them when they spoke, they have colloquial phrases that we do not and vis versa.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

Having travel to many difference cities and two different countries while abroad, I was given many different opportunities to observe and interact with the diverse cultures. Getting to eat at restaurants with the locals and talk to them in pubs gave me insight as to how they live. Many of the locals were very welcoming and were more than happy to answer questions about the sites we were visiting or just about the city in general. I also had the opportunity to visit some grocery stores while on the trip which gave a look into the locals’ everyday life.

When I traveled home alone I had to take the London Underground to the airport and from there I had to navigate Heathrow Airport, which is quite large and set up differently than airports in the US. They have a common waiting area for everyone who is waiting for a flight. An hour before the flight is scheduled to leave, the screens post the gate from which the flight will be departing. Once I flew back to the US I had to catch a connecting flight to get back to Columbus. I experience many different aspects of traveling through this process.

Finally, traveling to cities that have these old castles and cathedrals in their town gave me the ability to see how people interacted with the site. Some, such as small children, barely acknowledge the significance of such a structure being down the street from their house. Others, spend their free time volunteering to help the preservation effort of these wonderful sites. There is also a difference between the bigger cities that have very popular tourist sites and those that don’t have as many visitors. The people are much more personally welcoming at the smaller less popular sites.


  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

Having travelled to another country and experienced a different culture is significant because it has encouraged me to travel to other places that are different from my hometown. I hope that having experienced this trip with a group it will give me the courage to explore other countries on my own. It also gave me a new appreciation for home. Being away from family and friends for an extended period of time made me appreciate what I had upon my return.

Finally, having experience international travel I feel that I have become more adaptable. When I was traveling I had to find my own way through airports and terminals. I was only able to prepare for my travel so much and so I had to be ready for changes as I went. I also experienced gates being changed and board passing issues on my trip home. All of these changes went smoothly and I was able to handle them. It taught me that as long as you are prepare for changes to happen and you are willing to find the right resources to help you, everything will be fine.  


Engineering the Castles and Cathedrals of England and Wales

1.     My signature project was a study abroad trip called Engineering the Castles and Cathedrals of England and Wales. The premise of the trip was that each student spent three months before our departure studying one specific site, then led a presentation/tour at the actual site. Studying a site in detail allowed for students to develop a strong connection to the site, and it made the first time seeing the site in person very special.


2.     Studying the castles and cathedrals of England and Wales was one of the greatest things I have ever done. With this trip being my first time abroad, I was exposed to many new types of people, cultures, and ideas. I made it my goal to speak to as many locals as possible and learn about their ways of life. Many locals were more than happy to share their culture with me and teach me about their history. I learned that while America is a fantastic place to live, other countries are also very proud of their heritage. And while people across the globe may have drastically different looks and lifestyles, all humans are similar at the core. Going forward, I will be even more open to learning from people who are different from me.


3.     Several specific events and interactions during the trip led to my personal transformation. My site assignment was Caernarfon Castle, and I thoroughly enjoyed the three months of studying it prior to the trip. However, I was still completely awe-struck the moment I stepped into the castle for the first time. Its sheer size and beauty could not have been captured in any of the pictures I had seen before. I had the time of my life exploring its endless spiral staircases and winding corridors for hours. Knowing so much of the history beforehand made this a powerful moment that I will never forget.

Another key event took place in a backpackers’ lodge in Chepstow, Wales, called the Greenman. Here, Mic, the owner of the lodge took significant time out of his day to hang out with us and teach us about the wild traditions of Welsh culture. He told us about the annual festival where they drink lots of cider and march a decorated horse skull across the England-Wales border as a sign of peace. Mic came off as a pretty tough guy, but he had the biggest smile on his face while telling us of these traditions. He even gave us coasters from the lounge that he designed himself.

Lastly, a significant moment occurred when I stepped into the first cathedral of the trip – Salisbury Cathedral. We were lucky enough to arrive right as the organ was playing, and it made for quite a dramatic entrance. Upon gazing at the massive, yet intricately detailed stone arches, it was difficult not to let my jaw drop to the floor. I then explored the graves of many bishops, kings, and saints who had contributed significantly to the building of the cathedral in some way. Being a Christian myself, this was especially amazing because it helped me appreciate how many people have gone before me to help Christianity get to the place that it is today. This was a moment I will remember always because it was the first the first time I truly felt a connection to history.


