Public Health Perspectives: Finland and Estonia

Name:  Maria Krantz

Type of Project: Study Abroad

My STEP Signature Project, Public Health Perspectives: Finland and Estonia program, sponsored by the College of Public Health and College of International Affairs at The Ohio State University. The four-week program will include two weeks of coursework on The Ohio State University campus, as well as two weeks studying in five different cities in Finland and Estonia. This program will enhance my education at Ohio State through learning Public Health, cultural, and social lenses.

The Public Health Perspectives: Finland and Estonia program was transformative and helped me to better understand myself as well as my view of the world. Through this program, I was able to travel to Europe for the first time, which opened my eyes to new cultures and people. Additionally, though this project, I was able to challenge myself through pushing my personal boundaries and exiting my comfort zone. I also met incredible people through this program and my view of the world widened as a result. I was inspired through this program to continue to challenge myself outside of the classroom and to continue to learn through international travel and study.

My interest in Public Health and Medicine also increased as a result of this project. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a physician and this program convinced me even further that this is the career that I am suited for. Through learning about the impact of culture and history on population health, as well as learning more about international research, I was inspired. I am excited to apply the knowledge and perspective that I gained from this program to my future medical training, as well as my current Public Health education.

The study abroad program, Public Health Perspectives in Finland and Estonia has helped me to apply what I have learned through my education at Ohio State. This STEP Signature Project has allowed my career goals to become more attainable. I would be able to reach my full academic potential, as every decision that I have made, I have kept my goals of pursuing a career as a physician and a Public Health Professional.

During my STEP signature project, I was able to identify political, cultural, behavioral, and socioeconomic factors related to global public health issues, which is also a core competency of my Public Health education. Through this program, I learned about the history of Estonia – the impact of the Soviet Union, the KGB, as well as the great strides made to improve overall health and education of the country. Through visiting the US Embassy in Tallinn, Estonia, I learned how Estonia has a leading education system and is a leader in technology production and technology education. This was particularly striking to me as I am very interested in STEM and educational outreach. Seeing how a country challenged by years of war and struggle was able to become a global leader in technology, healthcare, and education was astounding to me.

Also in alignment with my Public Health degree, I was able to observe and discuss various approaches/strategies for identification, response and intervention to address and attempt to resolve common public health issue. While in Helsinki, Finland, I attended lectures at Finland’s National Institute of Health and Welfare. Through these lectures, I learned about the healthcare system in Finland, current and past Public Health research conducted in Finland, as well as more about the overall health of the country and health challenges that they face. Through this, I was able to learn how data is collected, analyzed, and implemented in Finland. This was so impactful for me, as I was able to better understand the differences in our healthcare systems, as well as Public Health research –  a field that I am very interested in.

Additionally, this project was transformative in a personal sense as well. Just before this trip, as well as during, I was recovering from a severe concussion/Traumatic Brain Injury. This program allowed me to begin to regain confidence in my abilities. Until just before the program began, I was concerned that I would not be able to take part in this Study Abroad program due to my injury and recovery, however, I was able to attend. This allowed me to appreciate the program even more, as I valued all of the time that I spent preparing and on the trip. I am very grateful for the opportunity to complete this program and to Study Abroad through STEP.

This program helped me tremendously through Public Health professional development and by deepening my understating of international healthcare, which will be transformative as a prepare for a career in medicine and Public Health. By increasing my understanding of international medicine and health determinants, I am sure that this experience will help me in my future profession. Through traveling to the countries of Finland and Estonia, I was able to focus on my passion for healthcare and medicine. I want to be able to use the knowledge I gain to give back and care for my patients in the most positive way possible.

In addition to helping me reach my professional goals, but was also able to inspire my personal and social goals. I have a passion for learning about new cultures and languages and this program has allowed me to emerge myself into to new and unique cultures will distinct histories. I also had the opportunity to work with 14 other students who have the same interest as I do. I was able to forge new friendships with the members of my program, as well as people that I meet while abroad. I will be able to interact with residents of the five different cities of Finland and Estonia.


Group picture at the US Embassy in Tallinn, Estonia after an informative session regarding US and Tallinn relations, as well as the history and current political situation of Estonia.

This is a group picture after a lecture series at Finland’s National Institute of Health and Welfare.

Throughout the program, we were able to do some sightseeing and exploration. While in Tallinn, Estonia I visited the Outdoor Air Museum where I was able to learn more about the history of Estonia and Europe

Above is a photo of the Old Town of Tallinn, Estonia.

The Exploration of Tropical Marine Ecosystems – Turks and Caicos Islands

Name: Corrine Thomas

The objective of the Tropical Marine Ecosystems: Monitoring and Management program in the Turks and Caicos Islands is to explore the conservation of tropical marine ecosystems among the islands, the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on the ecosystems, and the importance of ensuring that environmental management objectives involve and take into account the island community. This was studied through classroom learning/activities and field research which was completed via snorkeling and scuba diving.

