London Theatre Study Abroad

The following is my STEP reflection on my amazing education abroad trip to London!

  • Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
  • For my STEP Project, I traveled to London for a month as a part of the London Theatre Program through the OSU Theatre Department. While I was there, I attended 31 theatre performances in 30 days, as well as visited Stratford-upon-Avon, and exploredmuseums and galleries.
  • 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.
  • While England’s culture is not vastly different from America’s, it was my first time being out of the country for an extended period of time. As someone who is not as excited about world traveling, I found England to be a great balance of similarities and differences from American culture. It allowed me to be comfortable and enjoy myself without worrying about sticking out for cultural differences.
  • One of the biggest cultural differences was in the theatre, which is my major and the focus of the program. In London, it is common for members of the public to go see theatre; going to see a play is not as big as an event as it is in the US. At the theatre, people dress more casually, but there is a deeper appreciation for theatre in the general pubic in London. Plays, especially new plays, are much more common, and work is acceptable even if it still needs some edits. In the US, it is much more difficult for new plays to get off the ground. Experiencing the theatre culture in London opened my eyes to what cultural appreciation can look like in the theatre world. The vast appreciation of theatre in London seems almost unachievable in the US to me, but I hope our culture can move in that direction.
  • 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.
  • There were many events that had deep impact on me. The fist that comes to mind is visiting the grave and birthplace of William Shakespeare.  Shakespeare’s works have always been important in my life, and this program had a slight focus on Shakespeare, having us attend three different plays written by the Bard. I have taken an unofficial Shakespeare focus in college, and do my best to take a class or two on Shakespeare every semester. Because of my love for the great author, it was almost a religious experience seeing Shakespeare’s birthplace and grave at Stratford upon Avon. The experience made a prolific figure more real to me; it reminded me that he is not a myth, he was a real man who was able to write so much theatre. As I grow older, I keep learning that even the most idolized people are just people nonetheless, so it was a transformational experience to get to know Shakespeare better.
  • Another event on the trip that had a deep impact on me was the ability to see OSU graduate Sifiso Mazibuko in Hamilton: An American Musical. While I had already seen Hamilton in Chicago, it was awesome to have another chance to see it abroad. Sifiso, MFA in Acting 2015 OSU graduate, was the stand-by for Aaron Burr, one of the leads in the production. This means he not the main person who plays the part, but he can play it at any time if the actor is out. Three days before I saw the production, Sifiso came and spoke to our class about his experience as an actor in the show. Talking with him was amazing, because not only was it great to see a successful fellow OSU Theatre Department person, but it was great to hear about everything he had been working one since he left college. Sifiso’s stories about his wife, who is also an OSU Acting MFA grad, struggling to get work in London was a reminder of why I did not want to go into acting in the first place, and that I was correct in pursuing outreach theatre instead of acting.

    Sifiso and I after his talk with our class!

  • Another transformational moment for me was being able to see shows in and simply work on schoolwork in the National Theatre. In London, the National Theatre is funded by the government and puts on very high quality productions. Recent productions that have had tours in the United States include War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, two of my favorite productions. However, the theatre space is more than just a lobby and a theatre, it is also a café, restaurant, and free public space. Several times throughout the trip, I went to the National Theatre to simply sit and work on homework, as I might do at Starbucks or the library. In that moment, I felt like I was truly a theatre major, as I sat in a place I have wanted to see theatre in since high school. The US does not have a National Theatre equivalent, and in the moment I realized how much our country is missing out for theatre makers.
  • One of my final favorite transformational moments was seeing a new play entitled Jellyfish. The 4 character play stars a woman with down syndrome, and also includes a man with autism. Both of the characters were played by someone who is diagnosed with the same condition as their character. As someone who works with theatre people with disabilities, it was awesome to see people with disabilities on stage in a play that was meant for both adults with and without disabilities. The show talked about a lot of serious topics, but did not dumb them down for the audience because it was about people with disabilities. The play gave respect to the disability community in a way I rarely see in any form of media that included an actor with a mental disability. I was excited and inspired to see a population I care so much about on stage in a real to life manner.
  • 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.
    • The broad amount of theatre I have seen abroad has expanded me as a theatre goer, a theatre scholar, and a theatre maker. While the trip did not change my career goal, which is to make and teach arts programs for people with special needs, it did inspire me to keep seeing all sorts of theatre, regardless of the narrow focus I have on the type of theatre I am making. I was inspired to give new plays a better chance, while in the past I have always shied away from watching new plays. With the amount of small theatre companies in Columbus, I am grateful that I have been inspired to keep seeing new shows, because I am in a great place to access new American theatre. I don’t remember falling in love with Shakespeare and theatre in general, but this trip allowed me to fall in love with theatre all over again. It reminded me of the importance of the work I do, and gave me renewed pride in my theatre major.

