Education Abroad in Spain (1/15/17-1/23/17)

After returning from a wonderful week-long study-abroad in Spain, its time to reflect on the trip and the tremendous amount of things I learned while I was there. There were many times on the trip where the way that I view animals and how I believe they should be treated affected how I interpreted the conditions of the animals we saw in Spain. I also noticed, on multiple occasions, many differences in the ethical principles and societal views towards animals than the ones that people in the United States may hold. That being said, there were also many similarities between Spain and the US in the way that animals are treated in both countries. Lastly, there were a few cultural experiences in relation to animal use that we witnessed or learned about such as the suckling pig, the tradition of bull fighting, and the running of the bulls that differ from the traditions that we have in the United States that involve animals.

As someone who wants to be a vet and help better the health of animals for the rest of my life, animal welfare is always my first concern anywhere I go. I walk into a situation thinking first about how the animals are being treated and their well-being before I think about anything else. So, this mindset affected the way that I thought about many of the places that we visited such as the Madrid Animal Rescue and the Manchego Sheep Farm. My first instinct when we arrived at the animal rescue was that it was a little run down and mostly outside which made me worry about the dogs’ cleanliness and health a little bit because there was a decent amount of feces in their runs and it was a little chilly for them to have no option but to be outside. It was a little different than the shelters I am used to visiting, mainly because it was almost all outdoors, but after learning more about the facility and the people that work there, my first impression was proven wrong. It was clear that these animals were very well taken care of because they had animals come to them in need of medication, surgery, etc. and instead of euthanizing (which they do not do unless they have a terminal illness) they get the animal what they need. The shelter also has many volunteers that give all of their animals daily enrichment whether it be giving them a toy or taking them on a walk around the facility. It was extremely refreshing and encouraging to hear that Spain has very strict laws and heavy fines for people that abuse animals and that things like declawing are completely illegal. I believe that this should be much better enforced in the US and that we are definitely behind Spain in the aspect of laws that involve animal abuse. From an animal welfare aspect, I also felt fairly positively about the Manchego Sheep Farm. I was very pleasantly surprised to see how clean the facilities and the animals were and how calm the sheep seemed to be, even when they were being milked. I believe their relaxed behavior is very telling of how the people working in the barn treat the animals. For example, I noticed that when the sheep did need to be guided somewhere, the workers just gently touched their backside rather than hitting or yelling and the ewes were also rewarded with a special feed every time they were milked. One thing that did concern me about the welfare of the animals at the sheep farm was that they waited until two months of age to band their tails which would cause them more pain because their tail is longer, thicker around, and the lamb has more pain receptors at this point in its life. Overall, the welfare of the animals in most of the places that we visited were very good and in some cases even better than in the United States. As someone that has always been a lover of all animals, it made me very happy to see how well they were treated, even in the production business.

In some instances, I noticed differences between the US and Spain in how they treat their animals which may result from differences in ethical principles and societal views of each country. The places where these differences stood out the most were the Zoo and Aquarium of Madrid and the Jamones y embutidos Vazquez (the Iberian Pig Farm). The zoo was a very interesting experience because at first it seemed like any other zoo, but the longer we were there the more things we noticed that we were not used to seeing at zoos in the United States. The biggest difference that really surprised me was people feeding the animals in the enclosure. I watched people throw peanuts into the bear enclosure and it was clear that this happens a lot because the bears were conditioned to wave to the guests to get food. I’m not sure if this is something that the guests were allowed to do or just something that has become a norm at zoos in Spain, but it was very shocking to see because that is something that would never be allowed to happen at zoos in the US for the safety of the animals and the guests. Another place we experienced while we were there that was quite different from the way we do things in the Unites States was the Iberian Pig Farm. Although there are pig farms in Spain that are much like the large production farms in the US, the traditional Iberian pigs are raised very differently. The pigs are raised free range in a forest type environment with trees, water, and soil to lay on. The pigs have very little human interaction with only the occasional vet visit and they get to live out a very natural life until they go to market. I really enjoyed seeing that the pigs got to roam and perform natural behaviors in a very open setting because that is something I had never seen from a pig production farm before. It was very interesting to see how things that we do in the United States are done differently in Spain and to understand why these differences exist.

