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.