The U.S., Europe, And The Second World War-Interactions In 20th Century History

Name: Natalie Hale
Type of Project: Education Abroad
1. My STEP Signature Project involved travelling to four countries and five cities across Europe with a history program known as “The U.S., Europe, And The Second World War-Interactions In 20th Century History.” My cohort and I explored various museums, memorials, and historical sites important to World War II.
2. This study abroad program was my first experience abroad. Not only was I immersed in the present local culture, but I was provided with the opportunity to connect the history I have spent the past semester learning about to the actual places in which the events took place. The United Space has an interesting perspective on World War II that shapes the way students learn about and understand the actions—it was not a “war at home.” Maybe in the sense that sacrifices were made, with women working jobs left behind by the men at war and even piloting aircraft domestically, as well as rationing and victory bonds. But the fighting itself was not domestic, nor did it really have the potential to be. This was a unique position, to be surrounded by vast oceans and allies. Now, this is not to be ignorant of events like Pearl Harbor, which resulted in the loss of war materiel and life, or the internment camps for those of Japanese descent. These experiences still shape life and policy, domestic and foreign, in the present day. The ability to set foot in the countries where the war took place gave us all the sense of history happening here as opposed to over there. I found that I was able to connect the events I’d spent the past semester researching with a physical location. There is something quite powerful about standing in the place where immense military operations or unthinkable atrocities took place.
3. I found that it was both the experience as a whole, as well as the different places I visited that made my transformation feel more complete. France and Poland provided me with my most influential experiences.

Bayeux was our first stop in France. It is a small coastal town, quiet but home to beautiful architecture and close to the beaches of Normandy. While Utah was fairly well preserved, an empty stretch of coast meant to give visitors a sense of what the soldiers faced as they landed on the beach, Omaha was strikingly crowded. A large monument seemed fitting, but there was a flurry of activity around us. French schoolchildren played in the sand, tourist shops lined the roads, and towering vacation homes were perched on the hills that rose beyond the sands. We also visited Point du Hoc, an American memorial to the men who scaled cliffs and took out a German post that would have drastically impacted the success of the Americans during the invasion of Normandy. My cohort and I explored the various parts of the post that have been left to nature. This included climbing in and out of bunkers and turrets. I was taken aback by the various ways in which time marches on and people choose to remember while trying to balance moving forward and recovering from the pain of occupation.

My time in Krakow made me pause to think about the way in which smaller countries remember World War II. Poland was under the heel of its occupiers, which includes Germany and the former Soviet Union. The identity of the Polish people sprung up and grew through the gaps in other peoples’ cultures. There was no neat bookend to the destruction of the German occupation–it was followed by a Soviet presence that is still seen in the architecture of cities outside Krakow today. The Schindler museum is a monument to the new identity of Poland that only began to develop in the last 30 years, a reminder of the pain that led to the pride visitors see today. There is a reclamation of culture happening in Krakow.
4. As a student of sociology and history, this study abroad program provided me with an opportunity to explore not only different cultures in the present day, but the memories of a global war that shaped the way these people live. This understanding of an interconnected world cannot be taught in schools, it must be seen in the differences of collective memory and cultural customs. Relations between countries may still be cool based on events that feel so long ago, with individual prejudices not so far under the surface. It is a new lens to add to my interpretations moving forward in my research.

My Time in England…

I am so thankful to STEP for helping me fund my Global May Great Britain Experience this summer! The program consisted of a 2 hour class Monday-Thursday in the heart of London, with daily excursions to sites around the city. The program also included a weekend trip to Glasgow, Scotland. After our course was finished, I stayed and explored England for 10 more days.

I thought I had experienced a large change when I moved from my small town in Virginia to a capital city of Columbus but that was nothing compared to the experience of moving to a global city like London from Columbus. At first I was overwhelmed by how big London is, and how fast everything moved.  It felt impersonal and I didn’t think that I would be able to find my way — I quickly learned that London was much different than I expected. The architecture in the city of London was probably one of the first things that stood out to me, especially that first day traveling to class. My eyes were looking up the entire walk from the Tottenham Court Road tube station to our classroom in Arcadia University (exactly what my Dad told me not to do when he gave me a speech on pickpockets) and I was obsessed with taking pictures of every building we passed. I loved how the city is a mix of old and new- architecturally, and in other aspects as well. Another initial thought I had was how much more diverse it was in London than in Columbus or my hometown. It was great to walk down the street and hear 3 different languages in one short walk to the tube station.

I would describe London as the New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC of the United Kingdom. It is all at once the finance, fashion, arts, and political capital of England and truly is a global city. Over the course of my program I learned so much about many different aspects of London. It was one of the reasons that I chose this specific program, so that I would come back to the United States and have broad knowledge about another culture and country. While in England we experienced many things that I do not normally do, truly expanding my horizons. One of my favorite excursions was when we saw Twelfth Night at the Globe. It was so cool to be there and really feel how a “groundling” would have felt in Shakespeare’s time. After the play was over, a few friends and I waited near the actors’ exit, and I got to meet and take a picture with the actor who played Duke Orsino, Joshua Lacey!

