Service Learning in Ghana

 

   

My STEP project was a service learning in Ghana. We focused on implementing sustainable projects to help develop undeveloped communities. My specific focus was working on bettering the conditions of a water site.

A lot of media in America makes third world countries to be places of sorrow and suffering however that was not the case in Ghana. The living conditions people had to deal with were terrible and in no way to I want to disregard that, however every single person I encountered was happy and hardworking. There were many children we encountered that had obvious health conditions but they all still had smiles on their faces. On the flip side, I experienced severe culture shock when we arrived. Not even the capital of the country was remotely similar to any city in America. Most of the stores were just shacks and to shop for food people just went to a market. Everything appeared to be so run down which I was expecting but at the same time not prepared for.

The main interactions that changed my view of Ghana are those with the children in the community we worked in and their teacher, Moses. The children would see us arrive every day and follow us to our site and sit there while we did work. Most of them spoke well enough English to be able to communicate with us. They tried to teach us to speak Twi and it was constant laughter because they made fun of our “American accents.” The older ones had such a drive to learn and help. At one point we were sanding something and a group of 14 and 15 year old girls came up and asked what we were doing and why and if they could help us. There were several interactions similar to this one where people were eager to learn and so willing to help.

Moses, the school teacher, not only came every day to see how things were going, but he helped translate for us as he spoke almost perfect English. He told us a lot about his life as well. He has a wife and three children and he only makes $300 a month. He told us that he is broke by halfway through the month and that he prays every day he will get the opportunity to teach in America someday. He has so little but had so much love and compassion and such a positive outlook on life. There were many people that visited our site while we were working that had similar stories and I wish we had been able to communicate with them but not everyone spoke English and we don’t speak Twi.

There were other encounters with people that work for the local government that Ohio State partners with and several other random people that helped shape my view of Ghana. At one point we went to buy wood and one of the government workers was taking care of it for us since we were not able to communicate. We were concerned because he did not give us a receipt however he just said “If the product is bad and I am not satisfied, he will give me my money back; it is Ghanaian culture.” We did not have one negative experience when talking to people. A good word to describe everyone would be neighborly.

On a sadder note, the conditions people live in are overall terrible. We did water tests and everything except for bottled water had some sort of bacteria present. The diet most can afford does not have much variety or nutrients. It did not hit me until we were outside of a clinic one day and we saw a man running with a limp child towards the door. It really made me think about how in America if you see an ambulance or someone pass out you don’t have the same reaction we did towards seeing that happen. We weren’t certain if the clinic would have the recourses it needed to care for the child however almost any hospital in America would. Luckily the next day we saw the boy walk out however not everyone in third world countries is that lucky.

I learned a lot about myself on the trip. There were many instances where several people were debating design ideas in Twi and we would just sit back and let it happen and a design flaw came out of it. It made me realize that in my professional life if I am confident about something I need to be more assertive about it. I always think that since I am inexperienced in the engineering field everyone else’s ideas are probably better but that may not always be true. I could have good ideas and if I am confident in them I need to make them known.

This trip definitely opened my eyes as to just how lucky I am. You hear people say everyday how lucky everyone in America is however it didn’t hit me until the first night in Ghana and my gratefulness grew throughout the trip. I also learned so much from the Ghanaians. Personally, I want to be more like them. I want to have the outlook on life that they do and I want to be as hardworking and willing to help as they are. It was also very rewarding at the end of the trip when I saw how happy everyone was with our work. It made me realize that I want a career that I am able use my skills as an engineer to better people’s lives.

STEP Human and Animal Interactions in Spain

My name is Michael Moore, and my STEP signature project was a study abroad experience in Spain. The class is a Human and Animal Interactions course (Animal Science 3797.03). To prepare for the trip I took Animal Science 2400.005. In this course, we discussed how history, culture, infrastructure, and geography can influence how animals are viewed and used in our society. We also took field trips to various locations such as Athens County Dog Shelter, The Wilds and Columbus Zoo and Buckeye Ranch just to name a few. These excursions allowed us to experience how animals are studied or used in a variety of ways. These weekend adventures and class discussions gave me a greater knowledge base for how we view and use animals in the United States so that I may compare these views on animals to the same human and animal interactions in Spain.

I grew up on in a suburb on the west side of Cleveland, and as a result, I have little understanding of the intricacies of raising animals and of the food industry in general. Due to my lack of knowledge I had always assumed that animal raising farms are loud, noisy and overall really cramped places. Most of my views on animal production were defined by Hollywood movies like “Witness,” or by little newsflashes about how PETA or a similar animals rights group were protesting a law. I had never actually challenged these ideas of mine until I had an opportunity to in Spain.

In Spain, I also had the opportunity to experience some cultural and political divides, unlike anything we have in the United States. This cultural divide exists over bullfighting. The cultural sport of Spain is not even legal across the nation and its territories and is opposed by half of all Spaniards yet the sport lives on. The political divide we got to experience was over the British territory of Gibraltar. The rock of Gibraltar is a small British port town located on the south coast of Spain, and its nautical importance has made it a hotly contested territory between the Spanish and English governments for Centuries.