4.     Prior to Engineering the Castles and Cathedrals of England and Wales, I viewed history as a dull subject that provided no benefit aside from “learning from our mistakes”. Throughout the course of this trip, my perspective on history changed significantly. As I visited more sites and talked to more local people, I realized that knowledge of history is essential to the function of society because it is what drives patriotism and loyalty to one’s country. This, in turn, provides motivation to preserve culture and work together to coexist in more peaceful ways than those of the past. Going forward, I will certainly take the time to learn more about others’ cultures and history in general. This new mindset will allow me to be more open to new ideas, connect with more people from around the world, and ultimately live a fuller life.

Diversity & Inclusion Between France & Morocco

Throughout the three weeks my group spent between France and Morocco, we toured neighborhoods, museums, and multiple cities, met with local journalists, professors, and guides who had discussions with us to learn about diversity and inclusion in these two countries and how each one addresses them. We tried local cuisine like chicken tajine and used our free time to experience more of the two cultures through sitting in French cafes for a couple hours and working our way through Moroccan souks (markets).

Though Americans often assume that French culture is similar to ours, there were plenty of culture shocks to experience. From people not smiling to outwardly judging you to lowering my voice volume to saying “Bonjour” upon entering a shop, there were plenty of uncomfortable cultural differences that France had to offer. Even though I spoke French, I came to understand that I didn’t really speak it. While I knew some French vocabulary and grammar, my time in France and Morocco helped me improve these as well as build a concrete understanding of French and Moroccan cultures. This is more important than understanding the language itself. After realizing in Paris that I wasn’t going to fit in when traveling with 25 other Americans, I began to use my French more confidently. I had an English accent when I spoke, but it didn’t mean I couldn’t use my French. It was good practice asking for directions, restaurant suggestions, chatting with locals, and learning about my host family in Aix-en-Provence.

Morocco brought even more culture shocks. What made it so fun was that I didn’t know what to expect at first. Whereas I had a fairly solid idea of what I was getting into in France, I had only learned about Morocco as part of the French-speaking Maghreb. After our orientation to Morocco, I learned a couple of Arabic phrases and found those went a long way. I felt more welcomed when I greeted someone with, “Salam Alaikum” instead of “Hello” or “Bonjour.” I noticed that Moroccans are also more outwardly curious about foreigners. I was often asked where I was from, if I was married, and what my religion was. These are questions I don’t typically face at home, and it me think about groups who do face these questions in the US. My time in Morocco pushed me out of my comfort zone most, particularly when my group visited souks and the Sidi Moumen neighborhood in Casablanca. I wasn’t alone in navigating these cultural differences, though, and my RDs and classmates were instrumental in helping me adjust. This was another transformation in me: I came to feel comfortable with discomfort and discussing it openly. In navigating these culture shocks in France and Morocco, I’ve also become aware of addressing diversity and inclusion not only in France and Morocco but also in the US and at Ohio State. Our group was diverse, coming from different identities and intersections, and each member brought different perspectives to the topics we studied. I can bring back what I learned abroad and apply in my academics and in my personal life empathizing with my peers.

What was it that sparked this transformation? First, it was the locations we visited and the issues we discussed in our group. Alongside tourist attractions like the Louvre in Paris and King Mohammad V’s Mausoleum in Rabat, our group visited working-class suburbs north of Paris and Casablanca like Saint Denis and Sidi Moumen. We witnessed the juxtaposition between thriving or seemingly-thriving tourist areas and working-class districts elites wouldn’t want tourists to see. Our visit to Saint Denis was jarring as it showed this clear juxtaposition between working-class populations and the elite in the center of Paris. It also revealed a cultural barrier between the French and Americans: the French were willing to discuss certain identities like gender and socioeconomic class but didn’t so much touch on race, religion, and intersectionality. Our tour guide in Saint Denis was well-versed in its history but rarely mentioned the people living there now: working-class families from immigrant origins. After our group returned to our hotel and discussed this, I realized my own discomfort in discussing identity and privilege in both the French and American contexts. I took a step back and listened to my classmates’ thoughts rather than voicing my own. I took in more information and learned as we often compared discussions on diversity in the United States to discussions on diversity in France. This made me more comfortable in discussing diversity in both contexts.