Lastly, there were some cultural events that we experienced while in Spain regarding the use of animals that, because of Spain’s cultures and beliefs, differed from any animal type traditions that we currently have in the Unites States. The two biggest cultural traditions that stood out to me were the traditional suckling pig meal and bull fighting or using bulls during celebrations such as the running of the bulls. The suckling pig was a very interesting experience because the whole baby pig is served on a plate still with its skin, bones, etc. and is then cut/smashed in front of the customers with a glass plate. It was definitely very different than what many of us were used to eating and took some getting used to, but it was clear what an important tradition it was to the people of Spain so it was very cool to experience nonetheless. The biggest cultural difference that involves animals, in my opinion, is the bull fighting in Spain which is a very controversial subject with people in the US and in Spain because of welfare concerns for the bull. Although there is controversy and I’m not sure that I agree with the sport, after touring Plaza de Toros it was clear how much history and culture is behind the sport. The people of Spain are very proud of it and think very highly of this tradition. Even though I personally believe that bull fighting is inhumane (and not to mention, very dangerous for the bull fighter), it made me happy to hear how highly our tour guide talked about the bulls, calling them brave and saying that the sport could not exist without their bravery. In the end, the sport really is about the relationship between the bull fighter and a beautiful, strong animal and it truly is rich with tradition.

Spending a week in Spain really taught me first-hand so much about human and animal interactions and how they differ from country to country. Each person’s attitudes about animals going into the trip affected the way that they interpreted the things they experienced in Spain. It was very eye opening to see the differences in the way that animals are treated, produced, and used in different countries based on their cultural and societal views.

Alexandra’s Semester in Segovia, Spain STEP Signature Project

I used my STEP funds to fuel a semester abroad. I was the first student from Ohio State to attend the Segovia, Spain Psychology study abroad. I arrived in Segovia on August 29, 2017 and spent the semester learning about who I was in the context of another culture. While I was in Segovia, I made friends with people from across the globe. Now, I quite literally, have a new friend on every continent (excluding Antarctica). About every other weekend, I traveled to a new city in Spain, or a new country. I visited Salamanca, Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, San Sebastian, and more. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to travel to Marrakech, Morocco, and Lisbon, Portugal.No automatic alt text available.

During this trip, while spending so much time with people who were not American, I realized just how much being from this country shaped who I am. Many of my friends and acquaintances said that I was a “stereotypical American,” and at first I was incredibly offended. In the international community, American are regarded as fat, loud, lazy, and uninterested in learning about the world. While I can be loud sometimes, all of those other qualities are the opposite of my personality. And everyone agreed with me on those accounts.Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing, shoes, sky, outdoor and water

I learned that, while many people associate Americans with these negative qualities, they associate us with positive ones, too. Being hardworking, bubbly, enthusiastic, and excited to meet new people are all qualities that my friends associated with Americans, and with me as well. Spending so much time on my own, only having to worry about myself, allowed me to focus more on the person that I am, and the person I am becoming. Now, since returning, I am more confident, outgoing, and willing to try new things even though they might be hard. I am also more willing to try and convince others to try those new things- places, activities, foods- with me as well.

The changes I experienced were gradual, and I did not realize that they had happened until I came back home to the United States. But I know that certain people had an enormous effect on my time and experiences in Spain. First of all, the most significant person I encountered was a woman, a mother, named Rosario. She lives in Madrid with two children, aged three and five. She was a far acquaintance of the family, and my mom asked me early on to meet her for lunch. I groaned. I did not want to spend my time with a woman who- I was convinced- would be incredibly boring. But I decided to meet her in Madrid one day, and it was the most important day of my four months there. Rosario and I really hit it off. We began spending days and weekends together. She met my family when they came to visit me in Spain, and I had the opportunity to practice my Spanish and meet her family. I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Being abroad all alone without anyone from your previous experience can be incredibly difficult, and Rosario gave me a Spanish family. For that, I will be forever grateful.

Another incredibly important person that I met while I was there was Rosario’s father, Diego. He lives on a ranch about thirty minutes outside of Segovia, and I met him when Rosario invited me to spend the night with their family at his ranch. I was apprehensive, because I did not want to infringe on their family time or make them feel uncomfortable. Furthermore, my Spanish was not particularly good and I was worried I would not be able to understand anything. But when I arrived, Diego and I hit it off. He is a humorous old man with kind eyes and an open heart. After that night at the ranch, the best night I had during my entire trip, Diego and I began getting tapas in Segovia every few weeks. He introduced me to new Spanish foods, and told me about his life. This experience really opened me up to meeting new people, and taught me that although it might be awkward at first, if I push through the uncomfortable feeling, it will almost always disappear.

