Public Health Perspectives: Finland and Estonia


For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled abroad to Finland and Estonia for two weeks to learn about their views on public health issues and how they address them.

My goals for this study abroad were to learn more about Finland and Estonia, their public health approaches, and be independent in a foreign country. After coming back from the trip, I can say I achieved all the goals I had set for the study abroad. I learned a lot about the Finnish and Estonian culture and got to experience it first-hand. It was very interesting to learn about the history behind the two countries and how they’ve become how they are today. I also successfully traveled on my own, increasing my confidence and allowing me to become more independent. However, I think the biggest transformation that has occurred for me is my view on America’s health system. Before this trip, I knew our country has a very complex health system that many people dislike but I didn’t know what we could do to improve it. Visiting Finland and Estonia and getting the chance to learn about their health systems has opened my eyes to the many things that America could change.

My travel experience throughout the trip helped me become more independent. I had to be responsible for myself and be very prepared. While I have traveled by airplane before many times, it was always with my family. My parents always took care of tickets, passports, making sure we were on time so I would never have to worry about it. This time, however, I had to make sure I kept track of my passport, ticket, and knew where to go to catch my plane. Everything went very smoothly, giving me the confidence I need to travel alone in the future.

The one week of class I had before going on the trip provided me with all this new knowledge about healthcare and public health viewpoints. I learned about Finland’s amazing education system, social and health insurances, as well as some public health initiatives such as Baby Boxes. Estonia is also very similar, but also supports personalized medicine and has voluntary biobank in order to make precise and personalized treatments for diagnoses. Both the countries also have universal health care. Both also spend less money on health care when compared to the United States, but have better health outcomes. This really opened my eyes to the issues in the American healthcare system and what improvements can be done.

After traveling to the countries, I was able to observe what I learned in class in person. My favorite experience would have to be visiting a Finnish high school and getting to interact with the students and seeing how different it is from the U.S. I could see how the school lunches in Finland are much healthier than the ones served in most public schools in America. Eating lunch is a pivotal part of a student’s day and it was great to see how Finland really values the student’s education and health. In addition, conversing with the students allowed me to understand the culture of Finland. This was really nice to learn about because I didn’t know what to expect before the trip, but I realized afterwards that the students were just like myself. Everyone was very kind, accommodating, and patient, which made my experience in the country so much more amazing.

Most people think of America as a country full of opportunity and always one step ahead of the rest of the world. I believed this too until I visited Finland and Estonia. I questioned why no one talks about these countries and the great things they do for their citizens. Specifically, in terms of healthcare, both countries are role models for the rest of the world to follow, with their low expenditure on healthcare and great health outcomes. Seeing and learning about these initiatives is valuable to me because I plan on going into the medical field. By knowing how to improve our healthcare and improve health outcomes, I will be doing the best I could in my field. It is also valuable to my personal life because I’m at the age where I should start paying attention to healthcare laws and public health initiatives and knowing how they affect me. After this trip, I learned how much better America could be and I hope to one day see this country change for the better.

Global May Paris and Beyond

My STEP Signature project was an education abroad trip to Paris, France through The Ohio State University. My professors led us on a two-week program in which we explored major historical, cultural, and artistic landmarks and neighborhoods within Paris. While my STEP funds were used solely for my tuition costs for the Global May Paris program, I did some individual traveling throughout Europe after our program ended.

This incredible experience has led to several changes and evolutions within my character as well as my perception of the world around me. After having successfully navigated throughout a major city on my own, I feel much more confident in myself and my abilities. I feel as if I have become significantly more self-sufficient, and the knowledge that I can be self-reliant in a completely different country is empowering to say the least. I also learned that my empathy and generosity is recognizable to people immediately, as I made many new friends and held deep conversations with people after having just met them. While I have always known that I am a deeply caring person, I have never experienced what it is like to connect and find commonalities with such a wide variety of people from such diverse cultures. I discovered just how much I enjoy meeting new people and learning about their individual lives, and I think that was the best part of my traveling experience. Before I left the United States, I thought that I would enjoy seeing the sights and historical landmarks that I have been learning about all my life, but now I can say that the people you meet and interact with while traveling are truly what makes each city so spectacular and unique. I underwent a major period of personal reflection during my trip; besides learning about the positive aspects of myself, I also took time to reflect on my flaws and shortcomings, and how I could improve myself to be a better, healthier person. I realize now that I spend so much energy on comparing myself to others, whether that involves my level of success, my appearance, or what I want to do in the future. That kind of mindset is so unhealthy, and my time in Europe has helped me to reflect and understand why I compare myself so much to others. This program helped me to grasp just how important it is to acknowledge your flaws as well as your strengths, and how to reflect more deeply on who I am and what I want to become.

Besides the personal evolution I underwent while abroad, I also experienced many changing views on our world and my place within it. Being in Paris made me realize just how diverse and interesting our world really is; the metropolis attracts people from all over the world, and it is so amazing to see how people interact with one another on a daily basis when they speak totally different languages and come from various corners of the earth. This phenomenon continued to amaze me during my time in Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Germany after our education abroad program ended. Perhaps most importantly, I learned how to step back and enjoy life. The Parisians, and all of Europe, enjoy life in a way that I had never experienced before. They never rush to get anywhere, and the simple things that cause so much stress in the United States are not worried about as much in Europe. They take time to appreciate the small, every day, beautiful things that the world has to offer. Instead of focusing on their careers and material successes, Europeans view experiences and friendships as true wealth.

