Education Abroad in Oxford, England

Name: Garrett Rethman

Type of Project: Education Abroad

My STEP Signature Project was an education abroad trip through the Office of International Affairs’ Oxford Pre-Law Program. The five-week program brought me to Oxford, England, to study at St. Anne’s College within the University of Oxford. I took two courses to aid me with my overall academic abilities and to help me determine whether a future in law would be appropriate.

The challenges I experienced during my program gave me a greater understanding of my capability to thrive in the world. Prior to the beginning of my program, I was a timid person. I would actively avoid taking risks, preferring to stay in my “comfort zone” where I knew I was safe. As a result of my program, while I am definitely still a more reserved person, I can safely say that I am more courageous and less afraid to take risks. I have realized the immense rewards and learning that can occur when I push myself past my boundaries and I look forward to challenging myself more in the future.

The first aspect of my program which led to my transformation was the actual travel to Oxford, England, for the beginning of my program. Prior to this experience, I had only travelled by myself one time and I had never taken an international flight. For this program, I had to travel by myself within the United States for a day just to board the international flight. After the international flight, I had to figure out how to buy the appropriate bus ticket to get to the bus station in Oxford. This travel forced me to become more bold as I needed to be confident in asking strangers for assistance along the journey and my successful arrival in Oxford demonstrated to me that I was capable of travelling internationally.

The second aspect of my program which aided me in my transformation was socializing with my classmates while on the trip. While I have never struggled to make friends, I generally have a small social circle due to my more reserved nature. Being constantly surrounded by my classmates on the trip reminded me how much I enjoy getting to know new people and allowed me to become friends with people from different backgrounds and with different views on the world than my own. This socializing helped make the program memorable and will make me more likely to try to get to know new people in the future.

Punting along the River Cherwell in Oxford

The third and final important aspect of my program which led to my increased confidence in my own abilities was the academic challenge of the program. As part of the program, I had to brief law cases, write a homework law memo, write a timed in-class law memo, and write a 12-15 page final paper. Each of these components challenged me and forced me to rely on my own ability and capability to learn. I now know that I am capable of producing high quality work in a short period of time.

In the future, I wish to be a lawyer. As such, it is necessary that I am able to confidently and competently handle complex issues raised by my clients. The changes I experienced during my education abroad experience in Oxford will thus allow me to act as a better lawyer in the future, aiding both myself and others. In the short period of time I have been back in the United States since the completion of my education abroad experience I have already experienced positive changes in my confidence and critical thinking abilities. I know that these changes will endure for the rest of my life and help me not only professionally, but personally as well.

 

ISA Chile—Spanish Language and Latin American Studies Summer 1 + Service Learning

During this past summer, I attended a study abroad program in Valparaíso, Chile for part of May and the entire month of June. I took classes at a local university and thoroughly enjoyed it! Toward the end of June and leading into the middle of July, I participated in a service-learning project at a health clinic in Valparaíso as well.

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Before going to Chile, I was obviously quite comfortable with the way of life here in the United States. Upon my arrival to Chile, I realized how different South America truly was. Things such as well-developed plumbing is something that I always took for granted in the United States. With the realization of all of the differences, I began to understand myself and my assumptions much better. I realized that I needed to be patient with myself while adjusting to an entirely new culture. As a person who normally likes structure in my life, I found it hard at first to make the adjustments that needed to be made for me to be successful in Chile. My assumptions that I had based on life in the United States was something that held me back from success at first. One example that I could think of is the time at which my host family would eat. Normally here in the states, my family eats between 5:30pm and 6:30pm. However, in Chile we often ate after 8:30pm. Though with time I began to realize the importance of waiting until everyone was in the house to eat, it was still a difficult adjustment to say the least.

 

Obviously with time, I grew to be more comfortable with the Chilean culture and the differences that I recognized with it as well. I realized that the more that I spent with my host family, and the less that I was with other exchange students, I tended to notice more growth in my cultural awareness. Having conversation with my host family about issues that were interesting to me and them both was something that I thoroughly enjoyed. While conversing about topics that I was interested in, my fluency increased improved greatly as well. Sometimes, I would have a conversation about some of the differences that I noticed in Chile. Usually my host family was able to give some great insight on these differences as they have a son living here in the United States.

 

Actually living in a different culture is something that I found to be reward despite the difficulties. During the first few weeks, I found it difficult to adapt. However, one thing that I tried to do was to sit down and reflect after each day. I would take time to recognize the differences in cultures and put reasoning behind the differences that I saw as bad. Without a doubt, the relationships with my family and the faculty at my host university helped to make my transition much smoother.