Studying Abroad in Barcelona

Cheyenne Shvorob

Study Abroad

This past July I spent 4 weeks studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain through ISA. I attended the Universidad Internacional de Menédez Pelayo where I took two classes which allowed me to complete all of my credits for my minor in Spanish: Spanish Cinema and Spanish Art and Architecture.

Traveling and studying abroad has opened my eyes to the difference in culture and gave me many new experiences. Before traveling to Europe, I was a little nervous and did not know what to expect, especially considering this was my first time being in Spain alone for such a long period of time. I had the opportunity to travel to Spain in 2015 with my high school, so I was slightly familiar with Barcelona saw many of the same landmarks I saw during my first trip. Thankfully, I knew a few people that were doing the same program as me and quickly made more friends once I got there which made the transition easier. I have always considered myself as an independent person, so going on this trip really allowed me to find myself and take a break from a lot of the technology we surround ourselves with in America.

Staying with a host mother during my stay was the most influential aspect of my time in Barcelona. I had the opportunity to stay with a woman named Eva who lived in an apartment in the Eixample District. She did not speak English which forced me to use and practice my Spanish skills on a daily basis. This helped my confidence while speaking immensely and I even learned some new words thanks to her. Eva was originally from Barcelona and while we traveled on the weekends, she traveled to see her daughter and grandchildren. For dinner, we always had salads that Eva had made us followed by traditional Spanish fruits. Choosing the homestay option enhanced my time in Barcelona and I feel as though I would not have had the same experience if I had lived on my own mostly because I was forced to use and practice my Spanish every day.

Every weekend during our program, we had the option to travel. We had planned excursions to go on most weekends but had the option to skip them and plan our own trip. A group of my friends and I chose to go to Rome for our last weekend and it was the best trip of our lives. It taught us how to get around unfamiliar areas and while we experienced a few bumps in the road along the way, we were able to see all the major landmarks and eat amazing food. I met so many wonderful people during my travels that have made an impact on my life. I also feel as if I became more mature while I was abroad. On most of my other trips I have gone on in the past, they were usually with family, but being able to travel to other countries with just a small group of friends was a totally different experience.

Overall, studying abroad in Barcelona allowed me to become more confident with my Spanish speaking skills along with becoming even more independent. It also showed me that I want to continue to travel and experience other cultures as well. I have also begun to consider the possibility of moving out of the country for my future career. This was the experience of a lifetime and I strongly urge that others study abroad to experience learning in a different culture.

Study Abroad in Suzhou, China

Kerry Stevens

Study Abroad

This past 2018 summer, I asked STEP to fund me on my study abroad to Suzhou, China. There I not only had the opportunity to experience the many wonders of China’s culture and society, but I also spent a large chunk of my time participating in Ohio State’s Summer Intensive Chinese Language Program based out of Suzhou University.

Visiting China to me was more than just an academic and career oriented experience for me, rather it impacted me on more of a personal level. This study abroad program did not only give me my first opportunity to visit China as a student, but it allowed me to return to China for the first time since I was adopted from China twenty years ago. Every adoptee has a different experience when they first return to the country they originated form, and I had no idea what mine would be like. Since my ethnicity is Chinese, I was afraid people would judge me for the foreign clothes I wore and the poor mandarin I spoke.

However, I experienced the exact opposite of discomfort and insecurity there. People did not seem to care for these small differences, and if where I came from came up during conversation, people were even more welcoming after they learned I was adopted. It was in China, I was finally able to come to amends that while my nationality is American, I will always be ethnically Chinese and I am more than happy to embrace that side of me now. In fact, by the time it was time to go, I was not ready to go and the moment I boarded my flight back to the States, I was ready to return the homey city of Suzhou. Without this opportunity to study in China, I would still be wondering whether or not China would accept or reject me.

Being 100% immersed in to Chinese society as well as having language classes and daily study sessions with our language partners forced me to not only improve my Chinese but also use my Chinese. As the summer went on and my language skills improved, I began to think in Chinese and mix Chinese into my English without realizing it. Suddenly I went form not being able to verbally form a single sentence to having in depth conversations on societal differences with my language partners. My studies and especially my time spent with my language partners allowed me to gain the confidence I needed to use my Chinese in not only every day life but also with strangers. My improved language skills also allowed me to blend in to Chinese society, despite the clothes I wore or non-native accent I had when I spoke.

During my stay in China, I became confident enough to use the transportation system all over Suzhou and many other cities in China, had not few problems ordering food and paying for anything I needed, and I finessed my spiel on how I was adopted from China as a baby. All of this and more gave me the ability to blend in with Chinese society until they saw my American Passport and really experience the culture in China. By the end of the program I was using every day slang and the speed of my speech had picked up drastically. Before this opportunity, I would have never pictured myself living in China, but now I could see myself living there for a few years here and there.