By the time we reached Casablanca, we were quick to recognize this juxtaposition, but Morocco has different conversations on identity. It is more recognizant of its diversity, but while France struggles in addressing racism and religious discrimination, Morocco tends to struggle in addressing socioeconomic and linguistic diversity. There is a linguistic hierarchy where Standard Arabic is at the top and Amazigh (Berber) is at the bottom. Standard Arabic is spoken by very few, while Amazigh is natively spoken by about 40% of Moroccans. If these Moroccans move to cities, they have to learn Moroccan Arabic and/or French to get around. There was a clear separation between classes, but younger Moroccans seemed more aware of and willing to discuss issues of poverty through social media platforms. Our luxurious, European hotel was about 30 minutes away from Sidi Moumen, a suburb most famous for being home to the men responsible for May 16, 2003 bombings around Casablanca. Beyond the socioeconomic class of the suburb are a community center and arts center working with youth. The community center was welcoming, kids were playing sports and practicing dance while older students were studying for college entrance exams. Many of the kids told us that they wanted to become teachers, doctors, and lawyers, and were on track to go to university. This along with social media showed that Morocco’s future in addressing these issues in diversity was optimistic despite its monarchy and social hierarchy.

Another transforming aspect of this trip were my relationships with my study abroad group, my resident directors, and my host family in Aix-en-Provence, France. As an only child and someone who was used to having my own space, I was anxious about traveling with a large group and sharing space constantly with at least one or two other people. As our group quickly bonded over our three-week trip over things like culture shocks, I was surprised when I found myself opening up more easily. As someone who typically doesn’t open up, study abroad created an environment that allowed me to grow close to a larger group. This continued when I entered my host stay during the second week of our trip in Aix-en-Provence. Living with a family who spoke no English was a fun experience and good practice for my French, but it was often challenging as I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted at times. Sometimes I forgot a word or didn’t express what I meant in the right way and had to go back and explain myself. It wasn’t completely different from my home, though. At times, I felt like I was staying with my grandparents rather than a host family. After dinner, we would watch France’s House Hunters, policiers (crime dramas), and the news. My host family was patient and would answer my questions during the shows if I ever got lost. They would correct me if I said something wrong, which helped with my French expression. It made me want to a spend a semester with them, rather than a week.

This transformation is academically significant because my perceptions of France and Morocco have changed. This trip changed my romantic notions about the country and turned my view into a more realistic one. Beyond France’s beauty are social, racial, religious, and political tensions that the French are often hesitant to discuss. I didn’t really have a perception of Morocco going into this trip, but I found that it is a beautiful country with linguistic, political, and cultural tensions of its own. Visiting tourist locations as well as working-class neighborhoods helped me in realizing this, and this isn’t something I would have experienced had I gone on an organized tour for a few weeks.

Personally, I’ve made connections that will last beyond college. Studying abroad with a group like this is an experience that we all share and will remember. On this study abroad, I was with my peers nearly 24/7, and this gave us time to connect and become close. If someone was having a problem, there was always someone to listen and help out. This helped me become more outgoing and also more willing to reach out for help.

To learn more about my trip, you can go to:

Sustainable Business Global Lab Reflection

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in the Fisher College of Business Sustainable Global Lab this May. This involved taking a one-session course in preparation for meeting with sustainable companies in the Netherlands and Sweden. The other component of this trip was visiting different cultural sites such as museums, churches, and popular landmarks while traveling through these countries.

While participating in this program, I felt that I was able to further develop my professional and global outlook. Having the opportunity to discuss sustainability thoroughly with professionals in several different fields such as finance, marketing, or even fast food exposed me to a variety of perspectives on sustainability. I feel that these perspectives differ significantly from those in the United States as companies in Sweden and the Netherlands tend to better integrate sustainability into their business models. From a professional standpoint, this allowed me to learn unique methods to attack sustainability through business. From a cultural standpoint, I felt inspired by how genuinely motivated these individuals were to make change through their professions.

During this program, I felt transformed by what I learned from the company representatives we spoke with. The CEO of Climeon, a renewable energy startup, gave a four-hour presentation on climate change, the economic climate in renewable energy, and how he invented a waste-heat water generator. During those four hours, we learned extensively about how renewable energy is integral to the energy dynamics of Sweden and much of northern Europe. I felt that I learned the most from this visit and it was an experience I could not have gotten anywhere else.

Another transformational experience happened at one of the restaurants we visited in Sweden, where we were talking with some locals about their opinions on their economy and economic system. I was surprised to hear some of the negatives they had to share, and it helped me realize that no country is perfect. Additionally, learning more about some of the cultural norms and values helped me understand how much that can contribute to the success of sustainability in a country.

