STEP: Human-Animal Interactions in Ireland

Name: Caitlin McGrath

Type of Project: Study Abroad

  1. I participated in the Human and Animal Interactions Education Abroad program in Ireland. Over the course of nine days, my group members and I traveled across seven cities in Ireland exploring the different types and industries of animal use in Ireland. I learned about the impacts, causes and uses of land and animals within their society, and we discussed and compared it to that of our own in the US.
  2. The main revelation I took from this experience is that we are all more alike than we are different. Culturally, I didn’t expect Ireland to be drastically different from the United States since a lot of us here have ancestors from Ireland, they speak the same language, I hold the same religion, etc. However, the Irish have a very different and much longer history than we do, both politically/socially and in regard to their animal use. I expected these differences to create a barrier between us and for them to be very obvious when communicating with the locals. On the contrary, every interaction I had with an Irish person highlighted the similarities and shared experiences or mindsets that we had rather than the differences.

This realization of mine really changed the way I see people who live in other parts of the world. In the past, I was always so focused on the contrast between us (usually in a good way, looking at what I could learn from them), but now I see that that should not be my first thought going into an interaction with a person from a different country. I should look to find common ground because that is what is important and what bonds us together as humans. Then this makes the discussion of differences more palatable and friendly.

  1. Since the focus of this trip was centered on human and animal interactions, we visited many sites where the use of animals was central in their industry. What I found was although there are certainly differences in some of our attitudes and usage of animals, on the whole, we are a lot more similar than we are different. Not only on the topic of animals did I relate to the people in Ireland, but also socially and culturally. Even though we are from different parts of the world, it was hard to have a conversation where we didn’t find something in common.

Ireland’s history of using animals in everyday jobs and industries is much longer than ours in the States, but it has evolved to look very similar to ours. For example, animal welfare is becoming an increasing concern and priority in animal-related industries in both of our countries. We attended talks and seminars from professionals centered on this topic, and they sounded a lot like the ones I’ve heard in America. Their actual laws and practices might vary, but the ideas are the same. The Irish also had similar issues in their farming industry, which is becoming less and less profitable for small, family farmers and is moving more toward commercial farming. Speaking with farmers there felt like I was speaking with American farmers, just with different accents.

I found a lot of common ground with the Irish also relating to just our daily lives and attitudes. I was talking to a couple of young girls around my age who worked at the zoo, and we were sharing stories and agreeing on all sorts of topics. We talked about the weather and always getting sunburnt, we talked about school and classes, and we talked about friends and going out and having fun. Also, I remember our bus driver speaking about the trials and concerns in his life, like taxes and the law and getting tickets, and how familiar they sounded to me. There are definitely differences in the way we live our lives and in our environments, but overall I remembered the similarities more than I did the differences.

  1. This transformation in my perspective has made me view other countries and traveling differently. Before this trip, I was apprehensive to travel internationally because I was afraid that the differences between me and the people there would make them dislike me or make it hard for us to relate. Interacting with the Irish challenged these concerns. It made me realize that people are looking for ways to relate to each other. As long as I am respectful, it is not hard to find common ground with people living in different places as me, and this will make it much easier for me to travel in the future. Becoming more comfortable traveling both fulfills a personal goal of mine and changes my future plans to include more of this. I cannot wait to use these new skills on my next international trip.

One of my academic goals also was to be able to apply what I am learning in the classroom not only to my own small world, but also to the much broader global world. Realizing that we have a lot in common with other cultures makes it easier for me to learn about their practices because I can see the similarities first before the differences, and this makes them easier to understand and process. This new perspective overall has made me more open and receptive to understanding global concepts and has made me seek out more knowledge on a global basis rather than staying comfortably within my country’s borders.


Engineering Service-Learning in Ghana

For my STEP Signature project, I took a semester long course where myself and fourteen other engineering students researched food and water related issues in Ghana. This winter break we embarked on a trip to Kpando, Ghana to do further research and data collection. During our time in country we interviewed local farmers, market goers/sellers and community members to gain insight on problems people in Kpando are experiencing.