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Everything that influenced my time in Spain started out by making me feel uncomfortable, it seems. I had been set to room with three boys that I had never met- one from California, one from Peru, and one from Japan. I was nervous to have a bunch of messy male roommates, but it turned out to be the best living experience I could have asked for. At first, I was not sure how to approach living with my Japanese roommate. He was kind and cordial, but I knew that a variety of my actions offended him and I did not understand why. For example, if I said that I did not want to try his food, or that I did not want to go out for drinks with him, he would become sad and look frustrated. This was my first experience with a culture gap. After finding out what this was, and understanding which of my actions made him feel frustrated, I changed my behavior. Almost instantly, our relationship shifted and we became incredibly close friends. Now, he is one of the people that shifted my experience the most, because he allowed me to see inside another culture that is vastly different from my own.

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But the individuals who shaped my experience the most were my close group of friends- Paula, a third culture kid who grew up all over Europe, Guus, a Dutchman through and through, and Margret and Hildur, two fun Icelandic sisters that I met through my classes. Through each of them, I learned how the culture that they grew up in shaped their personality. I learned that Northern European cultures, particularly Scandinavian ones, can be more reserved, but that does not mean that these individuals are shy. I learned about the gay culture in Europe, and what it means to be accepting of someone,their vastly different political ideology, and how to have a civil conversation with an individual whose viewpoint is light-years removed from my own. I learned how to make friends with people who, before August 29, I had absolutely nothing in common with, and afterwards, that I shared everything.

At the end of the day, these experiences taught me how to be open and accepting. I learned to face new people and situations with a smile instead of a grimace, and I learned to take difficult and uncomfortable encounters in stride. All people are united by our fear of the unknown, and our distaste for uncomfortable experiences.  In learning how to embrace this, I grew as a person- thanks to the STEP signature projec

Study Abroad STEP

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.

STEP Reflection — Danny Rodgers

Boarding the plane back in August, I felt a wide range of emotions. I had wanted to study abroad since senior year of high school and that dream was finally coming true. My STEP project this past semester was a semester long exchange offered by the Fisher College of Business at a university in Madrid, Spain. In Madrid, I attended Comillas Pontifical University, where I took business classes with students from all over the world. In addition to my classes, I  lived in a homestay where I practiced using the Spanish language daily and experienced the cultural immersion that comes with living in a homestay.

In the past few weeks, I have been able to reflect on my experience in Spain. The biggest transformation that I feel I experienced is in regards to my language abilities. Before my semester abroad, I felt like I had a strong academic grasp of Spanish. Now after my 4 months living immersed in a Spanish speaking country, I am amazed at how much my language abilities have improved.  I now feel confident using the language. The benefits of having a second language are wide-reaching in the business world, and I am excited to see what opportunities present themselves as I progress into my professional career.

Without a doubt, the experiences of my STEP project directly contributed to this transformation. To start, living in a homestay exposed me to daily opportunities to practice the language. Each night, my housemates and I spoke Spanish with our host mother during dinner. These meals provided me a wonderful environment to practice speaking Spanish which was instrumental to improving my language skills.

Secondly, by partaking in a education abroad experience in a Spanish speaking country, I was required to use Spanish outside of my homestay in every day interactions around Madrid. Whether it was ordering coffee at a corner cafe or helping someone out on the street with directions, I found my self speaking Spanish with friends and strangers alike. All these interactions on their own were not entirely significant, but together they helped contribute to my overall confidence in using the language.

This change in my language abilities will have great impacts on my professional goals. As a business student, I desire to work globally in some function during my career. Whether that may be working from the US for a company with global reach or even as far as working abroad on an assignment, possessing a second language will be instrumental in achieving that goal. Although English is the global language of business, having the ability to communicate in the native language of the country in which you are doing business goes a long way in building relationships—and great relationships are critical to success in business!

Knowing a second language also has benefits far beyond simply communicating in a different way. For example, you learn how to step outside of your comfort zone; speaking to a native speaker in their native language can be stressful! The benefit in this example is that now when I feel like I am outside of my comfort zone, I think back to my experiences during my semester abroad and realize I am fully capable of thriving outside of my element.

As I settled back into the routine at Ohio State, I had lots of time to reflect on last semester. I will forever cherish my experience abroad, and appreciate how STEP helped me guide my efforts in making this experience as wonderful as it was.

— Danny Rodgers

Education Abroad: Human and Animal Interactions in Spain

Alice Noschang
Education Abroad: Human and Animal Interactions in Spain

Animal Sciences: Human and Animal Interactions in Spain, is an education abroad program focused on exploring the numerous ways humans and animals impact each other while exploring Central and Southern cities in Spain. The group traveled to a farm, university, laboratory, zoo, or shelter to compare the types of human and animal interactions experienced in Spain to those we experience in the United States, with a focus on how government, history, and culture influences the relationships. We also experienced the local food and culture with tours of a castle and watching traditional tango and flamenco dances while at group dinners.

