My STEP signature project was studying abroad in Madrid for Fall 2017. I lived with a Spanish family and went to school at Universidad de Nebrija de Antonio.
I traveled basically every weekend to new cities and countries, improved my Spanish immensely, and made friends both within my program and locals from the places I traveled to.
My view of the world definitely changed during this trip. I was able to see the world from a new point of view and expand my own cultural understandings. I discovered that it is okay to criticize your own culture as well as other cultures as long as you are doing it in a productive and honest way. For example, I could see how certain efficiency techniques were clearly better in the US, while cultural norms about the importance of family and being social seems to be much more prominent and beneficial in Spanish culture. Even more than criticizing, I am not much more understanding. I see how norms truly shape a person and how in certain cultures, people may seem rude, but in reality it is just the way they were raised and the society they are in.
One thing that particularly impacted my worldview is the obvious fact that I am now an experienced world traveler. Just within Spain, I traveled to Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Granada, Escorial, Avila, Salamanca, Segovia, and so many more cities and towns. Outside of Spain, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Morocco. I camped out in the Sahara Desert with locals for several nights. I learned about my own heritage, being part Berber and staying in a Berber village. We explored throughout the day, traveled to an Oasis, rode camels, learned the language, listened to live local music, and so much more. We traveled to the cities, like Rabat and Fez, and experienced city life in Africa. We went to the largest medina in the world and experienced night life in a Moroccan city. Morocco taught me about what it truly means to go into culture-shock. I learned so much about food, language, culture, etc. and was able to talk to countless people about their lives. My world view most definitely changed simply on now having the ability to compare myself and my life to them.
Morocco was not the only place I visited and learned from. I did a United Kingdom trip with my friend, we traveled to London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dublin. Also, we did a Highland tour in Scotland and got to travel around the countryside. Learning about how different some places can be culturally, despite speaking the same language (although many times I did question if they were indeed speaking English form my lack of being able to understand them), was a very interesting experience. For example, Scotland has so much pride for their state and their nationality. I learned so much about their culture through native music, drinks, food, and people. London is most definitely the most similar to American, but even they are different. It was fun meeting people from different parts of England and hearing the difference in accent and opinion on topics like Brexit and the monarchy. I also traveled to Amsterdam where I learned about what it is like to live in a place with totally different laws and norms. For example, it was almost impossible for me to distinguish which lanes were for bikes, which for cars, and which for humans. I probably almost got killed by a bike at least ten times, and I guarantee each time was because I was in the wrong lane.
Another major impact on my views came from living with a family. I learned about the cultural norms of a country in a familial way. For example, my host mom was brutally honest. In America, many things she would say or do would be considered rude, offensive, and not pc. However, it was not that she was rude as much as she was honest without the consideration of holding back. I actually found I much prefer this style of speaking instead of feeling the need to hold back. I remember bringing over a bottle of wine, in an attempt to be kind and considerate. Instead of drinking the wine, she explained that she prefers beer and drank her own beer. She was very kind and appreciative, however, she did not feel the need to drink the wine out of courtesy like many americans would. Same goes for many teachers. I had a professor who would explain how she hated Trump, but dislike Obama as well. She was not scared to share her opinions as an outsider, and was not worried of disturbing some students with her views. Rather, she explained what she felt, and did not mind, and even encouraged, if you disagreed with her.
This experience was unequivocally transformational and the value I would put on it is priceless.
My major is international studies and I am on the pre-law track. For starters, this experience clearly related to my major. I not only studied international studies in the classroom, but I studied while walking through Retiro park in Madrid, while meeting locals at a pub in Ireland, while arguing about the EU along Las Ramblas in Barcelona. I studied through the people I met, through the language I learned, and so much more. Language was a huge factor for me in the journey. I really wanted to learn as much as possible and be as conversational as possible. While I certainly am not fluent, the amount I improved in just a few months would have been unbelievable to me prior to going. Everyone talks about the value on immersing oneself in a culture for language benefits, and I now understand why. I spoke Spanish countless times a day, learned new words by with hour, and improved my grammar immensely. Not to mention the value of taking classes in Spanish, and only in Spanish. On top of everything else, this experience helped me validate my desire to go to law school. I found myself being so curious in the different laws in policies of each region and nation I visited. I would look up the difference in laws and compare them to American laws. I would discuss politics and learn about how the laws affected issues such as the Catalonian Independence. Overall, it is difficult to express in words how much of a value I put on this experience and how thrilled I am that I did it.