So many people, experiences, and places led to my new view on life that it is hard for me to just choose a few! One major experience was my very first day in Paris. Traveling alone to Paris was very scary and anxiety-inducing for me. My flight had been delayed 5 hours and I was in a terrible mood after having to deal with airplane issues and delays. While waiting in the airport I felt incredibly lonely and even had the desire to turn around and just go home. However, once I landed in France all of my anger and homesickness disappeared immediately. I’ll never forget the initial excitement and immense happiness I felt to finally be abroad. While walking to my hotel I got lost and had to ask for directions in French, something I had never had to do before. Relying on my French-speaking skills helped me to be more confident in myself and courageous as well. I couldn’t stop taking in all the sights of Paris; the city was so beautiful and interesting. The feeling of being in a totally new country, surrounded by new possibilities, smells, and sounds was worth every minute of anxiety before my trip began. I knew right away that I had caught the traveling bug, and that day will forever be one of my most cherished memories.

One of my most memorable days from our program was when we had a free day to do whatever we wanted in Paris. A small group of my friends accompanied me on a day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise, the small town outside of the city where Vincent Van Gogh lived out his final days. I felt an immediate connection with this small, sleepy town. It was a Sunday so very few tourists were visiting and even fewer villagers were out on the streets; most of them were sitting on their porches enjoying the beautiful weather or drinking coffee in the small cafes on the main street. It was incredible to be able to walk in the footsteps of one of my favorite painters; we saw the Notre Dame of Auvers, the wheat fields, and the gardens of Dr. Gachet, all of which have been immortalized by Van Gogh’s paintings. I felt total peace and contentment walking through the small streets and alleys of the town, and I began then to reflect on my life and how I came to finally be living my longest dream. As I viewed Auvers through the lens of Van Gogh’s mind, I began to understand that everyone interprets their world differently, and I came to the important revelation that we can see beauty anywhere we choose to.

One final experience, while not in Paris, was perhaps the most influential to my new mindset and view of life. My final stop in Europe was Berlin, Germany. I chose a small, quiet hostel because it was cheap and looked clean, even though I had heard other hostels in Berlin were much more fun and outgoing. My first night there I realized I had made the right choice. While in my hostel I met so many people from all over the world, including Denmark, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and Japan. Despite all of our differences, we managed to converse with one another all night on my first day, and I made multiple friends that I still keep in touch with now that we are all finished traveling. These people opened my eyes to the ways in which people live and view life outside of the United States, and we discussed everything from Taoism to Jane Eyre. Marcos, our receptionist, stayed up with me and another guest to teach us about the backwards views of the German Nationalist Party. It was moments like this that made my trip abroad so worthwhile; they were unexpected but always welcome. I’ll never forget what Austin said to me that night, the only three things you need are a “strong body, healthy mind, and adventurous soul.” It is these small, seemingly unremarkable events, like advice from a stranger, and history lessons from the receptionist at 3 AM that strike me for their simple truth and beauty. As stated earlier, the friendships I made and the people I interacted with while traveling made every city so much more exceptional and influential to my personal growth.

All my life I have wanted to travel and see the world beyond the USA. Now I can finally say that I have immersed myself in other cultures and been witness to how other people live and think and act. But my experience abroad has given me so much more than just a few pictures to share at home with my friends and interesting stories to tell over cups of coffee. I worked so hard to be able to finally live out my dreams, writing dozens of scholarship essays and working tirelessly to perfect my STEP proposal. Now, after having completed my project, I can say that my hard work paid off, that I was able to make this happen. While I am so incredibly grateful for the help I received from countless people, I know that my own perseverance and determination are partly to thank. I have come to appreciate and love myself in a way I never have, and I never expected to see such a large change in myself after just one month of traveling. To say that I have evolved positively is an understatement, and I cannot put into words just how valuable this experience has been for me. My newfound level of self-awareness and acceptance will guide me for the rest of my life in all aspects, whether it comes to relationships with others, career choices, or future goals. I am incredibly grateful because I now have more confidence in myself, and more courage to face whatever comes my way. My time in Europe has given me the opportunity to reflect on how I want to live my life and that in itself is a truly remarkable revolution that will guide me for the rest of my time at Ohio State and beyond.

Australia– Human Impact on the Environment

Haley Trimble

My STEP signature project was an incredible education abroad trip to Australia.  We traveled the coast of north Queensland throughout May, engaging with the natural environment and learning about human impact on it.

I knew that this trip would be a once in a lifetime experience, one of those life-changers that you never stop talking about.  But I had no idea just how much it would transform me.  I came back to the States with a fresh passion for living outside of my comfort zone, for traveling, and for doing all that I can for our beautiful planet.