Before the project, I would have described myself as timid and sometimes overly cautious in new situations or when completing new activities. However, while I was on the trip and in the moment, I was so excited to do and see everything that I was never hesitant or afraid. For example, the when entering the water for scuba diving, we completed a back roll off the side of the boat. As the action was explained on shore I thought “no way” to myself, but in the moment I did it without hesitation. Through this realization, I have learned that I am naturally outgoing and adventurous although throughout my life I thought of myself as otherwise.

Leading up to the trip, I did research of South Caicos in order to prepare myself for a new country and living environment. I assumed I would have an easy transition into this new environment of no air conditioning and not having a say in what food was cooked – for a month – as I have been flexible in other parts of my life prior, but I was wrong. Here, at home, I know a whole different day to day life that was so opposite I didn’t fully process my living environment on the island until halfway through the trip. Although the buildings, the roads, the food, the dorm situation and other aspects were opposites, I found that the people on the island were more down-to-earth and communicative than I had imagined them to be. With only about 1,100 people on the island, no television, little to no internet, and a community reliant on fishing exports, they were as eager to learn about me and my life as I was to learn about them. Before the trip, I never imagined I would be as close to the local community as I ended up being in the end, but the relationship was made possible through the local values of friendship and supporting one another’s endeavors no matter how different they may be. The ease of forming these new relationships helped confirm a previously known strength about myself, which is the ability to be outgoing as it relates to meeting new people.

Participating in actions I have never done before while seeing new ecosystems really encouraged me to not be fearful. If I was fearful and stayed on the boat then I could miss seeing an eagle ray or a shark that I would have seen if I was in the water. Though I never hesitated getting in, the first few times in the deep water I had to mentally calm myself to truly appreciate the environment around me. At the beginning of the trip, my underwater stress was displayed during scuba diving through the amount of time I was able to stay under with one oxygen tank – approximately 26 minutes – while the end of the trip I was able to stay under for a max of 52 minutes due to slower breathing and feeling relaxed. Throughout my repeated water experiences my mental state changed from focusing on myself to focusing on the fish, corals, and people around me. Though I always appreciated the beautiful ecosystem I was submerged in, I began to fully embrace my adventurous side as I completed more underwater activities.

Throughout the weeks, especially Saturdays, the student center where I lived focused on community engagement. Different activities with the locals of different ages allowed me to experience several smaller niches within the larger community. Early mornings there were trash pickups around the island that I participated in, which allowed for a time to communicate with the locals. The ability to discuss details about life and values in the United States versus life on the island both thirty years ago to currently encouraged me to appreciate the contrasts between the two cultures. It was through these conversations that I was able to appreciate the experience of the way I lived while on the island.

At the student center, we hosted a weekly community engagement for the children where we would play sports, do science activities, teach them how to swim and snorkel, and do crafts. This was a very special time for me as I was able to realize how amazing it was to be in that place with the knowledge and life experiences I had and how I wanted to share that with the children. Teaching a child named Tash to snorkel was the highlight of this experience for me. Though he has lived on the island his whole life, a little over 10 years, he has never seen the underwater world clearly. Snorkeling gave him this opportunity. We taught the snorkelers underwater hand signals and the first time Tash saw a fish swim by us he gave me the most enthusiastic “so cool” hand signal. Through my time of relationship forming on the island, I began to feel at home on an island I knew nothing about a year previously.

These personal transformations of being able to overcome fear through changing my mindset and gaining knowledge, both general and professional, through conversing with new people will aid me throughout the rest of my life. As the skill of being able to change my mindset becomes stronger, I will strive to utilize it in my personal and professional life. This skill matters to me because I can expand upon it in all aspects of my life and it can help me to be more open minded to new ideas, career fields, and cultures that I may have not have naturally gravitated towards on my own. As I have learned throughout the application of this skill during the project I do truly enjoy more activities and fields of study than I had previously thought and I am excited to use this new skill in the future. In my academic career I am going to put conversing with people, especially professors and educators, higher on my priority list to learn about other people’s passions and fields of study to expand my own knowledge. This trip has shown me that I enjoy a career field I never truly pondered or was able to experience and I look forward to having more of these experiences in my academic career. In my personal endeavors, I hope to be more open to asking people questions in order to learn from others and expand general knowledge. Throughout the trip, I learned that each person I was around had a unique knowledge of something I did not. Overall, I have become more open minded and passionate about exploring the world and people of the many cultures around me.




STEP Reflection: Studying Abroad with Arcadia in Perugia, Italy

Name: Emma Jones

Type of Project: Education Abroad

This summer, I immersed myself in the Italian culture by living and studying in Perugia for five weeks. Over this span of time, I observed and analyzed the history and influence of Italian art. In doing so, I developed a deeper understanding of myself and the world.

