Sustainable and Resilient Tanzanian Community Study Abroad Reflection

Name: Jessie Gibson

Type of Project: Study Abroad

  1. I was a part of the Sustainable and Resilient Tanzanian Community study abroad program. As a participatory community development program, my project group focused on meeting with the women and children of Marwa and the surrounding villages in the Same District of Tanzania. As we engaged the community, we were able to better understand how the main “Maji Marwa” project of installing rain water harvesting systems and a filtered water piping system from the Pangoni River would benefit the local villages.
  2. While completing my STEP Signature Project, I realized how welcoming and kind individuals can be. My view of the world being so big and distant, was changed as soon as the people of Tanzania made my visit feel so personal. Also, I have always been a social individual and would consider myself an extrovert. Although this is the case, I was extremely nervous and shy about traveling so far with people I hardly knew. I surprised myself be being so open and curious. I wanted to learn more about the language of Swahili and about the people’s everyday culture and lives. While learning Swahili in the U.S., I felt unsure of my ability to properly execute the language while in country. It surprised me how impressed the locals were that I was even attempting to greet them in their language. Overall, I learned that pushing myself out of my comfort zone proved to be an extremely positive experience.
  3. During my STEP Signature Project, I was involved with the Women’s Enterprise groups in Marwa and the surrounding villages. My team held meetings with the women to discuss future ways of possibly gaining funding. Our goal was to better understand what kind of funding they prefer (grant or loan) and how they would prefer to manage it. At times, it became difficult to communicate in an efficient matter when asking these important questions. The official language of Tanzania is Swahili. Partnered with our team were two students from the University of Dodoma, a college in Tanzania. They are required to learn English while attending university, which made them essential in interpreting our questions from English to Swahili and back again. After interpreting to Swahili, we then had to involve the leader of the tribe to help us interpret from Swahili to Kimassai. Kimassai is the tribal language of the women we were engaging.

After watching and waiting for one question to travel through three separate languages, I became more aware of the difference in culture as well as the similarities. I was surprised by how many facial expressions and nonverbal communication I could pick up on. My assumption that I would be lost without having a complete understanding of the language proved to be false. Also, with the help of the students from the University of Dodoma, I was able to learn more Swahili then what I thought I could pick up on.

During these meetings with the women, I also had the amazing opportunity to witness their love for music and dance. After each meeting, the women would ask us to stand with them, and they would sing us beautiful songs. It was during this time that I saw myself open up and become more curious of their culture and way of life. Their singing and dancing is quite different than what is done in the U.S. I thoroughly enjoyed partaking in their dancing and clapping during these times. Each tribe had a different way of singing and dancing, which made it interesting and fun for me to learn each style. It was during these times of enjoyment together that I felt a personal connection with the people I was working with. The way that they welcomed us and invited us into their cultural practices made my entire experience that more amazing and special.

  1. The development I have experience in Tanzania can be incorporated into many aspects of my life. Being able to work and communicate with multiple different people with different backgrounds and cultures will be vital when working in a team or collaborating in a project. The ability to adapt to unexpected changes is a great skill for me to possess as I finish college and find a career. Although it is important to plan ahead and give yourself goals to achieve, it is also important to be flexible and ‘flow like the Pangani’ (a saying that one of the resident directors would say).

At a more personal level, this study abroad has helped me in becoming willing to try new things and step out of my comfort zone. Experiencing a new culture and learning about their way of life was eye opening. After traveling to Tanzania, I now have a want to travel and experience more places and cultures. I can’t wait to see where I’ll be off to next!

Same District, Tanzania

Maasai Traditional Clothing

Education Abroad in Siena, Italy

Name: Emily Hornish

Type of Project: Education Abroad

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in the education abroad program, Pathways: The Influence of Ancient Art on Contemporary Art. I lived in Siena, Italy, with seventeen other Ohio State students for just under four weeks. During that time, I created art in my beautiful studio at the Siena Art Institute, and I studied some of the ancient and contemporary art found in Italy.

Overall, participating in Pathways: The Influence of Ancient Art on Contemporary Art was transformational. At Ohio State, I study Political Science with a focus on International Relations. Though I am studying politics at the international level, I had never left the country prior to this experience. Finally being able to experience traveling and living outside of the United States was fantastic and extremely transformational. After the experience in Siena, I have realized that I am fully capable of handling the change of living abroad and making the most of it!

My understanding of myself has changed as well after living and studying in Siena this summer. I faced many challenges in Italy and was forced out of my comfort zone. Going into the education abroad program, I was worried about how I would handle a university level art course. However, while in Siena, I was forced to think creatively. This made me realize my ability to expand my thinking and to be creative! Furthermore, prior to leaving, I was nervous about being alone in a new country. It was nerve-racking to experience international living with a group of strangers, but I met and became friends with some great people during my time in Siena. It made me fully realize my love for meeting and getting to know new people.

A big obstacle I faced during my education abroad program was simply making it to Siena. As previously stated, it was my first time traveling abroad, and I did not expect to be so nervous about traveling and flying internationally by myself. On my way to Italy, I was a bit terrified of my multiple layovers and my long flights. However, I did not let my fear stop me, and I got to Italy with little trouble. Overcoming my nerves about traveling alone was big, and on the way home, I felt much more comfortable. I can happily say that my education abroad experience has prepared me, hopefully, for more international travel in the future!