In Spain, we visited a Manchego Sheep farm south of Madrid. Here at the farm, I was enamored with the details that dominated how the sheep were raised and how they were housed. This farm is in a very dry and mountainous region of central Spain so the housing of these sheep is very important.  The main housing barn separated sheep based on their milk production into 6 large pens. These pens have concrete flooring which is consistent throughout the complex but the floor is covered in straw to simulate the soft feeling of natural pasture. Massive windows spanned the sides of the barn letting in natural light and bringing in air from the outside. Despite the rocky conditions and dry soil outside this housing is extremely efficient. It eliminates the worms and parasites that sheep often pick up while grazing and keeps the sheep producing milk daily.

The next farm we went to was a fighting bull breeding farm outside of Seville. This was an eye-opening experience for me as I know very little of the culture surrounding bullfighting in Spain. At the farm, we got to see the behavior of the bulls in a more natural setting. Bulls are sold to the rings in sets of six and male bulls are likewise penned together in groups of 11 starting around the age of 2. It is common practice, to begin with, 11 in a group because over the course of time the bulls will often fight and end up breaking each other’s horns rendering them useless to the ring or in some cases the bulls will kill each other while dueling. We got to see this aggressive behavior as soon as we entered the fenced pasture with a group of 4-year-old bulls. Within the first five minutes of entering the pen, two bulls locked horns with each other in a duel. While I was a little nervous by this aggressive behavior the rancher leading us was very calm despite being in the general area of the dueling animals. This experience gave me insight into the very culturally relevant and divisive bullfighting industry.

 

While most of our trip was spent learning about Spain’s animal industries we also visited politically relevant places as well. When we first drove up to the rock of Gibraltar the first thing I noticed was how out of place it looked. The crag seemed to simply rise out of the rough sea and rocky shores beneath it. From a distance, it’s hard to believe this small mountain is so geographically significant. While on the rock we were shown around by a guide whose family had been on Gibraltar for eight generations. He was very passionate about his heritage and shared with us his views on national identity. He shared with us the true value of Gibraltar is its three dry docks which are the only dry docks in the Mediterranean, and are vital for repairs to ships taking goods across the sea. He also took us up to the top of the rock which the famous Gibraltar rock apes. These apes came across the Mediterranean from Morocco and live on top of the rock. They are very comfortable around people. They seemed to almost “pose” for pictures and even partook in social grooming in view of our cameras.

Before my trip, I had a very limited grasp on the culture and regional politics of Spain and a very poor idea on animal industries in general. This trip allowed me to learn about culture, politics, and industry all in one quick trip. I’ll admit I took this trip as a chance for personal growth. This experience didn’t really relate to my academic goals and I don’t plan on working in the food industry or in animal industries as a professional. However, I will always be able to share the lessons I learned and take these experiences with me for the rest of my life. If this trip taught me anything its that as long as I keep an open mind I’m sure I will find a use for the experience and knowledge I gained abroad.

STEP Reflection

My STEP signature project was education abroad in Perugia, Italy. I studied Italian, the history of the Roman Empire, the food and culture of Italy and the European Union.

Before beginning my project, I was nervous about leaving my friends and family for four months and move across the world. I had never taken Italian and never been to Europe. Once I arrived in Italy, it hit me that I was here and I was also alone. I did not know anyone in my program and was nervous to meet people from so many different universities. After a couple of hours of moving in and meeting people, the nerves went away. The people I met were the one who helped me grow. There is something unique about being surrounded by people you don’t know and in a place that everyone is unfamiliar with. It gave me the opportunity to explore so many new things from food to figuring out the grocery store. Sometimes without even knowing about it, you can always depend on your close friends to take care of little things like planning a dinner or helping you pick out an outfit. But with entering a place where you are alone forces you to realize the things in your life that other people have always helped you with and pushes you to start taking care of those things yourself. Of course, you make plenty friends along the way, but with everyone trying to figure each other out it leaves a lot of room for personal growth. This helped me have more confidence when it came to doing things by myself. I could travel to Switzerland for a weekend alone and have the time of my life running off the side of a mountain to paraglide over the turquois lakes. I could walk through Florence and order my favorite gelato in Italian. I think in strengthening yourself you, it also helps you form better relationships with the people you meet. I made some of the closest friends in such a short period, and I think that it because I was pushed to become more independent and self-assured.

After living in a new country for four months, so many things led to personal growth. A huge part of Italian culture is their food and the traditional cooking methods. Before going to Italy, the only thing, I could cook was eggs and microwavable mac and cheese. I was nervous about having to cook for myself, and when I saw that their grocery stores did not sell microwavable meals, I wondered how long until I withered away into nothing. But after my first day of my Food and Culture class, there was a ray of hope, my professor Elisa. She spent hours answering questions from my class about how to cook, and she showed us her family’s recipes and how to make them. I can definitely say that after coming home, I am much more comfortable turning on the stove and making myself a meal. The Italian culture also largely focuses on getting locally sourced food and making healthy meals. It’s not all pizza and pasta like I thought. After coming home, I can see a difference in the way I eat where I now want to take the time to make my meals instead of the quick and easy premade ones.