While completing my STEP Signature Project, my understanding of what my life goals are and who I am developed immensely. As anticipated, I got to study Renaissance art in its historical and physical context. However, this experience was much more than a class in a foreign country. Studying abroad allowed me to see the overlap of the artistic world with international corporation and develop a better idea of future possible career paths. In all honesty, I did not believe there were realistic options for the merging of my passions, yet my experience in Italy changed this perception. Additionally, traveling alone at multiple points throughout my trip helped me gain a greater sense of independence, courage, and sheer awe of the world. I was residing in a country unknown to myself, where they spoke a language I did not speak, yet I still navigated the country while creating meaningful relationships and memories. My STEP Signature Project gave me the faith in myself and my life path that is essential to entering the post-graduate world.

My international journey to self-discovery began immediately with the start of my STEP Signature Project. On May 23rd, I left the United States for Rome, Italy; I had traveled alone before, as well as internationally, but the two had never merged in my life prior to my departure. As stated earlier, I do not speak Italian nor had I visited Italy before, so I was understandably nervous. Further, I had never navigated such a large city by myself, which contributed to my nerves. Yet as soon as the plane landed, the nerves were replaced with excitement. Over the next two days, I guided myself through famous sites like the Colosseum and the Pantheon, as well as untraversed paths across the city. I discovered traditional cuisine, expanded my basic Italian, talked with kind locals, and examined some of the greatest art in the world. Forthwith upon arrival, I not only explored my vulnerabilities and anxieties, but I found joy, fulfillment, and self-reliance. Without haste, I emerged myself within a new culture and began to strengthen my understanding of I am.

Similar to my beginning, my excursion ended with me traveling alone once more, but this journey consisted of more goal-oriented discovery than my first mini-trip. The second-to-last weekend in June was the last weekend of my program, and I journeyed both by myself, with my class, and with my friends to Florence. I traveled with my class from Perugia to Florence, where we met our professor for two days of instruction within some of the most grandeur museums and cathedrals in the world. Exploring with a group of acquaintances gave me the opportunity to continue to expand upon my adaptability and self-confidence with people from a myriad of backgrounds. Additionally, with Alessandra (my history of art professor) guiding our group, I gained insight on possible business career paths that intertwine with my love for art history, from web designers to corporate art consultants to public relations specialists. Nonetheless, I only encountered more self-discovery on my own and with my friends in my remaining time in Florence.

During the remainder of my time in Florence was perhaps one of my favorite times of self-exploration. Another passion of mine is the fashion and beauty industry, and Florence undoubtedly dazzles in this category. From the intricate artisanship of individual street craftsmen, to the historical and bedazzling awe of brands like Gucci and Versace, the fashion faction left me without words. I could feel an undeniable magnetism toward this world, and plan to pursue this pull in the Fisher Career Fair this upcoming fall. At this time, I reflected on my time in other major cities like Milan, Venice, and Rome, and found my common attraction to art and fashion universal. Even in smaller cities like my hometown of Perugia and the neighboring Assisi, I found myself being drawn to these commonalities in an indescribable way. After leaving Italy the following weekend, I felt a great since of melancholy, as I knew I would miss my time there, but the country ignited a spark within me that I know will not be extinguished any time soon.

I knew my time in Perugia, Italy was going to be transformational, but I had no idea as to what capacity until I completed my project. As predicted, my educational experience abroad allowed me to further progress my minor and knowledge of art history. Moreover, I had the privilege of absorbing a new culture while simultaneously proliferating my self-reliance and self-confidence. However, it was what I did not expect that left the greatest impact on me: it was the friendship I formed with the local baker despite a large language barrier; it was the true passion for fashion I held in my heart yet only fully discovered in Italy; it was obtaining two best friends from different backgrounds who I may have never known otherwise; it was the comfort yet wonder I developed for the world around me. Going forward, I plan to pursue my love for artistic creativity in my corporate career, starting this fall as previously stated. I also plan to continue to evolve in my mindset through future travels and, in the words of Anthony Bourdain, explore parts unknown. I left Italy more curious, confident, and committed to both myself and this world, and I am certain I will not let these traits wane.

Study Abroad in Lecce

Name: Renzhi Hu
Type of Project: Study Abroad

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in a 4-week study abroad program in Lecce, Italy. Our main focus was studying the Italian language. I took Italian language class 5 days a week, as well as Italian culture, society and cooking class. I also went to nearby beach cities for extracurricular activities on weekends.

During my stay in Lecce, I got to understand myself and the world in a way I have never experienced before. As an international student at OSU, I have always loved exploring other culture and Italy was my top one travel destination. Since I’m studying Italian, I thought it would be a great opportunity to improve my Italian language skills and deepen my understanding about Italian culture. However, my experience in Italy has not only consolidated my language knowledge, but also helped me to increased my awareness of international diversity and issues, my ability to remain flexible and adaptable and my independence and self-confidence.