As someone pursuing a career in business and sustainability, I greatly valued being able to participate in this program. I feel that the material from this program tied together my major in Business and Logistics and my minor in Sustainability in a way that is applicable to the real world. Additionally, what I learned during this program inspired me to continue my pursuit in creating positive change through corporate sustainability.

Reflecting on My Month Abroad

My main project consisted of traveling through London, Bayeux, Paris, Krakow and Berlin studying World War II. Every morning, my fellow students would meet in the lobby with my professors and we would go to historical sites and give site reports until mid afternoon. We studied strategies, to war tactics, and politics. One of my main take aways from the trip was taking the time to really process that there are more than one side to every story. I have learned about World War II in a way that I thought was universal; however, I have discovered that is not the case. I have studied the history of World War II all the way through high school and taken three college classes for my own interest, and each class was generally about the same. While learning about the war throughout my school career, I started out by learning just the most basic parts, generally about battles and that was the extent of it. As I got older it became more specific, politics became more central, and the approach more detailed. The way that I viewed not only the war but America was challenged during my time in Europe. I began to think about the role politics play in how things are taught and that just because I was taught something my entire life does not mean it is correct. There is always more than one perspective to events.

I have learned a lot about myself during my month abroad. My confidence has grown drastically. I had to do traveling in a foreign country on my own. I did a pre- and post-travel around my study abroad program. In both of those cases I had to find my way around a country in which their first language is not English. I had to make my way from Spain to London and I had to make my way around Amsterdam on my own. However, even though I was not on my own in France, Germany and Poland, I did not speak their language and it was intimidating. I learned that it is okay to stop and ask for directions. When trying to understand someone, I could not just nod and pretend I understood what they were saying, I had to ask them to repeat themselves multiple times which is something I have never liked to do when it is more than two or three times. I had to own the fact that I was a foreigner which was something I did not have a lot of experience in. I had to become self-assured and I had to do it fast. By being thrust into a foreign environment, I was forced to grow a great deal and I am a changed person from that.

I think that traveling alone was something that really pushed myself grow as person. I had to fly from Madrid to London on my own. I had to figure out how to get to the Madrid airport, find my gate, successfully make my flight, take a train from the London airport to the main station and then walk to the hotel where I would eventually meet my fellow classmates. Then again on the way back to the US, I had to walk to the train station, buy my train ticket to the airport and successfully make my flight. Both times I was in a country whose first language was not English. I had to become sure of myself to successfully figure my way around a foreign country.

The first day in London was another time where I grew and learned a lot about myself. Dr. Steigerwald and Dr. Davidson showed us how to use the Tube and they showed us a little bit around the city. Then they let us have some free time. It was my first time in a major city, without any guidance. We had to navigate, make plans and figure out the city on our own. I have always been a shy and passive person but I had to learn how to assert myself to be able to see the sites that I wanted to see since I was in the city for such a short amount of time.

Another difference I see in myself is that I really pushed myself outside my comfort zone during the trip. Usually I am a very reserved, quiet and shy person until you get to know me. I did not go out of my way to make friends. I was content with the friends that I had. When arriving in London, most of the group had done pre-trip travel together but I did not because I went to visit my roommate who studied abroad in Spain. When I arrived, I felt as though everyone had started forming bonds and already had inside jokes. I felt I was on the outside. I had to push myself and make that awful small talk that I hate so much. The first two days on London were not that great because I did not feel comfortable socially. I ended up making a core group of friends by the time Paris rolled around, but I realized there was still half of a group that I wanted to know. Then I made the conscious decision to switch groups, which was something I would never do back in the US. By doing this, I gained even more friends. I can see the growth in my confidence walking away from this trip. By really forcing myself into uncomfortable social situations I gained an amazing group of friends with who I got to have experiences that I will never forget with.

This trip was not just a something fun that I decided to do. It gave me the encouragement I needed to pick up a history minor. Before this, I was just a psychology major, but now I also have a minor. This trip will make me stand out from other applicants when applying to graduate school. There has been a drastic change in myself and I like what I see. Before this trip, I was unsure of myself, shy and passive but now I see a huge spike in self-confidence. Going into interviews and the job force, this confidence will show and hopefully stand out over other applicants. Having more self-esteem and confidence can only improve my chances in being successful in my future career. I am thankful for STEP for giving me the opportunity to go on this trip and to be able to create memories, see history and make lifelong friends.

