London City and Culture Spring Break Trip

For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to London during spring break with the Knowlton School of Architecture, a part of the course ARCH 5798. While in London, I visited many historical sites and learned about their design and architectural style. Additionally, I learned more about the British culture through interaction with citizens of London.

Before embarking on this trip, I had very little experience with international travel and I was not confident in my own abilities to travel to and navigate in a foreign country. After just a few days in London, I was able to explore the area near our hotel, though by the end of the trip, I felt as if I could get anywhere in the city as long as I had some sort of map. In addition to my lack of confidence in travelling, I was very ignorant of many of the differences in culture that exist between the United States and England. Although I learned of some of the basic differences in class, I felt like I did not truly understand them. By the end of my stay in London, I felt as though I truly understood a large portion of the cultural differences, allowing me to appreciate their culture.

Coming into this trip, I had no idea how I would be able to navigate a city as enormous as London. I was very discouraged by looking at the Tube map and the different bus routes that are used to get around the city. After being in the city for less than two days, I was already taking both the tube and the bus to get to where I needed to be. These were very daunting tasks at first, as it seems like nobody was willing to help me and would’ve run me over in the process, though after a few times of using both, I was very comfortable and felt as if I could get to any of the other stations or stops as long as I had a map.

Similar to how I felt with using public transportation, I initially felt as if I would not be able to navigate the streets of London on my own. Looking at a map of the city, it is very easy to tell that many of the streets throughout London are not straight and change names multiples times. This was very confusing to me at first, though by the end of the trip I was very comfortable with walking around on the streets. Between the walking tour that I went on with my group and spending my free day exploring different areas of the city on foot, I gained a new confidence for my own abilities to navigate unfamiliar cities on foot.

Throughout my time in London, I had many opportunities to experience different parts of British culture through personal interactions and just noticing the nuances of people’s public behavior. It is my belief that these experiences are absolutely necessary in order to truly understand differences between two cultures. Before having the opportunity the experience different parts of British culture, I was unable to truly understand the differences in culture between theirs and ours, even though I had read about them from a variety of sources. After experiencing the differences in person, I was able to understand the differences in culture and actually compare the culture of the United States to the culture of England.

I think that having the confidence to navigate an unknown environment is an invaluable skill to have and is very important for being a global citizen. Whether I will be travelling for business or for pleasure in the future, I will want to be able to visit wherever I please without having to worry about relying on someone else to get me there. After going on this trip, I am very confident in my own abilities to travel around in such complex cities like London.

Understanding different cultures is also another very important part of being a global citizen. If one cannot understand and respect the differences in other cultures, then it will be incredibly difficult to truly appreciate all parts of the world. After this trip, I am able to say that I have a basic understanding of differences between United States culture and British culture, which allows me to appreciate different aspects of their culture. I believe this is will be very important to me in the future, as understanding differences in culture will be invaluable when working for an international corporation.

Spring Break in London

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in a Spring Break trip to London through Knowlton, and its required class ARCH 5798. We visited many places on the trip that were known for not just their architectural features, but their cultural significance like St. Paul’s Cathedral. We also explored sketching as a part of both the class and trip.

I experienced a new city fitting into an old layout. London despite being almost 2000 years old, has grown and adapted to the modern world. Like London, in order to thrive, one needs to adapt with the times. Not everything needs to stay the same, cities and people can improve themselves over time.

The streets were difficult to navigate as the city layout seemed to not have changed in decades, if not centuries in some places. Yet, there were so many construction cranes building new skyscrapers in multiple areas. The tube connected the city well, making it easy to get from place to place on our trip. In  one moment you could be looking at a building centuries old, and another moment you could be looking at a shiny new skyscraper.

The change is also present in other areas such as government. Despite having a much smaller population than the United States, their representative body of government has several hundred more members. On my last day in London, I took a tour of Parliament and I learned more about the United Kingdom’s government. According to my tour guide, the UK government tended to have more aspects of it that were not as “political” as their American counterparts. While it has taken centuries for the UK to move away from hereditary requirements in places like the House of Lords, their current system seems to be more inclusive to different political parties, and therefore ideas.

American politics leave out any party besides the Republican and Democratic parties, especially on the national level. While voting with the party is more expected in the UK than in the US, party loyalty on most issues still seems to be required in Congress. It just makes me think how could the US be different if there were three or more major parties. Would laws passed represent more of the people’s wishes, or would there be too much gridlock, creating inaction in the government?

I think experiencing a different culture or country is valuable in that it can help us think more critically about our own. As our country seems to be getting more split between left and right, Democrat and Republican, an alternative might seem more intriguing. It is important to vote for people that best represent you, but difficult when there are only two choices, vying for opposite ends of a spectrum.