Another challenge I encountered during my time in Italy was the studio portion of the course. I took art classes all throughout high school, but they were never classes that required a lot of creativity. I wanted to take a university level art course; however, I knew it would be a challenge, and I did not know how it would go. In Siena, I applied myself, and I am proud of the result. I successfully created three unique projects! It was very exciting to know that I can actually handle being artistic and creative in a university art course. I pushed myself, and it changed me for the better.

Besides making it to Italy in one piece and creating three good pieces of art, one of the most positive experiences of my time in Siena occurred in a local grocery store. I believe it was my third week in Italy when I went the market and completed the entire transaction in Italian. I exchanged pleasantries with the check-out worker, asked to for a bag, asked to use my card, and said thank you and goodbye. Though the entire conversation did not take over two minutes, I was so proud that the worker could understand my subpar Italian and that I could understand their responses! When I was walking out of the grocery store that day, I was elated. I came to Siena knowing no Italian and having no clue what I was doing, and that day, I was able to easily and smoothly complete a small exchange in the grocery store. Though it seems like a small feat, I saw it as a huge success. After that moment, I realized I could handle living and being immersed in a new culture.

The experiences I had studying abroad in Siena were extremely transformational. In the future, I hope to live and work outside of the United States, and my time in Siena, though short, helped ready me for the changes and difficulties that come along with living in a new country. Though I had a wonderful time studying and immersing myself in Italy, my experience was not without its challenges. I had to practice tolerance and perseverance to get through the more difficult parts of being in a new place.

All in all, I am so very thankful for STEP and my time studying abroad in Siena. The experience really did transform my life. I can confidently say that my STEP experience has helped me become a more creative, worldly, confident, and strong person. I will forever be grateful for the STEP program and my education abroad program in Siena!

Education Abroad: Between France and Morocco

Cyan Blackwell

Education Abroad

My STEP Signature Project was a three-week education abroad experience, which focused on diversity within the Francophone world. We traveled to France and Morocco learning about the history, culture, and politics of each

country as well as how the countries influence one another. We spent a week in Paris, a week in the south of France with a host family, and a week traveling to different Moroccan cities.

Growing up as a person of color in America, it is easy to forget that racism is a disease that affects the world. Countries like France and America that pride themselves on liberty, justice, and brotherhood are often considered the most “advanced”. However, these countries also have strong governments that often enact formal laws that oppress minority groups. This was exemplified during my trip to France and Morocco when we discussed laws such as the Headscarf Ban of 2004. I expected France to be a wonderful and accepting country based on its values, but I realized that it is not easy to move on from one’s history.

I went to France hoping that they would provide the blueprint about how to overcome racism or at least legal forms of discrimination. France is frequently portrayed as a country that moved past colonialism and is now accepting of their former subjects, which includes Moroccans. Yet, I realized that history is pervasive no matter where you are in the world, and it inevitably shapes the future. Thus, much like the United States, France is still struggling with its history of racism and oppression. My time abroad changed my outlook on the United States and helped me realize the problem of racism is not unique to America. Still, I believe that if people of color come together we can make things better for ourselves throughout the world.

My education abroad program partnered with IAU College located in Aix-en-Provence, France. The partnership with IAU college led to relationships with professors Aboubakr Jamai and Yumna Masarwa that provided a complete and authentic experience. Both professors spent a lot of time teaching us about the presence and acceptance of Muslims in France. Professor Masarwa gave us an in-depth lesson about the rejection of the hijab in France and accompanied the lesson with a visit to a mosque. At the mosque, we engaged in a discussion with its members and discussed the challenges that Muslims face in France.

Professor Jamai, a renowned Moroccan journalist, ensured that our experience in Morocco was beyond that of a typical tourist. Professor Jamai taught us about the religion of Islam and addressed many of the misconceptions about the religion. It was important to have that understanding because Morocco is a Muslim country, and we were visiting during the holy time of Ramadan. Also, we learned about the political and social challenges of the country, but we were able to experience the beauty of its rich culture as well. We cooked traditional Moroccan cuisine in a Moroccan village in the mountains, we enjoyed the tradition of breaking the fast during Ramadan, and even bought medicines and spices at a holistic pharmacy. One of my favorite parts of the trip was meeting with young Moroccans.

We were able to spend time in a neighborhood that has a number of challenges including high rates of poverty and crime. However, this community has faced these challenges by coming together at a cultural center that has changed the lives of many young people and women through education, art, and other opportunities. Also, we were able to meet and dance with a group of young Moroccan break dancers that express their stories and struggles through their art. The youngest group we met with were preschoolers whose families and communities with the help of a non-governmental organization were able to recognize the importance of early childhood education. My experiences with young Moroccans reinforced my belief that if people maintain hope and come together, they can create their own opportunities to uplift themselves against all odds.

My goal is to be a lawyer that influences policy and fights for the oppressed. As a black woman in America, much of my focus has been on improving my immediate surroundings and the status of the black community. However, my trip abroad helped me to realize that while I may feel oppressed in America, I have the privilege of living in a democracy where I am able to have a role in the legislative process and make a change. Therefore, it is my duty to recognize my privilege and use it to help others throughout the world. My fight cannot simply be domestic, but must be international. My education abroad experience has encouraged me to expand my goals to reach a larger group of people, and I hope to address issues that affect oppressed peoples throughout the world. I can only hope to have as much passion and drive as the people I met during my time abroad to make the world a little bit better. I want to become a global citizen.