My assumption about Italy was it was historical, full of tourist sights and people were very welcoming. But Lecce was a city I have never heard of before I applied to the program. I heard about southern Italy being chaotic and dirty, so I thought life in Lecce may be outdated and not very great. It turned out I was completely wrong. People in Lecce were extremely friendly, even though only a few knew English, and Lecce got everything I needed. Also, it has the best beaches and bluest water I’ve ever seen. My life there was nothing but pleasant. It changed my view thoroughly because I realized I will never truly know a place until I visit there and assumptions are sometimes false.

Although I was already an expert at living in a foreign country, living in Italy for a month was still intimidating for me. I was worried because my Italian was very limited, I didn’t know anyone from OSU that were also doing this program, and I have never been to Italy before. Luckily, I handled my life in Italy pretty well and enjoyed a lot. I picked up Italian words for ordering food quickly, make friends with other OSU and non-OSU students and travel around the Puglia area with our teachers. My broken Italian was an obstacle, but I could always use English and the universal sign language to communicate. My smooth experience in Lecce improved my independence and self-confidence.

I got to live with a host family in Lecce, so I could spend most of my time interact and engage with local people and events. They were super friendly and considerate and treated me like their own family. Living with host family helped me to gain knowledge about the most authentic Italian culture and language. Italian lifestyle was very different from American or my Chinese lifestyle, because they have lunch at 2pm, dinner at 9pm, stay up until 2am every day and have 5 meals a day. I was not used to this kind of schedule, so I have experienced some difficulties at first, such as getting super starving before dinner and being sleepy in class. However, I got used to everything after my first week and actually grew to enjoy this unusual schedule. It helped me become more flexible and adaptable and appreciate diversity.

This 4 week is absolutely incredible and unforgettable. The change and transformation are significant and value for me and my life because it made me a true global citizen. My goal was to learn language, but I ended up learning much more than merely language. The experience drives me to continue travelling and discovering the world in the future.



Ireland Study Abroad

Lauren Nowakowski

STEP Education Abroad

(1) For my STEP project, I studied abroad at an archaeological site in Trim, Ireland. The study abroad was a 4-week dig at the Blackfriary in Trim. During the week we worked on excavating the monastic site and going on educational field trips, and on the weekends we would travel to different sites around Ireland.

(2) While studying abroad in Ireland, I really got to know myself, my interests, and what I want my future to look like. In college, I am studying Anthropology, and while I have read a lot about archaeology and excavation it is completely different in the field than it is on paper. This was to be expected, but I learned that archaeology and excavation are even more thrilling when you are physically interacting with the world you have been learning about for so long. At the Blackfriary, we worked on the weekdays digging through different time periods trying to get down to the medieval time period of the original monastery. While working through these layers we discovered loads of artifacts that really give the different time periods a life. By working directly with this world I was able to create an image in my mind of what the monastery would have looked like back in its prime. Working at this field site taught me so much about a time period I was unfamiliar with prior to visiting and showed me that anthropology is definitely the study for me. Being in a foreign country without family or friends from home really forces you to get to know yourself. You have to figure out travel and your new home life in a completely different country. While doing this exploring you also meet new friends, family, and teachers that completely change your world. I met so many new people with all different ideas and interests, thus expanding my own. This experience allowed me to really see what I want to do with my life, and how to interact with a new country. I learned that the people in these countries are a lot like the visitors, interested in the unknown.

(3) While studying in Ireland I was accompanied by 15 other students who worked with me every day on the dig site. While working in the dig we had a lot of time to talk to each other, because we were often troweling away at the ground. Talking to my fellow students allowed me to learn a lot of different perspectives and gave me the opportunity to make more friends. We ended up traveling together on the weekends and hanging out together during the week. These friends on the trip allowed me to be myself and talk openly about my interests and life. They showed me that being open is not a bad thing. Being open about yourself lets others have the opportunity to form a better connection with you, and allows you to be more genuine yourself.

Not only were the friends I made on the trip transformational, but so were the weekend travels I partook in. On the three weekends I had, my friends and I traveled to Belfast and saw Giants Causeway, explored Dublin, hiked a mountain in Carlingford, walked the Cliffs of Moher, and many other things. On these trips, I interacted with so many new people and places. I learned about the Irish way of life and tried a multitude of new foods. These new places taught me that no matter where you go being a kind person to everyone you meet is one of the most important qualities that someone could have. Being that kind of person opens you up to a world that invites you in, and allows you to make true connections with people. This was true in Ireland and all of the other locations I have traveled to. The Irish were amazing people in every part of their beautiful country that I visited and I can only try to match their kindness and welcoming spirit to everyone who comes and visits America.