 

Toward the end of my program, while I was helping in the health clinic, I realized that I began to learn much more about the Chilean culture. Though I learned a substantial amount about the health care system, I also learned about several other cultural differences through my interactions with patients. Though I learned about the daily life of Chilean life while being with my family, I was able to learn how life differed amongst Chileans. I was especially able to see this while traveling to patient’s homes who were immobile. The differences in poverty and general well-being varied drastically, quite similar to the United States.  I remember traveling to one family’s home in a neighborhood experiencing poverty and seeing how the condition of the patient was directly correlated to the economic wealth that the family had.

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In general, I would say that my awareness of the cultural differences is the most important thing that I could take away from my experience. I have grown to recognize the benefits and flaws that the culture here in the United States consists of. Throughout the twelve weeks in Chile, I have grown more than I could ever imagine. I am confident to take all of the gained knowledge to my next stage of life. In the future, I would like to become a bilingual doctor. After my experience in Chile, this dream has become stronger than I could ever imagine. I cannot wait to see how much my experience in Chile can help me with my career and beyond.

 

Study Abroad in Montpellier, France — STEP Reflection

 

Prompt 1: Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

I spent the summer of 2018 immersing myself in French language and culture by studying abroad in Montpellier, France with the University of Minnesota. During my time in Montpellier, I took two courses, lived with a host family, and traveled throughout the country to gain the best understanding possible of a people with whom I share love for a language.

Prompt 2:What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

Above all else, I would say that the notions I held about French cultural diversity greatly changed thanks to my time abroad. I of course understood before leaving the States that the country to which I was traveling would not be culturally homogenous. Still, and I think this was due to the genre of coursework I had taken before my trip, I thought that French culture would be more or less similar everywhere I went, making only minor deviations from the norm when accounting for regional heritage or recent immigration trends. The first course I took discussed this very idea—French multiculturalism. My professor took our class on a journey through the regions of France like Brittany and Basque Country that hold and practice strong non-French identities. He also described to us a narrative of the French National Government imposing upon these regions a national “French” culture with which they do not identify. This course in conjunction with my travels to some fifteen French cities forced me to reevaluate the beliefs I held before my trip.

Prompt 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? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

As I mentioned previously, an important element that forced me to reevaluate my prior notions about French cultural diversity was the coursework I took. My first class treated this topic head-on, using it as inspiration for nearly everything we read, discussed, watched, and wrote. My second class, however, took a more nuanced approach. This class used ethical problems surrounding twenty-first century scientific advancements as subject material to improve our persuasion and argumentative skills in French. Even though what we discussed did not directly involve French cultural diversity, little gaps between what I thought to be true about the French and what in fact actually was manifested themselves almost every day. For example, I was told by many people before leaving that most French people are very familiar with American politics. The topic of the Obamacare came up in class one day, and I began to discuss its goals and effects as if everyone in the room had the same basic understanding. After I finished making my point, my French professor of Greek origin stopped me and said that she had absolutely no idea about what I was talking. This was one of many situations during my second course that when summed together made me reevaluate my understandings of what the word “French” implies on a cultural basis.

Another important factor, as I mentioned earlier, that made me reform my notions were the trips I took during my time in France. I had the opportunity to visit fifteen cities this past summer, all of which, with the exception of Barcelona, were in France. That means I was able to experience fourteen different definitions of French culture, from the small-town lifestyle of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert to the hustle and bustle of Paris, from the German-influenced bars of Dijon to the Italian-inspired cafés of Nice. To a very surprising degree, each definition was deeply ingrained in its respective city; it was evident in each city’s architectural style of course, but on a deeper level, it was reflected in the attitudes of the people with whom I interacted; personalities and opinions varied, but nearly everyone was proud of their roots and the city they called home. Each city I visited added to the melting pot of ideas that was brewing in my head, continually causing me to reflect upon what I thought to be true about the French and their culture.

Lastly, I lived with a host family for the entirety of my trip; this experience was probably most critical to the transformation of my opinions concerning French cultural diversity. The family with which I lived embodied diversity. Jeannine, my host mom, was of Italian heritage, was raised in Tunisia during her youth, and has since lived in France. She speaks four languages (French, English, Italian, and Arabic), constantly bouncing between each according to her surroundings. Grace, a Swiss student who was also studying in Montpellier this summer, spoke five languages (French, English, German, Korean, and Chinese). Like Jeannine, she would have to balance her languages depending upon who she was speaking to. She spoke German with her parents, French with Jeannine and me, and Korean with her extended family. Both of their experiences highlighted to me the fact that French culture can take many forms; no dictionary can easily define what it means or entails.