While this experience gave me more comfort as an adoptee, this change was also significant to my academic studies. I am currently writing an undergraduate thesis on “The Chinese Marriage Trade as a Gray Market” (with a Focus on North Korean Women). My undergraduate research combined with my own curiosity on the mass foreign adoptions that occurred in relation to China, led me to do my study abroad’s program research on “China’s Opinion on Marriage”. I learned that the basis of Chinese society is family and without marriage a family cannot legitimately exist, so it happened to be the perfect topic for me to research that summer. On an academic level, gained some in field results to support my undergraduate thesis and on a personal level, these results allowed me to let go of some of the resentment I had for my situation for so long. Taking part in this program was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

Summer Study Abroad in Barcelona

Katie Sheridan

Education Abroad

This past summer I spent 5 weeks in Barcelona, Spain with ISA programs taking classes at the Universidad Internacional de Menédez Pelayo. In Barcelona, I lived with a host family in the Eixample district and took two classes which count as credit towards my Spanish major: Spanish Art and Architecture and Spanish Film.

During my stay abroad I had a lot of time to evaluate myself and tune into how I was feeling to evaluate what in my life really made me happy and what I wanted to pursue. Going abroad alone was at first a little scary, but it pushed me outside of my comfort zone to be a more confident and outgoing person as I navigated a new city and made new friends. Miles away and in a different time zone from my everyday life in America, I really could reflect on what were things I geniunely missed and cared about. I also realized what objects were and were not important to me, as I was living out a small suitcase and so it felt nice to de-clutter my life of material objects and focus on just what I needed.

One factor that really influenced my time abroad and made this program a more transformational experience was living with a host family. My host mother and father were originally from Argentina, but had been living in Spain for 8 years because their 3 children all lived and worked in Barcelona or Malaga. It was interesting and insightful to talk with my host mother, Marta about her experiences in living Europe and South America and she encouraged me to think about different cultural identities outside of what I knew in America. She also pushed me to try new foods I normally would have never tried before (including dishes that were typically Spanish and were native to Argentina) which I actually really enjoyed even though it was a bit outside my comfort zone.

A part from my actual host family, I did share a room in our apartment with another ISA student who coincidentally was also named Katie. Though we were strangers before moving in together, I feel like living with her made my experience in Barcelona so much more fun because I always had someone to adventure with and try new things and share my experiences with. It helped me grow as a person to have an unbiased second opinion who I could bounce my thoughts and ideas off of and I feel so fortunate to have developed such a close friendship with Katie in the short amount of time we spent together.

At the end of my trip, after classes with ISA had ended, I made the decision to hike the Camino de Santiago, a week long 113km pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella in the northern corner of Spain. Though this was technically not apart of my program, the experience was something challenging and exciting that contributed to my overall experience in Spain. I am not a very athletic person so I really pushed myself and worked harder than I have in a long time and during my hike I had a lot of time to reflect on my experiences in Spain and how I wanted to proceed with my life when I got home. My hike on the Camino was something I will remember for a lifetime and is something I’m incredibly proud to have been able to do on my own.

Ultimately, my experiences in Spain are things I will remember for the rest of my life and I have forever fallen in love with the city of Barcelona, its culture and its people. Moving forward, I hope to translate my more technical Spanish skills along with this cultural appreciation into hopefully a career as I will be graduating in the Spring. I also feel confident that I can communicate to employers my passions and values, as those were two major things I was able to reflect on when living away from America.

Theatre Across The Pond

Jared Grumney

Education Abroad

1 . My project was seeing a ton of shows. I personally saw 26 shows in 32 days, while also visiting some iconic sites such as Big Ben and Parliament. We also had some group meals at restaurants to taste some of the food of the land.


2.  I had never been out of the country before, so my world view was very narrow. I had only known what I had seen on TV. My assumptions of Brits were that they were very classy and polished. However, living downtown in the city of London, I saw a very opposite view of what television has told me. London was really like any other city: people going to work, going shopping, homeless people, etc. They had both gritty and clean public transportation. It made me think that every other city has its differences, but we aren’t all that different.

I also became very secure with myself as an actor. I was a little timid seeing how good the professional actors were, but I could definitely see myself up there along side them.


3. The events that changed my timidness about being an actor were the 26 shows that we saw. Each one that we saw made me more certain in myself. Well, the good ones at least. I was thinking back on all my training that I had done, and I saw some of the actors executing that training. It was almost a reality check for my scared self. I need to be more confident!