Parliament

Brazil 2018

My signature project was a two week dance tour in Salvador, Brazil with the OSU Dance department. We performed as various venues including schools, professional dance companies, other college dance students, and other community organizations.

This trip was the first touring experience I’ve had as a dancer and it changed my perception of what touring would be. We had classes as well as performances, and it was a lot on our bodies. The heat also played a part in the physicality of the tour. It was a learning experience because every venue was different and it was interesting having to adjust show programs, order, and costumes according to the space. As a performer, it is so important to versatile and open to changes.Every show was a different experience, which is something I really enjoyed.

Every audience was different as well, and there were so many people that wanted to come talk to us after every performance and I enjoyed hearing their feedback about our show. It is interesting to me how every person interprets our show differently, and even differently that us as performers interpreted it. We were able to have some really conversations around race, gender perceptions, and what it means to be black in Brazil and the United States. Learning about their struggles helped me put some of my opinions into a different lens and look at situations in a new light.The Brazilian culture is very diverse, but they acknowledge their history, and that was a nice difference between Brazil and the United States.

Their culture is deeply rooted in the African Diaspora and that influence is present in everything they do and all their pop culture. They are also able to have open and honest conversations about that heritage and that influence, while differentiating between what were African influences and what were indigenous influences. They also pay a lot of homage to their indigenous influences and still use their traditions throughout everyday Brazilian life. I appreciated how they were able to tell me where everything came from-i.e. specific dances, music rhythms, clothing influences, and foods. They are very knowledgable as a people about their heritage and lineage. This made me think about how the different influences in the United States are not acknowledged and what would happen if those rightful influences got the reference and recognition they deserve. This is in direct reference to pop culture and music being influenced and created from African Americans without their recognition.

It shows how unaware the American people are to acknowledge culture, and ignorant in not wanting to know where references come from. That was heightened when I saw how aware the Brazilians were. While we were in Brazil, as mentioned earlier, we took classes in different Brazilian dance styles and culturally important styles of movement. We took Samba and Swing dance classes, Capoeira classes, and History of Orixa’s classes. Learning styles that were important to Brazilian culture changed how I saw Brazil. It allowed me to connect with the people and culture on a deeper level because it gave me more than surface level knowledge of the culture. It didn’t just tell me what was important, it offered an explanation as to why certain aspects were important. It gave context as to their importance historically and how Brazilian’s have changed it to make it important contemporarily.

I was surprised to find that Brazil encounters a lot of the same problems around race that the United States deals with. However, it was interesting learning about how they deal with their race issues and it made me question the way the United States deals with race relations. Being able to identify with black Brazilians and their struggles challenges the way I look at issues around race as an international problem. I tend to get narrow vision around race issues as they only pertain to the United States and Africa, when they are issues that occur internationally. And if a country like Brazil who embraces their African history and influence can have issues around race, it makes me question how much bigger the issue is and how the United States will work through its similar issues.

This experience as an African American in a different country was eye opening in how much I learned about the African influence that is throughout Brazil gave me insight to heritage and lineage of Africans that in turn is infused in African American culture because of the lineage of Africans through slavery. As the trip continued, I found it harder to distinguish what was Afro-Brazilian and African American because there were so many similarities or things I could relate to that I see in African American culture. I also think it taught me to appreciate what their culture had to offer. Without learning about Afro-Brazilian and Brazilian culture, I wouldn’t have a clear understanding of what I wanted to influence my work as a dancer, my understanding of music and dance, and cultural influence. Learning about their culture gave me context and vocabulary to more effectively communicate my ideas and my thought processes in movement. Their understanding of music gave a plethora of ways to communicate what I was thinking about a movement or where it came from, and them understanding it in my body became easier. This will definitely influence the work I do because some of their vocabulary is irreplaceable, and there aren’t other words or visuals to use to describe it except for that specific context.

Besides pulling from African American culture and lived experience, I have never pulled from any other context to create work because that was what I was most knowledgeable about and what I felt comfortable doing. However, after coming back from Brazil, I feel knowledgeable to pull from their vocabulary, and cultural context, and do it respectfully because I have learned about it. Not only have I learned their dance and music through educational classes, but learning from locals, college students, and professionals have given context to how the residents feel and thus giving me versions of their lived experience to inform my appreciation of it and how to work with it.

Dance Brazil

The 2018 Ohio State University Brazil Dance Tour is a unique study abroad experience that was specifically created for Ohio State dance majors with a desire to reach beyond American dance education and experience movement in the context of global diversity. This unparalleled experience allowed twelve hand-picked students to tour internationally, gain first-hand experience with Afro-Brazilian culture, and grow in a new and exciting environment. For nearly six months, we worked to learn and rehearse ten repertory pieces that were performed all throughout the Brazilian state of Bahia. Each piece was crafted to reflect the substantial impact that the African Diaspora has left on American dance. Led by assistant professor Daniel Roberts, the tour kicked off on March 3rd, 2018. Together, we left Columbus, Ohio to explore Salvador de Bahia, Brazil for two weeks.