Lastly, I learned so much from working in my cutting at the field school. Our instructor Ian taught us how to trowel, mattock, and shover the dirt in our cutting to create clean layers that we could collect information from. In the cutting, I developed so many skills, from how to work in tough situations, to how to keep a positive attitude no matter what. A lot of the days we would not find anything, but I learned that you had to stay positive and focus on the small things that you can learn from. Even though a burnt floor may not seem exciting when you say it out loud, in the cutting finding a burnt floor is an incredibly cool thing. There’s so much to learn from it. Why is the floor burnt? Who did the burning? What did the burning destroy? etc. Things like this really helped to change my mindset. Instead of just looking at things from face value, I really started asking deep penetrating questions about the world around me.

(4) These transformations and changes that I developed while studying abroad in Ireland have made me into a more open, engaged, and interested person. I made 15 more incredible friends, have an even larger family in Ireland, and learned so much about a major that I have fallen in love with. Studying abroad in Ireland really taught me that my academics at Ohio State are important if I want to work in the field of Archaeology and that by honing my skills in the classroom I will be able to learn so much more out in the field. In terms of professional, and personal goals, this trip taught me that I need to work hard to become an anthropologist and that working in a foreign country that I care deeply about can be the most rewarding thing in the world.

Getting to Know Bolivia and its Children

Julia Bass

Education Abroad

My STEP project was a program provided by a travel and volunteer abroad program called Amizade. I stayed six weeks in Bolivia, where I volunteered everyday at a children’s center, and took classes in Spanish. During the weekends, I attended different cultural activities to learn more about Spanish and the culture of Bolivia.

Many of my assumptions and understandings about the world and myself changed during my trip to Bolivia. The first one would be my own understanding of my capacity to live independently. While I did live with a host family while I was in Bolivia, most of my day to day operations all had to be carried out by me. Before going on this trip, I never had lived in a situation where I was truly on my own, at school, if I was running late to class I could just hop on a bus and be at class in no time, however in Bolivia, if I missed my bus or I missed the stop I would have to navigate in a city I knew nothing about to get me back to my designated location. Secondly, my understandings of my career aspirations and my passions in life also become more clear to me as the trip went on. The volunteer service that I did was very much in line with what I had assumed would be my career path before taking the trip, and after having been on the trip I am more sure than ever that it is what I want to pursue.

Secondly, I would say that my assumptions and understandings about other countries transformed as well. I always grew up assuming things like dinner being the main meal of the day, and businesses being open on Sundays, two things that were completely different in Bolivia. My understandings of what a good quality of life changed when I realized that many of the simply pleasures that we have in the US are not simple pleasures in Bolivia. Living without air conditioning and bugs everywhere became just a part of life rather than an inconvenience. Lastly, I, similar to getting used to a lack of air and abundance of bugs, realized over time the amount of resources that we are gifted with in the US that aren’t as available in Bolivia making me more grateful of all that is available to me. 

There were a few key aspects of my trip that I can attribute to my transformation. When discussing my personal transformation and increase of independence, I would say using daily transportation in a non native language really made me become not only better at the language, but also better at being aware of my surroundings hence making me able to survive independently. When driving home or to a location, I had to use my knowledge and memory of the area to be able to get to the correct place. Internet connection was not always available, so many times I would have to resort to learning and memorizing certain landmarks to get me to where I needed to be. This is something I never had to rely on ever before in my life, and it has made me a better driver as I am home now and all around more aware of what is going on around me in my life. 

Next, my experiences volunteering at the children’s center, and the relationships that I built with the workers and children immensely impacted my transformation by furthering my assuredness in pursuing a career in pediatric occupational therapy. The venter that I worked with provided physical therapy, as well as educational, social, and emotional therapy for children with mental disabilities. Previous to this trip, I had no real confirmation of what my passions in life were, I knew what I was studying was enjoyable, but I had no way of really knowing and understanding things that I am truly passionate about. I believe that in finding a career, knowing your own passions is one of the most important pieces to the puzzle so that you can make sure that you work in something that you would enjoy for a lifetime. After working with the children everyday for six weeks, and seeing the dedication for these children from the staff, I know that I want to be able to feel that outpouring of love and admiration for the rest of my own life. While the government may not have many resources for the children, the people at the center worked with everything they had, using and old swim club center to build the program and mostly unpaid interns for the day to day operations. I became very grateful for the what previously seemed like limited resources that children in the same situations in the US are afforded. 

Overall, my world view change cant be summed up in one event or activity, but rather my daily interactions with the people really accumulated into my increased awareness for different ways of life. Living everyday usually without air conditioning, and getting used to not having a large dinner everyday, and getting used to the weekly routines like on Sundays how the whole city seemed to shut down for church services all combined into my transformation. While not every change was something grand every time, as the weeks went on I found myself adapting and changing so much so that I never again would take for granted even the smallest things in life.

As stated before, the two main parts of my trip continued for the weeks I was in Bolivia, my professional and personal development also continued at an exponential rate. Volunteering in a field that I one day plan to work in really cemented my future plans to attend graduate school to obtain a doctorates of occupational therapy. Taking classes every day and reading Spanish literature increased my abilities in speaking and understanding the language, but also developed me as a person with multiple skills to bring to my future careers and interactions with people. When I go to apply for future jobs I have a great multidimensional experience to talk about that aided in my education in ways beyond school and work.

