A Month in Barcelona: Study Abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

STEP Reflection

Fall 2018

Name: Carra Gilson

Type of Project: Study Abroad and Service-Learning experience

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

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


  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

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


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


  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

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

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


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


  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

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


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

Lima, Peru Study Abroad Experience

Name: Pierce Ciccone
Type of Project: Study Abroad

Peru pic 3-14yanua

Peru pic 2-qwmcon

Peru pic-1nnyk2i


  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

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

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

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

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

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

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

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

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

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

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

Summer Research in Australia

Morgan Everly


My STEP signature project was in Brisbane, Australia where I completed research at the University of Queensland. For seven weeks, I stayed in South Bank and took a bus to The Pharmacy Australia Centre of Excellence (PACE or UQ School of Pharmacy) and completed a research project under my supervisor and graduate students.

By completing this project, I learned a lot about myself. I have never traveled abroad by myself before and it was scary because I didn’t know what to except. This was way out of my comfort zone because I tend to dislike change especially when the change is occurring, but I don’t know exactly what the ‘change’ will be until I am already there. So, I was able to learn that change is not always bad. I am more in touch with who I am. I think this is because I had to find my interests in a new city while meeting a lot of new people and making friends. It reminded me of my freshman year of college but on a bigger scale. The things I learned about myself during this project will definitely help me if I am relocated for graduate school or a job. It’s all about putting yourself out there.

The entire 7 weeks I was doing research at PACE, I was out of my comfort zone. Even the 20+ hours of travel to Brisbane, I was way out of my comfort zone. I was very nervous to go into a lab and complete a research project when I didn’t have any previous research experience and I had to learn all of the background on the project in about a week. However, during my seven-week adventure, I learned that it wasn’t that scary. Everyone is there to help you. You just cannot be afraid to ask for it. That is probably the biggest thing I learned during this research project. It also doesn’t hurt that I was asked back in the future if I’d like to do further research in the lab.

The first encounter I had with the other students in the program was when I first landed in Brisbane. With the more outgoing people, it was easier to have an idea of who they are and what they are interested in. I am always immediately drawn to the quieter people because that is more my personality and I like the mystery in figuring out who they are and what they’re into. I was able to form many new relationships with people who also go to OSU and with people who go to different colleges. I am hoping we all stay in touch and have a reunion because I will always remember them. This project was a very significant event in my life.

The reason I chose this specific program was to become more familiar with research. I have been considering graduate school since my sophomore year but have not had any research experience. This project allowed me to become fully immersed in a research environment to make sure it was something I wanted to go further into. With this project, came two lessons. The first lesson is that the type of research I completed was not something I would be interested in pursuing. Everything I was doing was on the nano scale and I prefer being able to see what I’m creating or changing with the naked eye. The second lesson I learned is that I like the research environment. It is very laid back but also busy at the same time and everyone in the lab is there to help. By completing this program, it has confirmed my decision in applying to graduate school.


STEP Reflection

Step Reflection

Mallory Geresy



  1. My step signature project was a study abroad trip to Australia. For three and a half weeks I traveled through the coast and islands of North Queensland with 20 peers and two professors. I earned 6 credit hours studying sustainable development and conservation through field work and classroom-based lectures.
  2. Traveling around Australia taught me a great deal about how environmental issues impact different cultures and countries as well as how to work with peers. It can be difficult to travel in large groups such as this, but I learned that I respond well to group situations and was able to find my place. I also learned that sustainability is a passion of mine and it is a new career direction I would like to explore. Australia has a very interesting approach to handling environmental problems, as well as a different attitude. It is more common for environmental protection to be enacted into law, and the two main political parties both agreed climate change was an issue that needed to be addressed, they simply disagreed on the best ways to handle it. It gave me new perspectives and insights about environmental policies and how they can be implemented.
  3. As we traveled, we met many entrepreneurs and professionals who were pursuing their endeavors in the conservation and ecotourism industry. The first destination we stayed at was owned by a man and wife who started their own self-efficient hostel. They supplied all of their own energy with solar power. I found this fascinating and learned that I might like to pursue a career in the sustainability arena.


I also participated in many resume builders, such as planting trees in a wetland restoration area and researching fish species on the Great Barrier Reef. This led me to solidify my passion for conservation and sustainability. Because of this realization, upon my return home, I got a job at Ohio State’s sustainability office.


Within the group of people I traveled with, I made many close connections with my peers. I found a group of friends that continues to enjoy each other’s company in the United States. This has allowed me to grow a network of people all in different areas. I have two friends in business, and several in environmental fields. I have grown both a professional and social network.