I also have a bit of a downfall in that I am not too great at working in groups, which is exactly what theatre is all about. I interacted with all the people on my trip, but I made a very close knit group of friends. We are all theatre makers, and, in fact, we are all in a show together! Olivia wrote it, Ben, Olivia, and I are in it, Olivia is directing, I am assistant directing, and other Ben is the assistant stage manager! We are making great work together.

In terms of seeing the “real” city of London, we made plenty of trips to all the different neighborhoods, and it functioned just like any other city. There were the nice areas, the sketchy areas, and everything in between. Having to go visit different neighborhoods opened my eyes to the kind of living that goes on in London, but also how it relates back to how we do it here.


4. This change was significant for me because viewing theatre as an actor is only beneficial. We saw shows in venues that held 20 people and venues that held 1,500. That showed me how to work with the space given, which is a super important skill as an actor. Adaptability can take you so far in this world. It is also valuable for me because in order to succeed, you have to know your history and references. We saw plays by up and coming artists, but also some classics. This helps shape my character as a human and my character on stage.


My Summer with Children’s Hunger Alliance

This summer I had the opportunity to work as a Youth Ambassador through No Kid Hungry for Children’s Hunger Alliance in Columbus. My position as a YA consisted of overseeing four open summer meal sites at elementary schools around Columbus. These meal sites were open to all children ages 1-18 and not only gave kids free breakfast and lunch, but provided them with activities, programming, and nutrition education throughout the summer.

I had many new experiences and opportunities this summer. I was working with populations who experienced varying levels of poverty and instability in their home lives. I was exposed to many parts of Columbus that are starkly different from Ohio State’s campus. Working at these summer meal sites really introduced me to the levels of food insecurity many residents of Columbus face, and how vast of a problem it is in both this city and the country. I became more comfortable working with diverse populations, as well as children who have faced trauma and violence, and act out because of it. Beyond everything that I was exposed to, I also gained a great deal of experience working within a professional organization. My organizational, communication, and problem-solving skills were all challenged and improved through this opportunity. I learned I work well under pressure, like to problem-solve, and like to work with others.

Although it was a great summer, our program definitely faced some challenges along the way. As I mentioned previously, many of the kids who came to our open meal sites came from quite unstable families and neighborhoods. Because of this, they often had bad behavior, didn’t listen or participate, and were even violent towards one another. In order to maintain a safe and fun program, we had to implement much more structured programming and bring in more staff as the summer went on. I had to learn to be patient with these kids and understand that the trauma and violence that they’ve experienced is what is causing them to act out. These kids really opened my eyes to what many families and kids endure when living in an unstable environment. Although our program could not solve all of their problems, or the issue of poverty and food insecurity as a whole, it allowed children to have a safe, welcoming, fun environment to spend their summer days at.

Some of the relationships that impacted me this summer were those with my coworkers. I was in charge of supervising many of the site staff at the different schools. When issues arose between staff, with timeliness, or with solving on-site issues with kids, it was my job to mediate and solve these issues. As a college student, it took a great deal of self-empowerment to feel comfortable and confident with this level of responsibility. I learned how to communicate effectively, with kindness and patience. When situations arose that were out of my control, I had to know when to move to a higher-up individual to help me solve the problem.

This internship gave me a lot of great experience working within a public health organization. I feel confident seeking out employment post-graduation because I know that I can handle working within a professional organization of this kind. It also confirmed for me that public health is the right field for me. I am eager to work towards positive change, and dedicate my time to doing something that I know is making the world a better place. Being able to work with diverse populations and in unfamiliar communities is a skill that I know feel confidently that I have, and will benefit me greatly in my future endeavors.

Spain STEP Reflection

Name: Shelby Naegele

Type of Project: Education Abroad


I went on a six-week study abroad program in Toledo, Spain. I took classes in La Fundacion Jose Ortega y Gasset – Gregorio Marañon located in what used to be a convent in the heart of the city. During the program, I lived with a host family which allowed me to interact with locals in the suburbs and then would take the public bus to attend my classes in the evenings.


This trip and living with a Spanish family really transformed my view on life. It made me re- evaluate the importance of family and community. It made me want to take more time to appreciate the people in my life that I truly care about. It also gave me a newfound appreciation for stillness and relaxing. I am a very scheduled person by nature. I am used to doing something at all times; I used to feel almost anxious if I was not actively staying busy. During this trip, however, I learned an appreciation for taking time to rest during your day. There is value and benefit to not having something to do at every hour. Also, I used to reserve the weekdays for basically just class, homework, and working. However, I no longer think that I should keep waiting until the weekend before I allow myself to do something fun. I now want to incorporate time for visiting family and friends or doing something enjoyable during the middle of the work-week because I would like to make my connections with people and myself more of a priority in my life.