Traveling and studying in Spain was a very unique and exciting experience, one that I will never forget. I learned so much about the culture, food, and of course, animals. I believe that this was a transformative experience for me. I am an introvert, so to go on a week long trip with people that I never really knew before, pushed me outside of my comfort zone in a good way. I also learned how to be a little more independent by navigating through situations, such as walking through the cities and restaurant etiquette, in a place that I have never been before and did not speak the same language. I learned that I am capable of handling new challenges that I may face in everyday life. I made friends on this trip that I would have never met otherwise. Their perspectives to the experiences that we had challenged and shed new light on my current views, helping to develop them.
I also learned quite a bit about my views of many human and animal interactions. I was able to develop my outlooks on certain topics. We had many different kinds of animal and human interactions, from zoos and shelters to research and farms. I was surprised at the similarities between the interactions and use of animals I had in Spain and ones that I have had in the United States. It was interesting to see how culture and tradition play a role in animal fighting, how similar research practices are, and how the care for production animals is similar and different in the United States and Spain.

The following three experiences led to the transformation and development of what I believe is correct and right regarding animals. These experiences were full of new discoveries, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about roles of particular animals in Spanish society and relating them back to the roles that animals play in our society in the United States.
The tours of the Plaza de Toros and the bull breeding farm gave me insight to a tradition that I have only heard of and never quite understood, bull fighting. I never could comprehend why people would put an animal through so much pain just for it to die a while later. On the tour, I learned that it was more about tradition. This tradition is only acceptable in certain places and prohibited in others. I was not expecting this to be such a controversial practice in Spain, but it is. On the bus, one of me peers and I were discussing the process, and she mentioned that it seems like such a waste, since the animals that do not make it to the third round of bull fighting are just killed, and I do agree with that. Only one bull will fight and several others are just killed, even though their meat can be used, it seems unfair. In my animal science classes, we talk about how you should cull animals only for genetics, not for human mistakes. In my opinion, I think that killing these animals because they are not the correct kind of aggressive, is a human mistake, since we are forcing them to act out by purposefully putting them in a stressful situation. I think that it might even be inhumane. However, I can understand why bull fighting is still around and probably will be forever. To people who watch it is like a religion, like baseball or football, so to ask people to give it up, probably will never happen. Unfortunately, I do not think there is any way to make it more humane without taking out the tradition, and completely changing the practice. It is also the only thing keeping the breed alive, as described by our host at the bull farm. Bull fighting is a taboo in some places in Spain, just as it is here in the United States with other forms of animal fighting, like pit bull and cock fighting. In both places, some people think of it as a sport and others think it as unnecessary cruelty depending on how tradition and cultural norms play into the practice.
One of my favorite stops was to the University of Complutense – Madrid Agricultural Department. I am minoring in animal nutrition and thought that the tour was very interesting, especially since I understood most of what they were talking about. I thought it was neat to see how all of the research is done in the labs on the feeds, and with the animals. One thing that one of the graduate students, Javier talked about is his research on olive oil extract as a replacement for antibiotics, which are banned in Spain. Based on the way things are going, I think in the next decade most antibiotics in the US will also be banned, and we will start feeding our animals in a similar way, and more research will need to be done on antibiotic alternatives. It was interesting to see the animals in a research setting and to be able to connect it back to what we learned from Dr. Kieffer’s talk here at Ohio State. Dr. Kieffer talked about the process of applying to do research and then how people are held accountable for making sure that the animals were treated humanely and had their needs met. Even though Carlos, a professor at the university, did not talk about the application process he did mention animal welfare many times. Carlos talked about how they have many internal and external inspections each year to make sure that the research animals are properly being cared for and have enrichment. He also mentioned how sometimes they have to change their ways in order to comply with the new and developing regulations. It is fascinating to see how the public pushes for welfare across the United States and Spain, and I wonder what is would be like in developing countries.
I thought the Manchego Sheep farm that we visited was also very similar to how dairy farms are run here in the United States. The facility and the housing of the sheep based on age and milking output was almost identical. One thing that stood out to me was how clean the milking parlor was, the employees cleaned up all of the feces after the sheep left. I attempted to ask one of the employees a question, and he started answering about something I did not understand, but he had a smile on, and I could tell he really enjoyed what he did. Later in the tour, the same man pulled out one of the lambs for us to pet. I think he enjoyed seeing us react to the rough wool and the smiles on our faces. I believe that keeping the facility and clean and the care that they provide to their animals is also beneficial to the animals. Keeping the sheep healthy and comfortable even though we are using them solely for our use is very important. The farm’s passion and work ethic for keeping the Manchego breed alive and healthy is directly seen I how they treat their animals, which then translates into a delicious product