Camel Ride- Morocco


European Cities and Sustainable Urban Planning Practices

Garrett Hall

This summer, during the month of May, I traveled through western Europe to study sustainable urban planning practices. The trip was organized by the Office of International Affairs and the Knowlton School of Architecture, and involved comparing and contrasting the urban planning practices of Copenhagen, Berlin and Barcelona with each other, and with our observations of US cities.

My experiences on this trip have certainly helped grow myself, as a person, and have also given me things to think about and work on as I continue to pursue my goals. While I assumed that working while traveling would be just as easy and much more enjoyable than working from a home city, one of the first things I found out on this trip is that working while traveling is difficult. I’ll be the first to admit, I can be quite easily distracted by my impulses, and traveling added a whole new dimension to that. Being in a foreign city, with all sorts of sights to see and culture to experience tested my resolve quite thoroughly. The lessons I learned, such as working while in transit and trying to spread out the work into moderately long bursts, were important though, especially if I find myself in a job that enables me to travel and work remotely. While I assumed I would find it difficult to seek out interactions with locals, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy and enjoyable it was.  Through several interactions, in all of the countries I visited, I found that interacting with people of different cultures, even through language barriers, went from being intimidating to exciting.

There are several interactions in particular that stand apart when I reflect on my trip. The first occurred in Berlin: while visiting one of my group’s case studies, I started talking with one of the people who were relaxing in the park. He told me he was a political refugee from The Gambia who had been living in Europe for several years at this point. It was fascinating to hear about his experience crossing the Mediterranean and working his way up through southern Europe. Later that day, I was able to pause and reflect upon just how surreal that had been for me. I’ve been following the news stories that have covered the migrant crisis in Europe for some time now, but they take on a whole new significance when the stories come from a primary source. Hearing his experiences and trying to understand his perspective was certainly one of the more rewarding interactions I had during my trip.

During my stay in Weimar, Germany, I had a series of interactions that tested my language skills quite thoroughly. I have taken several years worth of Spanish classes in high school, and before this trip, started learning some basic German and Italian with the app DuoLingo. While in Weimar, our professor had met up with a colleague of his from the University of Weimar, both of who spoke Spanish with one another. Thanks to my Spanish language skills, I was able to understand the conversation, and even contribute once or twice. When I split off from the main group to eat lunch, we ended up at an Italian cafe, where I was able to successfully order my meal in Italian. While that interaction went rather smoothly, my attempt at conversing with our server at dinner in German was noticeably poorer. Despite my best efforts, I was lost during most of the conversation, which eventually reverted to English. Despite what may be considered a failure, I consider that last conversation the most valuable because it helped decrease the intimidation of conversing in a language of which I know very little.

As far as working while traveling is concerned, I learned a great deal. I’ve long been a fan of several blogs run by people who travel full time and make money on the road, often by running their own business, though I never realized how hard it is to balance the work with the play. Not only is it hard to find the discipline to work after just arriving in a new city, but it is also hard to put down the computer and go enjoy the location when there is still work that could be done. This was quite a rude awakening for me, who envisioned this as an idyllic sort of lifestyle. Once the shock of that revelation had subsided, I was able to learn several useful tricks. I began to take advantage of travel time for either work or sleep, and to define a certain amount of time I would spend on work on a given day. This enabled me to stop worrying about when the work was going to get done, and enjoy the new experiences around me. I also learned that if I were to do an extended international trip again, it is helpful to move more slowly: spending more time at each destination. This would have enabled me to settle into some kind of routine, as well as have relaxation days where I didn’t feel guilty that I wasn’t out exploring a new place.

Before I embarked on this trip, one of my goals was to someday live and work in the EU. I can wholeheartedly say that this experience has reinforced my resolve to make that happen. Factors that were initially intimidating, such as navigating socially through language barriers and adjusting to different cultural norms, became things I looked forward to as learning experiences. I found so many things to love about western Europe on this trip: spectacular food, ubiquitous public parks and recreation spaces, reliable public transport, and well-developed bike infrastructure all contribute to a quality of life that seems very much worth living. Combine that with the incredible history and ease of travel between countries and cultures, the mere thought of living there full time inspires me. I am incredibly grateful for the knowledge this trip has enabled me to acquire, and I doubt I will ever forget the memories I made here.