I found that performing as a member of the 2018 Brazil Tour Group allowed me to gain a better understanding of the way things culturally operate outside of the United States. Based on all that I saw and experienced, my views on dance, religion, and communication have expanded immensely. One thing that will forever ring through my bones and provide inspiration is how deeply woven dance is in Brazilian culture. It doesn’t matter if you’re praying in church, eating lunch at a restaurant, or even walking down the street – these are all moments to dance. In Crystal Michelle Perkins’ piece for our tour, The Amen Corner, we explore how the line between church and celebration was blurred by Africans through dance. People would groove all night at parties that bled into mass the following morning. In Brazil, I saw this concept come to life as people found opportunities to dance wherever they were. In our culture, this idea is non-existent, so I am grateful for being able to experience it first hand in Brazil.

Over the course of our tour, we were able to take a variety of classes from Brazilian dance masters that focused in everything from samba to capoeira. Although my body struggled to pickup the polyrhythms behind each technique, I was able to celebrate movement alongside my peers without getting caught up in “looking good”. The culture in Brazil seems to emphasize this idea – the idea that dance is a celebratory device for feeling good and appreciating what we have. Each instructor fed us movement with very little words and huge, contagious smiles. I found that in spite of the language barrier, we were able to communicate through movement and music alone. This is something I experienced after our performances as well whenever we had the chance to engage with the audience. Most of our “gigs” were held at local schools, and the children always went crazy! I’ve never seen young people find the kind of excitement in dance that they did after watching us. We’d leave the stage and immediately get attacked with hugs, kisses, and autograph books. Even though my Portuguese isn’t too sharp, I was able to hold conversations with them through movement alone.

Seeing the notion that “dance is a universal language” come to life was such a blessing. Coming back to the US, I have started to ask fewer questions and rely more on my eye to pickup choreography when working in the studio. By actively listening, using eye contact, and mapping the bodies of my peers and instructors, I have formed deeper connections with those around me. I’ve also been able to understand, interpret, and pick up movement more efficiently! Without the experience of communicating with the children in Brazil, my toolbox would lack this approach.

All that I experienced in Brazil might have been fed to me in just two short weeks, however I know that every moment will ring through my bones for a lifetime. I grew up as a dancer, however I’ve never really been able to experience dance outside of Ohio. Traveling to Salvador has opened my eyes to possibilities that movement can bring, especially on a global level. Down the road, I aspire to teach dance as a way for me to give back to the community while fulfilling my desire to work with children and help them find growth in exciting and healthy ways. I know that once my future career as an educator kicks off, I’ll bring pieces of Brazil with me to share with my students. My goal will to create environments where people can safely explore and celebrate their unique architectures without feeling pressure to do anything other have a blast.

To read more about my trip, visit www.osudancebrazil.wordpress.com. I created and managed the site myself, so I hope you enjoy!

STEP Reflection – Study Abroad Scientific Roots in Europe

My STEP project was a Study Abroad for-credit experience during Spring Break 2018.  The “Scientific Roots in Europe” project spanned 10 days from March 9 to March 18, 2018 including London and Paris.  The primary objective of my STEP Study Abroad Project was to combine understanding the global community with academic achievement, pursuit of a Bachelor of Science degree, and community service.

This STEP project fit perfectly with my aspirations, talents, and passions.  From global travel, to gathering knowledge and sharing my experience to help others, this project satisfied and complimented who I am and who I want to be.  This STEP project included travel to London, England and Paris, France combined with exploring roots of famous scientists.  Prior to our trip, there were class assignments and direct involvement in learning and understanding the historic background of prominent scientists.

This project was transformative for me in integrating my personal and university life.  In the past, my travel experiences have been for pleasure and gradually increasing to understanding and appreciating global cultures.  This study abroad experience transitioned my travel experience to include more activities with other students and professors.  This project enhanced my experience at The Ohio State University by developing relationships with faculty and fellow students and increasing my involvement with the college.  My interaction with the faculty lead on the Study Abroad trip helped me better understand a professor’s perspective.  Spending time with other students created lasting friendships.  I learned about myself and my ability to plan excursions and be independent.

There were several experiences on my Study Abroad experience that contributed to transforming experience and relationships with other students and professors. The first experience on our trip was a visit to Charles Darwin’s home in London, England.  During the class, my experience with other students and professors was limited to a class setting with more professional learning environment.  Once on the trip, I was able to see the real personalities of my classmates and professors.  When you are with other people all day and all night on a trip, you can really see how they act.  At Darwin’s home we learned at a museum in a more relaxed setting than a classroom.