The entirety of this education abroad trip was outside of my comfort zone.  I had never taken a trip this long, gone this far away, or traveled with only strangers before.  I had to face some of my top fears while I was in Australia.  I’m afraid of snakes– the very first day I had to hold a snake (I screamed).  I’m afraid of swimming in open waters– I snorkeled the great barrier reef.  I’m afraid of heights– I hiked many mountains and sat on many cliffs.  I was terrified, but I did it all without hesitation.  I was more than just alive, I was living.

I have decided to apply this attitude to my everyday life.  I want to live every day as full as possible, I want to never say no to an opportunity, and I want to take more risks.  I don’t want to let the stress of daily life blur the thrill of life.  I will get more out of my academic, professional, and personal life living this way.  Australia didn’t teach me how to not be afraid, it taught me how to be afraid but do it anyway.

All of the people I met through the education abroad have inspired, refueled, and transformed me too.  The lecturers and project instructors were so passionate about the environment and whatever career they had.  They were intelligent and unafraid of going against societal norms.  They reminded me to choose a job that makes me happy.  A career that I’m passionate about, whether that follows the mainstream life path or not.

My professor and teaching assistant were each inspiring and encouraging as well.  They had a heart for travel and challenges, for conversations and learning.  Dr. Slater emphasized that “to travel is to live,” and rekindled my heart for learning, as well.  I feel motivated to learn as much as I can in college.  Chelsey has done so much in her life and has faced many unique challenges, along with having a contagiously bubbly personality.  She rekindled my spirit to never stop experiencing and growing as an individual.  Both of our instructors lit up my passion for seeing as many places and meeting as many people as I can.

Lastly, and closest to my heart, is the group of people I experienced this trip alongside.  They all quickly became my new best friends.  Each of them so unique, kind, and inspiring to me in some way.  Having this sense of community by my side in Australia, and now having that on campus, is uplifting to me.  I believe it will help me live my last years of college full and purposeful.

In just one month, I got to travel from mountains and rainforests to islands and beaches, from cities and deserts to eucalyptus forests and open ocean.  I learned more about the environment through lectures and experiences than I ever have before.  For example, I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef for three days and it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done.  I also learned a lot about climate change and how it threatens our corals and fish populations.  As a strategic communication major, it is one of my priorities to apply sustainability concepts to companies who hire me.  It is also important to me to practice environmental sustainability in my own life.  Taking these courses and having these hands on experiences makes it easier for me to do this.  My passion for protecting our beautiful and diverse ecosystems has grown through this trip.  Since coming home, I no longer use single-use plastics like plastic bags or plastic straws. Plastic breaks up but it never breaks down, and it is filling the ocean and killing our sea creatures.

I am so thankful for the many ways that this education abroad trip has shaped me and helped me grow.  All of the adventurous activities I got to experience gave me a passion for living outside of my comfort zone.  The incredible people I met encouraged me to work hard and keep dreaming big.  All of the things I learned about the environment have given me a new drive for taking care of it.  Each of these new values, attitudes, and perspectives will help me to get the most out of my personal, academic, and professional life.


Multicultural Histories and Legacies of Rome and London

Chloe Ittel

Study Abroad, Rome and London 2018


My time studying abroad has been an amazing experience during which we took an in depth look at varying cultures of groups and individuals and how they influence the society around them and far away. In order to accomplish this we observed surrounding areas and had discussions with different groups of people such as the British league of Muslims, or current students at the University of Sussex and, we also were able to participate in service projects to see how the community supports those around them. All of these things contributed in our goals to become strong and effective leaders within our own communities.


Initially I chose to do a study abroad trip because I wanted to learn more about myself. At home and at school I usually stick to the same small group of people and so I chose to go on this trip to push myself out of my comfort zone. I was afraid to do this but I learned so much about myself. I learned that I can be an independent person and an effective leader.

Not only did I learn more about myself but I learned more about the world. My world consists of Columbus Ohio, a small bubble that I rarely see beyond. And, when I did imagine other countries I idealized them. I thought that London and Rome were the perfect places that we see in the movies. They were amazing cities but, from my travels I have seen that they too have problems as we do in the U.S. It has shown me the connections that we as humans share throughout the world, We may have different cultures and customs but we still share many of the same morals, values, hopes, and dreams.


One great thing about this trip is the relationships you are able to make abroad. I think that the reason I was able to realize the similarities that we share with countries abroad is due to the interactions we had with the locals. An example of this is when we spoke with students at the University of Sussex. Through this we were able to speak about issues they faced and we soon came to realize many of these issues we shared. We also had discussions such as this before we even left on the trip with people like the head of the political science department at OSU. Through this we learned more about the politics surrounding the countries we were visiting.

Another thing we were able to take part in during our time abroad were cultural tours of surrounding areas. These also pushed me out of the small bubbled I had lived in and made me see more of the world. Some of these tours included Brighton, which is a city home to a large LGBTQ community, and Naples through which the influx of tourists still remains rooted within its own culture. These things allowed me to see beyond the small world I had at home and notice the complexities that other countries contain.