Sustainable Urban Practices in European Cities

My STEP Signature Project was an Education Abroad trip through City and Regional Planning. It was about Sustainable Urban Planning, and we traveled to Copenhagen, Berlin and Barcelona to meet with various city planning firms to learn about how they are sustainably designing their cities.

Before this trip, I had never traveled outside of the States. I had also never really traveled anywhere without my family, so this trip was the first time on my own, far from home. Because this trip gave us so much freedom to explore the cities on our own, it’s made me feel more confident about traveling and discovering the world in the future. It has broadened my understanding of myself and given me the confidence to embark on journeys by myself, whereas before the trip I never would’ve thought I had the ability to do so. It was transformative in the sense that I now feel confident in my abilities to travel by myself, whereas before the trip I did not feel as though I could do so, because I thought new cities were so hard to navigate. It was also transformative because before the trip, I had not been exposed to different cultures or really spoken to people living in other countries – this trip gave me a deeper appreciation and understanding for citizens of other countries, and showed me how similar they are to U.S. citizens, and how our differences can help us all learn more about the world together.

Some of the key aspects that led to this transformation include the various interactions that I had with locals in the different cities. I had the chance to talk to a refugee from Africa that was living in Berlin, and listening to him talk about his life opened up my eyes to the world happening outside the U.S. We live in a bubble in the United States, especially in Columbus, and these conversations were truly humbling and gave me a deeper understanding of what real world issues that people are facing in other places. This has made me want to make improvements in the world in order to help those who don’t have it as easy as we do in the U.S, and has even influenced my decision to go to law school after I graduate so that I have more power to help others in my future.

Another transformational experience was when I went out by myself one day in Berlin and explored. I never would have thought that I could just wander around a huge European by myself before, and this trip gave me the confidence to do so. Now I feel more equipped to handle any city, and I used this new found confidence to take a road trip to Maine recently and explore Boston and New York, which I probably would not have done before I had gone to Europe.

Finally, meeting with a biking infrastructure firm and riding around on bikes through Copenhagen has transformed me because it has opened my eyes to the benefits of biking, as exemplified by the prominence of biking and lack of cars in that city. Ever since that trip, I have been more conscious of my modes of transportation and have relied more heavily on walking or biking than on cars, because in Copenhagen I experienced how efficient biking can be.

These transformations have deeply impacted my life back at home. I have decided to go to law school after I graduate partly because of the refugee’s stories I heard about in Berlin that have stuck with me. In addition, the transformation of gaining confidence has allowed me to broaden my potential law school choices, because I now feel confident and independent enough that I can live in a new city by myself and navigate just fine. Also, I have planned a trip to Asia for next year because this trip has given me the yearning to travel the world more.



Global May Hungary-Alexander Imas

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

During May of 2018, I participated a study abroad program in Budapest, Hungary, named Global May Hungary run by Dr. Pratt. This fell under the Education Abroad category. It included the Slavic 2797 3-credit hour course and living in Hungary for a month, along with trips to Vienna, and Warsaw.


What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

The primary objective of my project was to enlarge and enhance my worldview to become a better global citizen, provide cultural exposure for my future career in medicine where I will be interacting with many different people from vastly different cultures. I think this goal was fulfilled fully. I got to experience first-hand that there exists a world outside of the United States, and especially that our government’s policies can have rippling affects around the world.

The experience was very transformative since I learned a new culture first hand, not by simple reading about it in a textbook, but my living in and interacting with it non-stop for a month straight.

Upon my return to the United States I notice myself looking at everything in a new light. Regular interactions that I previously thought normal and didn’t think much of, now made me critically examine them. I noticed a significant amount of growth in myself in terms of how I think as well. I have a much more open-mind and understand that American culture is not the only one in the world. There is much to be discovered and appreciated in the world and this project has exposed me to the incredible effects of traveling.


What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

The structure of the course along with the assignments we had most contributed to my personal change and transformation. The assignments were structured so that we would take an analytical approach to examining our interaction with Hungarian culture. In other words, we were asked to perform in depth analysis of certain aspects of life in Budapest, that I think otherwise could have been over-looked. Two of these assignments involved going out into the city and analyzing parks and monuments.