In Spain, I explored many different types of animal and human interaction, and how culture affects our outlook on the interactions we have. I thought it was interesting to learn about the bull fighting and how some people enjoy it and other strongly disagree with it, and why that was. It was also interesting to compare and contrast how research is done here and in Spain. I was surprised by how the use of the sheep can also impact the wellbeing of the animals. I learned so much while visiting the beautiful country of Spain. I even changed some of my personal views on how we treat animals and what I consider as right and wrong. I will apply my experience and what I learned traveling throughout Spain, to my academics, life, and career. I will be able to provide a unique insight to class discussions when we talk about animal health and welfare in my minor classes. I will be able to apply the practical skills I learned, like branching out, not be afraid to face a challenging situation, in everyday life and maybe even during more traveling in the future. I also believe that I further developed my critical thinking skills which I can apply in everyday situations and academics. I also hope that the things that I learned on this experience I will be able to apply to my future career as a veterinarian.



Dominican Republic 2017: My First Experience Abroad

Christie Johnston

Study Abroad 2017

Question 1: Provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. 

For my STEP Signature Project, I decided to go with the Study Abroad option. I browsed through all the study abroad choices on OSU’s website and I finally landed on the project that goes to the Dominican Republic over winter break. The trip was an 8 day trip beginning in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and ending in Jarabacoa, DR. Over the course of the trip, we traveled around the city and learned about sustainability and the natural resources that are available in the Dominican Republic. The main focus of the trip was a service project in a rural village outside Santo Domingo. Here, we installed a water pump and a water distribution system for the village, and got running water from a well all over the village.


Question 2: What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

My view of the world definitely changed when I was in the Dominican Republic. Being over there made me truly realize how many simple things we take for granted in the United States. Running water, reliable internet connection, water that is safe to drink from the tap; these are all things that the U.S has everywhere, but are few and far between in the Dominican Republic. I definitely have a greater appreciation of the way other people live, and I am more aware of the things we can and should be doing to help the people that need it.


3. 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?

Although the Dominican Republic is somewhat developed, and definitely farther along than some other countries, a lot of what I experienced was extremely different from the United States. The biggest realization that I came to over there was the fact that U.S. does not really realize how good we have it when it comes to things like running water, electricity, cell phone service, internet connection, higher education and other things we take for granted. In most places in the DR, the tap water cannot be consumed because it isn’t treated and is not sanitary enough for consumption. That was the biggest change for me, because throughout the trip we had to plan out our drinking water for the day and make sure we all had enough to drink since we couldn’t just fill up at a sink.

In the U.S., untreated tap water is almost unheard of, and we take for granted the ability to just refill a water bottle in the kitchen sink. Having to experience this myself really made me realize how much we take for granted in the U.S. Another thing I had to get used to was the internet connection or lack thereof. Although our hotels had wifi, and one even had Cable TV, the internet connection was nowhere near the quality it is in the U.S. I couldn’t imagine how frustrating it would be if you really needed to get work done via the internet, and the speed interfered with your work.

Also, I really noticed in Santo Domingo, the electrical grid was extremely disorganized, almost in a dangerous fashion. If you look up when walking the streets, the power lines hang very low to the ground and are almost in knots above you. It does not appear to be very safe, and was a huge change from the United States’ fairly organized electrical grid. I was used to seeing power lines in rows beside streets, but here there were power lines wherever they were needed, with no organization to them whatsoever. The disorganization probably makes maintenance much more difficult for workers, which is likely not efficient on time or money.

The most life changing event that I felt on the trip was probably when we did our service project in La Piedra. Even when we were driving up to the village, you can look out the window and see the poverty that these people are experiencing. Most of them live in small shacks made out of either wood or roofing tiles. They don’t have electricity or running water for the most part, and they have minimal space to cook, sleep, and live. The weirdest part about seeing the poverty that the people were living in, was that most of them had cell phones in their hands. This was interesting because of their living conditions, we see them as being extremely underdeveloped and anti-technology, but they all had fairly new smart phones. Again, seeing these people that live this way, and that have always lived this way really struck a chord for me. We take for granted so many things in the United States that these people wouldn’t even dream of having, and that most American people cannot live without.


4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

I think that as a college educated young adult, this was a very important experience for me to have. I have never left the country before and I think that I will be able to carry these experiences and the greater appreciation for my education and things that the United States have all throughout my future career and life.

During the trip, we learned a lot about the importance of not only environmental sustainability, but also the outreach and education in order to teach other people about the environment and how to preserve it. As I chase a career in extension education, my main goal in life will be to educate children about agriculture and our environment here in the United States. Having experienced this in a different country, I will be able to bring a little more to the table in that regard. The environmental problems that the DR faces in it’s current state are much greater than what we are facing here in the United States, and I think that I will be able to bring attention to that and spark the younger generation to have a passion for helping people and protecting the world we live in.


