Suzhou Summer 2018

Suzhou University

This summer, I spend eight weeks in Suzhou, Jiangsu, China as a student at Suzhou University through the OSU Intensive Chinese Language program.  My time in Suzhou helped to revive an old love for learning languages that have felt slipping away over the last couple of years. The program helped to remind me that the reason I learn the language is for a grade at university but for the change to get to know people whose lives exist in what feels like a world away.

For the six months leading up to the summer, I recall being more nervous than excited.  This was not my first time traveling to China; I have returned to my birth country several times since my time in the orphanage. It was, however, my first time returning with the sole intention of immersing myself in the language as best I could.  I have wanted to take the next step towards fluency and study in a Chinese immersion program for more than ten years, and yet I still felt unprepared. I was nervous and afraid. I was afraid of failure and judgment- from both my peers and the native speakers who I would practice with. I realize now that the judgment that I faced came more from myself rather than the people around me.

The program was exactly what I had hoped for in terms of intensity. I was ready to be challenged. I was ready to leave the classroom each day with a headache from the immersion and all of the new material that I had absorbed. I hoped that the program would be difficult, but I think that a small part of me also hoped that it would be a bit easy. I was so very afraid of failure. I was afraid that the summer would be like so many of my past experiences- that I would be othered. That I would be dismissed by a part of the Asian community and labeled as “not Asian” enough but also not “not American enough” because of something I lacked- in this case, communication skills and full knowledge of my birth culture. Or even worse, that I would be so far behind my Caucasian peers that I would be labeled as a bad Asian and still othered. The program was a pleasant surprise. There was a stronger focus on learning that grades. Of course, grades were still important, but the focus was placed on experiences and knowledge rather than how many mistakes were made. Everyone in the program was fully dedicated to learning the language in an applicable way. Class was something that I looked forward to rather than feared or dreaded. It reminded me that language is about the people that it allows you to connect with rather than a grade to add to your GPA.

The program forced us to immerse ourselves in Chinese to survive. We spent the majority of our time without an instructor by our side. If we were with a native speaker, said person likely understood a limited amount of English- so even if we wanted to cheat and use English, we couldn’t (just as an immersion experience should be).  We were each paired with a 语伴, a language partner, to study and explore with. They were all near the same age as us, and most of them had never been to Suzhou either. I consecutively had two 语伴s; one of which I would now consider a very close friend. We became close within the first week of meeting… we just clicked. We studied, we explored, we laughed, … and we ate. Even if there was a bit of a language barrier, we worked it out until we each got our point across. We talked about our friends, our families, and the things that made us happy. She is the first friend that I have made speaking only Chinese, and it’s sad to think that I could have missed out on such a wonderful friendship if I had not had the skills or interest to learn the language.

During the trip, we had a few group excursions with our language partners to help us get to know a bit more about the culture that we were being thrown into for the summer.  This part of the experience had both similarities and differences from my previous trips to China. I was able to speak with so many more people and do so many more things because my language skills had grown. I was able to explain to confused natives who I was, why I was in their city, and then explain again who I was- they were often confused by my very Chinese appearance and American accent. This was another aspect of the trip that I anticipated I would feel some judgment, but all of the natives who I spoke with were very excited to hear my story, and they all encouraged me to continue to learn more about my birth culture and its language.

This trip reignited my love for language after a few years of discouragement. I was reminded not only why I wanted to learn the language in the first place, but also of the people I could connect with and the opportunities that I could have because of my ability to communicate. I am not sure how I will use my language skills in the future- on a professional level, on a personal level, or maybe both- but I am so thankful that I was able to participate in this program and be reminded of a passion that I felt that I had lost.


Trouble linking photos: photos can be found at the URL below:

Dancing in Brazil

The Dance Brazil study abroad program was a two-week dance tour led by professor Daniel Roberts in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Prior to the trip itself, our group of twelve dancers learned ten dance works and researched the history, culture, and language of Brazil. Once in Brazil, the program introduced us to Brazilian art and culture with the experiences of performing around Brazil, studying with Brazilian dance masters, learning first-hand about Afro-Brazilian culture, and engaging in cultural exchange with Brazilian dancers.