I also spoke of how I have become a more independent person, and an effective leader. This independence was gained through the activities we did throughout the day. We always had tours or activities on our agenda but, everyday we’d also have time to explore an area on our own. This was a great way to learn about myself and what I enjoyed doing abroad whether it be sitting in town square, eating at a new restaurant, or shopping in the local stores. I also feel that this trip has taught me how to be a more effective leader. This is because of our tours and activities I feel as if I am more culturally and socially aware of my surroundings which will someday assist me when I am working with a diverse group of people.


This experience has impacted me in many ways and the experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. I learned so much about myself and how to be an independent person and as I am growing further into adulthood this is an aspect that I am glad to have worked on. Also, my future plans are to become a teacher and this trip has given me many tools that will assist me in my professional career as well. These things include how to be a leader and a role model to my students. I also learned so much about culture and diversity and in my classroom and life in general this is knowledge I am grateful to have. I already miss being on this trip and all of the people I traveled with, but I am glad that I will forever hold onto this knowledge and these memories.

Uganda Global May

My STEP Signature Project allowed me to travel to Uganda, a country in the heart of Africa. Over the course of a month, my group and I traveled to many regions of Uganda, interacted with locals, and learned the history of Uganda along with its major challenges. We also were able to stay with a host family for some of the time in Uganda. This trip allowed me to live as a Ugandan for a month.

I have always had a love for travel, which is what initially spurred my interest in this study abroad. But this experience turned out to be so much more for me than just a travel opportunity. I learned so much about myself while also making lifelong friends and meeting influential people. One of the hardest ideas for me to wrap my head around in Uganda is the aspect of “culture”. My understanding of culture before traveling revolved around singing, dancing, and language. But, culture in Uganda is so much more than this.

Ugandan culture involves beliefs, practices, and even people’s actions. For example, in my home stay, the house maids would kneel before entering the TV room. This made me uncomfortable and guilty at first, but then it was explained to me that this is their culture. The house maids want to kneel because it is a sign of respect in their culture. Little actions like this made me realize that just because I grew up doing things differently than Ugandans, does not mean the way Ugandans live is wrong. It is not wrong for the maids to show their respect in this way, it is just different than what I have learned is “right”.  The way we live as Americans is not the right way to live, it is just the lifestyle we have developed. This interaction reminds me to not judge others because there is no correct way to live.

Another understanding I have gained about myself is that I am more adaptable than I thought. Before traveling to Uganda, I had people asking me left and right, “why Uganda?” This question began to make me question my decision and fear that I could not handle African lifestyle. I was scared of bugs, food, and bathing. But none of these things seemed to pose a problem to me while in country. For bugs, I wore bug spray and actually, I get more mosquito bites in America than I did in Uganda. For food, I made sure I was open to trying new cuisines and surprisingly loved it! As for bathing, I quickly learned how to shower with a bucket and learned that it saves a lot of water. Ugandan lifestyle is not as different from America’s as I expected. They bathe, they eat, they laugh and are happy with their lives. I thought the outdoors and foreign people would make adapting to changes challenging, but this trip has shown me that I am stronger and more flexible than I thought.

The main events that made me realize new things about myself is my homestay. I was very nervous about staying in a strange house and feeling uncomfortable there. It also did not help that 10 minutes before meeting my house family, I got sick. But my host mom, Gertrude, gave me the warmest hug upon first meeting and made me feel at home immediately. Our first night together she brought me tea for my sick stomach and checked on me frequently. For the remaining nine days, I played with my two younger siblings, Elijah and Martin, and watched soap operas with my host sister, Carol.

Living with my Ugandan family made me grateful for the small luxuries I take for granted in the US. Praying before meals reminded me to be thankful for my food. Speaking with my sister about Uganda’s impression on America made me realize I need to get involved in social movements to help America make an impact all over the world. Playing with my siblings made me remember that I don’t need a TV and a computer to have fun.  My homestay was an amazing look into how people live around the world.

Another amazing opportunity given to my group was visiting a high school in Uganda and speaking with them about sexual reproduction. Sexual education is illegal in schools in Uganda because they do not want their youth to know about sex until marriage. But the lack of education leads to women having too many children, which then leads to poverty and hunger for the family and the country. Being able to talk to these students and answer their questions was an amazing feeling. I felt like I was making a difference in these student’s lives. We encouraged them to finish their education, wait to have sex or practice protected sex, and taught them Ohio State chants. This interaction made me grateful for my education, which is something I often take for granted. My parents sacrifice a lot to send me to the best schools, and I often forget to thank them for it. I see school as a burden at times when it is a privilege.

Some lasting messages I took from this trip is that Africa is not some hungry, barren place. I had an amazing and relaxing time in country and saw beautiful foliage and waterfalls. People live happy, full lives in Uganda and it is important for Americans to not forget about them or stereotype. It is not just a spot for service, but it is also beautiful land with remarkable people. Another message I hope to never forget is to stay grateful for my life and to not complain as much. I hope to catch myself before I begin complaining about how my phone dies too fast or how my car is scratched. These things are small inconveniences and my concerns should be devoted elsewhere.

