STEP: Study Abroad in Rome

For my STEP project, I traveled to Rome, Italy in order to take a history course, known as “Modern Life in the Eternal City.” Over this 5-week course, I toured different parts of this eternal city, as well as the history that makes up its present day culture.


Prior to going abroad, I was very nervous about a number of things that I anticipated I would bump into whilst in a foreign country. For starters, there was the language barrier, which I tried to prepare myself for by using the Duolingo app. In the past, I have experienced minor language barriers when our home hosted foreign exchange students or when I traveled to foreign countries with my father. However, the extensive amount of time I spent abroad meant that certain aspect of traveling to a foreign journey would be heightened to levels than I was not really used to. I came to learn more about what it really felt like to be a ‘foreigner,’ rather than just a tourist. I felt disconnected from the rest of the world at time because of all the differences in culture, lifestyle, and most pointedly, the language. While I learned more about what it felt like to be a foreigner, I also learned a lot about how independent I could be, and how much humble observation could help in a new environment.


Before I actually started my history course in Rome, I took a moment to explore other parts of Europe, such as London and Prague. While there was no language barrier in London, I underestimated how vast the cultural difference would be. Buildings were smaller and yet more bunched together, streets were more compact, and traffic was insane. I arrived and had to figure out how to get to the place I was staying via “the Tube,” the most common form of public transportation in London. While this subway was very efficient and well organized, I was not at all well enough acquainted with London that I felt confident navigating it myself. But navigate it myself, I did – or at the very least, I tried. I ended up getting lost during my first connection between subways, during which time I hauled my 50-lb suitcase up and down several flights of stairs as I searched for the station I was meant to go on. Finally, I deemed myself helpless, and realized I needed to seek outside help. I approached a seemingly friendly middle aged couple with two children and asked them for further instruction, showing them screenshotted directions on my phone, so that they’d have something other than me to work off of. Luckily, they knew just where I had to go, and I finally made my way to the correct line, heading in the correct direction.


This narration depicts just one of the several times I ended up getting lost in London. The city life was one I was just not used to, and much less the European life. However, while you may expect that my trouble with navigation would only increase once I reached a country where they spoke another language, it actually got much better. Realizing that my biggest problem with navigating had simply been my lack of preparation, I made a point to note every detail I would need to know in order to properly and efficiently travel around, as well as potential alternate routes should everything not go according to plan, as it often didn’t. And so, my navigating in Rome actually went by seamlessly, and I even managed to plan a solo trip to Nice, France, where I did not get lost a single time, and managed to make it everywhere I wanted to go without a hitch! I grew to become much more comfortable traveling new places I was not well acquainted with, even if I knew there was going to be a language barrier. Before this trip, I had always been scared of going to other places on my own, especially if it was a place I had never been, discounting any form of communication barriers whatsoever. My confidence and comfort levels in other foreign places increased significantly with the experience of traveling around to new places with such varying cultural differences through this experience I could have only gotten with STEP.


My program in this study abroad was very small, especially in comparison to other programs, coming in at a count of 10 people total for the entire Rome program for our session. To make matters even smaller, this group was divided into two for the classes, meaning only 5 people were in my class. Coming from Ohio State, this class size was practically microscopic. However, this was not necessarily a bad thing. I had not had a class size that small since one of my Latin classes in my junior year of high school, and so it was nice to revel in the intimacy that came from having such a small class size. I was able to become much more well acquainted with my professor than I had been able to for my undergraduate career. The class was strongly based in direct immersion; every day for class we would all walk around different areas of Rome, and learn about the history behind them. Through this classroom style, I was able to feel connected to the material I was studying, and also view the city from a completely different perspective. This experience encouraged me to learn more about the background of any place I go to, as it ends up shaping the cultural, political, and social design of a city, much more so than I ever understood before. Huge shoutout to my professor Dr. K for opening my eyes to that entirely new perspective. I will seriously be forever grateful for everything she taught me in those five weeks.


I will say that the class size reaped many good things, but also a few bad things. Unfortunately, I did not necessarily mesh very well with a couple other students in my class. This is not to see that we got in fights or disagreements, but rather that the ways we approached our study abroad program were different. Some may say converse, even. With our varying interests, I had to get comfortable doing more things by myself. However, because of this, I, again, became more comfortable figuring out what I would want to do, advocating for myself, and making it happen. One time, when our group went to Florence, I made it clear that I would want to go see the statue of David, and actually ended up getting everyone to come to the museum with me. While they only stayed 30 minutes total, and my friend and I ended up staying triple that amount of time, it was still nice of them to come, even though I knew many weren’t really interested. Through this trip, I improved my leadership skills, and became more comfortable doing the things I knew I wanted to do on my own.