  1. These experiences have allowed me to grow and find direction in my life. I have recently decided to continue my higher education and pursue a graduate degree in sustainability. From this, I plan to open my own sustainability consulting firm with a close friend. Studying abroad allowed to explore my passions and meet a group of people who will continue to impact my life forever. I feel that I have the experience and determination to do this because of what I learned about myself in North Queensland

Global May Bolivia Study Abroad


Bolivia Global May

For my transformational project, I traveled to three cities of Bolivia: Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and La Paz. There, we studied the culture, history, politics and economics of the country. We took classes and first handedly experienced the diversity of Bolivia through museums, cultural outings, personal interactions and teaching from our Bolivian instructors.

As I reflect on the two weeks we spent traveling around Bolivia, the word that continuously comes to mind is diversity. The United States is often called a melting pot and is rapidly becoming even more diverse. In Bolivia, I saw diversity in the wide range of geographical regions, cultures, languages, political views and economic exports. It was so interesting to me to take classes and learn about everything through lectures and then see the obvious diversity while even walking the streets. The range of geographical regions was pretty similar to the diversity found in the United States. In the US, one can travel across the country to see the dry, hot grand canyons, cold snowy north east coast and down to the hot, humid south east. Similarly, in Bolivia, we saw the most extreme geographical regions from the hot, humid lowlands in Santa Cruz to the cool, dry highlands of La Paz then onto the tropical regions of the Yungas. The difference is that all the geographical diversity in Bolivia is concentrated into a smaller country which made it so fascinating.

Another comparison is while in the US we have a large cultural diversity, Bolivia also has this diversity but among indigenous groups. We traveled to Lake Titicaca and learned about the Tiwanaku people, we saw women throughout Bolivia dressed in beautiful clothes signifying whether they identified as Quechua, Aymara, Chiquitano, Guaraní etc. We also could hear languages being spoken that were not Spanish and we learned that Bolivia has over 30 different official languages. In the US, it is evident that there is a similar sense of a melting pot, however a difference we discussed is the sense of nationalism. We examined in detail during our lectures the controversial topic of Nationalism within a country of outstanding diversity. While the US has its issues in terms of nationalism, I also found this in Bolivia, even talking to the locals. Several of our lectures dealt with the growing diversity of cultural backgrounds and identification. With such different beliefs, languages and traditions, it can be hard to come together politically to create a national unity.  On our free day, we traveled to the top of La Paz by teleférico and on the way back, it stopped several times which prompted us to converse with a woman accompanying us on the trip. Earlier that day, there was a beautiful festival throughout the streets with music, dance and many costumes. We asked her what the meaning was and she explained that it was an Aymara festival with pagan traditions and we could feel the animosity she had to this indigenous group.

Towards the beginning of the trip, I felt discouraged as I went to use my “years of Spanish” and ran into problems communicating effectively. The past Spanish class I took was intermediate composition which was less focused on verbal communication and more so on written. I learned a lot in the class but I wasn’t as confident in my fluency as I tried to communicate with the locals. The times I felt I best could practice my Spanish abroad was during free time. When we temporarily got lost, I was forced to use my Spanish to get us back to where we needed to go; when we went shopping, I practiced my Spanish to barter; and when we got stuck on the teleférico, we had a very interesting conversation with the woman on board with us. This trip fueled my goal of becoming fluent in Spanish and desire to communicate effectively in a non-English speaking country. It made me also realize the long way I have in becoming fluent and reminded me of the work that goes along with constantly practicing to keep up with it. It motivated me and I want to practice a lot in this upcoming summer through online apps and discussion. One day I hope to become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and with the constantly growing Spanish speaking population in the US, being fluent can help immensely in providing competent care. This trip allowed me to practice and encouraged me to continue practicing.

Another transformation that occurred during this trip is confidence while traveling. Normally when I travel, I go in groups and/or family. While this trip was organized with a group, we had some free time to travel alone in the evenings and one day empty to explore the city of La Paz on our own. The first free evening, I was a little unsure of what to do or how to best see the city spontaneously. By the end of the trip, when we had our entire day of travel, we independently navigated our way through taxis and telefericos all the way up to the top of the mountain to explore that part of town and watch the sunset. This independence made me feel like I could truly experience the country on my own and gave me the confidence to take on traveling in small groups.