I think after studying abroad I realized how much immersing yourself in a new culture can teach you about the world but also yourself. In a setting that is so different, you can see yourself in a new light. I think it is probably the most personal growth I have gone to in such a short period. It has opened my eyes to all of the different ways of doing things and makes me want to pursue a job with the opportunity to live in another country.

Engineering Service Learning – Ghana

My STEP Signature Project gave me the opportunity to participate in the Engineering Service Learning trip to Ghana, Africa. This program is focused on implementing sustainable projects for an undeveloped community in Ghana. My focus was working to better the conditions of a village water site. We got to choose these projects based off the needs of the villagers, OSU partners with.

Going off little information, originally, we were going to cover their local borehole used for water collection and implement a manual hand pump. After seeing the site and listening to the community members we created more than we ever imagined. We built the borehole up (~3 feet) with concrete, trenched the standing, contaminated water away from the collection site, and created a concrete platform around the borehole as well. We also created three access points of water with valves, a poly tank, and our pump. Now the water inside the borehole and poly tank is free from the standing, contaminated water around it, bacteria from the villager’s buckets used when collection water, and flood water during the rainy season.

With little background knowledge, I had the misconception that African countries are poor so they must be helpless, struggling, and therefore unhappy. I was completely mistaken. I met the happiest, most loving individuals while in Ghana. I aspire to have the kind loving spirit they do. You’ll walk down a hallway in the U.S., say a simple hello to the stranger heading in the opposite direction and not receive a response or even a glance in your direction. In Ghana, everyone says hi and really wants to know how you’re doing. They’re also sure to shake your hand firm and snap their fingers at the end (their traditional handshake). Holding hands is apart of Ghanaian culture so often you’ll see men hand and hand conversing. Muslims and Christians live and work together without the slightest indication. I just wish our tone of life was more like theirs and it was so apparent once I was back in the states.

The most memorable interactions I had while in Ghana were that with he children in the village where we were working, where the collection site was. The children would come running and follow us to our site as soon as we arrived everyday. They’d sit and play around us the entire time we were there. They tried to teach us some Twi and wanted to be involved as much as possible. The children often giggled with us when we tried to communicate with them, as are accent is so foreign to them.

A community member, teacher, and Christian pastor, Moses is someone I’ll never forget. He was so kind and caring and spoke great English, so he was of much help. He translated for us and gave us his honest opinion when others didn’t want to offend us because we were there to help them. But we wanted to be of the most benefit, as our project was for them not us, so receiving their criticism and learning from them was vital. He asked each of us about our lives and shared some about his. His dream is to come to America and bring his family here. He’d jump at any opportunity to. Moses has a wife, three kids and only brings home $300 a month. He told us that he is broke halfway through the month. He has so little, but is so vibrant, loving individual I’ve probably ever met.

Ghanaians are so handy and hard working. While us aspiring engineers were trying to figure out a solution they were already solving it with what they had at hand. It’s amazing what they can accomplish given some of the conditions. I hope I’m taking away some of their strength and having much more appreciation for everything I have and the opportunities presented to me because they’d kill to have the resources we do.

This experience really made me realize just how lucky I am. We hear people say how lucky we are to live in America, but I didn’t quite understand that until I went to Ghana. Not having easy access to living necessities such a clean water is mind bobbling. We take so much for granted and can be ungrateful. I saw and met the happiest individuals while in Ghana when they have so much less than me.

This experience really opened my eyes to just how much you can learn from other people and new places. It rooted a deeper desire love people and to try to understand where they’re standing. To be open to try the things that make their culture different and is apart of their everyday life. It sparked a desire to learn, get out and try, travel, and immerse myself. We’re all so similar but what makes us different is so interesting and beautiful.

My trip to Ghana was very rewarding. It was incredible to see how happy the villagers and government members were with our work and resources provided. It really made me realize that I want to do something where I’m able to use my resources and skills as a future engineer to help others and better their life.

 

STEP Reflection- Antarctica Study Abroad

On December 15th of 2017, I went on the adventure of my lifetime to the magnificent and remote continent of Antarctica. I went to Antarctica along with other students from The Ohio State University as part of a class titled “Antarctica Study Abroad” (ENR 5797.10). I remember scrolling down OSU’s study abroad website a year ago and picking New Zealand and Antarctica as my top study abroad programs. It did not take me long to decide that Antarctica would be the most exciting and life-changing trip that I could ever go to. So, I enrolled in ENR 5797.10 because I craved adventure and I wanted to learn about Antarctic wildlife first-hand. In the ENR 5797.10 class, we learned about the history, geology, ecology, and ecotourism of the Antarctic continent. As part of our midterm assignment, we had to choose between the seabird, ecotourism and iceberg modules to work on during our time on the continent. I chose to be part of the seabird conservation module. I worked with my team members on gathering data of the different bird species observed throughout our journey from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica and back. Observations were taken on the bridge of the ship, the Akademik Ioffe, from December 19 through December 26 of 2017. I learned a lot about Antarctic seabird identification, behavior, and conservation through observations, lectures, group discussions, and my time in field excursions. Most importantly, I learned more about myself during this time. I learned that working with animals and studying them is my passion. My time in Antarctica inspired me to pay respect to the Earth and all of its creatures by moving from a vegetarian towards a vegan diet. My time in Antarctica was a time of reflection and personal growth.