The monument I chose to focus on was Liberty Square, a monument celebrating the Soviet liberation of Budapest. The monument depicts Red Army soldiers, with their PPSH’s drawn, valiantly fighting (presumably against the Nazis) facing Westward (where Berlin is located). The “liberation” of Budapest from Nazi occupation is an interesting thing; although they no longer had Nazi troops in their streets, they did not have many political and civil liberties that a Westernized nation would have. But the monument is not concerned with this, it simply glorifies the work of the Soviets in their fight against the fascists. The monument reminded of many other communist monuments in which the viewer is meant to feel small or insignificant in comparison to the state. I think the layout of the monument itself is also significant. It shows the soviet soldiers fighting in a copper (now oxidized) image at the bottom, with the emblem of the USSR above it, and on the very top is the star of communism. Perhaps I am thinking too much into this, but I think this further represents how the work of the soldiers was for a greater good, which was the state itself, reminding the people viewing the monument that they must always think of the state no matter how difficult the work may be. The monument was erected during the Soviet occupation of Budapest and most likely with Soviet funding, so it was trying to further the ideals of the Soviet Union on to the Hungarian people. I think the monument is successful in its goal. The monument has modern-repercussions as well where Hungarians are forced to reconcile their identity with a not-so-pretty past of socialist rule, which echoes a similar dilemma in the American South.

Parks in Europe are starkly different than their American counterparts. They provide a place of gathering and independence for teens especially. For this assignment I decided to visit Deak Tér on Monday, May 7th, during the day, later that night and the following day as well. During my time in the park, I noticed it was quite different from its daytime version. For starters, it was much more populated, but also by a largely different population. Whereas in the day, it seemed like people that were already in the area would just stop in, at night people seemed to be traveling to the area with the park specifically in mind. There were groups all over the park, ranging in sizes between two people to groups of seven to ten. Young people were in the park pregaming for a night out, but mainly coming to the park to drink with no intentions of going elsewhere afterwards (note that this is also a Monday evening). I noticed some local girls meeting up for a chill night and having a few glasses of wine. There were also a few “couples” with their legs wrapped around each other/the girls legs were folded over his thighs and were showing a good deal of affection. Also, a local “couple” coming for what seemed like was one of their first nights hanging out in private like this. It was very cute actually, they were flirting but not being too touchy and she was showing him funny pictures/videos on her phone while having a few drinks. While leaving to go to the bathroom overheard a group of three Russian tourists walking into the park and saying, “look how cool this is.” The space was truly very cool. To have a place in the center of the city to coming a drink and hang out and be free in is very unique to Europe. As someone raised with a European culture and mentality, but born in America, it is quite nice to see spaces like this exist and be able to interact with them.

Upon returning the following day, May 9th, to meet with Dr. Pratt for a walking tour of Parliament and Freedom Square, I noticed a slightly different crowd gathered. There was a sleeping homeless man, new parents playing with their child, and people grabbing lunch from a local SPAR or take-away food place and eating it in the park. There were still a good amount of people coming there to drink, but it was no more than one to two beers/drinks per person, so the intentions were quite different than in the night prior

I found these assignments to be the greatest motivators for the change I experienced in my world view. Before embarking on this trip I would have never thought so critically about a park or a monument and would have walked right past them. The critical analyses I performed with the guidance of the professor showed me that there is so much more in the world to be appreciated than first meets the eye. This is what I took away from the experience and continue to apply it to my every day life, no matter how hectic it may be.


Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

I am currently a pre-med student, aspiring to become a doctor and I think it is very important for me to be able to interact with patients from a variety of cultural backgrounds, so I think being exposed to a new culture for a prolonged period of time will help me immensely for my future career. I believe that this STEP Project has personally challenged me by placing me out of my comfort zone and provided significant intellectual development.

Aside from the benefit the project provided me for my future career, its effects on my personal development cannot be overstated. The appreciation that I developed for the incredibly diverse and complex world we live in is something I will take with me for the rest of my life. Alongside the ability of looking through a critical lens to study the world, the personal growth I experienced will prove valuable throughout my life.


Advocation for Change Worldwide

Virginia Layfield


Education Abroad


I chose to study abroad in the May-mester in Argentina using the STEP Fellowship. The program consisted of taking a history course about Argentina for a few days in Columbus and for the month of May abroad. The course consisted of reading primary sources, doing research, going to museums and historical sites, and participating and immersing myself in the cultural activities of Argentina.

I’ve become more culturally sensitive and aware in many different ways. Something really small such as addressing myself as “American” was kind of wrong since I was in South America and they are American there too. This showed me how western ideals have plagued society in the U.S. because we forget that the other countries in North America, Central America, and South America are all American too not just us in the U.S. I found this to be an interesting concept since I’d never experienced it before going abroad when I went to Europe. Cultural differences were evident the minute I stepped off the plane and heard nothing but Spanish being spoken. I felt like Buenos Aires had a very New York or Chicago feel but more with more evidence of European attributes from the early influx of immigration that really built the city.