I have a passion for Latin American cultures as they are so diverse and oftentimes not commonly discussed in US schools. Before going to college, I had limited knowledge on the continent but after taking university classes and now having traveled to two South American countries, I have learned about its uniqueness and want to share this knowledge with fellow OSU students who might not know anything about it. I will present this trip with confidence and persuasion because it was an incredible trip to learn about such an underestimated and under discussed country. I reached this trip by chance but I want others to learn about it so they too can experience Bolivia.




Trasimeno Archaeology Field School

For my STEP project, I lived and studied in the small town of Castiglione del Lago in Italy for six weeks. During the program, I took classes on Roman and Etruscan History while simultaneously working on an excavation of a Roman villa near Lake Chiusi. Our field work and classes were also complimented with field trips to museums and a weekend trip to Rome.

Going into this experience I didn’t really know what to expect. My goals were to gain confidence in myself and academic abilities, further my interests in archaeology, and foster connections with the people in my program and Italy. Beyond these goals, studying abroad caused me to grow in many areas of my life and has changed my view of the world. This experience has given me a greater understanding of myself and how in the past I have prevented myself from going into uncomfortable situations out of fear. Ever since I started college I was unsure of what I wanted to do and switched around my major a good amount. Because I was always starting out with a new major, I would always stop myself from applying to jobs or internships because I was worried I wasn’t qualified enough. I had the same fears about doing field work and feeling further behind than everyone else. But when I got there I soon realized that my classmates were from all different majors and levels of experience. This was all a story I had been telling myself just to avoid my fear of failure.

Another assumption I had going into this program was that it would help me narrow down my interests and clarify my career path. But, I have come back with new interests in areas that I never expected. While this is not what I had expected the outcome of this trip to be, it has opened up possible career paths I hadn’t considered before. I now have many new ideas about how to integrate all of these new areas I am passionate about into my future and career. This has changed my preconception that my career needs to be focused on one field or subject.

The process of breaking down my fears happened gradually throughout my trip. When I first left for Italy, I honestly felt very nervous and scared, which are two feelings I never usually have or admit to having. I’ve always been very adventurous and independent, but travelling for the first time to a foreign country by myself made me super uneasy. Just being able to make it through both of my flights and navigate through multiple airports was such a huge step in being able to know that I can take on things I have not done before. And throughout my trip I continued to gain more confidence as I was often put in situations where I was uncomfortable and seen as an ‘outsider.’ Things as simple as going to the grocery store or doing laundry were at first anxiety provoking, but soon as I got more comfortable in the town I was living in I began to make connections with the people living there. In addition to being anxious about simply living in another country, I was nervous that I was going to be behind my classmates with experience in field work and that I would not be able to handle how challenging the program was. Excavating a Roman villa while simultaneously taking classes, was probably one of the most challenging experience I’ve had in my life, it showed me how much I can accomplish when I am determined to succeed.

This trip also introduced me to fields I never thought I’d be interested in. I have always been interested in Roman history but had not explored the mixture of Roman-Greco culture. Through class readings and frequent museum trips I soon learned how intertwined the two cultures of these classical civilizations were. I took a particular interest in how Greek mythology manifested in Roman art, this was largely a result of going to the Palazzo Massimo museum. During this visit, I was astounded by the large collection of mosaics and statues that included a myriad of Greek motifs. I decided to make this museum trip the subject of my blog post that was required for this class, and delved into researching this topic even further. Even after my trip I have continued learning about Greek mythology by beginning to several books such as the Odyssey, and one on Classical Greek Mythology. I also found a new interest in museum exhibits and how they come to together. During the course we not only got to see a variety of different museums designs we also designed our own panels for a future exhibition for our site at the museum in Castiglione Del Lago.

During much of my time in Italy, I was often reflecting on the cultural differences I saw between Italy and the U.S. Living in a town where most people spoke very little English, opened my eyes to the way immigrants, living in a foreign country feel every day. Except the big difference I noticed was that most people were very willing to deal with our broken Italian. In the U.S most people are expected to speak flawless English or otherwise most people get frustrated. At the core of this, I think this stems from the belief that our certain behaviors in our culture should be in everyone’s culture. This was also apparent in the way I saw many American tourists behave themselves while I was touring throughout the country. Many would frequently complain about how slow the service was or other behaviors that did not fit their standard was. It was honestly very upsetting to see other American’s lack of awareness and respect for others cultural differences. I think this self-awareness and respect of others needs to be more engrained in our culture.