All of the field excursions that we went on as a group, were relevant to my seabird project and subgroup of Sphenisciformes (Penguins) because we interacted with penguins on a daily basis. On December 21st of 2017, we went on an excursion to Oren Harbor. There, we visited a colony of Chinstrap Penguins. Many of them were protecting an egg from the Skuas and waiting for their mates to come back from the sea. I was lucky to see a Chinstrap Penguin exchange an egg with its mate and then leave to the sea. On lecture 6 titled “Antarctic Birds”, Dr. Carey talked about penguin parental investment. Dr. Carey mentioned how female and male penguins take turns between going to sea for food and taking care of their offspring on land. It was amazing to see that with my own eyes and understand the purpose behind the observation. That same day we watched a Skua steal a penguin egg and eat it by the side of the Chinstrap Penguin colony. It was a tragic sight, but it brought me back to Dr. Carey’s lecture on Antarctic Birds. I remember Dr. Carey saying that Skuas were vicious creatures and that they were the only predators of penguins on land. Every place with a penguin colony that we visited had at least one Skua flying over the penguin colony. I realized that even though Skuas are not the nicest animals, they are highly important in the ecosystem. Without Skuas, penguin populations would grow exponentially and the Antarctic food chain would be disrupted.

   On other excursions, I was able to observe and learn about other penguin behaviors such as building nests, mating, and fighting with each other over rocks and territory.  In terms of conservation threats, I learned that Adélie penguins are of the most concern because they require more sea ice for survival than other Antarctic penguin species. The warming of the Antarctic Peninsula over the last decade has decreased the amount of sea ice available for penguins to rest on when they are away from their colonies at sea. As a result, Adélie Penguin populations have decreased in size within the last decade and Chinstrap Penguins have taken over areas that used to belong to Adélie Penguins (Soper, 2017). Chinstrap Penguins do best in places with low amounts of sea ice, but the mechanism explaining this is still misunderstood by the scientific community. I noticed that Oren Harbor, the location of a Chinstrap penguin colony that we visited, had little to no sea ice nearby. Global warming is not something politicians makeup, it is a real phenomenon. Global warming is the reason why certain penguin populations in Antarctica are gradually decreasing due to reduced amounts of sea ice available for them to thrive on.

   The main goal of the seabird field project was to observe, record data on, and learn about Sphenisciformes (penguins), Procellariiformes (tubenoses: albatross, petrels, shearwaters, diving petrels, and storm-petrels), Pelecaniformes (shags, and cormorants), and Charadriiformes (gulls, skuas, terns, and sheathbills).  We worked as a team to gather data on bird observations four times a day (before breakfast, before lunch, before dinner, and after dinner) for 15-minute slots. During each time slot, we recorded bird identifications and bird counts in the following locations: The Beagle Channel, The Drake Passage, and around the Antarctic Peninsula. We observed the largest amount of birds while we were crossing The Drake Passage because rough seas are advantageous for seabirds. Big waves stir the waters and move nutrients and fish closer to the surface of the water where they are more accessible to the seabirds. The majority of seabird species stay within their range. For example, no penguins were observed north of the Antarctic convergence because the water temperatures are much warmer there.

   The first excursion and landing in Antarctic soil was a significant day for me. That day in Oren Harbor was my awakening. I realized just how majestic, pristine, and breathtaking nature actually is when it is untouched by human civilization. I told myself that I want to do everything in my power to help Antarctica stay that way. I want to reduce my carbon footprint in this world and inspire those around me to do so as well. Later during the excursion, I saw a Skua steal a penguin egg and eat it in front of my eyes. It was not a pleasant thing to see, but it helped me come to a realization. Penguins and chickens are both birds. Penguins and chickens have many similar sounds and behaviors. In multiple occasions, during field excursions, I would hear penguins make sounds that were very similar to chicken sounds. So why is it morally acceptable to eat one and not the other? We are all being Skuas to chickens because we eat the eggs that are meant to develop into chicks. We are even worse than Skuas because eating eggs is a dietary choice we make, not a behavior we are born with or something we cannot live without. As humans, we have the choice to make moral decisions. Humans are mammals with dietary plasticity. We are not born carnivores, herbivores or omnivores. We have a choice. Ever since that day I chose to remove eggs from my diet, not only because it is the most moral thing to do, but also because it is a very sustainable course of action.  

My time in Antarctica observing and learning about the wildlife reinforced my passion for biological conservation and working with animals. I enjoyed learning about the whales, seals, and the seabirds of Antarctica. I wish that this study abroad was longer in days so I could gain a deeper understanding of Antarctica’s wildlife. I encourage students who are interested in the fields of biology and environmental studies to consider applying to this study abroad. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

   In conclusion, Antarctica was a time of learning and personal growth for me. I enjoyed learning about Antarctic seabirds and interacting with Sphenisciformes (Penguins) on field excursions. Antarctica helped me reflect on the morality of my food choices and as a result, I decided to shift from a vegetarian towards a vegan diet. Ever since Antarctica, I know without a doubt that I want to work with animals in the future; whether that is going to Vet school or working with a group of wildlife conservation.