Prompt 4:Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

My current plan for the future is to work in the business world, and I decided to major in French as I thought it would make me more effective in my career. As I have been studying French since the eighth grade and will continue to do so until I graduate, I will have robust language skills when I enter the workforce. Still, after my education abroad experience this past summer, I know that mere language fluency will not suffice in the workplace. I have learned that I must also know in detail the people and the culture with which I am working. I have always been told that business is about relationships. Knowing someone’s native tongue is a great way to break the ice, but in order to truly get to know someone, you have to first be familiar with their experience and their point-of-view.

Carcassonne, France

Èze, France

By: Ross Guthery

ISA Study Abroad – Valparaíso

My STEP project involved embarking on a two-month study abroad experience in Valparaíso, Chile, where I not only improved my Spanish language proficiency skills but also gained a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, another culture. The first month of this experience involved taking Spanish courses at one of the country’s well-known universities, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, while the second part involved a Service Learning component at Teletón, a rehabilitation center for children with musculoskeletal disabilities. Throughout my time in Chile, I lived with a host family who took me in as one of their own and provided me with a true Chilean lifestyle. Although my primary objective of this trip was to improve my Spanish fluency and become bilingual, multiple encounters with natives of various circumstances quickly helped me achieve much more than initially thought possible considering the short duration of time abroad.

While in Valparaíso, I volunteered at the Hogar de Cristo, a shelter for people in situations of poverty that provides less fortunate individuals with food, clothing, and a place to sleep when needed. Although my responsibilities merely involved interacting with the usuarios (people who utilized these services), I was able to have a great impact on the lives of these individuals. Many thanked me for the time I dedicated to simply listening to their stories and sharing a meal with them; for in times of misfortune, all people truly want is a friend and to know they are not alone. This experience allowed me to develop a greater sense of compassion towards this population and a new perspective of how we should each view our lives. It amazed me that not one of them looked down on the world but rather embraced their faith in religion and gave thanks for what they had. While serving as a volunteer, I also had the opportunity to participate in ruta, a service in which volunteers drive a van around the cities of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar to bring food, clothing, and company during the morning and night to those unable to travel to the shelter. It was touching to see the less fortunate come together to form their own community rather than remain alone. This experience provided me with a new ambition to find ways to promote similar services in the United States.

The second part of the trip also provided me with a new perspective that I brought back upon my return to the United States. As a service learning volunteer at Teletón, my responsibilities primarily involved working within the Recrear department, which involved playing, coloring, and socializing with the patients and their relatives in the waiting room. I did not realize the significance of this job until after a week into the service learning component when a patient with advanced cerebral palsy asked if I was her friend. This patient helped me realize the struggles these kids face that many will never have to encounter. Something as simple as passing time with these children provided them with the normal childhood experiences and social skills they deserved. Also, many of the games offered to them, such as Jenga and Play-Dough, permitted use of their hands, thus allowing them to improve their dexterity and muscle strength.

During my time working at Teletón, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside one of the institution’s kinesiologists whose patients all had cerebral palsy. This allowed me to gain clinical experience as an aspiring physical therapist within a pediatric setting and witness the treatment process of various diagnoses that I would not have otherwise been able to observe as a student in my own country. There was a patient with an external fixator to correct a significant leg length discrepancy, a patient with a button for direct alimentation to her stomach, and a patient with two partially amputated legs below the knee. This kinesiologist not only showed me how to go about treating these cases, but also taught me the value of creativity in this field of work. She challenged me by constantly asking questions regarding what I observed, having me create an exercise for the patient, and providing books to read for further discussion. I also observed the use of advanced therapy equipment that I had not formerly known about, such as the Lokomat, and learned the importance of communication between various healthcare professionals to treat just one patient. Despite learning all of this in a different language, I walked away from this clinical experience having gained more knowledge than in anything I had previously experienced.

One of the most influential aspects of this trip was living with a Chilean host family. I was fortunate to live with a large family that included Chilean, American, and German students, thus allowing me to learn about multiple cultures and gain various perspectives during our conversations while almorzando. Between making sopaipillas with my Chilean mother, watching the copa mundial with my Chilean father, and talking with the other students at night, I truly felt part of a community and welcomed as a member of their family. Despite being a foreigner, I not once felt in danger or different while exploring the streets of Valpo, and there was always someone home with whom I could share my discoveries. These individuals helped me embrace their culture, make significant memories, and return to my country part Chilena.