My understanding of developing countries changed from my STEP Signature Project. Leading up to my trip, I thought I had a solid understanding of the issues people in developing countries were facing. After spending time with people in country, getting to know the landscape and asking questions, I found that my understanding of poverty was misguided. I came to realize that a majority of people in poverty are innovative, creative and entrepreneurs. I was impressed by many of the businesses people had started and the work they had invested into their business’s success. People seem to be stuck in poverty not due to lack of effort or intelligence, but a lack of resources. I believe the way to solve problems for impoverished communities is by making educational, financial and material resources more widely available.

As an engineer, I tend to think in a logical manner in order to solve a problem. I struggled slightly on this trip because I found it hard to understand people’s personal decisions in terms of finances, health and ethics. Many of the decisions people were making Kpando didn’t seem well planned or focused on long term goals. In my head, that was the reason why people were struggling financially. By asking people questions about their personal decisions on various issues, I found that their decisions were based on a lack of proper education in addition to the lack of finances and options available to each person. In the United States there is more room to make risky choices that will benefit us in the long term. If a choice does not work out there are plenty of resources available to us to help in hard times. This is not the case in Ghana, therefore people tend to stay far away from risks because if a decision does not work out, that hurts them significantly. As a result, they choose to live by a system where they are not able to advance economically and to remove themselves from poverty. After this trip, my mind was changed on what people in developing countries need most. They need systems to be set up where it is possible for them to succeed. Contrary to popular belief, It is important to guide people in poverty to self-made success by supporting and educating them rather than simply giving them material items.

The main interaction that changed my view on what people in poverty need was when interviewing several ladies that worked for a small street-side restaurant. I watched and helped the women prepare traditional Ghanaian meals to sell that day. I asked the head chef why she had never started her own restaurant. She said that it was extremely difficult to have enough money to start a business in Kpando. Loans from the bank are difficult to get, as you are required to have an “eyewitness” who the bank considers trustworthy. I continued to ask the ladies personal questions, including “what is most important to you in your life?” I expected an answer like “health” or “family”. The answer I received surprised me; all three ladies said their job is most important to them. I asked why, and they responded by saying that working gave them security and allowed them to take care of their family. These women were cooking outdoors all day using strenuous cooking processes for anywhere between 10 to 30 cedi a day ($2-$6 U.S. dollars).

This changed my idea of what I can do to help others. I realized that people need a better way of borrowing money to make long term investments for their businesses. With the wage’s women are making at their jobs, it is near impossible to save enough money to invest in equipment, a building or any other expensive items. People use all of their wages on food, water and other necessities. This is why people are not able to get out of the cycle of living by day to day incomes.

I hope through my engineering degree I can contribute by developing technology that is both affordable and useful for communities, women and businesses. I also hope to educate more people on the value of saving money, long term investments and preventative maintenance. My interactions with people in Ghana have made me excited to travel to other areas and talk with more people about their lives, worries and personal struggles. I want to learn to understand people by talking to them rather than making assumptions from what I have heard.

This change was significant to my life because now I have a clear idea that after graduation I want to stay involved with humanitarian engineering projects. This project was a gateway for me to find my passion in engineering project work for developing countries. I also found that have a strong desire to improve education for young kids, especially in the STEM field. In my future job I hope to have a role in humanitarian engineering work through a large, global company. I also hope to continue traveling and exploring other cultures and ways of life in order to have a stronger understanding of the world around me. My major in Food Engineering gives me the knowledge and skills to help improve the lives of struggling communities. I also hope to continue learning from people in these communities about their hopes and dreams for themselves and their families.

Semester in Milan

My STEP Signature Project is classified under the Education Abroad category. For my project I completed a semester abroad studying business and economics courses at the prestigious Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi located in the heart of Milan, Italy. The semester abroad was facilitated through an exchange program located within the Fisher College of Business in which a select few students from Fisher are exchanged with Italian students at the aforementioned university. While the majority of the time spent abroad was up to my discretion, as this is what drew me to this particular education abroad program, the main activities required from this project were orientation activities before the semester, successful completion of a semester at this university, and finally re-entry activities after the semester was completed.