This experience also gave me a huge increase in confidence and independence, as well as a desire to become a more global citizen. I had never traveled solo before, and I was quite intimidated at the thought of leaving the familiarity of my home country to go to a place where I knew no one and my language skills were below average. After realizing that I can navigate my way through a foreign country and overcome the problems that arise along the way, I felt really empowered as a person. Traveling abroad has made me more closely examine the way I view my own culture and sparked curiosity to learn about other cultures and visit more countries. Through the practice and use of my Spanish, I also became less self-conscious about my ability to communicate in another language. I’m a long way from perfect, but seeing how far I had come in my language abilities was encouraging and only gave me more motivation to seek out opportunities to further develop my Spanish in my hometown.

My participation in this program also gave me a greater appreciation for the arts. A large majority of my university classes in the United States are science based because I am a Molecular Genetics major. While in Toledo, however, I decided to take two art focused classes. One class taught about the history of architecture and the other was a class on famous Spanish painters. While I still love science, I was much more fascinated by these classes than I expected to be given the drastic switch in course topics. I became aware during my time in Toledo that when you actually understand art, it makes it a lot more interesting. I now know you can learn a lot about a country through its art and architecture. In this way, both of the classes were really helpful in increasing my understanding of the culture and history of not only the city I was staying in, but also Spain and Europe as a whole. I really enjoyed walking around the streets of various cities and being able to identify key characteristics in the architecture of the buildings, applying in real life what I had learned in class.


My relationship with my host mother was probably one of the biggest factors in my transformation. She immediately welcomed me into the family and included me in activities in a way that made me feel really integrated into the Spanish culture, at least of her family and neighborhood. Observing her relationships with both her family and her neighbors inspired me to make some changes in my own life. It was evident from watching her life that her family and friends are of the utmost priority to her. Almost every day we ate lunch together as a family and even her extended family would stop by the house multiple times a week. At night she spent time with her neighbors and friends in what they called the “fresco.” The “fresco” was the name for when all of the female neighbors would bring their lawn chairs down in the street by the pool and just sit spending time together and talking. This nightly reunion happened every single night I was there without fail starting around eleven. I really enjoyed the strong sense of community and support it created. It made me rethink the amount of time I devote during the week to connecting with my friends and family. Normally when I am stressed by my workload, I tend to seclude myself, but I’ve learned it can be beneficial to your well-being and productivity to take a break to relax with people that love you. After following my host mom around, I now want to set aside time during my week to be with my friends and family so that my life is a more accurate reflection of my priorities because people are what matter.

Planning a couple of weekend trips with my friends really transformed my confidence and taught me the very important traits of adaptability and problem solving. When I first arrived in Madrid off of the airplane I was excited but really nervous. I was flustered as I tried to get around the giant international airport to find the bus that was supposed to pick me up, worried that I would miss it. I had no idea what I was going to do if they left me behind. After traveling several weekends with a friend during the program, I gained a lot more faith in myself. I realized that I did not need to panic if something did not go according to plan because I could figure things out. Being able to be flexible can really be an advantage. Just before our trip to the northern coast of Spain, our transportation got cancelled. It did not mean the trip was over though, we just had to change our bus tickets and we ended up getting to stay a day longer. I really noticed how completely different my mentality was from the beginning of the trip when I spent a full day in Madrid completely alone the day before my return flight. I had a great time visiting parks, touring a museum, and eating dinner with people I had met that day at the hostel. The following morning as I navigated the subway and returned to the once stressful airport by myself now feeling at ease, I felt more empowered to be able to handle the inevitable challenges of life, especially in the United States where I would have the advantage of my native language.

My art classes with my professor were also very influential in the transformative nature of this experience. I had the same professor for both of my classes and her expertise and enthusiasm were phenomenal. The passion she had for teaching art and architecture was contagious and inspiring. She took us out of the classroom and around the streets of Toledo during multiple classes during my architecture class and graciously explained any question. It really increased the depth of my understanding to be able to actually see what we were talking about and practice as we were learning it. It made me notice little details in the city I was living in that I would have missed otherwise if I had not taken the class. There was a field trip to the Prado museum with the class over the master painters of Spain. I had never taken a formal art class before so during the admittedly few trips I had made to museums in the past, I think I missed out on a lot due to a lack of understanding. Now, I think knowledge and discussion develops appreciation and respect no matter what field you study. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to the Prado because I had been studying the historical significance and the lives of the painters that led to the creation of the works. I think it was a lot more interesting to look at the paintings in context instead of just viewing the works as isolated arrangements of colors and shapes. Now that I know that I have more of an interest in art, I would like to try to visit some museums here in the United States.