While I grew and further developed during my temporary stay in Europe, the changes I underwent proved to be permanent and will remain with me in America, or wherever it is that I end up going next. My perspective of Rome shifted as I learned more about the significance behind the architecture, and the richness of the history associated with all the beautiful places I saw. My professor would constantly push us as a class to step outside of our comfort zones and open our minds up to new parts of Rome that only a true inhabitant of Italy could show us. Through this trip, I learned more about what it means to be independent, and further developed my leadership skills. All of these skills will enable me to step into the world, and peer at it from a new lens acquired in Europe. I have a newfound hunger to learn more about world history, and want to start right here in Columbus. It was crazy to me how much there was to learn about Rome, and it occurred to me that I knew next to nothing about Ohio’s history. I am eager to listen, learn, and experience more than ever.

Study Abroad, Valparaíso– STEP Reflection

This semester, I studied abroad in Valparaíso, Chile. I stayed with a host family with whom I became very close, made Chilean friends, learned about Chilean politics and social movements, and had the opportunity to take engaging classes about Chilean history and culture alongside Chilean students.

I come from a bi-cultural family, my mother being a Chilean and my father American. When I was growing up, we visited my mamá’s family in Chile a lot, she spoke to us in Spanish, and showed us Chilean music and games and rhymes and recipes. Because my mamá shared her culture with me and my sister since we were very young, I always felt very acutely that I was partially Chilean. Before I left to study abroad in Chile for the semester, many people would ask me why I had chosen Chile if I was already familiar with Chile and had visited before. It’s true that my study abroad experience was quite different from the typical one, where students immerse themselves in a completely foreign culture, many times not being able to speak the local language fluently or even at all. But that doesn’t mean that this experience wasn’t just as important in my life as study abroad is to any other person.

Living in Chile for five months in a city where I had no previous connections has made me into a person who is very confident about my Chilean identity. I feel that living there for a time as an adult was crucial to be able to fully mature the connection I’ve always felt to my Chilean heritage. This connection will always be thanks first and foremost to my mamá, who worked hard despite the many challenges immigrants face to retain and pass on their heritage and language. However, throughout this semester abroad, I feel that I have developed my own relationship to Chile and to Chileans that I feel very comfortable with. This growth feels perhaps most important to me on a personal level, but I believe that this development has had reverberations that go beyond the personal, into the intellectual, the academic and the professional.

When I first arrived in Chile this semester, I was able to spend time with my family who live in the South of Chile. I helped make porotos granados with my abuelita, played dominos with my abuelito, and learned how to drive manual transmission with my aunt. It was my first time visiting my Chilean family without my mamá, but I felt warm and at home, and I felt like I was really just another member of the family. A few weeks later, I arrived in Valparaíso to start my semester at Pontífica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso. My host mother was a woman who, like me, is very interested in leftist social and political issues. We talked for hours on that first day about the very thing that most Americans swear is taboo at the dinner table—politics! The rest of my time in Valparaíso, I sought out conversations like these, and this led me to make many friends who are interested in the same types of questions that I am—where do exploitation and oppression stem from, and what can we do collectively to put an end to these injustices?

During my time in Chile, I learned about my host mother, Myriam’s, work with families looking for the bodies of their “disappeared” family members during the time of the Pinochet dictatorship. I helped out at the soup kitchen Myriam founded with her late husband for low-income university students. While I was here, the students at my university and universities across the country went on strike against sexism and sexual assault in academia, and male-centered curricula. I was able to attend the assemblies where the students debated and planned actions for and during the strike. I joined a small weekend class led by a revolutionary Mapuche women who taught us the Mapuzungún language and about Mapuche herbal medicine, and my classmates and I often discussed the systemic violence taking place against the Mapuche people by the state and foreign industry in the south of Chile. My classes at PUCV were all about Chilean history, politics, and culture, and I felt very lucky to be able to learn about these subjects alongside Chilean students.

My class on “Mapuche Worldview,” taught by a revolutionary Mapuche woman at a local community center in Valparaíso

Apart from the opportunities I had to grow on a political and intellectual level, I also had the opportunity to make Chilean friends through music. I play violin, and was able to find a band to play with during my time here called Javiera y Lavanda. The band plays singer-songwriter music in a full-band format (guitars, voice, bass, and percussion). It was fun for me to participate in writing my own violin parts for the band, especially because the songs all had a very Latino feel to them, reminiscent of Latino pop-rock songs I used to listen to when I was little.