Sustainability in the Dominican Republic

My STEP signature project entailed an education abroad trip to the Caribbean nation of the Dominican Republic. While here for eight days, we focused on development and agriculture through the lens of sustainability, and interacted with locals to learn how they earned a living.

During my time in a foreign country, I learned many things that disproved previous notions that I held. First, I learned that sustainability on the smallest scale matters a great deal. While I initially believed that sustainability was some buzzword that was created in response to environmental problems in developed nations and could only be implemented by companies or big government, I learned that is not necessarily the case. In a less developed country like the Dominican Republic, the farmers have known no other way than to plant and grow in a responsible manner. Also, in relation to the social and economic aspects of sustainability, we learned that farmers form co-ops and export their products together so that they have more leverage in markets and therefore earn more for their commodities.

In the rural mountainous region of the Dominican Republic, we were able visit a cacao plantation, which is the base for consumer milk chocolate, and learned how the Dominicans responsibly care for their crop and product to ensure that they can earn a living for the foreseeable future. While here, we learned about different growing and processing techniques used by the local growers. In addition, we got to plant a cacao tree and eat fresh chocolate in its most basic form.

Another event on our trip in which we learned about the smallest aspect of the community portion of sustainability was at a ceramic facility. Local people, both young and old come here and create their own ceramic artwork for personal enjoyment, and it can even be sold to markets. The important thing here contributing to sustainability is that young, aspiring citizens can create artwork to sell, and this will help them pay for their schooling. In addition, a local artist set up this facility many years ago, and provides all the supplies necessary for the artists to be successful; moreover, he even uses recycled tools and utensils for production. Visiting this specific place allowed me to think differently about sustainable development, and one of the last things I would think of would be an art facility. This further expanded my knowledge that many sustainable opportunities exist, you just have to seek them out.

The island nation of the Dominican Republic is listed as the 8th country to be most affected by climate change, according a local environmental expert who lectured to us during our time here. He also informed us of water, forestry, biodiversity, emission, and waste issues which are considered the most important by the country and its government. We visited Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, or the Ministry of the Environment, and got to see a little of what was going on behind the scenes in an important building. It was rewarding and a little relieving to know that these problems are not going unnoticed, and the people of the Dominican are developing initiatives to protect their environment.

As an EEDS major, I hope to one day land a position in corporate social responsibility. I have now seen sustainability in action with my own eyes, and I believe that this will make me more credible when looking for future internships and jobs. I also now understand what sustainability looks like on many different levels, which I see as important when attempting to solve complex issues.

STEP Reflection- Internship Abroad in Madrid

  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.

 

My STEP Signature Project gave me the opportunity to live and work in Madrid, Spain for a small millennial consulting firm. There, I was able to practice skills from both my business major and Spanish minor working on various projects to help companies (both large and small) reach millennials more effectively.

 

  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 time in Madrid, I gained not only a lot of insight on myself and my professional aspirations, but gained a broader global perspective and a true appreciation for other cultures. By working in the professional business world for the first time, in a different country, I was able to narrow my focus and learn more about what I value in the workplace and what type of career I want for myself in the future. For example, I learned that I enjoy working in teams with more relationship focused work, but that I also really enjoy crunching numbers. I gained a variety of soft skills, and especially strengthened my communication skills (both in English and Spanish, professionally and casually). I also became much more independent, navigating a foreign country on my own and conversing in Spanish fluently.

 

Prior to my internship, I had a global perspective, but I had never lived and adjusted to a different culture as an adult. By the end of the summer, I had fallen in love with the lifestyle in Spain and hope to move back for a few years post-graduation. I made some very strong relationships with people in Madrid, and I learned from them that we are more alike that I at first thought. I also discovered, however, that other countries are much more focused on world politics and world news than in the U.S. and while in Spain I became much more interested in global affairs. To this day, I strive to read more global news in order to expand my perspective beyond the U.S.

 

 

  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.

 

My most noticeable transformation occurred in the workplace. As mentioned above, I became much more aware of what I want in the workplace. I did not get the opportunity to work with a lot of numbers and really missed doing that by the end of the summer. I did, however, get the opportunity to work on a close knit team every day and discovered that this is something I value in the work place. At my internship, I also had to conduct client outreach and was able to speak via email and Skype with professionals all over Spain and Europe (including Belgium, Ireland, and the U.K.). I loved getting the opportunity to meet and work with these people from all over, and these global relations would be ideal in a future workplace. Through these calls and working in a Spanish and English speaking workplace, my communication skills improved immensely.

One of the most influential relationships I had in Spain was with one of my bosses, Irene. She was a very motivated person who inspired me every day at work. Though many view the typical Spanish workplace as laid back (and I know this is true in some cases), my company, being a startup was very fast-paced. Irene constantly pushed me out of my comfort zone, spoke to me in Spanish to help me practice (even when my coworkers sometimes spoke with me in English), and challenged me with new tasks. Her high expectations of me pushed me to become a better professional and a better person.