View of the city of Valparaíso from one of the cerros (hills).

 

These transformations in my perspective of various aspects of the world have allowed me to reenter my country with not only a deeper understanding of another culture, but also a greater appreciation for my own. The usuarios at the Hogar de Cristo helped me realize the importance of friendship and the influence a positive attitude can have on one’s life; the children at Teletón allowed me to gain an understanding of the impact that small tasks can have, and the inspiration to overcome all challenges; the kinesiologist helped me further develop my knowledge of the field I seek to pursue; and my Chilean family showed me the ease of loving people of different backgrounds. Although my time in Chile has finished, the lessons learned will remain to impact my professional and personal life. I leave the country with the ability to treat a wider range of patients due to my improved Spanish proficiency and cultural sensitivity, as initially intended, but most importantly, I leave knowing that I made an impact and that the work I did while abroad will continue through other students and volunteers. Therefore, although my time in Chile has finished, the efforts to benefit others will continue to flourish.

Fisher Summer Global Internship Program in Lisbon, Portugal

My STEP signature project took me across the Atlantic to Portugal this summer to work as an intern in the capital of Lisbon. I was a Market Research Intern for a social media software, and influencer marketing company called Primetag.

This experienced changed many of my previously held beliefs and expectations, ranging from silly and mundane to rather large. Living next to the sea I was able to try many different kinds of foods and I was surprised to discover I love sardines! (especially when grilled at one of Lisbon’s many street festivals) More than just opening my eyes to new culinary possibilities, however, this program transformed my confidence professionally and allowed me to experience a unique environment which will no doubt influence my professional life for years to come. I was able to work alongside people from five different countries, and many more cultural backgrounds. I saw firsthand how people with vastly different working styles can collaborate to make an office run smoothly, or not, and how to deal with challenges and accomplishments as they arise.

One of the biggest challenges I expected when working in Portugal would be the language barrier. I don’t speak Portuguese and I didn’t expect my coworkers to bend over backward to accommodate a temporary employee. When I met my coworkers, however, I realized because of the international breakdown of my team speaking English was actually an important asset. My fellow interns hailed from France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, but we could all communicate in English. Additionally, being the only native English speaker I was able to turn the language barrier into a tool that allowed me to take on more responsibilities, lending some of my time to the copy marketing and PR side of the operations writing and editing a slew of Primetag’s materials. This experience helped me to see my differences as potential benefits to myself and any future employer rather than detriments.

Some of my coworkers and people I came across, understandably, were less inclined to speak English. I used this challenge to find ways to connect with people in different ways. I wanted to ensure my coworkers feel my appreciation for them so I decided to connect in a much more universal way, food! I made a 4th of July barbeque lunch for my office to give them a taste of America. Lo and behold my plan worked, one of the employees that I hadn’t had a good chance to connect with prior bonded with me over chocolate chip cookies, which shockingly are not readily available in Portugal. I really enjoyed having this chance to create an environment where it was easier to connect with someone who wasn’t as comfortable due to the language barrier between us.

Another challenge that arose from cultural differences in the office came from a lack of communication regarding both short and long-term goal setting. I didn’t initially feel comfortable asking for more concrete directions, but after gathering the courage to meet with my boss to create an explicit plan I felt much more fulfilled with my work and could offer more to the office. This helped me understand that any perceived inconsistencies in expectations will lead both sides to gain less from the work being done. Taking initiative to clear up any doubts in expectations gave both sides of the working transaction more satisfaction at the end of the day.

This change gave me more confidence to work with people of different backgrounds because I know how to connect and create strong personal and professional relationships that transcend our perceived differences. I hope this opportunity will help me strengthen personal and professional relationships in the future. Beyond making some amazing friends and coworkers this summer I learned so much about how I best  function as a member of an office.

Toledo, Spain

For six weeks this summer, I took two Spanish classes at the Fundación José Ortega Y Gasset – Gregorio Marañón in Toledo, Spain. I had the opportunity to be fully immersed in the Spanish culture by living with a host family and traveling throughout the country.

