STEP Reflection: Psychology and Culture In Europe

Marissa Farinas

For my STEP project, I participated in the Psychology and Culture in Europe study abroad program. Along with 18 other students majoring or minoring in psychology, we traveled to Cologne, Ghent, and London on a twelve-day excursion, exploring psychological concepts and cultural topics. We visited several museums directly related to psychology and mental health in addition to typical tourist attractions, including the British Museum and the Kölner Dome.

Studying abroad changed my understanding of myself and transformed my view of the world. Going to Europe made me realize how insignificantly small I am and that a whole other world exists besides my own, filled with different people and languages. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with common daily challenges, but traveling made me take a step back from school and focus on discovering new cultures while bonding with like-minded individuals. Even though we had assignments, it didn’t feel like I was there to do schoolwork. Learning in the classroom can become monotonous, so visiting museums and learning from tour guides made me better retain the information while giving me a life-changing opportunity to see artifacts I read about in textbooks.

The most transformative moments were standing in the places where well-known people grew up. For instance, we visited the Down House, which is where Charles Darwin lived and wrote On the Origin of Species. We listened to an audio-guided tour, so we could connect the recording to actual rooms and items inside the house. A similar feeling occurred when we visited the Beethoven House in Bonn; each room had a different story, and the audio tour played musical pieces too. The combination of music and description made me understand Beethoven’s life on a more personal level.

Another key aspect that led to my transformation was being in a group of psychology majors and minors. All the students in the group are amazing people, but I especially got closer to two other girls in the program, one of them being my roommate for the trip. Together we ate food, visited other museums and sites on our free time, and had deep conversations not just about psychology but life in general. Without them, I don’t think I would have found this experience as enjoyable as I did. We found it interesting that even within the program group, everyone automatically divided up into smaller groups based on their habits and personalities. This made for a better experience because we could analyze our trip in layers of perspectives. We understood each other on an individual level and also saw the differences between our small groups and the large group. I also appreciated that the other students were psychology majors or minors because we could go to a museum and be surprised or amazed by the same things. Sometimes its hard to get people who aren’t in my field to understand why I think something is fascinating, so it was nice to interact with people on the same wavelength as me. The same held true for museum shops, especially the books. At one point, I think all of us were crowded around the same shelves, which contained books on the mind and brain.

Another major part of the program that influenced my transformation were my resident directors and the requirements for the class. At first, I was hesitant that the trip would be fun because the main RD is more introverted and less bubbly. Over time, however, his awkward but funny personality shown through, and I don’t think the trip would have been the same without his opinions. My second RD was a graduate student and the complete opposite of the other RD, and she was able to incorporate some of her youth and curiosity into our thinking. In all, they balanced each other out, and together they created an entertaining but focused environment. I was also grateful for the structure of the class. We were required to blog every day, talking about what we did that day, things that surprised us, and how it connected back to a theme we chose at the beginning. At first, I wasn’t excited about blogging because I’ve tried journaling before and didn’t enjoy it. To my surprise, I was quite happy about blogging. I was able to go back during the trip to remind myself of what we did, and in the future,  I will be able to read my posts again. It was also an effective way of staying in touch with my parents. On some days I was so tired I couldn’t call them, so I referred them to my blog.

The transformation from this study abroad program is important to me personally because I learned more about myself and my place in the world, and it is influencing my perspective on my professional goals and future plans. Experiencing new cultures makes me appreciate people in the United States, and, more specifically, international students at Ohio State. The language barrier in Germany was my biggest culture shock; I didn’t realize how hard it was to ask if people spoke English or order something at a restaurant. No one was ever rude to me when they had to conform to speaking English, and their skills were much better than my German skills. Last semester, I took an English class with a lot of international students, and when we had to read a book out loud, I would get annoyed because they read slow and pronounced several words incorrectly. After visiting Germany, I realized how terrible my though process was, and now I have a more positive outlook on non-native English speakers. What they are doing is incredibly brave; I learned it’s terrifying to speak a language you didn’t grow up with. I only had to communicate with German people for a few days, but international students must communicate using English for years, possibly even the rest of their lives. Before studying abroad, I thought I was above average for accepting people unlike me, but I realized I was flawed, and now I see people in a new light.

Professionally, I hope to bring what I learned about psychology into my future research. As a neuroscience major, I focus on specific biological aspects of the brain. I am pursuing a psychology minor because I like how the subject looks at the brain from a broader perspective. Psychology studies how brain processes drive behavior, so with the larger goal in mind I can look at the specifics more efficiently. When we visited psychology and psychiatry museums, I saw a lot of overlap between neuroscience and psychology, and I was able to connect what I learned in my neuroscience classes to psychological concepts and reasoning. Being able to do this makes me think more critically, and it will help prepare me for graduate school and a life of research.

Finally, my experience abroad has inspired me to travel more, even if it seems frightening or out of my reach. Only a few days into the trip, I knew I would want to come back and see places I didn’t have time for on this trip. If anything, this program has made me more curious about the world, and I want to learn more about other cultures. We only traveled for twelve days, but even this short amount of time was enough to make a lasting impact on my life. Who knows what I would be able to see and accomplish if I made more time to travel? Maybe this perspective will help me find a cure to a neurodegenerative disease, my ultimate goal in life. If not, I will still learn more about myself, relationships with other people, and the endless amount of cultural nuances that exist in different countries. My transformation is fresh in my mind, but I know with more persistence, I can make that transformation bigger and help me reach goals I didn’t think were possible.

The Kolner Dome; Cologne, Germany

Original patient records from Bethlem, a psychiatric hospital; London, England

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