I got to participate in so many different events while in Argentina that contributed to my cultural awareness of the country. I didn’t know much about Argentina initially and didn’t t realize how similar the country’s history was to ours here in the U.S. yet different.

Our weekend trip to Salta, Argentina was the experience that really solidified what we were learning in class about the effects of colonialism which had affected the U.S. similarly. As we arrived, I could already see the stark difference between this northwest region and the city of Buenos Aires. With indigenous people being pushed out of BA and more immigrants flooding in, the long term effect was that many more descendants of indigenous people are living in the mountainous and desert regions of Argentina like Salta, and more descendants of Spaniards and other Europeans are living in port cities like BA. This reminds me of how natives were pushed out and killed in the U.S. as well around the same time it was happening in Argentina due to European exploration and exploitation. It was eye opening to see how similar the two countries’ inceptions were. Yet, the position of the two countries is very different today.

We visited Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, MAAM, and learned about three Inca children that were buried thousands of feet above sea level in Mount Llullaillaco. The Incas in this region held a ritual called the Capacocha on Mount Llullaillaco. The ritual was used to merge sacred space with ancient times and they offered up their most important possessions to the Gods in hopes of being rewarded with things like an excellent harvest season. The children they chose to to sacrifice were typically deemed special based on their flawless physical appearance and skills. There was a big celebration where the chosen child would drink until s/he passed out and then the Inca would bury him or her alive with other offerings that provide insight into what was important in the Inca civilization. Some of the items were ceramics, food, textiles, statuettes, and alcohol. They deemed these items worthy enough to be offered to the Gods.

The Lightning Girl was the child on display when we went to MAAM. The children are rotated out every six months to help with the preservation of the bodies. Cryopreservation is the technique used in the conservation of the children in which the atmosphere is modified to replicate that of the mountain where the children were found. The discovery and conservation of the children is important because it allows us and more importantly the people of Salta to understand where they come from. We can see the belief system of an early civilization and better understand traditions current people in the region have.

The Queen of the Hill, another Inca child found in a tomb, had been stolen and her tomb looted. She was bought, traded, and stored in a basement. Her body is in a very deteriorated state because of how she was handled. MAAM wants to exhibit these children and other findings to the public in a frame of deep respect for who and what they once were. They were humans. I gained a new respect and appreciation for the work museums like MAAM do. Preserving these ancient cultures isn’t easy but it is important so that not just tourists and intellectuals see the history but the descendants of these ancient peoples themselves. Being able to understand and acknowledge history can keep us from repeating previous mistakes and keep us preserving positive traditions.

Also, while in Salta, we ate a traditional beef stew and attended an evening filled with folk music. The beef stew was a sign of the prevalent source of protein in Argentina which had also been a prime trade item in the 19th century. The traditional folk music consisted of an array of people from a man on stage with a traditional looking guitar and wearing a cape and outfit that could have been from the late 1800s to a boy band, The Folk, that came up and added their own spin to folk music. It was like listening to an evolution of folk music and watching a huge tribute to Argentinian culture. It was fantastic. There was even a segment of song and dance that featured dancers in garments that seemed pre-21st century and, based on prior knowledge of folk dancing, the dance seemed like a folk dance. The blend of old and new was very impactful because it showed me how proud the people are of their culture, heritage, and past despite the atrocities inflicted upon and the displacement of their ancestors.

Another place we visited that impacted me deeply was ESMA, also known as Ex-ESMA by the locals of Buenos Aires. ESMA is the site of detention centers or concentration camps that the Argentine government built to strike fear into the community for having different political opinions. An estimated 30000 people, who became known as the disappeared, were kidnapped and put into these camps that were right in the heart of Buenos Aires. They were caged in an attic and tortured in a basement in the officer’s hall all while the officers lived and laughed in the two in-between floors of the quarters. We went to these places and walked the grounds of the camp. It was eerie and unsettling but I felt it was so necessary to be there and to learn about a history I never knew. It was insane to know that camps like these were existing in the 70s and 80s and I didn’t even know it until this trip. It even sadder to see that camps like these are here in the U.S. today keeping children separated from their parents. Its horrific and a crime against humanity. The men responsible for what is known as the Dirty War are still on trial for crimes against humanity and genocide. Can it really be called a war if both sides didn’t have a fighting chance? And I go back to an aforementioned point that we must understand and acknowledge history so that we can preserve positive traditions and keep ourselves from repeating previous mistakes.