While in Brazil, I actually learned more about myself as a person. Throughout school, I have always been asked if I want to be a dance teacher and teach children. My answer has always been, “I want to work with children, but I’m not sure if that is what I am meant to do.” However, after working with children at Ohio State and performing for children in Brazil, my views on that have changed. When we performed dance for the children, they were ecstatically happy. They were so grateful to watch us dance, more grateful than any audience I have ever performed for before. They wanted to ask us questions about everything, learn from us, and show us their own dance moves! I also saw children who learned dance and music in impoverished schools. These children were so invested and passionate about their arts, even though they were living in poverty. I realized that art was such an important outlet for them.

Thus, my time with these children made me sure that my future lies in working with children. I connected with these children, and I wanted to teach them and learn from them. The trip and my experiences assuaged my earlier fears if children would like me and if they would want to appreciate dance and art. These passionate kids assured me that I should be working with children, and they convinced me that I can use art to make an impact on them.

During my STEP project, we performed for a variety of elementary and middle schools in Brazil. The interactions with these school children had a huge impact on me.

On one particular day, we performed at Escola Horácio de Matos, the largest public school in Brazil, located in Lencois. We performed on half of an outdoor basketball court with children watching us on three sides. This was a very small space, so we had to be professional and flexible, modifying our dances to fit the space. During each dance, the children cheered and yelled exuberantly! After the performance, the children swarmed us! They gave us big hugs, asked to take photos with us, and asked for our autographs. They were so loving and grateful.

Another day, we performed at a small elementary school in a favela in Salvador. The children watched us with so much admiration, and when we were finished dancing, they ran up to us and hugged us and asked us lots and lots of questions. Then, they preceded to show us the dancing they knew! One child even came up to me and asked (with gesturing since we did not speak the same language) for me to teach him part of our dances. Using rhythm and body language, I taught this boy a small part of one of our dances. He was so excited and worked over and over to get the steps correctly. After a little bit, he had the steps correct, and we danced them together. It was so amazing that even though we could not speak to each other, we could really connect on a dance level. Another child approached me and wanted to show me that she could do a split. Then, she gestured for me to join her.

At another place in Salvador, we visited a school where children living in impoverished favelas learned to play music. We performed for them, and then they performed for us. They were so talented, and we could not believe how well they played for their age. However, even more striking was how happy they looked when they were performing. They seemed to love performing and were so proud of themselves for what they were accomplishing.

I felt so much joy meeting these children and sharing a love of dance and art with them. They just wanted to dance and learn. It was so wonderful and human.

This connection I experienced in Brazil with these children is important to my future. I want to spend my career working with children. My dream career is to be an occupational therapist who utilizes dance as a form of therapy to help children with motor goals. I saw that we could connect with children so much on a level of rhythm and movement, in a way that words just can not communicate. I saw the joy that dance brings children, and I want to continue bringing that love of movement and art to children in my career.



Antarctic Exploration

With the support of STEP and The Ohio State University, I embarked on a research-based trip from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica this December, 2017. Our large group’s research was centered around three topics: the sustainable development of Antarctic tourism & its effect on the environment, seabird conservation, and iceberg census data analysis. We travelled through the Drake Passage to visit a variety of locations around Antarctica, including: Orne Harbor, Wilhelmina Bay, Lemaire Channel, Petermann Island, Pleneau Island, Dorian Bay, Paradise Harbor, Neko Harbor, Curtiss Bay, Mikkelsen Harbor, & Deception Island.