Recording session with Javiera y Lavanda, the rock band I played with in Valparaíso

During my time here, I was able to meet and have conversations with many people from the Mapuche nation. Through my discussions with them about the current conflict between the Mapuche people and the Chilean state, I have become very interested in the role that the Mapuche language of Mapuzungun plays in this conflict. Next year, I plan to pursue my academic interests in the politics of Mapuzungun and Mapuche liberatory nationhood as my senior thesis in Linguistics and Comparative Cultural studies.

This semester has also been transformative to me on a more personal level. While here, I was able to perfect my Spanish, and as I’ve mentioned before, I have grown much more confident in my own Chilean identity. I do not have definitive plans for after graduation yet, but living in Chile for a few years to study or teach seems like a very likely path to take after I finish undergrad. Having made many Chilean friends during my time here, plus having my Chilean family living here and always willing to receive me, would help with this transition for me. As my time in Chile comes to an end (for now!) I feel very lucky to be feeling so sad. The sadness I’m feeling upon leaving means that there’s a piece of me, a piece that is proudly Chilean, that will remain in Chile when I’m gone.

My Internship Abroad in Ireland

In the summer of 2018, I had the opportunity to travel to Ireland to participate in an internship as a part of the STEP Program at The Ohio State University. This internship was genuinely an experience of a lifetime, that included many trials and high points.

While completing my project, I learned multiple lessons and had a change in worldview. This project marked the first time that I ever flew in an airplane, but also traveled outside the United States. Since I completed this project alone, throughout this I learned to advocate for myself when things went awry, while also being responsible for myself and making my plans come to fruition. This experience also made me realize my own determination and perseverance. In addition, I was very surprised and grateful for kindness and generosity that I was shown by multiple people from various backgrounds.

As a result of the multiple trials and interactions that I experienced, I have developed the most personally. At the beginning of my project, I also experienced the mishaps of flying, including missed flights and lost luggage. I planned to travel from Cincinnati, Ohio to Newark Liberty, New Jersey to Dublin, Ireland. Unfortunately, due to unfamiliarity and miscommunication, I missed my flight from New Jersey to Ireland. To make matters worse, my luggage was already transferred onto my flight to Dublin. These events resulted in an enormous amount of stress, discouragement, and the need to rely on others. Thankfully I have a cousin who lives in New Jersey and was able to let me stay with her the night and drive me to the Stewart International Airport in New York the next day. I was informed that when I arrived in Dublin my luggage would be waiting for me, when I arrived I discovered this wasn’t the case. Through my frustration and worry, my host family and coworkers generously cared for me as I waited five days for my suitcase.

Another major issue that I faced was the severity and unpredictability of my asthma. Due to the several factors, including the environment and emotional stress from the previous days, my asthma started to flare up the day I started my internship. I believed once I became accommodated after a few days, my condition would be under control. Sadly, as the days went by, my asthma got even worse in which I experienced multiple asthma attacks and developing a horrible cough. The day I arrived in Ireland until the day I left, my asthma hindered me from fully enjoying my experience and completing my duties. Despite consistently taking medication and going to a doctor, my asthma continued to be life threatening forcing me to leave Ireland after 4 weeks. It was one of the hardest decisions that I’ve had to make, especially after all of the energy, money, and time, that I put into the project.

Even through these trials, I was able to learn from and interact with people from several places around the world with multiple backgrounds. Most of the people I interacted with, whether it was coworkers or a stranger, I was met with an act of kindness or nice word. I met people from all around Ireland, Germany, Italy, Denmark, France, Iceland, and throughout the United Sates, along with their cultures, languages, and perspectives. When I was coming back to the United States, my flight had a 2-hour layover in Reykjavík, Iceland. Due to a delayed flight from Dublin, Ireland, this became a 22-hour layover and in the most spontaneous series of events, I found myself exploring Iceland with four other strangers and it was amazing. Throughout this project, I realized that during times of stress and trial, one of the things that I was most grateful for was the acts of kindness that I was shown, whether it was sharing a cup of tea or being taken along on a mini road trip across Iceland.

Through the literal blood, sweat, and tears that I endured on this project, I gained a realization of my own perseverance, an appreciation for small gestures of compassion, and a better understanding of what the best career options are for me after college. Despite the discouragement and stress, I felt during and after the project, I know that I’ve become more determined because of it and that in the future I will be more prepared to cope with similar situations. Reflecting on how multiple deeds of kindness affected me, I realize how much of an impact they can make on others and plan on doing them more often. This project has given me a better understanding of what career path would be best for my health and has pushed me into exploring other careers within in my major.



