Haoran Wang – Engineering the Castles and Cathedrals of England and Wales

My STEP signature project was an education abroad experience to UK, called Engineering the Castles and Cathedrals of England and Wales. Within the study abroad program we studied different ancient architectures in England and Wales, with respect to their historical and cultural effects at that time and now. We stayed on campus for the first two weeks researching our assigned architectures, and for the last two weeks we traveled in different parts of England and Wales to visit them.

I had been to UK once before this trip, so I expected this revisit would deepen my understanding of British culture, but I actually gained more than that. Because of the mobile nature of this program, I got to travel in this country extensively and experience their culture. It was very interesting for me to see how people live in both history and a modern life. I’m from Beijing, a city also combined history and modern elements. However, we live mostly in the modern parts of the city, the historical parts are what we carefully took care of. No one lives in the ancient palaces and we are only allowed to visit there for sightseeing and history learning. It was really innocent for me to think of the rest of world to be like Beijing. Seeing people lived modern life in the old town of Conwy Castle and the little pubs built next to the 14th century’s ruins of Chepstow Castle, I had a deeper understanding of the pass and present. And it was amazing to see how modern people live harmoniously with the history.

Experiencing how different the cultures are even from one city to another, I appreciate this study abroad chance in how it expanded my eyesight and how it taught me to learn things from both depth and breadth. We went to visit Bangor University during our trip in Wales, and listened to Welsh people talking about their country, history and culture. Wales is a country less known by the world compared to England, Ireland, etc. We learnt about why Wales flag was not on the national flag and why the people called themselves Welsh instead of England. It was very exciting for me to hear about the British people themselves talking about political issues, like Brexit, Ireland issues and how these issues affected and would affect their lives. From outside of the country, in US or in China, what I usually heard about was how these political issues affected the country and the rest of the world, hearing about the views of the local, I kind of understood why and how they made those choices.

Besides the world view shaped in this trip, the most important factor in making my experience invaluable was the group of Ohio State students that I travelled with. Since most of us were introverted engineer student, I didn’t expect our group would get along that well at first. But after the first few days unfamiliar with each other, we found our ways to get along with each other and became really good friends. Maybe because we are engineers, maybe because we are more similar, they became a positive force of perspective and curiosity that drove my interactions with the Welsh people and the towns in which we stayed.

Although we are engineers and are quite for most of the time, my group on this trip was always so genuinely interested in getting to know each other. I remembered even before our trip when we first formed the group, we were invited to gather to know each others by one of our members in her house. We played ice breakers and game, everyone was making efforts to get to know the group. I never knew that traveling could be such a great way to bond with people. We learnt, ate and took tours together for the two weeks during the trip. I couldn’t forget the time we spent on the Great Orme making “OHIO” with rocks and couldn’t forget the two-hour experience taking unusual way down the hill together. Now I can’t imagine my experience without the other 19 people on the trip. They helped me learn and grow by making me think, and challenging me by pushing me out of my comfort zone, and overall just being there for me when things weren’t going as planned. We hope we can still meet up in the future, and I am forever grateful that these people are in my life.

This experience allowed me to experience different historical and cultural side of England and Wales in person and taught me to learn through traveling. After this experience, I couldn’t agree more with the saying that traveling is the best way to study. The lessons you can learn from being outside your comfort zone are priceless, and I am so grateful that I was given the chance to learn these lessons through STEP. This experience allowed me getting along with future engineers, which gave me an idea about what role I would play in my future career and shaped me a future goal I would do my best to achieve. After this amazing study abroad experience, I finally decided I would work in an international company in the future so that I could work in different countries. This experience inspired me how important traveling and learning would be in my life, and it will continue encouraging me to travel more and learn more about other countries whether through learning about the history and culture in person in the country, or talking to the locals and or doing sightseeing. I am so looking forward to learning about the world.


Engineering Castles and Cathedrals of England and Wales–Step Reflection

In the study abroad program Engineering Castles and Cathedrals, I was assigned the medieval castle Conwy located in Wales, which I researched and presented on to the class. Then we traveled over England and Wales, saw the historic site, as well as the others that classmates were assigned, and each student acted as the tour guide for their site, giving historical and engineering facts on the building and how it was constructed.

During this trip, I was sent to a country I had never been to with 19 people I barely knew. I had always considered myself a more reserved and quiet person, so I was a bit nervous about the trip and not knowing anyone. As it turns out, I should not have been. The group was fantastic, and I felt like I made instant friends which doesn’t happen that often. This trip also made me really appreciate Wales. I feel as though Wales is this country that gets forgotten, because I got a lot of questions like, “Wales? Where is that again? Why are you going there?” from friends and family who I told this trip about. However, Wales has such a rich and interesting history along with very friendly people and gorgeous scenery. You can look out one way towards the coast then turn around and see mountain peaks behind you, separated by lush, green fields. It’s one of those moments where you actually have to stop doing everything just so you can take it all in. Also, experiencing London and seeing first-hand so many places I had heard and read about was such a thrilling adventure. This experience overall has led me to grow as a person in more ways than one.

First, the instructors of this program are fantastic, and made the experience so much better. Dr. Hempson and Jamie showed such excitement for all these locations we learned about and visited (reasonably so), which just hyped everything up and made it all so much more exciting. They were like the cool aunt and uncle that let you have fun, explore, and learn as long as it’s not at the expense of you falling off the top of a castle or mountain or something. They made sure we immersed ourselves in the unfamiliar culture, urging us to try the country’s staple dishes and talk to the locals.

Visiting all the sites and learning the histories behind them is something that I will always cherish. The views looking out from the tops of castles, or up into cathedral spires, or down from the top of the Great Orme are indescribable. How they were created in the times they were and have lasted hundreds of years is even more mind-boggling. While it might not necessarily be knowledge I use as a biomedical engineer, learning about the purpose and meaning of Edward I’s iron ring of castles, or how the flying buttresses supported the weight of the cathedrals, or the significance behind Stonehenge’s location are tidbits I will never forget, not just because they were so interesting to learn about and see in person but because the people there with me, presenting and listening and commenting and asking questions have become such good friends.

As I mentioned earlier, going into this trip pushed a lot of boundaries for me in terms of friendships. From the end of the trip looking back, I was nervous to start, but soon realized I shouldn’t be. As the trip progressed, I forged new relationships and enjoyed all of these adventures so much more because I was experiencing it all with friends. These are life-long relationships I’ve formed with people I plan to hang out with in my remaining years of school and keep in contact with afterwards.

Now, from the end of the trip looking forward, I have this newfound confidence with which I approach life. Don’t be afraid to explore, to learn, to experience things and change with those experiences, even if they may not pertain to what you want to do with your future. These moments are the ones that define you as a person, that you will look back on forever and say to yourself just how happy you were that you decided to push your boundaries and do things that not everyone does, regardless of the opinions of others. If it’s something you’re passionate about, pursue it, and I guarantee you there are others who think it’s cool you can befriend along the way.