The journey that landed me on the bottom of the earth did more than open my eyes to our world’s undeniable beauty. This course engrained both a deep understanding of human and biophysical dimensions of life in Antarctica and insight into its history and potential future state. My interest in the exploration and conservation of the mysterious, fragile continent grew more and more throughout our field experience. Through travels from Argentina to Antarctica, we viewed and analyzed the positive and negative effects of ecotourism. I believe that we need to act as vocal advocates for the preservation of this ever-mysterious continent, so that we can protect it from the negative aspects of the tourist industry and other forms of exploitation.  Additionally, my critical takeaways of this experience are vast and varied. Not only was I able to further develop my intellectual maturity, my cross-cultural engagements, team positions and frequent self-reflections greatly enhanced my confidence. It is difficult to observe such an untouched environment and refrain from getting overwhelming feelings of appreciation and envy. I applied my learnings from this semester to conduct research over a combination of my favorite things: exploration and the environment.

Our team’s overall focus was on iceberg census and environmental data analysis, and idea generation regarding the potential impacts of icebergs melting. My sub-group was responsible for the analysis of the census data collected throughout our trip to and from Antarctica. The teachings from the course administered prior to our travel departure, as well as the specific readings assigned to our group focusing our team’s focus, were vital to ensuring knowledge was obtained and properly applied throughout the research assignment. The field experience substantially affected my sense of identity and growth, and widened my global perspective. Not only were we able to enjoy what the area had to offer, we were able to utilize specific knowledge to draw conclusions about our observations.

Additionally, this field experience greatly influenced my sense of global awareness throughout the journey from Argentina to Antarctica. From the beginning of our time in Ushuaia, we were exposed to the effects of tourism on a town based on the profits of this industry. Although large amounts of tourists coming to visit the bottom of the world may appear purely beneficial due to monetary benefits, there are negative elements to keep in mind. The town has an especially important responsibility to keep its ecosystem clean based on its proximity to the delicate ecosystem of Antarctica. Steps were being taken to ensure that this was accomplished, as special recycling bins were located throughout the hiking routes and store personnel only handed out paper bags to package items purchased. Although measures were taken to minimize pollution, I still viewed scraps of trash throughout the streets – a sad sight. Before our field experience, I had primarily contemplated the preservation of Antarctica focusing on the area around the continent, spending minimal time thinking about how the gateway cities must specially monitor their inhabitants’ pollution, as well.

Furthermore, our time spent in Antarctica largely expanded my global awareness. Our experience was especially interesting because our boat consisted of many passengers from different cultures experiencing Antarctica with less knowledge about the fragile ecosystem, a sole intention of observing the views and taking pictures, and/or less respect for described regulations. These factors were maximally prevalent through people’s actions when walking around wildlife. Penguin highways were stomped through, paths not followed, distances people were required to stand away from animals were disregarded, and people would encircle the penguins, overwhelming them. Because penguins are not the most intelligent animals, when overwhelmed, they may retreat into the water and never return to their egg, forget where they are going, or get startled enough to hop off their eggs – leaving them open for skuas to prey on. At times when I would witness these acts, I would be swarmed with guilt because I was an addition to the intrusion of these protected habitats. Overall, I am glad that our group of educated and intrigued students witnessed the negative aspects of ecotourism, as we are now able to advocate for Antarctic preservation. My global awareness of positive and negative aspects of life both in Argentina and Antarctica has massively expanded based on specific field experiences from this journey.

Finally, this field experience was not only educationally beneficial, it widened my sense of self-identity and aided in my ongoing personal development. I have always been strong-minded when the subject of nature and preservation arises. I believe that this experience further established my need to prioritize reusing, reducing and recycling in everyday life. Last summer I worked in the Environmental Health and Safety department of a L’Oreal manufacturing facility, where I worked to reduce carbon emissions, educate people on environmental issues, and brainstorm ideas to decrease the company’s environmental footstep. This trip further established my need to work for a company that is extremely focused on these issues. I have recently accepted a job working for Ecolab, a company that’s aim is to help make the world a cleaner, safer and healthier place. I believe that my passion for environmental sustainability must continue within my career path. Also, I feel extremely humbled by this experience. I have been privileged to visit many historic and beautiful places around the world, but Antarctica presented a new level of breathtaking. The undisturbed ecosystem reminded me to value the important things in my life, and take advantage of every opportunity. If the opportunity arises to return to Antarctica and visit the same harbors and bays, it will never look the same, as the ice melts and glaciers fall. This is a reminder to put down our phones, take out our headphones, and absorb the world around us.