Between France and Morocco: Diversity and Inclusion within the Francophone world

Between France and Morocco: Diversity and Inclusion within the Francophone world

For my step signature project I did a study abroad program to France and Morocco. On this trip, we learned about the shared histories between France and Morocco and how they deal with diversity and inclusion in their countries. One thing that I learned from the trip is the value of knowing another language. In 7th grade I began taking French classes in school. I did this because my school made us take at least two years of a foreign language. I continued taking French classes past those two years since I knew taking at least four years of a foreign language is recommended for some of the colleges that I applied to. I also continued taking French classes because a lot of my close friends were in my class. Since French wasn’t that popular of a language chosen to learn in my school district, each year I would have mostly the same people in my classes and I enjoyed that. Quite frankly, I never thought French was that valuable of a language to learn since not many people in the United States speak French. I wasn’t taking French classes because I was genuinely interested in learning the language. I would passively learn French just to get a good grade. My senior year of high school I was enrolled in AP French and I realized that I really did not know French that well because I never put the effort in to learn it. So instead of struggling in that class and risk getting a bad grade I decided to drop it.
My freshman year of college I took a French class because I had to for a general education requirement. However, I really enjoyed this class since it wasn’t a basic French class in the sense that it was primarily a French history class that was taught in French. This was the first French class that I took that wasn’t all about learning that language. I did really well in the class that the professor asked me to consider minoring in it. Since I felt like I gave up on French in high school and I hate quitting, I decided to minor in it. However, I still didn’t see how practical it was to learn French. My view on French has completely changed now that I have completed my STEP signature project. I realized that I had a simple minded view of French because I never thought that I would have the opportunity to use it. This study abroad program gave me this opportunity. It has opened my eyes to a world outside the United States where the value of knowing French is huge. After seeing life outside the United States, I am eager to go to more places and experiences more cultures. Knowing a common language allows for you to experience the culture at a greater capacity. I now want to learn French for myself because I am genuinely interested in the language and I understand how knowing this language can allow me to reach a bigger world.
This transformation of thought occurred throughout my trip in France and Morocco. To help prepare for my study abroad program I decided to follow people on Twitter who speak French. I did this because I wanted to train my brain to think in French more often and to learn about the culture in France. I followed black people who lived in France and learned about some issues that they face in France. There was an incident where a famous France soccer player dressed himself in black face as a costume. Through following these French people I learned about some of the issues in their society, their stance on the matter, and how they dealt with it. This gave me greater insight into French society and was when I started to realize the value of knowing another language. I reached out to one of the people I followed and began talking to them in French to work on my French conversational skills as well as get to know him and French society. The friend I met is originally from Guadeloupe which is a French territory in the West Indies. He moved to Paris recently with his mother and brother for better work opportunities. When I was in Paris, I had to opportunity to meet up with him in person and work on my French skills. Had I not know French, I would not have had this interaction. This interaction was so positive that I wanted to have more of it with other people in Paris. One night when I was hanging out with some of the other people on the trip, I struck up a conversation with a guy from Senegal who immigrated Paris. This guy did not know any English and my French is not the greatest but we were able to have a conversation about his home country and what it is like in France. By knowing French I was able to make another great connection and learn about another culture.
Knowing the French language was extremely valuable when I was in Aix-en-Provence. In Aix we had home stays where I stayed with a mother who grew up in France. My host mom did not know any English so my French skills were necessary for family dinners and communicating about plans. During our family dinners we discussed the school systems, politics, sports and the beliefs of our countries. I learned a lot about the French culture through these conversations and she learned about the United States too. I remember talking with my host mom about softball which is the sport I grew up playing. In France, they do not play baseball or softball so it was a bit difficult to explain but it was a bonding experience as she learned about something new that I am passionate about. In Aix-en-Provence I also met three really cool girls who recently graduating from an international school nearby. These girls came from three different countries and I was able to talk with them and learn about their experience in France. I learned more about the French culture through talking with them and exchanged social media information so that I can continue to learn more. This desire to learn more about the French culture and French in general is what changed in me thanks to this study abroad program.
Finally, my view of French has changed after going to Morocco. In my study abroad class we discussed the power of the French language in Morocco. Morocco is a linguistically diverse country where French is one of the most prestigious languages to learn. Since France colonized Morocco, they forced their language onto them and now education and business tends to be conducted in this language. It is advantageous for people in Morocco to learn French so that they can do well economically in their country. Morocco has a lot of tourist and French is used as an universal language to communicate with them. Even though I did not know the mother tongues of the people of Morocco, I was still able to communicate with some of them. On our last day in Morocco we had the opportunity to meet local breakdancers and experience Iftar with them. A couple of the breakdancers did not know English very well but could speak French well. We used French as a common language to get to know each other and it was the coolest experience ever. After hanging with these Morocco guys I learned the true value of knowing another language. Language is a tool to reach a broader world. When I first started learning French, I never imagined having this opportunity to go abroad where knowing French would be so beneficial. It allowed me to have these amazing interactions with people from all over the world. This trip has fueled my eagerness to continue learning French.
This transformation is so valuable to me because there is this fire in me now. Throughout my time in college I have realized that a passion of mine is getting to know people. I love learning about their backgrounds. I work at Scott dining hall where there are a lot of international students who work there. I love learning about their countries and their culture. After going on this study abroad trip, I have connected this passion to the French language. By knowing this language, I can reach an even wider audience to get to know like I have done with my coworkers. The people that I have met over seas I am still in contact today. I want to continue learning French now for me so that I can have more meaningful conversations with them. So far I have been reading French books and watching French movies with subtitles. In doing so, I hope to get better at French for the next opportunity I get to go abroad to other French speaking countries.

European Cities and Sustainable Urban Planning Practices

Caitlyn Lux

Education Abroad

My Step Project involved studying abroad in European Cities and Sustainable Urban Planning Practices. We visited the cities of Copenhagen, Denmark, Malmö, Sweden, Berlin, Germany, Weimar Germany, and Barcelona Spain. We specifically focused on what makes these cities so successful in terms of urban planning and development.