The second transformative experience was during a trip to Stonehenge, England during a “free day” that I planned all the travel and events.  We woke up early and took the underground subway “The Tube” from near our hotel to the Waterloo Train Station.  From there we had to retrieve already purchased tickets from a machine and board the correct train.  The train traveled through the county side to Salisbury in 1-1/2 hours.  From there we had to purchase tickets to a double-decker bus that went to Stonehenge in 30 minutes.  Once at Stonehenge, we received free group entry with tickets I had already coordinated with the Stonehenge historical site staff prior to the trip.  I had arranged free group entry that allowed us to get close to the posts and column rocks.  Our small group of five students, with me as the leader, toured the ancient site.  We were off on our own in a foreign country with no adult supervision.  It was cold and cloudy, but due to the excitement of being there we didn’t mind.  I learned about my own ability to plan and lead an event for a small group.  We took the same bus, train, and subway back to our hotel and my fellow classmates commented on how well the excursion was organized.

At the end of the Study Abroad Trip, we were in Paris, France and had another “free day” to plan what we wanted.  The other students on the trip wanted to go back to the Museé d’Orsey, but I suggested Disneyland Paris.  None of the other students wanted to take the 1-hour trip, so I went by myself.  There I was in a foreign country by myself without knowledge of the language and riding the train to Disneyland Paris.  I didn’t know what to expect, but once I got there, I realized how much fun I could have on rides.  There was a way to bypass the lines as a single rider, so I was able to ride Space Mountain six times, and the Indiana Jones ride four times.  I had a blast going from ride to ride in the foreign county.  At the end I took the train back to the room and told my classmates how much fun they missed.

These transformative experiences are significant in defining my character and helpful in my life to develop useful skills.  In my first experience, I found it important to understand the people we meet and learn from or work with are all just regular people underneath.  They have to eat, sleep, work, and have purpose just like students.  I think it makes it easier to relate to people once you know a little bit more about them.  On my excursion to Stonehenge, it became apparent I have excellent organizational and leadership abilities.  In a strange environment with a higher chance of something going wrong, I was able to execute my excursion plan successfully and students on the trip were pleased with the outcome.  Lastly, I believe I learned the most about myself on the last day of the trip when I didn’t “follow the crowd’s decision” and went off by myself to enjoy Disneyland Paris.  This independence came out of my personality at a critical juncture in my college experience.  The experiences during my Travel Abroad “Scientific Roots in Europe” with stay with me for the rest of my life.

   

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Rome: the Ancient City

    For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled abroad with the program Ancient Rome: Approaches to an Ancient City for spring break. The week-long program was coupled with a spring semester class that focuses on Roman mapping, topography and movement through these spaces. Throughout the semester, we have learned about different ancient sites and different authors’ views on them. While in Rome, we were able to visit some of these places and museums as well as give presentations while on the actual site. Some of the main sites that we visited and discussed were the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Museum of the Imperial Forums, the Ara Pacis Museum, the Vatican, the city of Ostia Antica, and a few contemporary art museums as well to further draw connections between the ancient and modern world.

Piazza Navona

As for my understanding and view of the world in general, I feel noticeably more confident about my abilities to navigate new places and to engage in discussion about more than just my home in Columbus, Ohio. I had never traveled abroad before, let alone with classmates that I had just met this semester, so at first there was some anxiousness. However, I learned a lot about myself and how I am more open to new situations that are out of my comfort zone than I thought I was.

There have already been instances while at home that I have been anxious about a presentation or situation at work, but I can reassure myself more now because I know I have handled much more before. Going along with that, my view of the world and my perceptions of problems have changed a lot. By exposing myself to a culture and country on the other side of the world, I learned there is so much more to the world and its people than just the lives that we live in America.

The interactions and relationships that I have had with my classmates both in the city of Rome as well as in the classroom have definitely helped change my outlook while back at home. As the program was established by the Ohio State Department of Classics, many of my fellow students chose to be enrolled in the program due to their history or classics related majors. I am a Social Work major, so at first I thought I would be left in the dark about a lot of the topics and conversations that we would have in the program. However, I was able to find a lot of interest in researching more information on my own that I would not regularly study. This helped me as a student in learning how to adapt to certain coursework that I am not familiar with.

I also made connections with my classmates that I never normally would have just by being in the classroom at school. The ability to explore an unknown city and see first hand the different things that we had learned about in class was very exciting and inspiring. This was unlike any other experience I will have with my classmates in my major coursework, so this is a way that I could connect with this class even though we had different backgrounds with our majors.