A Spanish Excursion: Studying Abroad In Valencia

Name: Hannah Griswold

Type of Project: Education Abroad


During the summer, I studied abroad in Valencia, Spain with International Studies Abroad (ISA). While in Valencia I lived with a host mom, took classes in Spanish, and traveled to various cultural sites in Spain. This trip abroad was my first international experience; I have never flown outside of the United States before accompanied or alone. Before I left I had many anxieties: I was afraid of getting lonely, the locals not understanding my American accented Spanish, or simply not enjoying being in a different culture. However, as the weeks passed, I gained my footing and grew very confident in myself as a solo traveler. My most significant takeaway from this experience was the independence I cultivated as I overcame fears of being on my own, and as I learned how to navigate unknown land and make plans to keep myself busy while travelling.

Out of my whole summer abroad, the three most important factors to my transformation were living with my host mom, adjusting myself to Spanish culture, and taking weekend excursions to other cities. Living alone with an older woman was a great way to use my Spanish and see what it was like to live like a local. Adapting to the Spanish time clock, diet, and shared history made me feel more culturally competent and realize that I could live internationally in the future, which would be exciting. Weekend trips honed my travel skills and taught me to really enjoy spending time with myself.

My host mom, Mercedes, was an absolute delight. The ISA housing director was spot on with my pairing. Mercedes was a fiery 74-year-old woman from Madrid, who sang at the local retirement community and did not even know the word “English” in English. Mercedes was an old hat at having host students; from the moment I walked in the door I knew the WiFi password, how to lock her four-deadbolt door, and even how long my showers were supposed to be. However, and maybe I am too partial to think otherwise, Mercedes and I had an undeniable family chemistry. We would sit and gossip over morning coffee about everything from her friends, the news, all the way to long discussions about organic farming. Talking to Mercedes improved both my Spanish comprehension (she talked unapologetically fast with a beefy vocabulary) and Spanish production. From the moment I woke up, I had to switch to Spanish brain and I continually surprised myself with how many complex concepts I could communicate. Chatting and spending time with Mercedes solidified my decision to keep learning and using Spanish, made me more likely to strike up conversation with other locals, and was one of the highlights of my experience.

Living in a culture as rich as Spain’s showed me how to be both intellectually stimulated and fun-loving at the same time. I had an idea of what Spain would feel like before I left, but it was completely different from actually experiencing the country. Spain is most definitely not a homogenous cultural blob and has very distinct regional personalities. However, across the board it seemed that Spaniards carry around less stress than Americans (or at least me). Studying in such a relaxed environment where I could easily transition from a lesson on Spanish art or an intensive museum visit to siesta and then to drinks with friends without feeling the need to go go go allowed me to be reflective of my own culture and values and envision some new ones. In the states I usually fall to two extremes: I am either incredibly relaxed or incredibly stressed, but this summer I was able to recalibrate myself and conceptualize what a more balanced life may feel like, which I plan to pursue going forward.

Although my study abroad was in Valencia, a significant amount of my transformation came from using Valencia as a home base and traveling on weekends to other areas of Spain. ISA took our group of students on programmed trips to Madrid, Toledo, and Barcelona. I loved having a structured tour of these places, which allowed me to learn the historical and modern relevance of each place, but the unstructured free time was a great jumping off point for exploring on my own. From the baby steps of going to bars recommended by locals in Madrid, discovering the Picasso museum in Barcelona, and purposefully getting lost buying pastries baked by cloistered nuns in the labyrinthine streets of Toledo, I was prepared to spearhead trips on my own. Almost every weekend that we did not have a preplanned trip I created one for myself. Based on the suggestions of my host mom and professors I visited the towns of: Calpe, Cuenca, Cordoba, Granada, Salamanca, and I spent an extra weekend in Madrid before my flight home. My first weekend alone was to Calpe, a coastal city near Alicante with a beautiful clearwater beach. I stayed in my comfort zone and slept in an AirBnb and took taxis. By my next few weekends – like my trip to the UNESCO world heritage site of Cuenca, aka one of my favorite places on the planet, I was taking public transit, staying in hostels, and talking to locals! Now, I absolutely adore public transportation, especially the railways that run all throughout Europe (we need that across the states…step up your game Amtrack!). Despite my bad sense of direction and tendency to stray off track, I even was the designated navigator for a small group of my friends on our trip to southern Spain. It was hard to leave Spain, but it definitely left me with the travel bug and I plan to return to both Spain and Europe promptly.

