Scientific Roots STEP Reflection

For my STEP signature project, I studied abroad in both London and Paris over spring break. Prior to the trip, my Scientific Roots class had guests speakers come in throughout the semester to discuss many discoveries and paradigm shifts within the scientific communities. We learned about Louis Pasteur, Charles Darwin, Antoine Lavoisier, John Snow, Marie Curie, and many others who have contributed so much to the field of science. The purpose of these discussions and presentations was to prepare us to see these individuals’ discoveries and contributions, first hand, where they actually took place. While abroad, we visited places like Darwin’s Home in the Downe, Louis Pasteur’s laboratory and home, and many other museums and sites that related more to the topics we learned about prior to the trip.

This trip was extremely transformative for me because it allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for other cultures, more in Paris than in London due to the language barrier, and to make what I have been learning in my science courses since I was little so real. There were two truly transformative events that stood out to me during this trip. First, right after we landed in London, we took a bus to Charles Darwin’s home a little ways outside of London. The town is very small and quaint, and Darwin’s home is quiet and beautiful. You start learning about Charles Darwin in elementary school when students take their first science classes. You learn about his studies within the theory of evolution and all the contributions he made to classifications of species. However, I never really stepped back and thought to myself how Darwin was a real person who accomplished as much as he did in his lifetime. Going to the Downe and walking his garders, stepping into his family room and bedroom, and being able to see his journals and maps first hand was truly amazing. Additionally, Darwin would often visit a small pub in the town, which we had the pleasure to eat lunch at following our visit. We also were able to go across the street and see where some of his family members are buried.

Secondly, I think it is a tie for seeing Westminster Abbey and meeting the President of the Royal Society for my second most transformative experience. So many notorious individuals are buried in Westminster Abbey like Newton, Mary Queen of Scots, Charles Darwin, JJ Thomson, and now Stephen Hawking (who, sadly,  died the day after our visit to the Royal Society, where he is a member). It was amazing to be able to walk in one building where so many famous people are buried that never really seemed like real people to me. Secondly, we were able to visit the Royal Society, where individuals like Newton, Einstein, and Hawking, were members. We were even able to see the book with all of their signatures when they signed to become inducted into the society. The night of our visit, the President was kind enough to meet us and chat for a few minutes. It is really amazing to be able to say I have shaken hands with, and kind of taken a picture with, a Nobel Prize Winner, who is now the President of a society where scientists like JJ Thomson and Isaac Newton were once Presidents.

One can see how the events above were truly transformative to me as an individual. I was walking in the homes of, holding belongings of, and seeing first hand many discoveries of people who once seemed so inconceivable and incredible to me. Although the most transformative events for me took place in London, Paris was absolutely transformative for me as well. Firstly, I saw so many famous sites like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, and many other. It was so eye opening to see how the people and culture differ in France. One transformative experience was having to attempt order Chinese food in French, while the only French I know is “bonjour” and “merci”. Once I was able to accomplish that nearly impossible task, I knew nothing else I encountered could be as bad.

In France, I had the pleasure to spend the day at the palace of Versailles. How grand this palace is was truly breathtaking. Everything is gold or diamond with gorgeous art hand painted on every single ceiling. My favorite part were the gardens, which sent me back in time. Thinking about this trip gives me goosebumps and I want nothing more than to go back and do it all over again. I now have more appreciation for other languages, cultures, and for my studies in school. It was amazing to see the accomplishments of so many notorious scientists first hand, then to go and see where they are buried. I also now have more confidence with my abilities to get settled into new environments and thrive without the assistance of others. I know this will come in handy throughout my life, as I will be constantly forced put myself in new, and maybe uncomfortable situations, and need to thrive to be successful. I am so grateful that STEP was able to make this trip a possibility for me and will never forget the time I spent in London and Paris.