The different activities that we took part in, such as visiting different museums, eating group meals together, and trying to speak in Italian, all allowed me to truly step out of my comfort zone more than I ever have. Due to our coursework, these were also all experiences that I had appreciated and understood so much more than I would have if I had just taken a vacation to Italy. These experiences helped me see just how small my world view used to be. Now, I am even more interested in learning more about the history of ancient Rome and want to educate myself more about the different places I will visit in the future.

The Vatican

The experience of traveling to Rome, Italy with my classmates has undoubtedly made a significant impact on my life. It has opened my eyes to having a much wider worldview, but also allowed me to see that the world and all of its cultures may not be so different and distant after all. By traveling abroad for the first time, I was able to immerse myself in the Roman culture and take the time to see similarities as well as differences between Rome and the United States. This was valuable to me and my personal and professional goals because I plan to be a mental health counselor working in the social work field, and I place great emphasis on trying to understand individuals’ backgrounds, cultures, and ways of life that affect their behavior and well-being. I believe that this is the best way to start empathizing with individuals and truly learn a lot about them in order to help them. I was very grateful to be able to see a new country that differs from the United States, but also allowed me to appreciate finding common ground areas that I could relate to.

National Roman Museum (Baths of Diocletian)

Bridging the gap between cultures or people is something I am always working on in my coursework and plan to do in my career, so it was enlightening to actively be thinking about the importance of this during the trip. Going along with that concept, I also benefitted greatly from the requirement to keep a journal of each day in Rome, specifically highlighting different sites or experiences from historical, personal, and social perspectives. This was another great example of how I was able to critically think about how different people, historians, and myself would respond to the different sites and museums in the city. The act of regularly keeping a journal was also very helpful for me in the sense that I became more mindful and insightful of what I was seeing so that I could thoroughly write about it. I plan to continue using these insights and the practice of journaling to become more mindful in my everyday life. Also, once I was able to present to my classmates while in Rome on a subject that I had previously known nothing about, I instantly felt more confident in everything I did. I now continue to remind myself of my ability to pursue difficult or unknown areas in my education, which will help me in the long run as I work towards my degrees.

Ancient Ruins of Theater in Ostia Antica

I always knew that Rome was the one place that I would go to if I could go to any other country, but I had no idea that I would gain so much insight into my education in the classroom as well as my own personal life. I will always be grateful to the Ohio State University and the STEP Program in particular for giving me the chance to fulfill this dream for me and granting me with an abundance of memories and experiences I never would have had before.

 

Emoree Heiselt – Education Abroad – London Culture and Experience UK

 

For my STEP Signature Project I had the chance to travel to London during the spring break of 2018. Leading up to the trip, I attended a course directed by Aimee Moore to help prepare for the trip and develop skills in design to accurately catalogue the experience. In total, it was an amazing ten days, even the plane-rides there and back.

Throughout the trip I had a lot of thoughts about how the city met the needs of the people who lived, arrived, and worked there. This was partially due to the fact that I had always glamorized London and United Kingdom which meant there were a few ‘huh’ moments. To be exact, the lack of trashcans and water fountains was something I didn’t understand. With a city that is on the cusp of sustainability and health, why weren’t there any resources of that nature? Also, there was never a lack of smokers. Everyone and their sister either had a cigarette or e-cig lit as we walked down the sidewalk. That was the main drawback I found from London that put a damper on the experience, but other than those rainclouds, London was a dream.

Though originally I didn’t seek transformation as much as I sought for enjoying the adventure, I find myself to be a different person after this trip based on the development of my original goals and expectations. There were lots of ways I grew (literally and subjectively), but two transformations were more prevalent:

  1. When I first wrote out my expectations for the trip I said I wanted to look at everything, but also find time to see it too. In my visits to other places I did a lot, but I never really got a chance to see what I was looking at. I think the way the trip was ‘timelined’ each day allowed for that and I’m grateful for the moments we had to sketch and observe. For example, we had enough time at Saint Paul’s Cathedral to run and explore around with enough time left to sit down and sketch, but it wasn’t just at St. Paul’s where I developed artistically.

Every place we went to lead to me TRANSFORMING my skills in sketching. A large portion of the class for the trip was centered on drawing using pens, pencils, ink-wash, or charcoal. Originally, I didn’t feel comfortable at being that artistically because I was never put in the position to sketch or draw something under twenty minutes, but at the end I had dozens of sketches that qualified as good. It was fun especially at the British Museum where I sat in the Enlightenment Room drawing the hallway because I myself became an exhibit that other attendees would watch and comment on.

  1. In addition, I was also concerned about adventuring, but not getting lost. London is big and busy. There’s not a lot of room for error when it comes to traveling through it. At the end of the ‘school’ day I planned on exploring the area around where we stop to the fullest extent, but I was concerned about getting lost since I had limited phone use to map around.