 

Outside of this transformational relationship, I had many transformational experiences throughout my summer in Madrid. From navigating a foreign to tackling new projects at work, I developed in many ways. Outside of work, I also learned a lot on the weekends when I was given the opportunity to travel to Valencia, Toledo, Barcelona, Seville, and Grenada; as well as Budapest, Hungary; Dublin, Ireland; Lisbon, Portugal; and Rome and Florence, Italy. By travelling to so many different countries, I gained a new appreciation for the various cultures and people I met in each one. Back at home, I am more knowledgeable about these places when it comes to cultural things you can’t learn in a textbook and I hope to visit each city again down the road.

 

  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.

 

Between strengthening my soft skills and widening my global perspective, this past summer allowed me to grow and develop as a person beyond the walls of my internship. Professionally, I have gained more insight into what career path I would like to take in the future. The new global mindset I acquired will also benefit me in a job setting. Personally, I made lifelong friendships with students from around the U.S. and my coworkers and others I met in Madrid. Each person I met taught me something different that I would take with me back home to Columbus and wherever my life takes me in the future. I hope to not only one day travel back to Madrid, but live and work in Europe full time as I learned to love the lifestyle, culture, and people I encountered while interning abroad. The transition moving back home to the U.S. was not an easy one, and now I find myself longing for two places at once, having a home both in Ohio and in Spain, and missing one while I’m in the other. But I know that I will eventually go back and the experience I had this past summer is not one I would change for anything.

OSU Interns in Palacio Real de Madrid

View from Círculo de Bellas Artes (my favorite spot in Madrid)

Me and my Pangea coworkers at lunch

My Transformational Experience: Barcelona 2017

For the fall semester of 2017, I studied abroad at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. I studied Spanish language and culture while living with a host family in the city, in addition to traveling to various parts of Europe and Morocco in order to gain greater insight and first-hand experience with other cultures and lifestyles.

Castells- a Catalonian tradition

This project led me to a greater understanding of other cultures and lifestyles and enabled me to expand my worldview and my fluency in the Spanish language. The world feels so much smaller now, and my confidence in speaking Spanish is much greater than it was before I embarked on this journey. I am more understanding, accepting, and curious about other cultures, belief systems, and ideas. Besides these anticipated changes, living in Barcelona also sparked some unexpected but just as valuable transformations that have changed the way I think, budget time, and interact with others for the better.

View from Montserrat

My time in Barcelona also enabled me to gain a greater understanding of myself as an individual and as an introvert. As someone who enjoys and needs time for thinking and reflection, I have also struggled to find a balance in a world that seems to favor extroversion. Finding a balance in a completely new, unfamiliar, and at times intimidating environment was the biggest challenge I have ever encountered. However, knowing that I succeeded in this endeavor abroad, I am even more confident that I can find a good balance in my career and personal life. As a twin I have often been seen as part of a pair, and I’ve never spent more than a few days away from my twin. Living away from everyone I knew for a few months gave me a new sense of independence and individuality.

As a twin, I had lived my whole life with my sister at my side. Making connections with new people who had no idea that I was a twin was a refreshing new experience for me and allowed me to be more in touch with myself as an individual. This has changed how I approach everyday life and interactions, and has brought me a greater sense of individuality and independence.

The biggest challenge I faced abroad was finding a balance as an introvert. As someone who needs quiet time for reflection and thinking each day, exploring and navigating a new environment in my second language, meeting all new people, and adjusting to a different lifestyle were often daunting, frustrating, and exhausting tasks. The first few weeks in my new home, I was often tired, stressed, and determined that being an introvert in today’s society was a mistake. Indeed, going into this project I had hoped that I would become more extroverted: that I would need less quiet time and be more adventurous and outspoken.

It was in the Sahara desert of Morocco that I came to the realization that this was not what was going to happen. This was the most difficult realization I made on the entire trip. The day the plane took off, I was so physically and mentally exhausted that I debated staying in Barcelona. I didn’t think I could handle the stress of travel or of interacting with so many new people at once. Spending several nights in a desert and having to navigate another new country after I’d just adjusted to Spain sounded like insurmountable obstacles. However, I decided that morning that this was not an opportunity I was going to miss; I was going to pack my things and take on the adventure. I decided at the same time that I would stop trying to ignore my need to reflect; I would make an effort instead to be more aware of my energy level and sense of well-being.

That week ended up being the most incredible and changing week of my life thus far. I challenged myself more than I ever had before, riding camels over endless stretches of sand dunes, sleeping in ‘haimas’ under a sky full of stars, eating Moroccan food and immersing myself in a culture even more unfamiliar than that of Spain.

Camel ride to the big dune

I was able to challenge myself to this degree because I also took time to be in touch with myself. I woke up at 6 am to the prayer calls from the nearby village, watched the caravans inch over the dunes in front of a red sunrise, sat in awe of the number of stars that were visible from our camp, and wrote in my journal religiously. It was in these times of reflection that I realized that introversion is neither better nor worse than extroversion. I don’t need to change it; I just need to find a different way to balance out my time.