My experience abroad changed my view of the world and inspired a deeper appreciation for my life. I had been to Europe before coming on this trip, so I had somewhat of an idea of what to expect. However, living with a host family for an extended period of time transformed my idea of what life was like outside of the US. I noticed that in Spain, everything is smaller. And by everything, I mean everything: elevators, portion sizes, cars, showers, streets, apartments, and maybe the hardest one for me to adjust to: cups of coffee. Although everything was smaller and people had less than many people in America, they seemed just as happy, if not happier. Living in Toledo allowed me to experience the relaxing, easygoing Spanish lifestyle. In bigger cities such as Madrid or Barcelona, this wasn’t always the case. It was plain to see the people of Toledo weren’t particularly stressed or in a rush, and I admired this. I noticed people had an appreciation for the little things in life and didn’t expect to always have the latest and greatest products. Life was simpler.

Not only did my outlook on the world change, but my outlook on my own life was impacted as well. My time living abroad was a humbling experience. I was able to understand how truly lucky I am to live in a house, receive an education, and other aspects of life that I take for granted. This trip reminded me of the importance of gratitude. I loved meeting my host parents’ family and friends and the experiences that came along with that. It was obvious that my host parents highly value their relationship with each other and with their family and friends. I can easily say that their relationships were the main source of their happiness. These experiences have inspired me to have a greater appreciation for the little things, and to put more emphasis on being grateful. Throughout the trip, I also developed more confidence in speaking Spanish. Neither of my host parents nor their family or friends spoke any English, so I had the perfect opportunity to improve my speaking skills, even though it was hard at first.

The biggest factor of this change in my outlook was my host family. I lived with host parents who are only 30 years old and don’t have any children. I was so surprised at first to have host parents who are so young, but I know now that it has was the best experience possible. Because we are only 10 years apart in age, we had similar interests and were able to relate more. The relationship I developed with my host parents is very strong; it wasn’t easy to say goodbye. We have continued to communicate and have already talked about the next time we will see each other!

One specific experience inspired me to have a greater appreciation for my country. While at dinner at my host mom’s uncle’s house on the Fourth of July, we started talking about American Independence Day and what that meant. This uncle mentioned that he likes the way of life in America. He admires how having pride in your country is considered a good thing in America, and people can wave the American flag with pride. I was surprised to hear this, as I hadn’t heard too many people openly say they truly admired the United States. He said he wished Spain was like that; in Spain, you can be judged for waving the flag. I thought this was very interesting and my pride in being American is something I will never take for granted.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous for my trip. The only information I had about my parents were their names, and I didn’t know any other students participating in the same program. But now reflecting on my experience reminds me how absolutely amazing it was. I realize that venturing into the unknown was impactful. I went from being out of my comfort zone to being completely comfortable. The first thing my host dad told me when he brought me home was “you’re in your house,” and it only took me a few days to truly feel that. Fully immersing myself in the culture meant meeting new people every week, seeing new sites, and learning something new every day. Meeting my host parents’ little nieces and nephews was a funny experience. I could feel them staring at me like I was some alien! They had to be very confused by my accent and why their aunt and uncle said they had an American daughter. This reminded me of how important it is for everyone in the world to experience each other’s cultures. It is very meaningful to open your eyes to all there is in the world.

My experience in Spain is one I will never forget and I will be forever changed. It has been an inspiration academically, professionally, and personally. I desire to incorporate Spanish into whatever career I have in the future, because this trip has strengthened the passion I have for the language. It has given me the confidence I need to reach my goal of being bilingual. Because of this experience, speaking Spanish is more important to me because of the joy it brings in being able to communicate with my new second family. My experience abroad has had an impact on who I am. The reminders I have been given of the value of relationships and importance of appreciating the smallest things in life are lessons I want to share with others. I am so grateful to have had the lifechanging experience that I had in Spain. I will never be the same because of it.

     

 

 

 

My Education Abroad Experience

Name: Samantha Nusbaum

Type of project: Education abroad

  1. During the months of June and July of 2018, I lived in Brisbane, Australia, and attended the University of Queensland. While there, I conducted research in animal behavior and ecology. Specifically, I studied fairywrens and their responses to sympatric and allopatric alarm calls. Besides conducting my experiments, I was also required to write a project proposal, a research paper, and give a 15-minute presentation to my peers.

 

  1. Besides learning how difficult research can be, this experience really taught me more about the world and life outside of the United States. Before this trip, I had only been outside of the U.S. for ten days. Being outside of my home country and away from my friends and family for nearly eight weeks taught me a lot about how the rest of the world views the United States and how different other countries can be. I assumed Australia would be very similar to the United States, and although it was in ways, it was much more different than I had anticipated.

 

I was able to view my home country from an outside perspective and see what other people thought of where I’m from. I also learned how large the world           really is. Being 10,000 miles away from home was mind-blowing to me, and installed an awe in my being of how insanely vast and beautiful our world is.