Surprisingly, though, I had a big moment of TRANSFORMATION when I grew the confident to go out on my own without needing guidance from a teacher. The night after we rode the London Eye, we were left to our own devices, and while everyone went to their respective plans, I took up my own journey. Despite being worried about getting lost, I was able to wander but not get lost, and find the piece of the city that I loved the most: the endless amount of options. In less than four hours I ran into two art gallery openings, a gala, a rock concert, and friends from summer camp five years ago. It was probably the bravest I have ever felt in my entire adult life; jumping from place to place. That night cemented my goal to live in the United Kingdom permanently.

London was exactly what I hoped for and more! The city was a collection of old and new, home and away, and an incredibly diverse population. I cannot begin to explain how happy I am that I went. I know that without OSU’s STEP program it would have impossible to have done this, and in addition to the new group of friends I made out of my classmates, I have been reminded what opportunities this university can provide with the help of its faculty.

Note: During the trip we posted our experiences onto a u.osu blog site. Click the link to check it out! — https://u.osu.edu/london2018/blog-posts/

Exterior view of St. Paul’s Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge

St. Paul’s Cathedral Whispering gallery sketch assignment

Mi Experiencia con Pura Vida

Over Spring Break of 2018, I participated in a study abroad program titled “Sustainable Service Learning in Costa Rica.” Throughout the duration of the trip, the group visited various local and organic farms, studying sustainable agricultural practices. We interacted with native and local people throughout the trip, and for several days we stayed with a local family to really experience the culture.

A saying called “Pura Vida” is commonly and regularly used throughout Costa Rica and it translates to “Pure life.” While this saying could mean something different to everyone, in its essence, it is a reminder to find the beauty of every moment in life. In Costa Rica, you could really sense that people lived by this saying. It is a reminder to not sweat the small stuff–negative things may happen in your lifetime but ultimately, they are not significant in the grand scheme of life. Life is short and beautiful, and you have to remember to embrace each moment, person, and experience. I really think that I will carry this saying with me throughout my life, remembering the beauty in everything I encounter.

In addition, I think that studying abroad allowed me to broaden my perspective of the world and experience a completely different culture and way of life. It is amazing how you can get so wrapped up in your own daily life, and forget that there are completely different and other ways of experiencing existence. This trip really opened my mind and eyes to this fact, and allowed me to experience a different perspective on a meaningful life…one without the competition, pressure, fast pace, and consumptive attitude that society in America has.

Several moments during the trip stand out as transformative or enlightening experiences. One would be the homestay families that we had the pleasure of staying at. For several nights, we stayed with a native family on their rural farm in Costa Rica, and this was truly enlightening. It was amazing to see how simply and authentically these families lived…they didn’t have many possessions or a fancy house, but they had a lot of love. It really made me consider what a happy or meaningful life is…it’s not about fame, money, or possessions, but rather to live harmoniously with others and the environment.

In addition, it was inspiring to visit many organic and local farms throughout the trip, and observe firsthand many of the sustainable agriculture practices being implemented. They had a relationship to the land that was not one of exploitation, but rather a give-and-take relationship that ensured healthy people and a healthy planet. I really hope to implement this mindset and these practices into America’s agricultural system.

Lastly, interacting and communicating with the local people was a really enlightening experience. Although I am not perfect at speaking Spanish, I did find that I remembered a lot of the language once I was immersed in a Spanish-speaking culture. It was really fulfilling to interact with local people and hear different backgrounds and views about life.

I really do feel like I personally grew a lot from this experience, and gained a valuable new perspective on the world and the meaning of life. In the future, I hope to always remember “pura vida” and try to implement this idea of a connection to the land and sustainable agriculture to practices and systems here in the United States. I will also remember that the meaning of life is not about a job, money, or possessions, but rather the experiences you have and the people you connect with.

 

Journey to the End of the World

For my STEP Signature Project, I studied abroad in Argentina and Antarctica in the program Antarctica: Human Impact on a Fragile Environment through the Office of International Affairs. Over the course of two weeks, student from universities around the country went to Ushuaia, Argentina and various locations around the Antarctic Peninsula, conducting research and appreciating the unadulterated nature.

I initially sought a journey to Antarctica to acquire a perspective of the world that not many people get to see; now, after my trip, there’s a conflict inside me whether people should visit the continent. The magnitude and majesty of Antarctica is incomprehensible, with towering glaciers and exotic wildlife unaccustomed to humans everywhere. But the cruel irony of ecotourism creeped into my mind throughout the trip, wondering how sustainable my actions really were. I wanted to share this amazing place with the whole world, but simultaneously, I knew increased human traffic would irreversibly mar the Antarctic ecosystem. This is not to mention the impact humans have had on Antarctica from thousands of miles away. From these revelations, I’ve become more aware of my global impact, through local and legislative actions.