This transformation has already been significant in how I live my life. As I am rising senior, I have to start thinking about post-college plans and what I want to do for a career. This experience has given me the confidence to think big about my future plans. I am very eager to learn more from doing, and therefore have started to apply for several internships in the fall. These vary widely from a museum internship to a marketing internship for a health company. Both are fields I am passionate about, and no longer see these fields as mutually exclusive. Either internship will surely give me useful skills for the future. I also want to make inclusion and diversity a proponent in career. From what I saw during my program, we still have a long way to making our culture an understanding and cultural aware. Overall, this program has been a great experience. It has transformed the way I see myself and the world, and opened up many new possibilities for my future.



STEP Reflection

My name is Nicholas Spoelker and for my STEP project, I participated in an architectural study in Europe. For one month, I travelled through numerous cities and countries in western Europe and experienced various architectural sites. My fellow students and I learned about the history and architectural styles of each of these locations while making notes and sketches of our own.

Before I went on this trip, I already had a few preconceived notions about architecture. My understanding was that architecture took many of the concepts and ideas that my area of study, engineering, dealt with and applied them to art and aesthetics through building design. My visit to older locations upheld this preconceived notion; for example, in many of the gothic cathedrals that I visited, the flying buttresses served to hold the building together while also adding to the aesthetic of the church.

My preconceived ideas of architecture did transform when I began experiencing the more modern locations. Many of these building seemed to adhere more to the idea of “form following function.” Initially, I thought this style was taking the creativity out of architecture and disliked the works that followed this mantra. However, as the trip continued, I realized that there was indeed artistic expression in these works, albeit subtler. My view of architecture changed after this realization; one can make the function of the building into the aesthetic itself.

My view of architecture has changed due to many of my experiences in Europe. As the only non-architecture student on the trip, I was initially out of my element. Many of my peers were far more comfortable with the subject matter, but they welcomed me with open arms and began to open my eyes to the complexities of the various architectural schools. Modern architects such as Le Corbusier were initially enigmas to me, as I failed to see the appeal of his seemingly bland style. Now, while I still dislike the modern art style, I can understand its appeal to many of my colleagues.

One of the key activities that changed my view of architecture were the sketch activities. During many times of the trip, we were told to sit down and sketch the buildings that we saw before us. This activity forced me to engage with my surroundings on a deeper level and compelled me to see the true complexity and meaning in seemingly basic structures. I was able to grasp the subtler nuances of the modern style buildings and see their relationship with the structural makeup of the buildings.

I think that my newfound appreciation for the subtler modern buildings will help me greatly in my future studies. While as an engineer, I am not primarily concerned with the appearances of my work, I will be able to see what I create in a different light; I believe that viewing my own work from different perspectives will allow me to maximize not only the efficiency of my work, but its appeal to others as well.

Overall, I look forward to applying my new outlook in my field. I feel that I will now be able to bring to the table an outlook that many of my engineering peers lack: an understanding of the aesthetics of functionality and their appeal to others.