My first exposure to the Camden Market was the final Thursday of class, during a music tour! It was so much bigger than I had thought, so I vowed to go back and check it out thoroughly. On my last day in England I went back and spent the entire afternoon, and too many pounds, in Camden Market! I loved that the market was outdoors and had such a huge variety of vendors. There were many different food and dessert stalls, as well as home decorating shops, souvenir places, and clothing / tapestry stalls. I still didn’t see everything in my afternoon there.

One of my favorite nights from this entire experience was in the first week of class, just sitting down in the 2nd floor kitchen of our house with my new friends and planning everything we wanted to do and see throughout the next month. I loved it because we used a Google calendar to keep us organized and we made solid plans, so that we felt like we weren’t wasting a single moment. It was great because I had been hanging out with another group and then transitioned into this one where I fit in much better. I think it was because our travel styles and budgets meshed. During the month we followed this calendar and constantly added to it whenever someone mentioned something they wanted to see such as a new musical coming to the West End or when someone had heard about a great ice cream shop in SoHo.


I was surprised to see two dogs in a pub that we went to in the first week. Upon further observations, I continued to see dogs on trains, in coffee shops, and in restaurants. I really liked how dogs were welcomed everywhere, even on the tube! After my program was over I stayed with my friend Holly at her house at the University of York for a few days and I had the pleasure of sitting next to a cute Cocker Spaniel puppy on the train journey back to London. This is something that I definitely think that the U.S. needs to get on board with, more dog-friendly areas!

The tube was similar to the Metro in D.C. but I can say with one hundred percent certainty that in my 20 years of living less than an hour away from Washington D.C. I have never taken the subway as much as I have in the last month in London! One difference I found between the Tube and the Metro was that in D.C. they had metro card machines on either side of the turnstiles and in London they only had them on the outside. These were irrelevant for me during the program because we had travel-cards given to us but afterwards I got an oyster card to travel around the city. I found that if I did not put enough money onto my card then the turnstile still let me through but the next time I would have negative money on it and would need to pay that and more. In D.C., the turnstiles don’t let you out unless you have the money on your metro card so that was a big change for me. Also in London, public transport was huge! In Columbus I rarely take the bus, I just walk everywhere but in London I felt we mostly used the tube to get around, and then the bus sometimes.

While staying at my friend’s houses and my Airbnbs, I noticed that it was very common thing for a host to offer their guests some tea, and because of that I drank a lot of tea while staying at those places. I intend to take this back with me to America and plan on drinking more tea with my mom as well as offering it to guests in our home.


This experience has already impacted me greatly. At the Ohio State University, I will remember my time in London and I plan to connect it to my studies. In the spring semester, I took a Linguistics in Advertising course, and so during my time in London I paid special attention to the advertisements or adverts as they are called in the United Kingdom. While abroad I was able to apply the concepts we learned in class to the adverts. And so I could figure out why the advertising agencies behind a certain campaign chose to use certain language. I really loved being able to connect what I had learned to what I was seeing in England. I imagine that it will be similar to how I will connect my Maymester in London to my next few years at Ohio State. There are a few political science classes (focusing on American as well as Foreign politics) I plan to take and I believe I will have an interesting perspective when we discuss topics such as Brexit or the Prime Minister Election of June 2017. I also feel that going on this study abroad will help me in my International Business course next semester.

This study abroad opportunity will also have an impact on my social circle at OSU. I have been exposed to so many new and wonderful people that I probably would not have met if it weren’t for this class. I met people from years above and below me and in every type of major you can imagine! It was also really great meeting girls from other sororities because I feel like a majority of my OSU friends are either in my sorority or not in Greek life at all. Now when I see them at various philanthropy events or at combined study tables I’ll have a few friends I can make sure to say hi to. The girls in my group and I have already made plans for a few London reunions during the Fall semester including a trip to a tea place in Columbus, which we are all very excited about!


Through this experience I have learned a lot about myself, travel, and traveling by myself. I’ve learned that although I have immense love for London and I like to think I am pretty independent, I would not want to travel alone in the city again. I have learned that who you’re with is a huge part of travel. That is why I am so thankful for the amazing relationships I’ve built over the past month.

Now, after about 6 weeks in the United Kingdom, I do see myself living there for a period of time. I definitely want to go back to London and share it with my family and other friends. I think it’s a great city that everybody should see at least once in their lifetimes. After I graduate from Ohio State I can see myself pursuing an internship in England, specifically in London. I would be very interested in a marketing or advertising position there.

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.