Also, through my trip, I had a smaller change in my mindset that will still affect me greatly in my college career. Like many undergraduates, I always just assumed faculty were people absorbed in their work without much else to their personalities, but through some interactions on my trip, I was able to overcome this undergraduate hurdle and view faculty with more depth.

It was our second day of making excursions, and we had just landed at Petermann Island. We were given a mandatory briefing in English and Mandarin before the landing about the importance of not getting within five meters of penguins and to not step on their frequented paths, also known as penguin highways. After taking in the scenery for fifteen minutes, I approached one of my friends that appeared disgruntled and asked how he was doing. He grumbled to me about witnessing tourists walk across penguin highways with complete disregard, as well as seeing some people actually chasing down penguins to get the perfect picture instead of respecting international law and preserving the environment. I glanced around in disbelief, and then in horror. He was right. I spent the rest of the excursion on an isolated rock, watching the penguin colony struggle in the presence of dozens of humans and reflecting on the irony of my journey down to Antarctica. Even now I still wrestle with the ethics of my visit and if ecotourism should still continue.

We were at Brown Station, and had just finished climbing a steep mountain that gave us a breathtaking view of the bay on a backdrop of an icy mountain range. Before heading back to the vessel, the expedition leader took us on a Zodiac cruise of the surrounding area to check out some local cormorant colonies and some napping seals. We cruised by a cliff face with a small streak of green peeking through, and he explained that was a copper deposit, and how Antarctica is full of resources that many nations would love to exploit if they could. He ended with the importance of the Antarctic Treaty and how it’s the only thing standing between Antarctica and heavy resource extraction. This gave me a sense of urgency that I need to be aware of how my country and other countries handle policy concerning Antarctica and other natural havens.

Much of the time in Antarctica was not spent on land, but instead on the ship, especially the lounge. Trapped for ten days on this vessel with a limited amount of people to talk to, I made an unlikely connection and overcame one of the biggest fears of undergraduate life. Sitting around in the lounge, I started a conversation with one of the advising professors, and night after night, day after day, through small exchanges, we got to know each other and had intriguing conversations about his studies and our thoughts of various subjects. After the trip finished, it dawned on me that he was actually a professor: someone that stands in front of a class and leads discussions! It was bizarre to think that my professors were all normal people with opinions on things other than calculus.

Increased global awareness will continue to benefit me throughout my life, and hopefully beyond it too. Caring for our planet is extremely important, as climate change is one of today’s most pressing concerns. I hope this change of mindset can manifest itself into tangible progress in minimizing my impact on the planet, and also all of humanity’s impact as well.

With a newfound understanding and appreciation of professors, I hope that I can more readily approach professors and make stronger connections. These connections can enhance my education, as well as lend me future opportunities through recommendations and guidance.

Human-Animal Interactions: Spain Style

Throughout our journey to Spain through the Human-Animal Interactions Education abroad, we visited several different places that exemplified the diversify of animal care practices we as humans utilize, being given the opportunity to compare and contrast the cultural implications behind how we care for our animals. For example, we visited the Madrid Zoo, an animal rescue, several farms and animal research facilities, the Plaza de Toro (bull fighting arena) and more. Overall, throughout the places we visited in the wonderful country of Spain, there were many human-animal interactions that are similar and different that in the U.S., holding a good amount of pride and tradition in each.

“A country and its people should not be judged based on size. Nationalism is something you feel in your heart.” Dennis, the van driver and 9th generation Gibraltar native caught something that seemed to be prevalent throughout our trip through Spain: pride. No matter where we went or what human-animal interaction seemed to be in practice, there always seemed to be a certain amount of pride associated with it, whether that be due to tradition or just general production. Through animal practices such as entertainment and sports, production animal welfare, and commercial/touristic use, there were many human-animal interactions in Spain that were comparable to the United States.

Personally, this diverse belief system in the practice of animal use and care really opened my mind to how much a certain culture or way of thinking can change really effect an entire lifestyle different than my own. Yes, animal welfare and care may not seem that important to everyone, but entire industries in not just food production, but sports, education, conservation, and so much more are effected just by the way we care for our animals, and to travel somewhere seemingly similar and have it turn out to be quite different is eye opening in a way. While some things about their farming style, bull fighting, and expert practice in equestrian riding and show can be considered very controversial on several different levels, there is a huge amount of cultural belief and practice behind those practices that have been occurring for longer than the United States has even been a country. To see how much can play into our societal view of animals as human communities was very enlightening, and now I have a better understanding of why certain practices may be put into place because of the diversity behind the humans in control of animal life.