Sunrise in Morocco

So, while I became more daring and confident, I also became more comfortable, happy, and balanced as an introvert. In addition to meeting an excellent group of new friends, exploring incredible new places, and challenging myself in the classroom, I began to write more in my journal each night and to take time alone to enjoy the beach, a sunset, a local band, a museum, or a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop.

Olivemoon- a local band

In Spain, I overcame the challenges of life in a foreign country, lived outside of my comfort zone a bit each day, and gained so much insight into my own identity. I feel much more ready to conquer whatever challenges my future holds. Having found a balance abroad, I am very confident that I will be able to carry this balance over into my professional and personal life in the future. I am more confident, independent, and fearless.

Sunset by the beach

I am eager to continue learning about not only the Spanish language and culture, but also of cultures and people all around the world. The world has suddenly appeared in my eyes so much more diverse and rich in ideas, and yet so much smaller and interconnected than I’d ever imagined before. Overall, study abroad has helped me to become not just a better speaker of Spanish, a better communicator, and a better global citizen, but also more understanding, accepting, independent, confident, and daring. These qualities are essential for success in my future career and happiness in my personal life. The challenges I faced abroad were not easy to overcome, but the transformations they have brought about have made them all more than worth the struggles, and I would not trade my time in Barcelona for anything.

¡Emma en Ecuador!

For my STEP Signature Project I spent a semester studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador through the University of Minnesota Studies in International Development Program. Throughout the semester I was immersed in Ecuadorian culture by participating in a home stay, taking my classes entirely in Spanish, and having an internship at a government agency dedicated to providing resources to victims of interfamilial violence. To conclude my experience I wrote a 30-page research paper in Spanish about the interseccionality of gender-based violence in Ecuador.

I believe that a quote I found at a museum in Quito explains how both my understanding of myself and my worldview changed during my time spent abroad. “Yo lloré porque no tenía zapatos hasta que vi un ninõ que no tenía pies” // “I cried because I did not have shoes until I saw a boy who had no feet” This quote left a huge impression on me as each day in Ecuador I evaluated my privilege in new and critical ways. It can be all too easy to feel bad for myself for small reasons and then I walk outside of my apartment and see a woman holding her baby in the middle of the street selling apples or a disabled man begging on the sidewalk. Additionally, my privilege of being a U.S. citizen holds so much value. I have realized during my time here that one’s citizenship can determine so much about the opportunities that are presented to them in life. One day at my internship I was at an elementary school giving a presentation and when the students found out that I was from the U.S. they thought I was so cool and begun to ask me a plethora of questions. Then my supervisor told the class that if they studied hard each and every day that one-day they could go work or study in the U.S. The kids were all thrilled to hear this, but it made me so deeply sad because I know the reality is that even as hard as lots of people work there are just too many structural and political barriers in place to allow for this immigration to occur. While studying in Ecuador, I often felt guilty for the opportunities I have been given when so many other people just don’t have the same chances in life. Because of this I feel highly motivated to use my position and privilege in society to work for more equity.

Throughout my semester I had many experiences that exposed me to distinct cultural practices, which enriched my understanding of world cultures and traditions. I visited many indigenous communities and got to experience the rituals that are an important part of life. In one community called, Agato, our group had the privilege of eating dinner and learning traditional medicinal practices from the locals. The dinner started a few hours before we actually ate with a ceremony to bless the raw produce through a traditional Kichiwa song, then the vegetables were placed in a deep hole with hot rocks from a fire. This hole was then covered and we all danced around it while the vegetables started to cook. While the food was cooking we got to witness a very sacred and traditional medical practice. It involves the killing of a guinea pig by rubbing it with lots of force on the body of a human and then the dissection of the guinea pig to see what it died of. According to traditional medicine whatever was wrong with the body of the guinea pig is what is wrong with he human it died on. A girl in my program eagerly elected to have this traditional practice done to her and before it began many people choose to leave the room because it is quite graphic. The live guinea pig was brought into the room and we could hear its’ squeals as it was rubbed against the body of my classmate. After about five minutes of rubbing the animal all over her body the guinea pig become lifeless and was promptly cut into and skinned. Every organ and intestinal part was examined to see what was abnormal. The final verdict was that the guinea pig had bad circulation, stiff joints and hard ovaries, which insinuates that the girl has and should treat herself for these same bodily problems. It was fascinating to observe this medical ritual and partake in a night of cross-cultural learning. This experience, among with many more really gave me an appreciation for indigenous culture and their traditions that are so important to appreciate and preserve.