Thinking Big, Thinking Small

Name: Hazel Black

Type of Project: Artistic and Creative Endeavors

Dance Denmark was a five-and-a-half-week program that included performing and teaching throughout the country, collaborating with Danish dancers and choreographers, and participating in multiple excursions to various historical and cultural sites. Our repertoire, which was choreographed collaboratively, included tap dance, hip-hop, body rhythm, and classical and contemporary techniques. Most of our trip was spent at a Gerlev, a sports academy in a small town called Slagelse, but we also performed as international guests at the National Sports and Culture Festival in Aalborg and immersed ourselves in the lively culture in Copenhagen.

When asked what I was most looking forward to in the weeks before I left The States, I often responded with excitement about visiting the least stratified country in the world. During spring semester, Social Stratification: Race, Gender, and Class dominated my interests and passions and led me to declare Inequality in Society as my minor. As my understanding of America’s social structure broadened, my frustrations with the systems that breed inequality within it broadened as well. I fantasized about an America where higher taxes meant healthcare and education for all (instead of just for those who can afford it), and where every skill and interest has equal value (resulting in relatively equal income and status for everyone). People in “that America” aren’t forced to build impossible bridges to cross the gap between poor and rich, can freely decide a profession without the crushing thought of financial failure pulling their hair and pinching their neck, and can go to college without hesitation—never even considering the possibility that their future might be burdened with debt.

Social Stratification also taught me that Denmark’s government supported the social systems I believe in. As indicated in my proposal, I anticipated that “spending six weeks in a country with completely different systems than those I have lived in for nineteen years (would) expand my sociological knowledge and advance my interests in creating better systems that work for people despite their gender, class, and race.” My prediction held true, but I also came to realize that no matter how sound a governmental system is, or isn’t for that matter, flaws are inherent even if they are not evident. My sociological knowledge expanded in an unexpected way: I realized that while government support is important, the most valuable work I can do for my country is on a much smaller scale.

With the hopes of learning more about Danish culture, history, and politics, I spent a great deal of my time (after classes) in the lounge with a few of my American peers and the Gerlev students—a family of Danes, Germans, Czechs, Spaniards, and Icelanders. Sitting on the old (but quite comfortable) green couches and soaking in the rosy light of the sunset, I had numerous conversations about the differences between Nordic and American Society. My new friends were incredibly open about the politics and societal aspects of their countries and were interested in my opinions about what they shared.

Some dialogues reassured my passions about shifting the United States structurally:

Upon introduction, I talked to three Danish dance students about education for a full hour. We spent much of our time on the topic of higher education and its cost. I wrote about this experience in a feature in one of the Dance Denmark newsletters: “They were astounded by the cost of our tuition and empathized with my grief about our generation’s impending fall off the cliff of financial stability and into the pit of life-long debt.” When I converted the cost of my tuition at Ohio State into the Danish currency, they stared at me in disbelief for several seconds before realizing I was serious. In Denmark, a bachelor’s degree at any University is free, and a student can pursue their master’s for as little as a grand (that’s without countless hours of applying for scholarships)

Other interactions caused my hope for change via social systems to falter:

After one conversation about Denmark’s somewhat inconspicuous resistance towards accepting refugees and tolerating their cultures, I realized that its systems work so fluently partly because the country’s central issue is class. Unlike America, Denmark is not bred from an elaborate lattice of intersecting issues of race, gender, and class, and the government and its citizens are resisting that possibility where they can. The country’s size and population works in favor of equality because there is a general absence of diversity. This, of course, is quite the opposite of the structure of the United States. In a bittersweet moment, I was overwhelmed by adoration for the melting pot of my country’s people and the art and music that is a result of its cultural fusion, while simultaneously concluding that the vibrant variation I love so much would disrupt the systems that work so well in Denmark, making them merely mediocre in America.