When it comes to the entertainment and sports industry and animals, there seemed to be more practices with a much deeper cultural meaning to them in Spain than in the United States. The first one that probably comes to mind is bull fighting. There is so much controversy outside of the country (excluding Catalonia) about the practice, and, while is can be considered inhuman euthanasia in the broad sense of the term “humane”, there doesn’t seemed to be much understanding behind why it is practiced. The Spanish bullfighting sport/entertainment industry isn’t exactly based off of revenue or gain, but the tradition and passion behind the fight. The bull is revered as ‘brave’ for the progression of the fight, and the way that its life is taken is basically seen as sacrificial. With each stage of the fight comes a different story, youth to midlife to the end of life, the fight is not just a show to the people who are watching it, but an almost spiritual performance. When the bull’s life is taken, the people involved are fully aware that it might be painful or incredibly stressful to the bull, but they also see this pain and stress as a valiant and courageous way to go. The bulls are going to be harvested for their meat either way, but to be utilized for their inbred behavior and dangerous attributes is basically an artform to the people involved. Bullfighting is almost a worshiping lifestyle, not only for the people involved in the fight but the ones who raise the bulls, and there is so much pride and tradition within each layer of the practice. The same could be said for the Spanish School of Equestrian Art and the practice of showing their horses. While some may think that showing horses is wrong and that there may be abuse involved, the relationship between the horse and the trainer/rider is something very unique. They both work toward the same goal of showing a prestigious movement or jump, and along with that comes a reputable pride in the aesthetics of the performance. This sport is also a lifestyle: a human-animal interaction that lasts longer than most.

Furthermore, I was very interested to see how the animal welfare practices and views were in Spain, and it turns out there were many commonalities with several differences in the upkeep of humane animal care. For example, in the University of Madrid’s animal research center, they also contained a system for ethical committee checks on the research process, however, it was a little more involved than the process we go through at Ohio State, having two in person committee reviews annually for each project. The government also seemed to have a greater hand in the auditing and care process of not only the research and production facilities, but even the animal rescue, donating just enough money to meet the physical needs of the animals brought to the shelter. That being said, the welfare practices and regulations on the farms that we visited seemed very similar to those we have in the United States, but with more control and regulation behind them.

Lastly, I feel like the certain pride that comes along with animal use and production in Spain should be noted. For example, everywhere we went in Spain, there were bull-themed products and statues, not only honoring the tradition and sport that is bull fighting, but using the animal as a symbol for the country itself. The same could be said with Gibraltar and the territory’s commercial use of macaques as a selling point for tourism. This sort of indirect human-animal interaction shows how much the people within and outside of the country appreciate the animals used in various settings, and use this point of pride to gain revenue. That same sort of pride was also reflected in certain animal products, like the pork and the cheese. To advertise the product as being a certain type, like 100% Manchego cheese or Iberian pork, there were many strict guidelines in place to defend that advertised labeling. Everything down to the color of the sheep and the exact feed intake of the pig were taken into account, and the whole of Spain has become famous for its pride in food. Indirect human-animal interactions such as animal imaging on products and consumption still do show the large amount of pride the Spanish have in their animal interactions, being very particular about the tradition that goes along with it as well.

Overall, throughout the places we visited in the wonderful country of Spain, there were many human-animal interactions that are similar and different that in the U.S., holding a good amount of pride and tradition in each. Through the tradition of animal use for sport and entertainment, which has been evolving and growing to the Spanish prestige it is today, we could see how the relationship and view of the animal has come to almost a worship and large respect in comparison to other animal uses. The animal welfare practices in Spain were very comparable to the United States, having more governmental checks but very similar issues and care routines. Animals could also be seen as a sense of pride in a touristic sense as well, seeing the animals and the animal products they are most proud of wherever we went.

The realization of the amount of diversity and perspective change there can be among something as common as the practice of animal care and human-animal interactions is very impactful in not only my future endeavors, but my future understanding of the motivation behind why people view animals the way they do. With a future centered around studying the care of animals, whether that be graduate school in animal welfare or veterinary school, I think that how we as as society view our animals and interact with them is extremely important, because, whether we realize it or not, animals are very ingrained in our lives from pets to food to the environment and everything in between. To see that, because of certain societal aspects (culture, ethics, expectations, etc.) animals can have a completely different care practice and viewpoint in store for them, I have a better understand of what thought can go behind our interactions. Personally, I may not agree with all of the practices I may have seen, but I can objectively describe and reason through why the care is a certain way, and that is they kind of knowledge I wouldn’t have been able to discover in a classroom or on my couch at home. My change in perspective about the diversity among human-animal interactions really can reflect in my future in several ways, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity that made a significant impact on my view and future understanding.