The National Botanical Garden of the Dominican Republic


Boca Chica Beach, Dominican Republic


Jimenoa Falls, Dominican Republic


Studying Human-Animal Interactions in Spain

I spent a week travelling throughout Spain studying human-animal reactions.  During this time, I was able to make connections between animal use and the Spanish culture while also making comparisons to human-animal interactions in the United States.

When given any opportunity to travel internationally, one grows as an individual.  Before, I had only travelled to Nicaragua and not to any European countries.  I had many preconceived notions that Spain would be similar to the United States in how they interact with animals.  Since this was an animal science program, I thought the majority of our program would be production related.  I feel to the most part my ideas were proven correct, but at times I felt what I believed was challenged.

I was most surprised that a significant amount of our stops were not production animal related.  We made stops at the Madrid Zoo, Madrid Animal Rescue, and a bullfighting ring.  Coming from a livestock background, I guess I just had preconceived notions of what I thought human-animal interactions were supposed to be.  But all of the stops we made were excellent examples of human-animal interactions and allowed me to make comparisons to these interactions in the United States.

I decided to participate in this animal science program even though I’m not an animal science major because I thought I had a developed background in the topic.  However, during class discussions, I found myself sometimes being the one who was lost in conversation.  At times, terms were used that I was not familiar was and those other animal science students were expected to be well-versed in all species whereas I am mostly familiar with cattle.  Some of the discussions heavily referenced animal science course material and through these conversations I felt growth in my knowledge.

When I was in preparation to travel to Nicaragua, the pre-departure class focused heavily on the history, culture, and current events.  During the pre-departure class for Spain, our topics focused heavily on varying human-animal interactions so we would be better able to make connections to the U.S. while in Spain.  A week before departure, I realized how unprepared I actually felt.  While in-country, we were given so many opportunities to prove ourselves as adults.  Many meals were on our own and many evenings were left to us to decide what we’d do.  Being able to explore various Spanish cities really developed my appreciation for Spanish culture.

I hope to work with the Cooperative Extension Service and land grant universities have statements regarding the inclusiveness of their services.  By obtaining a hands-on experience of the world and different cultures, I feel that I will be understanding of different cultures and backgrounds in my future career.  Being able to relate better to others of different studies or backgrounds will be beneficial as I choose my next academic path, I am considering a master’s program but am considering various schools and academic programs.  I am grateful to have this chance to expand my view of the world and grow as an individual before I graduate and am considered a real adult.

Abroad in the Netherlands

Name: Alex Kratcoski

Type of Project: Education Abroad

1.) For my STEP Signature Project, I chose to study abroad in Rotterdam, the Netherlands at Erasmus University, Rotterdam School of Management. I utilized Fisher’s Business school, semester exchange to attend RSM. RSM is a top 10 European business school and provided a new, challenging experience.

2.) Although I’ve been fortunate enough to travel extensively throughout my life with my friends and family, I was able to to learn new things about myself and the world around me. Originally, I believed that most people in Europe were incredibly similar to myself in both values and world views. While studying in the Netherlands, I came to realize that those individuals abroad are as diverse as the broad population on a college campus in the United States, similar to Ohio State. Additionally, I found that some of the best conversations that I had while on my exchange came from individuals with vastly different backgrounds from my own. More often than not, I found myself gravitating toward foreign students that could expose me to alternative experiences that I had yet to encounter. That being said, I was also able to interact with other American students from all over the country, further diversifying the individuals I interact and expanding my world view.

3.) While I was abroad I was able to experience various interactions and activities that led to this change in world view while also developing a better understanding of myself. I can categorize them into two broad categories based on the geography in which they took place. First, in the Netherlands, the country I was born in and the campus, where I met incredible people, was exposed to an alternative education style and participated in a culture different from my own. Second, I will address the various countries I visited and the events I attended while there. One of the most prominent reasons I chose the Netherlands as my education abroad destination is because it is the country I was born in. My parents completed their MBAs and then entered into the workforce as bankers in Amsterdam. I utilized my experience to the fullest in order to try and put myself into their places, exploring their favorite places around the country and trying to immerse myself in the culture. I did this by visiting restaurants, attractions and monuments they had enjoyed and mentioned.  Not only did I use the exchange to better understand the Netherlands, but because I was surrounded by other exchange students from all around the world, I was able to build relationships with friends from Portugal, Germany, France, and much of South America just to name a few. Finally, one of the most interesting rewarding classes I have ever taken was called “Learning by Doing: Consulting for Social Enterprises.” During this course, I was paired in a team with two incredible friends and with a language coaching non-profit. There, I was able to work closely with 5 members of the organization, conduct research and provide suggestions on future improvements.