Although my general opinions about society remain the same, since going to Denmark, there has been a shift in how I cope with the amount of inequity that exists in the world, and my method of stirring change has transformed. A new perspective forced me to face what I have always known to be true but have struggled to accept: I cannot help everyone—no one can. In high school, I remember being flustered by a Mother Teresa quote my sociology teacher was so fond of: “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.” I didn’t understand why this was such an important concept then, but it finally makes sense to me. Right now, there is little I can do to change the social systems in America. If I truly want to make a difference, I should focus on helping the community around me.

In addition to teaching and performing, I kept a photo journal on the program website:

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.


Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment – New Zealand

Name: Morgan Whitecotton

Type of Project: Education Abroad

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

For three and a half weeks in May, I participated in the Sustaining Human Societies and the Environment program on the South Island of New Zealand. We focused on the tourism industry of New Zealand and how it impacts the economy, society, and the environment. We also learned about sustainable practices and conservation efforts in the country and studied the culture in New Zealand, from their view on evironmentalism to the native Maori people.

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

I have always seen myself as an environmentalist, doing what I can to save resources and not harm the environment. On this trip, my group and I paid so much more attention to everything we were consuming and the potential impacts we were having. While this was mainly because sustainability was the theme of our program and many people were from the ENR department, it was a really great awakening for me as a non-ENR major. We had many discussions about if any of the activities or travel we were participating in, or life in general, could every truly be considered sustainable.

These conversations made me realize how fragile our ecosystems and resources are, and that the lifestyle I’ve been living is nowhere near as ecofriendly as it needs to be. Since getting back from this trip, I have invested in many more reusable household items and have started carpooling to work. I am also much pickier about activities I participate in, knowing that many recreational activities are harmful to the ecosystem that supports it. While my lifestyle has been improved because of my experiences on this trip, it’s nowhere near being considered sustainable. I am hoping that going forward with my life what I’ve learned will influence my future decisions, such as when purchasing a car or appliances. Every little thing helps, and as technology advances one day I want sustainability to be achievable.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

The 19 other people I lived and traveled with around the South Island were who influenced me the most. Our group
was made up of 16 Ohio State students, a professor and a TA from Ohio State, and then local New Zealanders for a tour guide and a bus driver. Each and every one of us became very close with Dave and Murray, our guide and driver. They were filled with so much knowledge not just about what it was like to grow up and live an ordinary life in their unique country and about the native plants and animals, but also about life in general. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to get to know someone who has
lived such a different life than yours, and to be able to soak up everything they’ve learned and their perspective on it.

Having a local tour guide also changed the way I think about traveling. I have always enjoyed learning, but I can definitely look back on some past trips and know I didn’t take the time to learn about the area or the significance of what I was looking at. Being so immersed in New Zealand with all of the information Dave and Murray were giving us, in addition to readings and lectures from others, I feel like I received a very rich and full experience of the country. I want to continue to take my time and thoroughly get to feel what life is like in future places that I visit.

The other people in my group impacted my learning and experiences just as much as Dave and Murray did. This surprises me a little, because we were all from the States and all go to Ohio State, so I would think comparatively we’d have pretty similar perspectives. All coming from different majors and minors, it was neat to see how everyone could listen to the same lecture and walk away from it with a different message. I enjoyed our discussions where we all shared what we picked up through our different lenses. Something I really wasn’t expecting to learn from this trip is that the people you’re with really shape the place you’re at and what you take away from it.

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

I am a food science major hoping to end up in a product development career. The food industry creates a lot of waste because of processing, production, and spoilage. While waste may seem inherent and inevitable, it is possible to come up with new processes, products, and technologies that reduce or prevent it. I am determined to ue the perspective I’ve gained on this trip to make an impact on the workplace I end up working in.