This experience, especially my newfound independence and self-confidence will be endlessly useful to me in the future. On a base level it allowed me to complete some requirements for my Spanish major, but this summer was ultimately so much more than a checkbox. My love for Spain, Spanish culture, and the Spanish language was reinvigorated, and I feel so much more connected to this part of my studies and life. Even more importantly – I am itching to travel again! Now that I know how to move around, explore, and enjoy a new place I cannot wait to go again. An education is not complete in a bubble and my travels are a way of learning more about the world and myself. I am not certain where I am headed next (maybe somewhere in South America…?) but I am certain that it will not be long until I board another flight.

Reflection on STEP Signature Project: Study Abroad in Trim, Ireland

1) For my STEP Signature Project, I studied abroad in Trim, Ireland to explore the cultural impact of archaeology and religious history on the community of Trim. The main components of my program included working daily at the Blackfriary Historic Archaeology site in Trim, studying medieval monasticism and its impact on Ireland, and discovering how the local community of Trim connected with the Blackfriary site and other medieval ruins in the area.


2) My study abroad changed many aspects of my opinion on both the world and myself. I entered this program with little knowledge of Irish religious identity other than that it is perceived as a very Catholic country. I learned that contrary to what a lot of Americans believe, Ireland is shaping into a very progressive country. Even in the small town that I was staying in, most of the residents I spoke to voted for the legalization of abortion earlier this summer and were extremely proud to have been the first country to legalize gay marriage. My idea of archaeology has also changed a lot. I knew that archaeology wasn’t actually going to be like Indiana Jones, but I wasn’t sure what else to expect. I had no idea how important relationships with local residents was to archaeology sites or that community archaeology (including the local community in an archaeological dig through educational programs and volunteer work) was becoming more of a necessity in the archeological field.

I fell in love with the idea of community archaeology and the research that goes along with it and as a result have changed my plan for the direction the I see my academics and career going. Aside from learning more about my career prospects, I also learned more about myself. I became much more confident after my time in Ireland. A lot of this confidence stemmed from the fact that I had a much clearer path in mind of what I wanted to do whereas I had been relatively lost before my trip. I also gained a lot of confidence in my own abilities as I find myself excelling at the work I was conducting at the Blackfriary. Connecting with locals was something else was worried about before leaving because I tend to be shy in social situations, but I found most Irish people much easier to navigate and enjoyed approaching and talking to strangers at pubs or at the store (something that I would never have done in America).

Giants Causeway

3) For the class I took while in Ireland, we had to conduct a project on how local identity affects the community archaeology project at the Blackfriary site. My group and I decided that the best way to explore this topic was to conduct interviews with locals that focused on their ideas about Irish identity, historic identity, and religious identity. After the interviews were conducted, we each did an analysis of our interview using the person’s ideas about their different identities to reflect on how this could be used to improve the community archaeology project. It was in these interviews with locals that I came to realize how different Irish culture was from what I thought. Most of the people we interviewed were not religious and took much more liberal political stances that I had expected from a small Irish town. I also realized that the community had a much stronger connection with the Blackfriary and other historic sites in the town than I had thought. My conclusion from these interviews were that the community was indeed interested in community archaeology, but that the current programs offered at the Blackfriary needed to include more outreach to gain local interest.

The strongest relationships that I formed with people outside of my student were with the archaeologist who worked at the Blackfriary site. My direct supervisor’s name was Laura, and she really inspired me by taking a personal interest in showing me what is required to be an archaeologist. In particular, Laura always placed emphasis on the more frustrating, boring, and tedious aspects of her work in order to ensure that I wasn’t following the false “Indiana Jones” dream that many young aspiring archaeologists start out with. I’m happy to say that I even enjoyed the more tedious parts of the job and Laura was extremely helpful in teaching me so much about working at a dig site.

Traveling is another activity that helped to change me over the course of my trip. Each weekend, I traveled to a different part of Ireland with a few other OSU students. Traveling this way on my own really helped me form a greater sense of independence and a higher amount of confidence in my ability to spend long amounts of time abroad alone. Seeing so many different cities and towns in all different regions of Ireland also made me realize how many different cultures there are in Ireland despite it being such a small country.



Monastic Ruins in Trim, Ireland

The changes I experienced through this program are important to me because they have greatly effected my future plans. I am now confidently pursuing a career in archaeology and plan to return to the Blackfriary site next summer as an intern. I have also noticed a significant change in my social confidence since my study abroad. I am much more confident in my ability to interact with people mainly because of how outgoing and encouraging I found most of the Irish people I interacted with. Since being back in the US, I am happy to observe that my confidence in this aspect hasn’t diminished despite the different type of social atmosphere. I am a pretty experienced traveller and have been to Europe and South America many times before both with my family and on my own, however, I have found my study abroad trip to Ireland to be the most influential experience in my life.