In addition to my adventures within my host country, I took this opportunity so far from home and so close to a vast array of countries. I began my journey with a week in Iceland, living in hostiles, exploring the city and making my way into the mountains and hot springs. I then flew into Amsterdam and saw where I spent the first years growing up as well as where my parents worked and socialized. After settling into Rotterdam, meeting my housemates and neighbors, we made our way to Oktoberfest in Munich, Prague and Belgium beer tasting and touring as we go.

One of the most incredible trips of my life was a week spent with newfound friends in Morocco. We began in Fez, staying in a traditional riad hostel before meeting our tour guide the next day. He took us around to various landmarks and geographic features around the country. On the third night we rode camels into the desert and spent the night under the stars. A truly amazing experience.

4.) I’d like to begin by commenting on how inspiring, exciting and rewarding the past 2 months working
living in the Netherlands, traveling abroad and working with a non-profit organization. Not only has this (intensive) experience facilitated the creation of new, lifelong friends, it has shaped my perception of the value of hard work, inequality around the world and developed my understanding of personal and communal benefits that non-profit organizations, a dynamic world view and volunteering promote.

I would like to mention one incredibly moving experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life. One morning, I was tasked with attending a group session, sitting in to observe on the group dynamic and how the language coach interacted with the students. Near the end of the session, each pupil was going around the circle sharing, in Dutch, about their jobs and describing what they did in their home countries before moving to the Netherlands. A Syrian man about 50 years old told us of his job as an Architect. He was very new to the language and had to supplement his explanations with a lot of English, which was then slowly massaged into Dutch with the coach’s help. He went on to explain he was a civil engineer that worked in a firm with his brothers and his daughters who were engineers and had been away from home for many months.

When the coach asked him about how difficult it was running a business from so far away, he sighed and replied, “There is no business. The building has been demolished. It is on the ground.” Immediately, the rest of the students and the coach expressed their sorrows and were able to offer him kind words of support. Appreciative, he continued to tell his story, expressing his excitement to see his family in the next 6 months, who he had been separated from. His daughters were in Saudi Arabia while his wife and son were in the United States. Again, endless support from the group mates around.

After the session ends, I’m on the tram home, thinking in particular about that mans story in particular, I realized that organizations that provide free services, like Taalcoaching Capelle, play a huge role in the lives of both the volunteers and those that they help. Their influential position not only completes the service promised, but builds a sense of community and fosters social integration. It was genuinely a moment that has shaped how I perceive volunteering, non-profit organizations and their incredible impact on those involved.

This experience, more than any other (although the entire exchange has followed this theme) has solidified in my mind what I want to do in my professional life. I want to work with non-profit organizations on a level where I can research, interact and guide them. I’ve found an interest in consulting and hope to continue to explore the field.


Human and Animal Interactions Education Abroad – Spain

Through my STEP signature project, I was able to travel to Spain to study human and animal interactions. Over the course of seven days, my fellow peers and I got to experience how people of a different culture interact with animals. We visited many places from a dog shelter to a Manchego sheep farm, which aided in expanding our horizons on the information we already knew.

During my time abroad, I learned that it is best to go into a different culture as open-minded as you possibly can. It is not for us to judge how other people in different cultures and countries live. They get by living the way they do as we get by living the way we do. I thought I had gone in fairly open-minded to the animal operations we were going to see, but I was slightly wrong. The hardest stop for me was an Iberian pig farm that we went to. I was completely set in the preconceived notion I had on what this place was going to be like that it was really hard for me to get past how their operation worked. Eventually, I told myself that this was the way they did things and they did it for a certain reason and I had to accept it. So that was what I did, I accepted the fact that not every country or culture raises their production animals the same way, and that that was okay.

Additionally, I was shown that some of the assumptions I had made into some of the stops we made were wrong. The one place that we visited that was the most similar to the practices in the United States was the dog shelter. Many of their adoption practices were similar to what we have here in terms of being interviewed to see what the new family’s personality is and then being able to bring other pets to the shelter to see how the animals interact with each other. The biggest difference between these places was that their kennels were ones that had access to an individual, outside cage for each dog. These dogs were mostly kept outside during the day and then taken in at night.