 

  1. I was incredibly surprised at how different Australia was from the United States. I had assumed that since both the United States and Australia are large countries, major world forces, and speak English that we would be alike. I was extremely wrong, and it really taught me how my assumptions about the world were incorrect! For example, they did not have coffee in Australia! Instead, everyone there drank espresso. When I asked for a “black coffee”, I was given what they called a long black—a shot of espresso watered down. Since we were in the southern hemisphere, it was their winter even though it was summer at home. Their toilets even flushed backwards! The etiquette in Australia is also different. For example, they do not tip, which I forgot quite a few times. They also didn’t split checks and water wasn’t free. It was these little things that surprised me.

 

I also was able to talk with native Australians about their views of the United States. Once, while waiting outside with some friends for an Uber, we had a          group of Australian girls come up to us and say they liked our accents! That surprised me as well, since usually it’s the opposite. They said they “felt like              they were in a movie”. Since Hollywood dominates the world of entertainment, the Australians we talked to were used to watching movies and TV shows            with American actors. This was something I had never thought about. Because I live in the United States, I never realized how many movies we put out                for the entire world. It was wild to think about how other countries watch our movies more often than not, but while in America I tend to watch very few            foreign films. It showed me how the United States really has a massive influence on the rest of the world.

 

 

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Australians are also very interested in American politics. On our drives to the field site where I conducted my experiments, my professor loved to talk                  about the politics going on at home. I was asked more about politics while abroad than I ever am at home. I, however, knew next to nothing about                        Australian politics. Yet it seemed like most Australians knew more about the politics in my own country than I did! It showed me yet again how the rest of          the world watches the United States.

 

  1. This transformation is incredibly significant to my life because I now view the world and the United States differently. Although the saying “it’s a small world,” is popular, I really learned how huge the world is. I also learned how much the United States influences the rest of the world, which I didn’t fully understand before this trip. I’m now able to better understand the rest of the world and people outside of the United States because I was able to look at the United States from an outside perspective. Because of this trip, I am now more self-aware and have a better understanding of how much being an American actually influences the rest of the world.

STEP Education Abroad: Siena Italian Studies

 

 

Jillian Corozzo

Education Abroad

 

I.

In my sophomore year at The Ohio State University, I decided to pursue the STEP Fellowship. Following the completion of that year, I spent six weeks in Siena, Tuscany, Italy from June 9, 2018 to July 23, 2018. In Siena, I lived with a local host family and took three language and content courses, all taught in Italian, for six weeks to earn a total of 10 Ohio State semester hour credits. I was enrolled in Siena Italian Studies, a school established by Italian educators from Siena intended to teach those who live outside of Italy to be fully immersed in Italian culture, language and lifestyle. As a part of this program, I attended classes Monday-Friday, ate breakfast and dinner with my host family, and was exposed to not only Italian life, but Sienese life. I enrolled in this program with intentions of improving my language speaking skills and completing my minor in Italian language.

 

II.

I would say that my view of the world around me changed due to my participation in this program, but I consider that to be an understatement. Prior to this full immersion experience, I have never been to Europe. To be more specific, at the time I have never left North America, with my first time leaving the country being last summer when I spent five weeks in Canada. Every single part of this experience, from the time difference to going through customs at the airport, was extremely new for me. My understanding of myself was one of the first things I noticed starting to change. I struggled academically in the beginning of this program and I was extremely insecure about it. This was not my first time feeling like the weakest link in my Italian class, I experienced this in my second semester of sophomore year in my advancing Italian classes. I was discouraged and frustrated upon realizing that I have been learning Italian for five years and not half as skilled as others in my advanced class in Italy. However, after being naturally forced to speak Italian around my family, who spoke little to no English, in my classes/to my professors and to locals, I passed exams for fluency with flying colors. I am now considered to be bilingual. My stamina to transition from proficiency to fluency is something I never believed I had, as well as the courage to allow myself to experience failure and try again.

 

I definitely had assumptions prior to arriving in Italy. This particular program places students in a family without telling the student who they are living with in order to avoid assumptions. Naturally, I assumed the best, that I would be living in the city center and all my friends would live near me. Upon arrival, I was placed with the most incredible family, but they lived about 15 minutes outside of the city center. I got lost on public transportation multiple times my first week. Being that I did not have cellular service, I was scared, annoyed, and agitated my first week due to how I never seemed to understand the bus.  This was especially agitating being that I have perfected the New York City Mass Transportation System since I was 12 years old. It was difficult for me to enter and exit the city with the bus schedules, so I used that as a crutch that would hinder me from getting out more. However, a week in, I realized that if there’s a will, there’s a way. Thus, I memorized the bus schedules and figured out how to get around on my own. I loved every second of it.