I encourage everyone who has the opportunity to travel anywhere, not just Uganda, to go. Every time I travel, I widen my perspective more and more. Seeing and experiencing new cultures has made me a more understanding and well-rounded person. So now when people ask me “why Uganda?” I finally have an answer. It is an amazing country with a rich history and kind hearted people who welcome you into their home. It is a country that is growing and deserves our help when they ask for it. It is a country where I made life long relationships and it is my home away from home.

Child Welfare and Children’s Mental Health

Name: Megan Caldwell

Type of Project: Education Abroad

Program: Child Welfare and Children’s Mental Health – Melbourne, Australia 2018

1) My STEP project consisted of visiting different agencies and organizations that offered services regarding child welfare and mental health. In addition, the trip included a lot of learning about the Aboriginal culture of Australia and exploring the city of Melbourne.

2) In Australia, I definitely experienced major transformation. The trip changed my perspective in how I view members of other cultures around the world. Throughout the study abroad, there was such an emphasis on the Aboriginal culture and when the Europeans came to imperialize the continent. There were many parallels to the history of our Native Americans. In addition, I was transformed in my goals as a future high school counselor. The different agency visits gave me insight into different programs that work to put the emphasis on students and provide them with the help and resources they need. This trip also helped me to step out of my comfort zone on a whole new level. I had been on short trips a couple states away without my family but never for three weeks and on the other side of the globe. Not only was my family not with me, but I did not know anyone that I would be traveling with. It was a learning experience and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.

3) A major transformation for me would be the way that I view different cultures in the world. Throughout the trip, we learned so much about the Aboriginal culture. We gained so much knowledge about their history and what these people went through when the Europeans came to imperialize the continent. This experience is very similar to what occurred for our Native Americans in the United States. Despite these tragedies being so significant, they are discussed so little in our education system. Learning about this history gave me more insight into what it was like for the Aboriginal and Native American populations. It gave me a new perspective and more ideas of how to help Native Americans here. For instance in Australia, it is crucial that young Aboriginals stay connected to their culture even if they are going through foster care or parents’ divorce. The organizations must work together with Aboriginal affiliated agencies to make sure that this connection to culture is a priority.

In regards to the transformation of my future goals as a school counselor, there were so many agency visits that spoke to Australia’s work in the schools. For example, at an agency visit for Batyr, one of their employees talked to us about how they train and then send young people out to speak at schools who have experienced mental health issues and seen victories in their journey, whether big or small. This kind of experience would be so helpful for young people, and I would love to implement a similar type of program at the future school I will work in. I learned about all kinds of programs like this one that really work to put the focus on the students and provide them with the help and resources that they need. At our visit to Family Life, we learned about one program in which parents are in charge of implementing a community/school-based project in order to involve them in their children’s school setting. In addition, they had a program that was called Breaking the Man Code which was all about helping young men who did not feel like they fit the mold of our culture’s idea of a man.

Stepping out of my comfort zone and traveling across the world with a group of strangers was a challenge. My excitement for the program had caused me to not even think about how there may be difficult times along the way. I am naturally introverted, so it can be hard to be thrown into a group of new people. Throughout this trip, I became more comfortable with this concept because we all did so many activities together. Being on this trip showed me more about the value in getting to know people with different perspectives than I have. Being away from family and friends was very difficult, especially with a 14-hour time change, but it was all worth it in the end.

4) These different experiences truly helped me to have major transformation in the way I view the world and the way I want to implement change in the world. By learning more about the Aboriginal culture, I understood better how I might be able to make Native American students more comfortable when I am a school counselor. In addition, I believe that learning about the Aboriginals also gave me more empathy for other marginalized populations. Empathy is so important for a school counselor. Learning about the programs of many Australian organizations helped me come up with ideas for when I am a school counselor. The visits really shaped the way that I see myself as a counselor. It is so much more than just scheduling and transcripts; there is that chance to give all that I can to help students feel valued and capable. This trip also affected my personal goals of traveling. I have had a goal to travel to every continent in my lifetime, and this trip only fueled that desire. I am so excited to see what other adventures there are in store for me in my life.

For blogposts written by me and others on the trip, go to

Buck-I-SERV Guatemala 2018

Emma Berlage

Education Abroad, Buck-I-SERV Guatemala

  1. For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in a Buck-I-SERV trip to Guatemala. We spent the week working on three houses made of concrete blocks for families in need.
  2. I believe through my trip to Guatemala, my understanding of the world expanded exponentially. Experiencing life in a developing country, even for a week, taught me more than a classroom or reading about the country could ever had. I believe I developed a better understanding of the lives of those in other countries. The community in Guatemala is far greater than anything I have seen in the United States. This trip also showed me firsthand the privilege the United States and other developed countries have in the world.
  3. Prior to traveling to Guatemala with Buck-I-SERV, I had never left the United States. I had also never done the manual labor required to build a house or seen a volcano. Probably the largest new experience however was interacting with the families and masons as we built the houses. No one in my group was fluent in Spanish and the families and masons did not know English very well either. This required us all to be patient with each other as well as ourselves. While frustrating and difficult at times, my group and I ended up developing a strong bond with those who worked on the house with us. By the end of the week we were joking and teasing each other and ended the last day with a lunch the family we were building for prepared. It was an incredibly gratifying experience.