Beyond learning about traditional culture practices during my time in Ecuador, I also learned about the realities of life for many people. My internship at El Centro de Apoyo Integral de Tres Manuelas, a government agency that provides resources for women and families who have been victims of interfamilial violence, showed me the harsh conditions that many people live under. The area of Quito where Tres Manuelas is located is one of the poorest in the city where many people don’t have a steady job or income and violence and drugs are commonplace. The internship I had was centered around creating a curriculum to present to school groups during November, the month against violence. Through a variety of short films, activities and discussions I led hour long sessions for kids that come into the center throughout the month. During my time at Tres Manuelas I also visited many schools and houses in the area. Oftentimes the schools didn’t have an adequate amount of supplies and the houses or apartments had large families living in just a few small rooms. I also talked with and heard the stories of women who had been in or were currently living in violent situations. In Ecuador, “machismo” or male dominance over women is quite commonplace and sadly it is accepted as normal in many communities. Observing all of these environments and hearing these stories really gave me perspective on the privileges that I am so accustomed to having.

During my internship experience I also wrote a thirty-page research paper based on my experiences at Tres Manuelas. My final paper analyzes intimate partner violence against women through lenses of identity and history. I interview university women to find out about their experiences with violence and recovery from violent situations. My research strives to holistically analyze violence as a universal experience while also differentiating how identity impacts experiences of violence. To tie my research together I relate the experiences of violence to the attempts to control the actions and bodies of women. Writing this paper entirely in Spanish was a huge challenge for me and I learned a lot about the varied experiences of women who have been in violent situations.

This experience of studying in Quito for the semester was very transformational and significant to my life. Each day of living in Quito I did things that were outside of my comfort zone, sometimes small things like taking the bus by myself or other times they were larger like  presenting a program in Spanish to 50 children. My internship experience made me realize that I really want to have a career where I can work closely with community members. I now want to go forward with the intention of getting a job in the nonprofit or public sector. Personally, I got to travel to many different parts of Ecuador and it sparked my interest to travel and see more of the world. Overall, I believe my semester abroad made me a more well-rounded person and a led me to realize I definitely want to have a career where I can help others and give back to the community. 

Dominican Republic Service Excursion

The study abroad adventure was in the Dominican Republic. This trip was a service learning experience, that focused on Agricultural Sustainability and Environmental Resources. The program was an action packed nine days that allowed 16 fellow voyagers and I to fully immerse ourselves in the rural countryside of the DR.

One word comes to mind when thinking about how my view of the world transformed as result of this program—privilege. Prior to this excursion, I had partaken in many privilege workshops at Ohio State. However, these workshops determined privilege between peers at school, peers who were American citizens. By traveling to another country, I saw, first hand, how under privileged another area of the world was in comparison to my home. I saw poor waste management, loose chemical restrictions, and a lack of water treatment availability.

I was blown away by the concept of not having clean water. How could something so accessible be so difficult to utilize? This was one of the most transforming aspects of the trip, for I saw how difficult it was to live in a world with unclean water. The daily struggle, hardships, and inconvenience were visible each day. The experience has stayed with me longer after my return home, and I am still pondering ways that I can contribute to the efforts that are combating this country’s issue.

The interaction that led to my transformation would be the service project that I took part in while abroad. I traveled to La Piedra, a local community that my main guide had created and works with to improve. The project was running 600 feet of pipe from a pre-dug well all throughout the community to provide water for the local people. The work was exhausting, as it required digging a trench with a pick axe in extremely rocky terrain. When I first began working, the local people did not seem interested in helping; however, after just a brief period of watching, many of the people began to pitch in. Before I knew it, the entire community was taking a turn in the strenuous work.

The work and ability to help was tremendously rewarding, yet the local community still treated me in a way that made me feel so welcomed. They prepared a delicious lunch and encouraged me to view some of their forms of entertainment around the community. This made the work even more worthwhile, as I could see the appreciation from their actions. These people were astounding excited about the idea of having running water, and I could not wait to help them finish the project.

Upon completing the well, digging the trenches, and laying the pipe, the last task was to connect the pump to the make-shift transformers that powered the community. Although this task was completed after my departure, I was still able to see photos of the flowing water from the pipes that I assisted in installing. The overwhelming feeling of joy has furthered my transformational experience. Overall, this service project in total is what led to my transformation. I saw the water scarcity issues in the country, and I could aide in fixing the problem for one community. This may have been a small-scale fix, but I believe it has instilled in me a sense of hope that this issue can be resolved soon.

This abroad journey was my first international adventure. Before this trip, I had only considered traveling for vacation, which I believe most people do. Often, I feel as if it is far too easy to get caught up in the idea of deserving a vacation, but going to a new location to complete a service project was eye opening. I saw some of aspects of life, that I take for granted, that are inaccessible in other areas. More importantly, I learned about matters that I can hopefully educate others about to find solutions for the problems.

I believe this transformational experience was very valuable for my life, as I am majoring in Agriscience Education. This degree will allow me to instruct an agricultural based curriculum at the high school level. Along with being an Ag teacher, I will have the opportunity to be an FFA advisor. The National FFA Organization is the largest youth-led organization in the nation. Today, over 600,000 members across the United States, including Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, are working hard to advance our nation’s most valuable industry—agriculture. By having this opportunity to educate youth, I hope to inform them about the issues that lie just outside of our borders. This education will empower students to seek positions that fix or send aide to these areas. Overall, my second-year transformational experience in the Dominican Republic enlightened my career path by providing me with a stronger purpose—a purpose that will lead to a better world.