This study abroad to Spain has been valuable to my life for many reasons. Firstly, this trip was the first time I had ever travelled solo. Having to plan, budget, and travel by myself really developed my confidence and independence which are important for becoming a contributing member of adult society. I think the exposure to new concepts and ways of living has made me a more well-rounded person and allowed me increase my ability to adapt. It made me realize that I am not dependent on other people to go travel and made me want to go explore more cultures and countries. Living in another culture has increased my openmindedness and made me more accepting of manners of living that are different than my own. There are so many people even within the United States who come from different backgrounds with their own customs and values. I believe it is important to be accepting and celebrate diversity because it is our differences that make us stronger. I ,also, gained a lot of empathy for people that have to learn English as a second language because language acquisition can be frustrating at times because it is hard to demonstrate all the facets of your personality if you do not have total command of the language used to convey it. The final reason that this trip was very valuable to me was the amount of practice it allowed me to have with my Spanish skills. I have wanted to be bilingual for a long time because I want to be able to communicate with a larger percentage of the world. This trip allowed me to be immersed in the Spanish language and live with someone who helped me practice every day in a patient, supportive manner. While I still probably would not say I am fluent, my Spanish have improved tremendously, and I am able to communicate pretty effectively. It has only inspired me to continue improving my Spanish and seek out opportunities to practice in my hometown.

A Month in Barcelona: Study Abroad

For my STEP signature project, I traveled to Spain to live in the beautiful city of Barcelona for the month of July. While I was in Spain, I took two Spanish classes, Cinema and Literature, in order to receive academic credit and finish my Spanish minor. Additionally, on the weekends I traveled to other parts of Spain with other ISA students as a part of ISA excursions.

I believe that anytime you travel outside of the United States, you gain a more wholistic understanding of the world, and your mind opens up to the possibility of things being done and life being lived in a way that is different than the United States. I believe the greatest impact this trip had on me personally was exposing me to different experiences that challenged my beliefs about the way things “should” be done. I think it can be easy to live in the U.S. and think that its way of life is the end all, be all because, truth be told, Americans have made it easy to cut themselves off from things they do not want to be exposed to. Many Americans believe that the U.S. is the greatest country on Earth, and while there is nothing wrong with being proud of where you come from, it can lead to a lack of awareness about the rest of the world. For me, traveling outside of the U.S. always poses challenges that American Exceptionalism mentality.

It was partially due to this mentality that I tended to feel like everyone outside of my small bubble was very different from me. Not that I was better than them, but just different in a way that would prohibit me from getting along with people who weren’t just like me. I think a lot of people feel that way: we’re all in our own little bubbles full of things that we like, and we block out things that we don’t. Traveling to a new country for such an extended period of time worried me that I simply wouldn’t feel like I could fit in, or that I wouldn’t get along with the people there because our cultures and background were just so different. I was afraid to engage with them because I didn’t think they would want to engage with me. However, while talking to my host mom about differences in American and European culture, her point of view quickly became the foundation for my mentality for the rest of my trip. I kept pointing out our differences, and she listened to me compare and contrast, but then simply said “somos los mismos”, or “we are the same”. She said it didn’t matter where we came from or how different our language or cultures were. We’re all just people. No matter where we come from or what we’ve experienced, fundamentally we are just human beings searching for fulfillment and happiness in life.

This conversation, which I had near the end of my trip, lesson allowed me to reflect on my experiences in a different way. I realized that the world is big (7.4 billion people to be exact), but also, it’s actually quite small. While watching a World Cup game, I met a Mexican couple vacationing in Spain who were doctors and had actually been to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio for a medical conference a few years ago. Despite the fact that we came from very different backgrounds, our life experiences had somehow managed to cross paths in a very unique way. I got to sit with my friends at top of old military bunkers with an incredible view of Barcelona, while a bunch of other groups of kids my age did the same with their friends: enjoying the view, enjoying each other’s company, enjoying life in general. We were all from different places and spoke different languages, but somehow, we all ended up in the same place, at the same time, looking at the same beautiful city. Views like the one at the top of Bunkers de Carmel transform a person because they remind you of how big and vast life is, even if it seems like, for now, you are stuck in school or in a job you hate or city you don’t like.

This trip affected my life and future because it showed me the kind of experiences I want to continue to have. Going abroad reminded me that there is still so much of the world I haven’t seen or experienced, and I want to keep traveling so that I can enjoy as much of the world as I can in the small amount of time we get on Earth. Traveling to Barcelona also showed me the kind of things I’d like to have in whichever city I decide to live in in the future. It also made me a more independent person; there were a lot of things that I had to do, figure out, or keep track of, and learning to do that by yourself and to rely on your own instincts and knowledge makes you into a very competent and responsible adult. I truly feel that this trip helped me to grow as a person, figure out who I am and what I want, and it gave me the adventure of a lifetime. I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity, and I hope I will be privileged enough in life to have many more similar adventures.