During my education abroad, I definitely noticed a transformation and growth in my independence. Dr. Lara definitely encouraged us to go out in groups and explore the cities separate from our class case studies. I went from being nervous about public transportation to being very comfortable taking public transportation in all of the cities. For example, in Berlin, there are so many forms of public transportation that run through the city. By the time we left I was able to navigate from our location to the hotel very easily. In addition, I also noticed that I became very comfortable overcoming a language barrier and being able to adapt to situations when people couldn’t understand our language or customs. For example, towards the end of being in Copenhagen, I was able to have an exchange with a cashier without speaking English because I picked up on basic Danish words.

One event that led me to become independent was our firm visit in Copenhagen. We visited a bike infrastructure planning group called Copenhagenize. At the visit, we were given a presentation on the importance of bike infrastructure. I was intimidated by this major company, but once talking face to face with the presenter in such an intimate way, I began to feel more comfortable in the setting. By the end of the presentation I was asking intuitive questions that related to my major and personal studies. I felt very empowered and independent because I could tell the presenter appreciated my questions and mindfully answered them.

A second experience that led me to feel more independent was once free day in Barcelona. A group of us decided to not waste a whole day in a beautiful city. We planned our activities the night before and decided to tour the gothic district in Barcelona. We relied on a book to take us around this area and saw some very interesting and old buildings. I really loved this, being an architecture major. I felt very independent, being able to navigate a city on our own seeing major historical landmarks all on our own.

A third experience that led me to become more independent was when we rented bikes in Berlin. It is such a large expansive city, so I was pretty intimidated to explore the city on our own once Dr. Lara took us to major sites. However, once we were given time to explore on our own, we successfully navigated around the city, seeing amazing buildings and neighborhoods. We were able to see so much more of the city with our bikes. I wouldn’t have been able to do so if I held myself back. Instead, I chose to become independent and overcome being uncomfortable by riding through a bustling city.

This change in becoming more independent while on the trip has benefited me immensely. Because I was able to go out and explore on my own, I got to see amazing buildings and structures that complimented my studies in architecture. Not everyone on the trip wanted to see these buildings, so I am glad that I was confident enough to navigate around the cities in order to see the things I wanted to. This helped me to advance my educational studies on my major because I could visit these sites, sketch them, take pictures and relate what I had learned in class to first hand experiences. It honestly was amazing to learn about some of these amazing buildings and then see first-hand how these structures influence the city and space they inhabit. My growing independence truly allowed me to go out and experience the world in a way that I never thought was possible.

The British Invasion: Exploring the Impact of British Popular Music in the 1960’s

For my STEP signature project, I participated in the British Invasion study abroad program to London and Liverpool. The focus of the project was on British popular music of the 1960’s with a heavy emphasis on the Beatles and Rolling Stones. The program consisted of classroom and in-country components. The class room component was a two week long, six hour a day course on the history and cultural significance of the British Invasion, it also included some instructure in basic music concepts such as how to play a few basic chords on the guitar, a review of basic 12 bar blues structure, and a look into a recording studio.  After the completion of the class, we spent two weeks in London and Liverpool, getting a first-hand look at many of the landmarks that played an important part in the British Invasion. These included clubs important to the time period to the homes of some of the important figures from the Invasion. We also had the chance to experience a good deal of live music as a part of the trip, everything from street performances, to Beatles cover bands in clubs, all the way to a Rolling Stones concert filled with thousands of fans.

Before this project, I had never stepped foot outside of the country. I had never owed a passport before and, in fact, I had never even been on a plane before. This project gave me a larger view of the world than I had ever had before and more confidence to be able to travel out into it in the future. It was the first time I got to interact with a culture outside of my own by being fully immerged in it.  I was able to see the differences between American and British culture and, possibly more importantly, the similarities as well. Going on this study abroad trip expanded my understanding of the world and made being a part of a global world and having a better understanding of that world much easier for me.

Flying on my first plane was a truly transformational experience for me. The plane flight from Columbus to New Jersey and then New Jersey to London were the first flights that I have ever been on. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect of them and I was a little nervous about them. I knew logically that nothing horrible would happen, but a giant metal tube rocketing through the sky at six hundred miles an hour doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Rolling onto the runway and the initial take off was slightly nerve wracking since I had never done it before, but once we got into the sky it was actually very enjoyable. I sat in a window seat, so I got a great view of the receding ground and landscape below which was amazing. Eventually we climbed high enough that we flew through the clouds and for a bit all I could see through the window was white. Once we got above the clouds, the view was absolutely stunning and words can hardly describe. The blanket of clouds below covered everything, looking like a never-ending field of cotton below us while the only other thing in sight was a sea of blue dotted with occasional clouds. It was a truly amazing sight. Before flying the world seemed like an impossibly large place that was for the most part inaccessible for me, but now the world seems much smaller and I feel like I can, with relative ease, personally interact with other places and cultures that seemed almost like entirely different worlds to me before.