On one of our off days we visited Lake Atitlan, about three hours from where we were staying in Antigua. While a beautiful and amazing trip, it gave some clear examples of privilege. Many of the towns we visited on the lake held hostels and beach homes, most of which housed people from outside of Guatemala. The lake and its tourists stimulate the economy of the region and provide many with jobs. However, it made me think about those in Guatemala who would be unable to visit the lake, due to money or otherwise.

The one experience that sticks with me even now took place on the work site. The houses were made with concrete blocks and when they were delivered to our work site, we had to walk them down a long alley. There were hundreds of blocks and the task looked very daunting as we began. However, within ten minutes of starting, family members and their neighbors started helping. Each time a person came down the alley on their way home, they would stop what they were doing a start helping. One woman carried two blocks on her head at a time. One man consistently pushed ten blocks in a wheelbarrow with no shoes on. The sense of community that was in Guatemala was inspiring and I know that is an experience I will not soon forget.

  1. With a specialization in Nonprofit Management, I hope to one day work for a nonprofit organization. On this trip, we volunteered at a nonprofit called Constru Casa. This organization was a perfect example of the far-reaching impact nonprofits can have around the world. Building a house for a family does not just give them a place to live; it givesthem security, a healthier lifestyle, and so much more. Volunteering with Constru Casa further solidified my career path and what I want to do after graduation.


Public Health Study Abroad: Japan

Name: Niki Asa

Type of Project: Study Abroad; Japan: Public Health Perspectives

I studied abroad in Japan for two and a half weeks to learn about the public health system in Japan and get exposed to the Japanese culture. We went to different areas including a university, hospital, areas affected by natural disasters, and coastal regions affected by poor water quality. Along with that, we traveled to shrines, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, castles, and cities that gave us a look into Japanese history and culture.

My STEP project helped me change my perspective on the world because of all the different culture experienced. In Japan, each city is a completely different place and has its own eating etiquette, food, and city lifestyle. It was eye opening to see a country that is run completely different because Americans are so used to things being done their way. In my experience, people in America think that the way we run our country is the right way and the only way it should be done. In Japan, the country ran very differently and there were different expectations from the citizens living there. It is neither better or worse than America, just different. Along with that, it was sometimes difficult being somewhere where people don’t always speak English. Most of the people we encountered knew a few phrases of English or where very patient with us while we tried to communicate using body language. It meant a lot to have the Japanese try to speak English and to help when they could because people in America might not do that. People who speak English expect other to know English too, and will get frustrated when someone doesn’t. Most of the people on the trip didn’t speak any Japanese, and it was ignorant of us to go there expecting everyone to tailor to our needs of speaking English.

In Japan, we went to different areas that were destroyed by earthquakes and tsunamis. In America, I heard about the horrible natural disasters, but I didn’t realize the extent of the damage until I saw it in person. Along with that, we visited coastal areas where citizens became sick because of water contamination, and many died or became disabled. I did not hear anything about these incidents in America. There are many different horrible things happening in different countries throughout the world that I do not know about. I don’t like knowing that people are sick or dying, and I will never hear about it. This experience changed my perception of health in the World, and even in the United States. I always think of my country of being happy and healthy, but I’m sure that there are incidents and devastating outcomes that affect the people in my country.

During the first 10 days in Japan we stayed in Tokyo. In Tokyo, we visited the University of Tokyo and got to spend time with the teachers and the students at the University. It was interesting to converse with them because there was a big language barrier through difference of language and difference of culture. We played games such as charades, where the language was not as important. Also, we played telephone, where we all tried pronouncing difficult English words and Japanese words. It was eye opening to talk to the students about their culture and to realize that they are not much different than college students in America. This was information that you do not get from reading about Japan online, only a person to person conversation can give you the same experience. The cultures and expectations in America and Japan are so different, yet the college students are very similar. We all enjoy our line of work but complain about the homework, and we all enjoy music, singing, and going out with our friends. It was comforting to have something to relate to when I feel like I’m in a place that’s so different and I don’t belong.

Another experience that fulfilled my transformation was visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. There were articles, visuals, and real-life artifacts that described the destruction, aftermath, and diplomatic negotiations of the atomic bomb. I had an uneasy feeling being in the museum knowing that my country caused so much destruction, caused so much pain, and killed so many people. One section that sticks out in my mind was an art gallery where children who survived the bomb drew pictures and wrote a blurb on how they remember the day the bomb hit. The descriptions were devastating, and the children saw people dying and struggling to survive. A woman who survived the atomic bomb, but lost her mom and sister, told us about what she experienced that day and how it impacted her life. The most significant thing from this trip was that the woman said that she does not blame the United States for what happened because she knows that Japan played a role in this war as well. She wanted to use the bomb as a learning experience, so it will not happen to anyone else.