Student, Service-Learner, and Original Inquirer: Reflecting over my 9-week STEP Project in Heredia, Costa Rica

STEP Reflection

Fall 2018

Name: Carra Gilson

Type of Project: Study Abroad and Service-Learning experience

  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.

The experience that I applied my STEP funds toward allowed me to engage in a nine week experience abroad, to both finish my Spanish minor through five weeks of coursework, and to participate actively as a service learning participant with two different local host organizations; Hogar Madre Berta (a nursing home) and Clínica CEDCAS (a private clinic and public community engagement center) to incorporate public health perspectives and practices.  Throughout the entirety of my experience I was placed within a host family, which extended my view of the linguistic dynamics of the Spanish language and further connected me to a deeper understanding of the integral role that family plays within Latin American culture.


  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.

During my five weeks of coursework I was introduced not only to the technical terms and approaches to the Spanish language, but also cultural and historical impacts that continue to drive aspects of Costa Rican and Latin American culture which are evident in daily life. Furthermore, the two courses in which I engaged were incredibly influential to my development of Spanish speaking, writing and analytical skills that only further empowered me to utilize the language in daily interactions with my host family, fellow students and locals.


Throughout my last four weeks of the program I had the chance to not only build upon present interventions and programs set in place at both of my sites, but additionally explore and develop solutions for current problems within the communities, from a public health perspective of prevention.


  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.

Being hosted by two different local host organizations in Costa Rica, I was given the chance to explore public health from a global perspective that could not have been obtained in Columbus. While many of the initiatives set in place at both the nursing home and Clinic I served within were offering similar services and opportunities to the communities that can be found here in Columbus, I encountered a variety of cultural and linguistic nuances that impacted the services and how such care was received within the communities being served. I am thankful for the four weeks spent, specifically at the clinic which I spent a majority of my time in, because through this service learning experience I gained hands-on experience with data analysis, community engagement, and program development that was unique to the populations we were serving and the staff I was working alongside. In particular, I had the chance to further explore the dental health challenges faced within a specific population of Nicaraguan immigrants that live in an area serviced by the clinic. I was able to synthesize and analyze data in a way that provided insights into the impact of current interventions, as well as the need for further investment into specifically early interventions and preventative education. While this experience was unique to the specific area of Costa Rica that I was serving, I look forward to bringing back what I have learned toward greater exploration in the classroom and throughout the Columbus area.

One of my greatest learning objectives for this experience was to improve Spanish skills in order to both hold formal and informal conversations. Thankfully I was able to achieve a speaking ability far beyond what I ever anticipated. While I would not call myself fluent in the language yet, I gained a great amount of confidence in the abilities that I was able to develop, as well as the potential I felt I held within me as I returned home. Another very important objective was to become more aware of the social and cultural influences that contribute to negative health outcomes Heredia, the city and province that I was specifically placed within for my service learning Experience. Thankfully I can also say that I have achieved this objective very well, given the amount of insights I was able to understand and delve into during my time, specifically at the clinic. An interesting influence that specifically comes to mind when thinking about negative health outcomes, which I worked so directly with during my four weeks at the clinic, was the impact that the practice of adding syrup to milk in the bottles of young children has, from the time they are in their first year of life and further on in their childhood. This common, yet dangerous practice leads to many cavities and dental infections that not only create concerns in the first years of life  but also perpetuate themselves when paired with the lack of prevalent or well-practiced dental hygiene and dental care in the country. This is one of many social and cultural influences that contribute to many negative health outcomes in the area that I was serving and throughout the country. I am thankful to bring many of these perspectives back with me as I continue my studies in health behavior and health promotion over the next two years.


A final objective that I set for myself at the beginning of my time in Costa Rica was to effectively communicate both the challenges mentioned earlier and the present interventions being integrated into the community to address the barriers. Most of my time spent at the clinic in Heredia was focused on not only understanding the challenges but developing more effective solutions and potential interventions through prevention education in order to focus on the specific barriers in the community and overcome them by being knowledgeable and intentional. I am so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had because not only do I feel that I was able to make a small yet sustainable impact on the community, but I will also be able to bring back those experiences to the classroom.


  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.

After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in public health with a specialization in sociology and a minor degree in Spanish, I will continue in my dual degree program through the College Of Public Health to graduate with my master’s degree in 2020. After this graduation it is my aspiration to work toward advocating for improved maternal and child health outcomes, specifically with a focus on infant mortality and prenatal care improvement. I also am passionate about advocating for and potentially working with human trafficking survivors. My overarching goal, post-graduation, is to be an active presence in any mission that empowers women to achieve their fullest potential by reducing barriers, connecting to resources and increasing access to care and opportunities for success.