 

Although I did have assumptions, many aspects of life in Italy caught me off guard, which led to the transformation of my world view. Italians are happy people, and I truly believe that is because they live simply. Their homes are extremely minimalist, they dress simply, they do not have fancy belongings to show off, but they are all happy. I realized in Italy that there is more to life than the gluttony of American society. It took me three weeks in to realize that I needed to stop and appreciate my surroundings a little bit more, talk to people outside of my social circle, and just live in the moment, especially because I really do not know when I will ever have the opportunity to return to Europe again.

 

III.

My relationships with people was probably the aspect of this trip that I value the most, next to my increase in language skills of course. To begin, I came to Siena with a few people from Ohio State, one being one of my classmates with whom I have had class with for four semesters in a row, others who have been in my classes but never really had a chance to connect with. I left Siena with two of my now closest friends and a dozen other Ohio State connections, as well as friends on the programs from state as far as Singapore and cities as close as Cleveland. Being American in any foreign place is overwhelming, given our reputation and stereotypes that come with it. However, when you are with other Americans who are just as eager to explore, go out, and learn the language and culture, everything is so much easier.

 

The family I lived with was incredible. The family was was a couple who had kids later in life, so they were nearing 50, with two small children who were 7 and 9. While the children were, at times, a lot to handle with their 7 and 9 year old attitudes and constant crying, they were incredibly social. My family spoke little to know English, so communicating with the kids was my favorite part because Italian was so simple. Through my family, they introduced me to their children’s grandparents, their aunts and uncles, their neighbors, the parents of their children’s friends, and so many more people. My family brought us to family gatherings and cookouts, as well as to dinners with friends. They cared about me and the other American girl who lived with me in their home to a point that I questioned why. I never figured out why they treated us like family, but I believe that was the true nature of the Italian people-making outsiders feel like insiders. Although I haven’t spoken to them since I left, saying goodbye was so hard. I will never forget them and I will always appreciate everything they have done for me.

 

The experience that I truly believe changed my life was Palio. Palio is a medieval horse race that has been taking place in the Piazza Del Campo in Siena since the Renaissance. (There is a really good documentary on Netflix called “Palio” that explains the event in the fullest extent) Siena used to be divided into districts, and each district would enter a horse. These districts still exist, and if you are born in Siena, you belong to a district. The best way to describe a district, or the Italian word contrada, is probably a mix between a fraternity and a church parish. Your parents are in a contrada, so you are in a contrada. You are baptized into this contrada and all your friends growing up are in your contrada. Your friends parents are your second, third, fourth, etc. set of parents watching out for you. It is a community. It is why people born in Siena never leave Siena, because they have their whole lives in their contrada. I learned a lot of this information from my own family, who was in a contrada, but from the young locals I formed relationships with in Siena. My friend from Ohio State lived with a family with a daughter who was the same age as us, so we would frequently go out with her and all of her friends, who were in her contrada. Each of these contradas still enter horses and the whole city gathers and celebrates for weeks leading up with each contrada having huge outdoor parties. The horse race is 90 seconds but the anticipation for those 90 seconds is like nothing I have ever experienced. It was an unbelievable experience seeing the preparation and aftermath of Palio and the passion the Sienese have for their city.

 

IV.

I can affirm that this was indeed a transformational life experience. To start, it made me regret not making Italian my major. While I do not think I can physically sit through and succeed in more difficult Italian classes, I do want to continue to speak, which is difficult to do when you are living in middle America. This is why I intend on joining Italian Club and remaining active in the Department of French and Italian. The change in my development matters because I feel that I have matured during my time in Italy. I had an open mind through my initial struggles and I realized that I was in Siena for a reason with work to be done. It was the greatest time of my life so far and I was meant to experience all of that.

 

My goal was to excel in Italian, which I did on a level that exceeded any of my initial expectations. By the end of this program, I have written two 10 page final papers in Italian on Italian Art and Emigration. I have given 5 presentations in Italian. I have mastered an oral exam that was simply a conversation with my instructor. I did what I was there to do, while exploring the country and all of its treasures. I can speak the language that my family lost when my Italian ancestors who emigrated to the United States lost. I am connected to my heritage and my culture in a way that I am so baffled and humbled by. I would like to thank the faculty and staff at Siena Italian Studies for providing me with the experience and education of a lifetime. I would also like to thank Janice Aski, one of the most remarkable professors I have ever come to know and the heart and soul of the Department of French and Italian at Ohio State, for believing in me and encouraging me to participate in this program-Grazie Janice! I could not be more grateful for Ohio State, Siena Italian Studies and STEP for this incredible opportunity.