All of these experiences have changed me for the better. My eyes have been opened to a history that I have never explored. And seeing how race, nationality, gender, and ethnicity have played a role in that history and how it affects the present is really fascinating. My desire to diversify the field of accounting and the business world in general has been heightened by this journey because I saw the inequalities faced in another country that are similar to the ones in the U.S. because of how people look and where they’re from. Also, my passion for activism for equality too has increased because it’s a problem the world is dealing with. The world is struggling to accept people that are different and resorting to inhumane acts to control it because they are scared of people that are different. I thought colonialism, slavery, the Holocaust, or the Dirty War would have taught us something, but here we are in 2018 seeing children that have been ripped from their families in detention centers because they are seeking asylum from the atrocities they faced in their home country. I hope to continue the fight for equality around the world by traveling and learning and doing what I am able to do to ensure that history can stop repeating itself and to ensure progression instead of regression.

My STEP Experience in Japan

My STEP Signature Project was a two and a half week study abroad to Japan through the College of Public Health. During this study abroad we attended lectures at two different universities in Tokyo and went to many museums that discussed certain public health issues in Japan. This trip took place in many cities over the island, including Tokyo, Toyama, Sendai, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka. In each city we learned about public health topics specific to the area and heard guest speakers discuss their own experiences.


This trip was incredibly transformative for me in many arenas, such as my personal, academic, and career life. I have never been to Japan, so not only viewing but being a part of a different culture was an amazing experience that I learned so much from. The cultural customs of Japan have in some ways changed the way I present myself, and I am bringing those aspects back home with me to Columbus. We were expected to be more reserved, quieter, and aware of our surroundings, which is something I see less of in the United States. Certain places we visited also transformed me, particularly Hiroshima. Seeing firsthand the devastation of war is something that is unforgettable and will remain with me for the rest of my life. Furthermore, we talk little about World War II from a Japanese perspective, so this new way of looking at the war changed by view of history.

The Japan Public Health Perspectives study abroad trip can be broken down into three main methods of education; lectures and lab work at university, trips to museums and monuments, and finally guest speakers that told stories of themselves or people close to them that were affected by a certain public health issue. Lectures took place at Tokyo University and Azuba University, two universities famous for their role in public health. At Tokyo University we learned about the role of nursing in the healthcare system of Japan and met other students studying similar topics. It was incredibly interesting to learn how Japan utilizes nurses in the hospital and clinic setting and compare that internationally to other nations. At Azuba we discussed a number of zoonotic and food-borne illnesses, and were able to dissect fish for parasites.

We visited many monuments and museums all over the country during the second week of the program. These locations include the Minamata Disease museum in Minamata, the Itai-Itai Museum in Toyama, and the Peace Museum in Hiroshima. Most transformative to me was the Peace Museum in Hiroshima. This museum had artifacts from people that were present at the time of the atomic bomb, as well as archives of personal stories of those affected. One woman’s experience of the atomic bomb truly affected me; she was only two-hundred meters from the hypocenter and the only one of her coworkers to survive that morning. This experience truly made me think of war in another light, as well as the true danger of atomic weapons on human health.

Lastly, we sat down and listened to many speakers discuss their personal experiences, or the experiences of loved ones, with topics that we discussed in the classroom. One woman spoke of her grandmother’s experience with Itai-Itai disease, a disease caused by pollution from a major company. She died in extreme pain, but her story lives on forever through the worlds of a storyteller. Another woman discussed her experience with Minamata disease, another illness caused by corporate pollution. She lost her husband and daughter to this pollution, and the pain of events that took place decades earlier was still so strong in her storytelling. These first-hand accounts made the consequences of events learned in the classroom seem so much more real and personal.

This experience was so transformative for me because not only did I learn new things about public health that I would not have learned at Ohio State, I also made lifelong connections in another country. The people that I have met, that have shared their stories and allowed me into their schools, have broadened my view of public health and given me a tie to a new country. I know that I will go back to Japan one day, and this passion for environmental and international public health that has been instilled in me this summer would have never been possible without the help of the STEP scholarship. Furthermore, I was able to meet Ohio State students interested in the same topics as me, and being able to come back home and study with them will only make me a better student back home as well.