Sustainability in New Zealand

Emma Noethen

Study Abroad

This past May I spent on the South Island of New Zealand studying the sustainability of the tourism industry in the region. Throughout the month, myself and 12 other students traveled through various cities and towns with a program that combined experiential learning with traditional classroom style learning. The main transformation I saw take place within myself was my view on sustainability. I was an Accounting major on a trip where most of the other students were environmental majors of some sort. I definitely had a steep learning curve when it came to the class content of sustainability, which is something I had previously given little though until coming on this trip. Sure, I try to recycle if it was possible, but had no idea how different most Americans view on sustainability was when compared to this area of the world. I spoke with a Kiwi who would not get “takeaway” coffee because they did not want to use a plastic cup. Kaikoura, a small town on the east coast, actually stopped collecting people’s trash. Instead, you would have to bring your trash to this site yourself and pay for each bag’s disposal. These are just two examples that show how different the mindset is in New Zealand on living a sustainable lifestyle compared to the one in the United States.

A key aspect of this transformation began before we even left for the trip. At orientation, our professor had us take an ecological footprint quiz. This quiz informed me that if every person on the planet used our resources like I did, we would need 4 earths to sustain everyone. This was shocking to me since I never realized how poor my sustainability really was. Something I realized that made my footprint increase was how much I travel on a plane. That was largely what my footprint consisted of. This was what first brought my attention to the heavy impacts on the environment that tourism can leave, since New Zealand is primarily accessed by tourists by plane. This helped bring my attention to something that was a key factor in my transformation before even leaving for the trip.

Another key aspect was when we first arrived in Dunedin. The activities conducted in this city consisted primarily of lectures from various professors and professionals as well as an example of a more sustainable version of tourism. The professors introduced several concepts that are relevant in New Zealand and continued to be brought up throughout the trip. These included the dangers of invasive species being introduced to New Zealand, the major impacts of tourism, and the importance of New Zealand’s Maori roots. These all combined to give a good basis on New Zealand’s view of sustainability. Being educated on the importance of sustainability from people who had dedicated their lives to it was another huge revelation to me. Dunedin consisted of our group going on a more sustainable tourism activity. This was wildlife encounters, a van that would drive around the coast to educate the tourists and help them get up close views of wildlife. Because we were visiting these animals in their habitat and from a safe distance, it was a bit like a flipped zoo, we were the ones kind of in a cage seeing the animals in their natural habitat. The result of this unique experience made me realize that there are more sustainable forms of tourism like this. Dunedin was also a host to a conference on the sutainability of tourism that was coincidentally going on the same time we were there. This further set the groundwork for the importance of sustainability and further contributing to this key aspect.

The final event that contributed towards my transformation on my attitude of sustainability was the visit to Kaikoura. Kaikoura is a coastal town towards the north end of the South Island that was the second to last stop on our trip. We focused most of our attention on the difficulties of the tourism industry here, which is primarily dependent on whale watching. Kaikoura experienced a devastating earthquake a few years back that isolated the town almost entirely for a short period. There tourism industry has not entirely recovered since that incident. You can still see some shops set up in shipping containers in the charming downtown area. Kaikoura stood out to me for two reasons the connection to the Maori culture and their commitment to sustainability. We were able to partake in a cultural tour of the peninsula lead by two Maori. This highlighted the value and connection that the Maori have towards the land. The guide could walk us through a forest and identify the different plants, their uses, and importance. He heard many of us coughing and recommended we take a few Kawa-Kawa leaves to make tea out of in order to heal our sore throats. This tied together the why of sustainability. It highlighted the importance of everything we had learned thus far on the trip. This could all be summed up in a Maori phrase that translated means “care for the land, care for the people, move forward.” It shows the connection people have to the land they lived on and why we need to care for it.

This transformation relates to academic and professional goals of mine. I always have prided myself in trying to be a well-rounded student. I try to take classes I am interested in rather than the easiest. This has lead me to pick up a minor in history as well as take classes in a variety of subjects such as astronomy, philosophy, and as of last May, sustainability. This was a subject I previously knew next to nothing about but was interested in challenging myself from academically. Professionally, this relates to overall success in a career in business. Sustainability is only going to become more important to most companies. I see it as very important to learn as much as you can about it as it is not going away anytime soon. The further ahead and more you can learn about an issue that is going to be so relevant in business in the coming years is helping me reach some of my professional goals.