Prior to embarking on my education abroad last fall I was incredibly nervous for what the semester would hold. I had never travelled without my parents, I did not speak the language of the host country I was travelling to, and I did not know a single person that would be attending this program with me-with the exception of the one other Ohio State Student I had met once before that previous spring during the exchange orientation activities. Although I would say that I experienced changes in the way that I saw others and the world around me-the most monumental change is the one I saw in myself. Any change I had in the way I viewed the external elements of this trip all stemmed from the internal changes that took place. Through acclimating to a new school, a new city and country, new people, and a new culture I was able to challenge myself on a daily basis.

The biggest change I saw in myself was my confidence and propensity for risk-taking. I have never before been surrounded by so much unfamiliarity. I am from Cleveland, Ohio, so moving to Ohio State my freshmen year was hardly difficult. From the moment you are accepted into Ohio State you are inundated with emails laying out in explicit detail anything that is required from you to have a successful transition. This was not the case when I arrived in Milan. In order to be successful, I had to rely on my own preparedness, independence, and gut instincts. While I had always considered myself to be self-sufficient, I had never had to perform at this degree before. In order for this semester abroad to be as successful as I wanted it to be, I needed to let go of any premonitions I had about this experience and dive in head first. For me this meant saying yes to almost everything I could. From trying restaurants where the owners spoke no English, to taking the lead in school projects with groups that were comprised entirely of Italian students, to traveling throughout Italy and the rest of Europe with no plan other than a place to sleep I found that my ability to problem-solve, mitigate stressful situations, and navigate ambiguity was much greater than I gave myself credit for. By actively putting myself in situations that required me to elevate these skills, I was transformed into a person more confident and willing to embrace the world around her.

The activity during my STEP Signature Project that was one of the biggest catalysts for this change, although fairly obvious, but nevertheless important, was attending university in Italy. Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi is a world-renowned business and economics school. In the Business and Management discipline, which is the category of the majority of classes I took, Bocconi is ranked 4th in Europe and 8th worldwide. Unlike many study abroad programs in which the focus is on the student’s cultural experience, the Fisher Exchange Program focuses on placing its students in universities in which the coursework is just as
rigorous, if not more so, than what is offered at Ohio State. Europeans have a different outlook on higher education than most Americans, and it took some time for me to become accustomed to this. It is much more difficult for Europeans to attain higher education as there is a more developed system that funnels students into trade schools. Therefore, it is considered a great privilege to be able to attend university, and a certain level of maturity is expected from students who attend. There are very few assignments, attendance is usually not mandatory, and classes usually only meet once or twice a week. While on the surface this seems much easier than the requirements of classes in the U.S., there is a much heavier emphasis placed on the student accountability. Despite less busy work and class meeting time, students must keep up with the work on their own. Students are expected to come prepared to class after having completed any and all necessary readings, while class time is almost strictly devoted to discussion of the important topics and questions utilizing the professor’s expertise. This dramatic change in approach to education transformed me into a much more responsible and participative student. As much of the learning was done on our own, I had to develop the confidence to ask questions in large lecture classes, utilize office hours like I never had before, and manage my classwork in the large amounts of free time I had. I believe that this experience definitely matured me as a student and prepared me to come back and finish my last semesters as OSU stronger than before.

The relationships I made with other students during my education abroad also played significant role in the internal transformation I experienced. There are over 1,000 exchange students enrolled at Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi. Unlike many other exchange programs that I researched before setting on this one, this exchange program hosted students from all around the world-not just the United States. My first encounter with students from outside of the U.S. occurred when I moved into my international dorm my first day of arrival.On my floor alone were students from Australia, China, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and many other countries. We shared a community kitchen, and throughout the semester I would have small conversations here and there with my various floor-mates. We immediately discussed how different our lives back home were, and how different our current life in Italy was. Despite this, we managed to find commonalities. People from cultures and lives vastly different than mine still missed their friends and family back home, they still struggled with balancing school and social life, they still disagreed with their politicians, and they still were just as excited as I to start a semester in a brand-new country. Living with the people in my dorm forced me to come out of my shell and utilize a level of confidence I had to never had to in order to make new friends. In addition, it forced me to analyze what was most important to me in my life and relate that to people who I otherwise would have had nothing in common with. Despite coming from different backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, religions etc., we all managed to find a level of humanity that allowed us to have meaningful relationships with a diverse range of people. I learned so much about what other cultures value, and therefore became more aware of what I deem most important.