Getting the Dirt on Irish History

Kelley Glasgow

Education Abroad

For my education abroad, I traveled during the summer of 2018 to Trim, Ireland, a small town about an hour outside Dublin. In this town, a group of OSU students and I participated in an archaeological dig of a thirteenth century monastery, called the Blackfriary. We dug for artifacts, categorized these artifacts, and went on educational field trips in order to learn more about monastic life in Ireland during this time.
This trip did not exactly correspond with my career goals, but was undertaken more out of curiosity than anything else. I am a history major specializing in early American themes, and so I had little to no idea what this historical era contained in terms of events and people. One change that took place over the course of this project is that I grew to understand infinitely more about this period of history and its modern ramifications than I had previously. Another, less intellectual change occurred in my respect for the science of archaeology, which seemed to present new exciting challenges every day. Having been focused on reading and writing for most of my college career, being able to work with my hands and to tactilely experience the objects that pervaded daily life in that period was refreshing. I found stained glass, pottery, and even the bones of thirteenth century monks, and all of these items brought about new insights and even more questions.
In addition to my work at the Blackfriary, I traveled with a small group around Ireland in order to fully submerge myself in its people and culture. We backpacked from Dublin to Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway, and Killarney all in a relatively short period of time. Not only was I able to view some of the most beautiful natural wonders I had ever seen, but I feel more confident in my ability to navigate the world independently. Free from any supervision, I felt completely in control of myself and capable of exploring the world dependent on no one but myself. For example, I led my group in navigating Belfast very successfully, as well as in reaching the Giant’s Causeway on the tip of Ireland. This feeling has carried over into my daily life, where I feel more confident in myself on the whole.
My peers from OSU, as well as my host parents with whom I stayed in Trim, all contributed to these newfound feelings of intellectual and social independence. My peers contributed enormous amounts of knowledge both at the Blackfriary and stemming from their own specializations. My host parents, who were born and raised in Trim, educated me about their country and how it has changed over their lifetimes, which in turn informed my historical analyses.
Participating in this trip transformed me both as a student and as an individual. Under the tutelage of Professor Beach and the staff of the Blackfriary Field School, I gained new insights into this historical period as well as into methods of studying history in general. I also became a more independent person, with skills that are transferable to my life outside of school as well. STEP funding allowed me to explore a new country with exciting people and fascinating work. I will use my newfound skills to improve my academic abilities and to explore even more of the world in the future, which I now possess the confidence to do.

CRP: Sustainable City Planning

This trip has been the most amazing experience of my entire life, for a multitude of reasons. With respect to city planning, I have always been interested on what makes a square, street, and other places successful. This is partly because of my schoolwork in mechanical engineering, where I am interested in how machines work. While mechanical engineering works on making things work smoothly and efficiently, architecture and planning includes this and much more. Planning encompasses many dimensions to make a space successful, while mechanical engineering only focuses on making things work. With my focus in sustainable energy, this trip has also introduced me to better practices and how their infrastructure is incorporated. While I have learned a great amount about city planning and sustainable energy, I believe this trip has improved my physical health. The trip has improved my sleep schedule, exercise, and eating habits. Altogether, this trip has been eye-opening in so many ways.

In mechanical engineering, I have never been focused on how machines look. Taking on the visual dimension for the case studies, I have become aware how city planning makes public areas visually appealing to be more enjoyable, safer, and inviting. For example, Nyhavn has brightly colored continuous facades that create a lively environment and guide the eye down the street. I hope to use what I have learned while analyzing the visual dimension of different public spaces to help make my coding, 3D models, and designs visually pleasing. This type of critical analysis, and seeing how many different dimensions are brought together, is applicable to not only problem solving in my field of interest, but to any field.

I am also focused on sustainable energy, particularly solar panels and wind turbines. This trip has showed me how these types of sustainable energy are implemented in a myriad of ways, with Malmö being a great example. For the first time in my life, I saw residential turbines, which are not implemented in the United States. This form of wind turbines makes them more affordable for consumers without over supplying energy. Solar panels are on many residential roofs most of the cities we visited, including Copenhagen, Berlin, and especially Malmö. This is not the case for residential housing at a similar latitude in the United States. These European cities have thinner panels that are integrated into the buildings with greenery and modern architecture. Instead of sticking out like a sore thumb, I believe it is an engineer’s interest to improve the design of solar panels so they complement homes.

Lastly, this trip showed me how poor my physical health was. My sleep schedule used to be very poor, with no routine. My eating habits were subpar, mainly consisting of junk food. This trip forced me to have a healthy sleep schedule for the first time in ages. I realized how impactful a healthy sleep schedule can be. I was more energetic, social, focused, and got more out of my days than ever before. By visiting different cultures, I had the opportunity to have healthy foods and an eating routine. Most meals were not loaded with sugar, and a healthy breakfast accelerated my mornings. A sleep routine, healthier foods, and incorporating exercise while commuting made me feel less tired and made me lose weight.

This trip has opened my eyes to the cultures of three major European cities and how each implements sustainable energy. Analyzing spaces critically is a valuable tool to solve problems in any context. I plan on keeping a strict sleep routine and eating healthier foods to better my life.