One of the best parts of the entire trip had nothing to do with the destination, but was in fact the people that I got to know as a part of the program. I’m not the most outgoing person when it comes to meeting and conversating with new people, but everyone I met as a part of this program were so diverse and interesting that I had much less of a problem being very comfortable with them. Not only did I get to meet other students from a vast number of majors, each with vastly different backgrounds, but I also got to meet some of the most interesting and caring instructors and faculty that I have met at the university. Not only did I make connections here at OSU though, the tour guide we had while in London was one of the most wonderful ladies that I have ever met and learning about her and her life was one of the best parts of the whole study abroad. Meeting all of these wonderful people made me feel much more comfortable about getting to know new people in the future.

One of the events that meant the most to me personally was the Rolling Stones concert that we were able to attend. The concert was an absolutely amazing and transformational experience. I’ve never seen so many people gather together to listen to a band before. I entered the stadium with six of the other people on the trip and a sea of other people there to see the Stones. While there was no way for us to get close to the front, we were able to get to a spot where I was still able to see the entire stage for most of the performance. People slowly filed in behind us and within an hour of our arrival we were swallowed in a crowd of people. When the Stones came out a roar came up from the crowd and they launched into their first song as the four giant screens on the stage broadcast each of the members playing, making them quite literally larger than life.  The set was amazing, they for the most part played all of their best songs and the crowd sang along with every single one. For the encore they played two songs, Gimme Shelter and Satisfaction. Not a single person in the stadium remained sitting for them and everyone continued to sing along, but with renewed gusto. At the end of Satisfaction fireworks went off and the Stones waved to their fans as they left. The entire concert was energizing and exciting. It was an experience I never thought I would have the opportunity to have and lived up to all of the expectations I had for it. It also showed how important the music of the British Invasion was to the culture of the time, it was so influential that even half a decade later, people will still gather in their thousands to hear that music played live.

This entire study abroad has been the greatest time I have had in my life. The sheer amount and diversity of things that we did during it made it a truly unique experience and I feel like I’ve actually learned a lot of information that I’ve not only enjoyed, but will also actually use in the future. I was able to do and try so many new things, from new foods, to standing right in front of the stage at the Globe, to getting punched in the face breaking up a fight at a Rolling Stones concert (which will almost certainly always be the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me), to befriending a bunch of cool new people. All the things I have written about this trip don’t even come close to describing everything we did and can’t capture how remarkable all of the things I have written about really were. This program introduced me to new people, expanding my social network, made the world seem more accessible and less intimidating, and allowed me to better understand other cultures. The best I can say is that this was a truly transformational experience that I’m going to cherish forever.     

Literary Locations: London

STEP Reflection

Name: Sophie Wong
Type of Project: Education Abroad

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project

For four weeks in May, I traveled to London where I learned about and engaged with Victorian crime fiction.  While attending course lectures, my stay was augmented by excursions around and outside the city; to notable locations in literature and history to relevant modern day sites. 

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

Nothing is ever how you imagine it to be, London included.  For so long, it was a place that I built in my imagination.  It was historic yet a metropolis, a place that is heavily represented in the media yet it was intangible until this opportunity to study abroad.  In every way, London surprised me at every turn.  The city was full of green; plants growing from windows and doorsteps, with amazing public gardens all over the city.  The fast-paced life of a city was met with an equally slow siesta like attitude; cafes of people drinking tea and coffee would spill out onto the sidewalks.  What I began to realize was that London is a city of many cultures and ways of life, it is heavily rooted in tradition but is modernized as well.

Visiting and exploring new places is always a reminder to be flexible in your assumptions and visions.  By having an open mind you make yourself more open to endless possibilities that these cities hold.  This experience not only helped me explore and gain an understanding of a city but reaffirmed my independence and ability to adjust and navigate to new situations.  Oftentimes visiting a foreign place can mean having to relearn how to daily things such as public transport, grocery shopping, etc.  It makes what we often perceive to bed mundane activities magical and exciting.  Traveling and seeing new places is so humbling.  I am reminded of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to experience new cultures and expand the world I know. I learn not only how to appreciate another way of life but gain a deeper understanding of my own. 

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?

One of the most amazing aspects of this trip was getting to work so closely on a specialized subject.  London was the place to be to study Victorian crime fiction, it afforded so many opportunities for trips to locations of literary importance and attendance to lectures with individuals writing and researching relevant topics.  Not only were we learning through discussions and close study but the trip allowed for individual research with primary source material.  Conducting graduate-level research in the British Library Archives was an incredibly rewarding academic achievement that has encouraged me to pursue further research for academic and personal interest. 

I would have been at a loss if not for the professors that I was able to work so closely with.  They were so passionate about the subject they were teaching and their dedication only helped to encourage my own learning process and abilities.   Being able to foster relationships with with faculty is incredibly beneficial to my own engagement during the trip and back on campus.  I was also able to grow and connect with the other students on this trip.

We were brought together by common interests, and they became a  tremendous support system while studying and abroad.  Not only did our shared interests connect us but they became close friends who were just as enthusiastic about exploring the city of London, from the flashy tourist sites to the bakeries that were off the beaten path.  We bonded over deciphering the tube map, figuring out the worth of the British coinage while at the register, and all the little things we did each day.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? 