Fundacion Ortega y Gasset

Kate Fowler
Education Abroad



1. My STEP signature project wasa 6 week education abroad in Toledo, Spain. I took two courses in Spanish (architecture and anthropology) and stayed with a host family. The school I studied at, sponsored by Fundacion Jose Ortega y Gasset, was an institute for foreign students to immerse in the language and culture.
2. Before I left for Spain, I expected Spain to be a completely different world. I expected to face extreme culture shock and struggle every day to perform day to day functions. This ended up not being the case. Of course, the first few days I was there things seemed different (the diet, language, and schedules are very different), but after a few days I started to realize that a lot of things were very much the same. At first, it was weird to hear when older people spoke Spanish (of course they speak Spanish!) It was “cute” to hear little kids talking in Spanish. But after a while, I figured out that everything is the same. They speak a different language, and they do things a little differently, but at the end of the day we’re all the same. I knew that all along, so I don’t know why I was that surprised. I’m a big preacher of equality and acceptance. I always believed that we should accept everyone for their differences, but I just didn’t realize there aren’t that many differences.
Everyone has a job (or they don’t), there are kids, there are adults, there are elderly people. People have to get to work in the morning, go to school, and have problems. They get divorced, go to the grocery store, go on runs in the morning. It’s all the same. I guess I expected to go out of the country and find some great difference between my country and theirs. And at first I did, but at the end of the day what do those add up to? Nothing, really. We all have the same DNA. We all have the same needs and physiology. Why should we be any different, really?
And I think if I went somewhere else that was a little bit more “different” from the US maybe I would get a bit more of what I had expecting, but again, at the end of the day I think we’re all the same, so it wouldn’t have made a huge difference where I chose to study abroad.
3. Staying with my host family was what really made me see all of the things I discussed in question number two. I lived with a 38 year old divorced mother with her two daughters (7 and 3 years old). While I traveled with friends over the weekend, I lived with the family during the week and was with them almost constantly when I wasn’t in class.
The little girls weren’t around all of the time because they spent a lot of time with their dad so I spent a lot of time with just my host mom. I really loved getting to know her. We had a lot of different views and because of this were able to have a lot of conversations and about values and what we believed in.
She helped me integrate into Spanish culture and after a while I got really comfortable and felt like I was part of her family and really lived in Spain. This is what made me realize that things weren’t that really different between the US and Spain. We had a lot of conversations about culture and came to a lot of understandings, and despite the slight language barrier, we were able to see that we weren’t that different after all.
4. This understanding has helped me not to be afraid of new situations and new people. I have a deeper understanding that people all are all the same at heart and want the same things. This will help me because as a nurse I will be taking care of a wide variety of people. I now understand that these people likely have different customs and beliefs that need to be respected. I also understand, however, that I don’t need to be afraid to find out more about them because while they have a different culture, customs, and possibly language than I do they have the same desire to be happy and healthy.
This experience has also improved my Spanish language abilities. It is really cool to see how much my language abilities can improve in just six weeks. I would love to go back to Spain or another Spanish-speaking country for a longer period, so I can become fluent. It would be amazing to be able to speak to some patients who would otherwise not be able to communicate with their health care providers!

STEP Signature Project Reflection

Levi Prudhomme

Education Abroad

During my STEP Signature Project I traveled to Barcelona, Spain with International Studies Abroad. In Barcelona I took two classes at a satellite campus of the Universidad Internacional Menendez Pelayo, a school known for working with international students.

In many ways UIMP felt like a little cocoon inside of Barcelona, as I was surrounded by Americans even in Spain. That tiny bubble of familiarity made it easier to form relationships within the group, and I found myself approaching more and different kinds of people than I would have at home. There was no choice but to be confident abroad, especially in a city known for its pickpockets and pushy street promoters, and at UIMP that additional confidence led me to friendships I want to preserve here at home.

After being away for so long I did miss the United States, but there are a few lessons I will keep from my time in Spain. Although it seemed jarring at first, the Spanish way of living involves a lot of social time and relaxation that we can lose sight of in the states. My days were fuller than they had ever been, as the five hours of class I had in the mornings were dwarfed by time spent getting tapas, exploring parks, and hanging out at the beach. It was a beautiful balance between work and play that made me feel more fulfilled than I had in years.

An event in which I felt the fulfillment that I had been lacking was in the simple task of going to the movie theatre in Spain. When I am among my friends I tend to succumb to the pressures of the group: to do whatever the others are doing and just follow the crowd. Sometimes when you spend enough time listening to others your own voice can get lost. In Spain I was suddenly surrounded my more groups than I knew what to do with, and in learning to move between them I found some independence. So one day I went to the movie theatre.

I didn’t initially intend to go alone, in fact I messaged into two WhatsApp groups about my plans, but for the first time in a while I had my own plan. I went to see Solo: A Star Wars Story, albeit dubbed in Spanish, and every step felt like a victory. It seems silly, but just finding something that I wanted to for me, and doing it alone, made me so happy. What was a very mediocre story brought me to heights of laughter and lows of tears as I totally committed to the interstellar tale among a bunch of Spanish strangers.

During the rest of my time in Spain I went to the movies a total of three more times, and two of those actually with my friends. The act was symbolic more than anything else, as the movies themselves weren’t anything special. It was establishing a habit of doing something that I liked, whether the crowd followed me or not. I think that really summarizes my time in Spain: it was a place in which I learned to pursue habits that were important to me, whether the crowd followed me or not. While I was there I wrote, drew, and explored to an extent that I’d ever hoped that I could before. Spain forced me to reevaluate my opinions of myself.

From a mental health standpoint I feel like I have come back from Spain in a place so much better than the one I started in. I am confident that people will like me if I approach them, and also that I can survive and be happy on my own. I am coming back to the states with habits a far shade from the daily procrastination that I lived in before, and something closer to the kind of active life that I’ve always visualized. Professionally I feel inspired to get out into the world and pursue my wants. Aside from the practical development of my Spanish, I now have the confidence to tell employers what I am good at and why they should let me do it. I have come home a fuller person than before.