We also traveled to Sendia and visited Okawa elementary school which was destroyed in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The earthquake itself did not do that much damage to the school, but the tsunami was extremely strong since it traveled down the river, intensifying the velocity. Since the school does not like along the direct coast, the teachers did not thing the tsunami would hit them, and thus did not take the kids to safety. The school is located right below a mountain, so it would have only taken a few moments to take the kids up it to prevent any chance of being caught up in water. The tsunami came down the river, destroying the school and killing everyone but 5 students and 1 teacher. This tragedy is so sad because it would have been preventable, especially if there was a disaster protocol and disaster practice drills. This elementary school incident is something that very few Americans know about, and very few Japanese have visited it. It was eye opening to see the damage in real life and to imagine what happened that day, and how the deaths could have been prevented.

I have always been interested in injury prevention, and disaster prevention is related to injury prevention. After the Japan trip and seeing all the damage by the natural disasters, disaster prevention is something I would be interested in. I am also minoring in Environmental Health and Risk Communication, and so I think that minor will go along nicely with disaster prevention research. I have also been interested in the environment, but I never knew how I wanted to incorporate it into my research. I have started learning about the environment through my major, Environmental Public Health, but learned a lot more about it in Japan. We spent a lot of time looking how poor water quality can affect the body, so that could be something I am interested in for the future. Personally, Japan was a good experience because it forced me to leave my comfort zone. I was in a new country which didn’t speak my language, and I was spending all my time with people I didn’t know. It was a good experience to get to know all of my peers and learn to navigate a city in which none of us were familiar with.

Fisher GPPNP: London

Name: Alec Feldstein


Type of Project: Education Abroad

1. During the first 2 weeks of May 2018, I traveled with a group of 10 other students to London as part of the Fisher Global Projects Program Non-Profit. Our team worked with Soles4Souls, a non-profit who aims to disrupt the cycle of poverty by providing shoes to local entrepreneurs who can then sell them to provide for their families, as well as distribute shoes for free in disaster relief. We were split into two groups, one who was tasked with finding a warehouse space for Soles4Souls to collect shoes in, and one who was tasked with finding interested organizations to set up collection campaigns with in the UK. I was a part of the collection campaign team, and was personally in charge of finding companies who might be interested in holding a Soles4Souls drive.

2. Having travelled to Europe once before when I was young, I did not quite have the culture shock that others on my trip who had not left the country before experienced, but none the less I still did have a very transformational experience. My first big transformational experience was the professional development that I experienced in working in a professional setting overseas. Meeting with professionals and executives from a few different shoe companies was a great growth opportunity for me, and I was even able to connect us and lead a meeting with one of the world’s largest translation services companies. It will surely be a great opportunity that I can touch on for years to come.

Another big transformation that took place, was my ability to adjust to living outside of my comfort zone. Every day posed a new challenge for our team, and I had to adjust to living in a new country with unfamiliar places around me for 2 weeks. While we did spend a lot of time exploring London, there were also certain comforts from home that I craved but had to push off in order to enjoy the moment I was living in.

3. After months of build up, we had emailed hundreds of organizations, but were finding it tough to get people to respond to us. I had spoken to a family member who had known of thebigword, one of the largest translation companies in the world, and offered to put me in touch with them. After hearing about what Soles4Souls was all about, they were immediately interested in helping the cause, and wanted to learn more about how they could set up a shoe drive. They invited us to their office in Leeds, so that we could discuss the collaboration further.

The collection team set out for Leeds with only a few days remaining on the trip, and without any expectation of how this meeting would go. After a little more than two hours on the train, we arrived in the city of Leeds, England’s 8th largest city with a metro population slightly larger than that of Seattle. Upon arriving at their office, we were greeted with big smiles and a welcome sign on the tv behind the reception desk! It was great to see their excitement to meet with us, and the energy was reciprocated by everyone on our team.

We sat down and discussed a number of items, talking about all of our backgrounds, learning more about the people we were meeting with, and discussing more about their intentions to work with Soles4Souls and what they needed from us. After getting on the same page, we were shown a tour of their office, where we learned more about the company and the services that they offer. We all had an amazing experience, and by the end of our two hour meeting we were all thrilled with how it had went. They were looking to hold their drive in the beginning of June, with the potential to hold recurring drives in coming years and had even offered use of their translation software to Soles4Souls.

It was an amazing experience getting to meet with thebigword, and an even better experience to have helped to set up such a large shoe drive for Soles4Souls. With over 400 employees at their Leeds HQ alone, they should be able to donate hundreds of pairs of shoes! This experience was everything I could have asked for from the Global Projects Program Non-Profit, as I not only had an amazing experience learning about the company, but was also able to foster a meaningful connection. Everyone from thebigword was very friendly and excited to be able to support such a great cause. While even without this experience I would have been happy with my project, our trip to Leeds helped cement this meaningful experience and should help me in my future endeavors, both professional and philanthropic!

4. As someone who is interested in working in Finance and more generally business, it is very important to have an international mindset and experience working internationally as you never know when it will help you in your career. Being able to sit down in meetings with people from a different country, and successfully pull off your agenda, is a priceless skill, and should help me be successful in my career- no matter what my end job may be. While we often faced crossroads as a team, we were able to navigate through them well, and our overall project ended up being a success.