The ability to experience any new culture or place is thrilling, there is so much that is unknown that the adventures seem endless.  There are so many aspects of this trip in particular that are valuable; the friends I met, the research I conducted, the encouragement from faculty.  The list could go on, but studying abroad is an experience like no other.  You have to continue working while suddenly adapting to a new place, possibly while fighting jet lag.  There’s an aspect to it that is nerve-wracking and stressful but that doesn’t come close to rivaling the sense of achievement and wonder at the beautiful place you are in and the independence you foster.  Living in London for a month has not only encouraged me to return in the future, hopefully for prospective jobs, but to continue exploring anywhere that catches my eye because what I really found was that if I am determined I can adapt and find where I belong anywhere.

Spain Global May

Name: Sam Bailey

Type of Project: Education Abroad

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

My STEP Signature Project was carried out through the Spain Global May study abroad program through the Office of International Affairs. I spoke a new language, lived with and met new people, ate new food, and made a new place my home. Throughout this month-long project, I had the opportunity to learn about Spain’s rich history and culture and visit many of its famous cities and sites. In understanding more about Spain’s history, I was able to make comparisons between the United States and Spain to better understand multiculturalism, immigration, and people in general.

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.

In exposing yourself to a new culture and way of life, you begin to learn a lot about yourself and your own culture. You realize the things that you value most, and you begin to understand what you can and cannot live without. When traveling to Spain, I tried to be very open-minded to all of the cultural differences and the language. With this, I certainly had some assumptions that changed as I spent more time in Spain. For instance, I was under the assumption that like America, life in Spain is centered largely around money and working hard. This assumption could not be further from reality, however, as Spaniards value free-time and time spent with family and friends. They do take work seriously, but only during the hours for which they are required to work. Spaniards value enjoyment and leisure in activities such as the siesta (where stores, businesses, and restaurants close in the middle of the day so that people can go home to rest), sobremesa (where people sit around the table and talk for sometimes hours after finishing a meal, and Sundays (where many places are closed, and people focus on rest and relaxation before the work week begins). These cultural differences made me appreciate time spent with family and friends as it is so highly emphasized in Spain. I found myself to be more present and engaged in conversations, often neglecting my cellphone for hours at a time. I also find myself to be enjoying time more and trying to avoid rushing or overloading myself. Living in Spain taught me to both live in and enjoy the moment, and to take time for myself and those close to me.

Having the opportunity to experience a new culture led me to have a greater appreciation for my own as well as other cultures around the world. I learned that people are shaped by culture and that it’s what makes us different. I also learned that although people come from many different cultures and backgrounds, it is possible for everyone to coexist and come together, which ultimately comes to shape the culture and history of a certain region.

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.

During my program, I lived with a host family in a neighborhood (or barrio) outside of the center of Madrid. Prior to my trip, I had taken many Spanish classes with the intent of minoring in Spanish and eventually becoming a fluent speaker. Upon my arrival, I was eager to practice speaking, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my host parents did not speak any English. In other words, throughout the month that I was in Spain, I only communicated to my host parents in Spanish. This experience greatly improved my ability to understand and speak the language. The experience of living with a host family also taught me a lot about Spanish culture as my host mother shared stories about her life and her family. In learning about Spanish history and culture from my class as well as from my host family, I feel that I was able to view the culture from multiple perspectives and gain a great appreciation for it.

Although the program was based in Madrid, I had the opportunity to go on excursions with my program where we visited other Spanish cities, such as Toledo, Segovia, Santander, Portugalete, Getxo, and Bilbao. All of these cities became home to migrants from many different regions, especially northern Africa, Latin America, and Europe. I was able to see the presence of various cultures in the different neighborhoods through language, food, music, dance, and art. For instance, people of the Basque Country (which includes Bilbao) speak a language different from Spanish: basque (or vasco), and they have different traditional dances and sports that are not as common in Madrid or southern Spain. In visiting the cities of Toledo and Segovia, I was able to learn about Spanish history in terms of rule, even before the 15th century. For example, I now understand that the Romans first invaded Spain, followed by the Muslims (711-1492), and then the Christians. Under the rule of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel, the Christians reconquered Spain and drove out any Jews and Muslims living in the region (1492). Although many different groups occupied Spain, their presence can still be found in the cities, especially in the architecture of the streets and buildings. With this exposure, I was better able to understand the relationships between different religious groups and about how we have come to understand multiculturalism (the coexistence of distinct groups in one area) versus a melting pot (the blending of different cultures into one unique culture). This distinction allowed me to analyze American history and the cultural changes over the last few centuries.

Because I took a history-based course in Spain, I attended a few lectures on migration to and from Spain, specifically from Africa and Latin America. Through this, I was able to learn about regulations on immigration as well as public opinion on immigration. This topic was very relevant to the students of my program because we were able to make comparisons between immigration to and from the United States. Additionally, immigration was a very significant topic in the last presidential election and remains relevant today. It was also interesting to compare how Spaniards view immigration and refugees versus how Americans view them. Surprisingly, there are aspects that the citizens of each country agree on and aspects that people handle differently.

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 experience abroad allowed me to meet and communicate with a new and different group of people. In the hopes of becoming a pharmacist one day, I have the goal of becoming a fluent Spanish speaker so that I can use the language to help a greater number of people. Because I challenged myself to speak Spanish as often as I could in Spain, I now feel that I am many steps closer to becoming fluent, especially since I now know what I am capable of achieving when I have the right mindset. This experience gave me a greater sense of myself and others, and I am eager to use the experience I gained abroad to enhance my academic and social life at OSU, in terms of applying my gained knowledge to approach situations differently and from multiple perspectives.