Furthermore, one of the biggest differences from the assumptions I had was the Iberian pig farm. I went in thinking that this pig farm was going to be similar to the ones in the United States, in the fact that there would be large white barns with rows of pens of pigs and farrowing houses. I was COMPLETELY wrong. The pigs lived completely outside and could roam where ever they desired. There were a few shelters that they could go in during bad weather if they so chose, but they were not forced inside. There were not only pigs in these fenced-in areas, but sheep, donkeys, and horses as well.

Moreover, being able to hear the opinions and perspectives of my peers that were also on this program was very beneficial. It allowed me to view the various human and animal interaction related experiences we had from the point of view of people with different backgrounds. I grew up around livestock while some of my peers did not grow up on a farm at all and lived in the city. Not all of the students on this program were animal science related majors either. This aided in adding to the diversity of the group and people who grew up around livestock may have one opinion while those who did not would have another. This also required me to be very open-minded because even though we are all from the same country, we are not all used to the same things and did not all grow up the same way.

All in all, the changes that I incurred during my time abroad will aid me in my future endeavors. It has taught me to be open-minded to people of other cultures and keep in mind not everyone has the same background or the same opinions. This will help me in the workplace in the future because I will have to work with people of other cultures and backgrounds. It will also help me be open-minded in other areas of my life as well and not rush to judgment of people or practices.

STEP Japan Study Abroad

For my STEP signature project I traveled to Japan for two weeks in December 2017 to study the architecture, landscape, and urban fabric and development of the worlds 7th most powerful country. Over the course of 14 days, myself and 18 other OSU students traveled over 1,500 miles through over 15 cities and towns in central and southern Japan. On our sprint through Japan, we visited about 120 significant architectural sites that included traditional Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines and also many modern-day buildings. While visiting these incredible buildings and gardens, we analyzed the spaces through sketches, notes, discussions and photos.

Although this was not my first but third study abroad experience as an Ohio State student, I feel that this experience has been the most transformational of the three for many reasons. On my past experiences abroad (England and Chile) I found myself adjusting to and embracing the cultures relatively easily and quickly mainly because the languages were ones that I could speak and the food was already food that I enjoyed. On this trip however, I am not sure that I was able to completely adjust to the culture. Just about everything in and about Japan and its culture was completely different from life in Columbus, however after being immersed in the culture for two full weeks, I adjusted pretty well by then end.

My understanding of myself, my assumptions and my view of the world both changed and solidified while on this trip. This trip challenged me in a lot of ways but over the course of the two weeks, I found myself overcoming most of these challenges. Before going on this trip, my views of the world had already been altered by other experiences abroad, however this trip changed those views even more and to a greater extent than any other past experience had. After returning from my trip to Japan, I have a newfound appreciation and respect for Asian food, languages, religions, customs, ideas and overall culture. Traveling to Japan and even the Japanese culture and way of life was never really on my ‘radar’ until I began to think about going on this trip, so everything that I experienced and learned about the country both before going and while in-country was something new for me.

This trip taught me much more than my other trips abroad, not because it was ‘better’ or ‘more fun,’ but because the culture was so incredibly different than any culture I had experienced or studied before. Every new interaction while in Japan made me appreciate their culture and life style even more. From taking your shoes off when entering a home or restaurant, to bowing as a greeting or farewell, to walking on the left side of the sidewalk, to not talking on the subway, to not tipping waiters and waitresses, to wearing a face mask when you are sick, to eating slowly, everything had a rhyme and reason and most of the time it was out of respect and courteousness to others around you, and it is this that I admired most about their culture, the ample amount of respect.

At first, I admittedly was a little uncomfortable with the social norms and customs solely because they were so vastly different from anything I had ever experienced before. However over the course of the two weeks, after more and more interactions with locals, shop owners, hosts and hostesses, subway attendees, etc., I became more and more comfortable with these interactions and common mannerisms. Everyone that I encountered while in Japan was so friendly, and they were all incredibly understanding when it came to my lack of cultural knowledge. However by the end of the trip, I even surprised myself with how comfortable I felt in almost every social situation. I had learned so much, and appreciate it all that not only was I comfortable but in most cases I was confident in navigating the culture.

This newfound appreciation and understanding of the Japanese and Asian culture is valuable to me not only at a personal level but also at a professional and academic level. As a citizen of the world, traveling is something that I have always enjoyed and always will enjoy. It allows me to explore cultural differences on a first-hand basis and foster a deeper understanding and appreciation for them. As an architecture student, a worldly perspective and understanding is vital because culture, geography, history, etc. all effect the profession and the projects completed as an architect. While abroad in Japan, I learned so much that will not only influence my work as a student but will most certainly also influence my work as a potential licensed architect. I learned about different construction methods, materials, building systems and structures that I otherwise would not have learned about, all while exploring an amazing history, culture and country.