I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to have received funding toward a truly transformational experience over a nine week period. The depth and impact of such an opportunity extends far beyond the nine weeks that I spent in a new country, immersed in the language that I hope to utilize in my future work experiences, and gaining hands-on experience in a public health setting. This opportunity has expanded my worldview of the impact that culture has on health challenges and behaviors, and reiterated for me the importance of an inclusive mindset towards a variety of identities. The support and impact of this STEP program is not something I can put into words, but rather something that I will aim to repay through my actions as an active and dedicated public health professional as I continue my career in this incredible field.

Lima, Peru Study Abroad Experience

Name: Pierce Ciccone
Type of Project: Study Abroad

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  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.

The first month of my STEP project centered on taking classes at a local university in Lima, Peru called Universidad del Pacífico. The second month of my time abroad was spent volunteering with an organization called Aprendo Contigo to provide educational opportunities to children in two separate hospitals within the city.

  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.

My view of the world and of myself grew and matured immensely during my time in Peru. For example, while in Peru I had to learn and utilize public transportation to go to and from my service-learning site each day. This was something I was not used to and rarely did in the United States. In addition, I had to experience for the first couple weeks what it felt like to struggle to communicate with a majority of the people there due to the language barrier. I now realize and can empathize with people from other countries that immigrate to the United States but have difficulty communicating to others. In regards to myself, I learned about my ability to handle challenging situations and my capacity for empathy, both very present during my time volunteering in the hospitals with the children. One of my responsibilities was helping to teach the kids basic educational concepts in math, science, reading and communication to keep them on track to continue school after they had healed. However, at times it was difficult to properly explain what I was trying to say and had to ask the children for help by giving them context clues and by finding an alternate way to express my idea.

  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.

There were three main aspects of my time in Lima that led to these transformations of thought and feeling over the course of my two months there. They were: the Peruvian friends I made in university, the children I served and my trip to Machu Picchu.

First, I made multiple lasting friendships in Lima with students from Peru attending those universities. What strikes me the most now, as I sit here reflecting on how our friendships were forged, was that even though we had our differences, we were also very similar. For example, they would ask about the United States and our culture because they were naturally curious (if they had not already traveled there to visit family or for vacation), just as all of us were about the culture in Peru. They had strong beliefs and attitudes about the corruption and poverty facing their country as we have similar sentiments with issues closer to home such as immigration and the economy. They taught me to keep an open mind and pushed me to get out of my comfort zone by trying new foods, going new places and most of all, talking in Spanish. Even though at times we had some trouble communicating, we could still hold conversations well enough to make each other laugh and have fun, which demonstrated to me just how easy it can be to meet someone you might not think is possible before it’s done.

Secondly, the children in the hospital showed me and told me many things about their life that made me realize things about my own. For example, some of the kids would talk about their inadequate living conditions, but yet were always grateful to be in the hospital where they were going to “get better”. Their parents shared the same idea; they would not complain about having to sleep in a metal chair alongside their child for nights in a row or how overcrowded the hospital was. They would only thank me for everything that I was doing and say how grateful they were to be there. It gave me some perspective into what I have to be grateful for here living in the United States, where the healthcare conditions in public hospitals are much cleaner. Working with the kids also taught me empathy, for their were days that even when communicating with each other was difficult, simply doing a puzzle or playing a game was enough to entertain them for a couple hours. They showed to me how to welcome someone completely new (me as an American) into their lives and want to understand where they come from. Their curiousness and resilience will be traits that I remember and try to better in myself for the rest of my life.

Lastly, the other students in my program and I took a weekend excursion trip to Manchu Picchu. This trip revealed to me my love for exploring other cultures and their historic roots. It also convinced me to return and travel to other parts of South America in the future. While there, I decided to dive into the unique culture of the Incas in Cusco. I tried “Cuy” which is guinea pig. I witnessed a parade that occurred in the streets for two days straight and most importantly, I realized something that significantly impacted me. It was a thought that just because something is different, that does not make it worse. For example, just because you cannot flush the toilet paper, this place is not worse than the United States; the conditions are simply different. This idea has stuck with me ever since I left and will be with me moving forward in college and afterwards.

  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.

These changes are very relevant to my academic and professional goals in the future. For example, I want to attend medical school after graduation and eventually become a doctor. I then want to move to South America for an extended period of time (over a year) and provide service to those that may not have as great of resources or access to resources as we do here in the United States. I also want to continue learning Spanish and diving into the culture of Peru and any other country I decide to visit. The natural curiousness, the empathy, the ability to think through challenging situations and find innovative solutions to problems and the resilience that I have learned from not only the children I served but everyone I met during my two months in Peru will carry over well into my professional career as a doctor but also in my quest to become a more globally conscious citizen. Whether it be through my efforts in the hospital or those in the classroom, Peru was the opportunity of a lifetime and will continue to be my inspiration long into the future.