Fisher GPP- Cape Town, South Africa

For my STEP signature project, I participated in the Fisher Global Projects Program Non-Profit in Cape Town, South Africa. While in South Africa, I worked on a consulting project for Philippi Music Project, a local social enterprise that uses music to break barriers and helps support the community it operates in. We helped to create an idea bank of marketing materials, revenue streams and other ways to prepare the business model to be replicated in other areas.

Going abroad to South Africa was my first time going abroad, which made my experience all the more interesting and unique. Originally, when I first started researching and planning my trip, I was very hesitant to go because it was a place so vastly different than anything I am used to, and it was something that was very much out of my comfort zone. Now that I am back and have gotten to live and work abroad for a period, I feel that I have become more confident in myself and my abilities. We had a lot of scenarios where I just had to learn to adapt and go with the flow instead of stressing myself out trying to follow a plan. I also learned a lot about living in the moment and letting myself be present in situations, instead of again trying to follow some sort of plan or have every experience go exactly how I imagined it was. Sometimes things do not work like I expect and learning to be okay with that was a huge learning curve.

Another big appreciation I learned while in Cape Town was taking a step back and listening to people. This was applicable not only in our work at Solution Space, but with everyone we interacted with in the country. We worked with our entrepreneurs, met other local business owners and interacted with people who taught us about the Xhosa culture. In the beginning of our project, I struggled with voicing my ideas and opinions in the way I thought they would best be received. We showed up with a problem, and we were there to find a solution. But, if anything, that was farther from the truth. Before finding a solution to this problem, we had to learn to listen and understanding not only what challenges his company was facing, but why they were facing them and what about the local culture impacts his challenges and how they do business. In addition to learning more about the business and how that operates in South Africa, there was a lot of learning to be done about the history in the country and how they were/still are affected by Apartheid. To understand the present and the future and why peoples actions are a certain way, it was imperative to gain insight into the past events of the country and the ramifications they had in the present day.

Throughout our time in Cape Town, we interacted a lot with people who were small parts of history and lived through the events that had happened in Cape Town, like being a political prisoner on Robben Island as well as being moved out of their beloved homes in District 6. We watched movies on Nelson Mandela’s life and got to go to Robben Island and see what his life was like while he was imprisoned there. We even saw the actual cell he was imprisoned in for 18 years, which was astounding.

Something really cool that we got to experience in South Africa was the interactions with locals who came in to be speakers for our group. One entrepreneur, Monica, told us all about her life story to open a restaurant and how she started with investing all of her money into selling clothes, eventually turning a profit to run an authentic South African restaurant. We also met with MJ, who shared insight into the Xhosa culture with us. He told us all about religions, traditions, rites of passage, etc. Learning and listening to what he was saying really enlightened us to modify approaches in our project and presenting ideas to our entrepreneur in a way that was more suited to him.

Another woman we met runs an informal business in Philippi, selling vetkoeks. When asking her questions about the challenges she faces and her competitors, her answers shocked us. She told us all about how she does not have challenges, yet she runs a small business in a stand that is not big enough for her needs and she has to work really hard to maintain everything for the business. As far as competitors go, she has a group of four women that sell the exact same product as her, right next to her, but all of the women help each other out. If one person needs something, they will watch each other’s backs. To me, that was fascinating. Trying to comprehend the fact that ‘competitors’ help each other and everyone’s outlook on their own lives was amazing to me. As an outsider, I immediately rushed to assumptions that she would have a whole string of challenges in her business, yet she could not think of a single thing that she considered a challenge. She was dedicated and motivated with her business, and that seemed to be all she needed.

One of the biggest changes about living in South Africa as opposed to the United States was the different cultures that we were exposed to. Disregarding the business, we got to live and work in a place for a couple weeks that had a very different perspective on time from our own. Living in the US, especially on the east coast, time seems to move very quickly. People are always in a rush, and when someone specifies a time, you are expected to be in said place at that time. The same goes for deadlines, meetings, gatherings, etc. In Cape Town, they have a much more relaxed approach to time. In one of our very first meetings with Sibu, he told us to get done whatever we could get done, but more importantly to have fun and to learn every day that we were there. There were no true set deadlines for things, and the idea of a schedule was very relaxed. The concept of ‘Africa time’ was one we had to learn to embrace, and once we learned to slow down we were able to adapt to the idea with ease.

Personally, working abroad allowed me to open up my eyes to a more worldly perspective and gain an understanding for differences in cultures and the idea that business should be run in a more standardized way. Having experiences in different industries, different countries and with different aspects in business allows me to get a more holistic view of how people and their businesses interact. Businesses in the United States already operate so different from one another and getting to work in a business culture in a foreign country allowed me to widen the scope of different practices and industries I have already been exposed to. Different places and different people offer a variety of new challenges I had not been previously exposed to, and learning about why they faced these certain challenges and the steps that needed to be taken to overcome them broadened my problem solving skills. Throughout my trip, I gained a new sense of freedom and confidence in my abilities to adapt, solve new problems and take everyone’s opinions and perspective into account. In my mind, half of travelling is about trying and learning new things and this trip showed me that I have so much to learn, both in and out of the US.