In studying abroad in Spain for a month, I gained a valuable experience that I never would have gained in my OSU classroom. Instead, I was able to take the knowledge and language learned at OSU and apply it to the new situations I faced in Spain. My eagerness and passion to learn and think critically allowed me to have a very transformative experience. I was placed in a vulnerable situation and had to step outside of my comfort zone in order to learn and grow. I learned how to navigate a new city all on my own, how to communicate in a different way, and how to function normally in a foreign culture. Through this experience, I learned to cherish my family, values, and my own culture. I learned that differences among people and cultures make the world the way that it is, and that diversity stimulates growth as we all learn from one another. Above all, I learned that I now have a home away from home.


Sustainable and Resilient Tanzanian Community

  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.


For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to Tanzania with the Sustainable and Resilient Tanzanian Community program. This program seeks to work in partnership with the village of Marwa to develop access to clean and safe water. As a member of the Water Testing Team, my role was to travel around the five sub villages of Marwa to test the quality of water from the flooded Pangani River, private wells, and collected water supply of the villagers. I was the primary tester for the E. coli coliform tests. With the help of my teammates I also wrote two technical documents detailing the water profile of Marwa and reinforcing water treatment methods such as boiling and WaterGuard. These documents were shared with villagers, village executives, and the Regional Commissioner of Tanzania.


  1. 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.


One of the major transformations I witnessed during this trip how I viewed and critically analyzed international development. From our studies in the predeparture course, I had grown to disapprove of so many international development attempts. I seemed to understand that donating old clothes and food to African countries was hindering the country’s ability to develop on its own. I was very quick to judge engineering programs that developed short-term fixes such as LifeStraw technology or temporary water wells. However, when I met the incredible people of Marwa and witnessed their daily hardships, I suddenly understood why so many people donate their time and resources to temporary fixes. It is hard to watch families draw water from a hole in the ground and not wish you could put in a better well tomorrow. It was extremely challenging to face the fact that sustainable development is a long-term commitment and seems to move very slowly. However, it made me want to keep working and work harder so that the future of Marwa can develop reliable technology and progress safely without fear that their achievements are reliant on the presence of foreigners.


I transformed to not just see right vs. wrong when considering development techniques. Temporary fixes are not wrong. They save and improves many lives. However, it is more beneficial in the long run to work with a community to seek practices that fit the lifestyle and culture of the people. Practices that will not fail once engineers and scientists leave the area. There are so many failed attempts of international development. It is important to critically examine the attempts of the past and wonder how one will act better in the future. My transformation allowed me to broaden my viewpoints of the impacts of actions on a third-world community. In the future, I will not limit myself to what is right or wrong, good or bad, but what is helpful and necessary for each unique and specific community.



  1. 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.


I will never forget encountering the first borehole (ground-water well) in Marwa. It was our first day of work in the village and my small team of engineers was being led around by a village elder to a series of boreholes we were to test. The first well was located a few paces from a corn field on one side, and a latrine on the other. The well, a hole dug 15 feet into the ground, was not covered. I immediately thought of the runoff from both the fertilized crop and latrine entering the groundwater and collecting in the hole. I watched a woman draw up an old petroleum bucket of water and carry it home. After testing the water, we found toxic levels of E. coli coliform bacteria and high levels of nitrate. It was more likely than not that the woman who drew the water would not treat her water in any form before distributing it to her family. That was the reality of life in Marwa. I suddenly wished that we had come prepared with some of the temporary fixes I had resented when I learned about them in class. A water filter is not a long-term sustainable practice but how could I watch someone drink water right in front of me with toxic levels of coliforms?


A few days later my team was working with the Ethnography team to access the current treatment practices of families. A man showed us an old LifeStraw brand filter he had been given a few years back. He explained to us that the week he received it, rats had chewed it apart. It had been laying useless in his home ever since. I began to wonder; how can I avoid a short-term fix like that but still provide some relief to the dire issues toxic water quality? We learned that the villagers had access to firewood for boiling water and chlorine tablets called WaterGuard. We asked the villagers to describe their perceptions and barriers to boiling their water and the use of WaterGuard. Some families described their reluctance to the chlorine taste of treated water and other believed that boiling water released the good spirits. So, my team set out to work in hand with the village to overcome such barriers.


I was honored to take the role of the spokesperson in charge of communicating our findings on water quality and advise on treatment. During the closing ceremony, myself and a partner from University of Dodoma shared our technical documents depicting the state of their water and reinforced the necessity to boil and treat water with WaterGuard. A man stood up to question how one should properly use WaterGuard. Soon another man and yet another was standing up to ask questions on how they could better implement these practices into their lifestyles. This was the final transforming moment that brought me from a student who thought of development practices as “good vs bad” to a student who critically thought about the cost and benefits of short-term vs long term solutions. This was sustainable development in action. It wasn’t better than providing that woman with a filter to possibly save her children from deadly sickness. But it was better suited for a community that will forever be limited by their access to clean and safe water. We couldn’t in the short term fix their water, but we could work with the community and communicate together to implement the long-term practices which the already had access to: boiling their water and using WaterGuard tablets.