Education Abroad- Florence

1. For my STEP project I did an Education Abroad in Florence, Italy. I took an Introduction to Photography course at Accademia Italiana during the summer semester to fulfill a GE requirement and to explore diverse cultures.

2. During my STEP project I found myself reflecting on the cultural differences between the United States and Italy. Through my experiences abroad I discovered that people live much simpler than what is considered the norm in the U.S. I also expected there to be a drastic language barrier with the locals. I challenged myself and tried to speak phrases in Italian in order to better understand the language and culture. I felt myself dive deeper into the culture and embrace the more relaxed, reflective way of life most Italians lead. Additionally, I became more knowledgeable on the art and history Florence embodies.

3. The study abroad took place over six weeks, which allowed me to observe and interact with a variety of people, especially local Italians, and learn about the culture and language. One of the most unexpected places I felt a cultural difference was in the local grocery store. In Italian grocery stores and markets you are not expected to touch any of the produce by hand without wearing gloves as a sign of respect. Furthermore, you will not find any out of season produce because everything in the store was grown in Italy or its neighboring countries. Due to the lack of preservatives in the produce and other foods, they expire very quickly, so it is also common for locals to go to the grocery store or market everyday. I found these to be important characteristics of the culture because people value the hard work of the farmers and the quality of food, which contributes to their appreciation for a simpler life style.

When in Florence it is impossible to ignore the surrounding architecture, history, and art. Through my course and by visiting the world-renowned museums and galleries I was able to understand Florence’s powerful role in Europe and countries abroad. Florence is home to the start of the Renaissance where artists like Michelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo da Vinci started their work. The city is famous for its unique, detailed buildings, all of which were created during the Renaissance and preserved for centuries. The appreciation for art, fashion, and history is strongly felt in Florence and locals pride themselves for being Florentines. It became evident that art and history are deeply rooted into Florence’s culture and locals embrace Florence’s past.

The course I took provided introductory photography skills while allowing students to interact with Florence. For example, one day of class we went to the Uffizi Gallery and the professor instructed students to tell a story about Florence through taking pictures of the statues, buildings, locals, and tourists. This provided the opportunity to see Florence in a different perspective because you had to observe the area and artfully construct an image. Similar exercise contributed to my personal perspective on Florence and my interactions with the locals. Through the course, in addition to the independent market interactions and gallery tours, it allowed me to reflect on Florentine culture and understand and embrace the cultural differences.

4. The new perspectives and cultural appreciation developed through my time in Italy provided me with a renewed outlook I will apply to future interactions. Primarily, I gained a personal understanding of myself since my family originated from Italy; I was able to compare our Italian traditions to present-day customs in Italy. Additionally, I will apply my appreciation for cultural diversity, language, art, and history to my college career and future career since it is crucial to respect and understand cultural differences. I hope to continue to travel abroad in the future, for not only does it allow you to explore distinct cultures, it also causes personal growth and a perspective of your global influence.

Copenhagen, Denmark. Peace on Earth.

1) The main activities I experienced in Copenhagen was riding my bicycle everyday for at least 6 miles a day. I have not rode a bike since I was 6 years old, it felt like I could fly. Connecting with people I have never met before, developing close relationships with them. Exploring new gardens and parks and more aspects of that serene place.

2) I believe my views of the world have changed tremendously. In a way that I have never seen such harmony in my life. The population there just seemed content, and not trying to be better than one another. Danes actually have a law that states “you are not better than anyone” and subconsciously it is installed in their head from a young age and is portrayed throughout their lifetime. Equality exists! Gender, social class.
3) The events that really changed my life were three people I met there. All of them seemed like they were placed in my life for a reason. I have learned so much from each and every one of them about this world, about myself and many spiritual aspects of life. I have gotten really in touch with my spirituality while I was in Denmark and this journey feels like a dream.
4) This change is valuable in my life because I have gained so much knowledge and wisdom and passion. I meditate, take yoga, practice mindfulness, try to spread love and compassion to everyone I cross paths with. I learned a lot about the truths of this existence and try to apply it to my everyday being. I try to create peace around any negative energy and I have realized how much I have an impact on this world. I used to think I was just a speck in this huge galaxy but lately it has been feeling like the entire universe is within me.
Thank you.