Finally, one of the best and most exciting ways I managed to transform myself was through adventuring inside of the city I called home for four months. Although I had traveled to Italy to study, the most important learning took place outside of the classroom. One could write an entire paper on the differences between American and Italian culture but the one difference I couldn’t get over, and the one that vastly changed my outlook on life is that of Italian café culture. There is a cliché that exists about European culture in that it is lazy and that its people don’t put in nearly the amount of effort that Americans do. I will be the first to disagree as some of the most passionate, most intelligent people I met were from outside of the borders of the U.S. Café culture is more about taking a break from work or school, it is about connecting with those that are around you and finding time in your day to focus on your relationships and not about your job. I admired that Europeans and Italians in specific place such a high value on their relationships, and that these relationships and time to relax prioritized getting one last task for the day done. I personally found that back home in the U.S. I did not do that as much as I should. In order to excel in school, I forewent getting dinner with friends, or I ignored a call from my mom in order to do one more accounting problem. While it is important to do well in school and your job, I really appreciated this idea that taking a break is important as well. Acclimating to this pace of life and finding that I could manage both school and my social life gave me the confidence to apply this to my life back in the states. I found that balance allows you to thrive in both areas, instead of pouring all of your resources and mental health in just one.

These developments and changes in how I view myself, others, and the world directly relate to my personal and professional goals. I believe that personally I have become more of the person I have always been, it just took a dramatic shift in lifestyle for that full transformation to occur. I have always admired those who were confident in going after what they wanted in life, and I believe that I have a clearer idea on what it is that I want, as well as the confidence to make it happen. As far as my professional goals, the skills I gained while completing my education abroad were invaluable in terms of time and budget management, managing the relationships and emotions of others, accountability towards myself and my work, and leadership capabilities. A semester of navigating unfamiliarity gave me the necessary skills and confidence to enter the workforce and perform at a high level. I have experiences that greatly differentiate me from other candidates, as well as a newly globalized mindset that will help me maneuver the globalized direction the world of business is heading towards.

Accessibility to Water in Kpando, Ghana – Reflection

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. 

During the Autumn 2018 semester I began to learn about the ideas of Human-Centered Design and how it can be applied in creating effective and sustainable solutions to problems in developing countries. Our focus was the African country of Ghana, and over the winter break spent 10 days in the Volta region in a town called Kpando. We worked with an organization called UNiTED Projects, and spent our time visiting local communities to learn about their access to clean water. This preliminary research was brought back and will be presented to the next group of students going on the trip to start prototyping solutions.

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.

Having only traveled abroad to Europe, I did not have any prior exposure to the ideas of humanitarian engineering and working in developing countries. I went into the project wanting to see more of the world, a side that people often forget about. We did so much research going into the trip, about the country, about the culture, and the best ways to visit communities and help the people, but nothing was as impactful as going there in person. Nothing would have prepared me for how much I fell in love with the place and the people, and the unfortunate realization that as a group of 15 engineering students we wouldn’t be able to help everyone there.

It was an overwhelming experience, but with our focus on water it narrowed our scope, and we gained a lot of knowledge about these communities. The initial wave of stress and anxiety of trying to find a way to help everyone turned into utilizing our time to find the small things that could make a huge difference in small communities. We can’t even begin to solve a nationwide water problem from only 10 days in country, but if we focus on one community at a time we can make a huge difference. This showed me the importance of research, and knowing my work will go on to help create solutions for these people have made me realize that I can do a lot for the world, and I can’t wait to see where my next project takes me.

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? 

Our first day in Kpando we pulled into a local palm oil plantation to talk to the owners. A couple of the women were going to collect water at a nearby stream and invited our group to join. We followed as they carried large water buckets on their heads and watched how they collect the water. In an effort to help we offered to carry a bucket for a small girl, maybe around 10 years old. Following their lead we split the work and took turns, and as they transferred it to me I couldn’t believe how heavy the water was. I had been soaked just trying to lift it, and once I had it I moved as slowly as possible. It was a humbling experience to struggle with such a simple task that these women and children have to do every day. I couldn’t imagine having to do that entire trek three or four times a day.

Another thing that stuck out to me was how deceptively simple some solutions may be. During one day in a community the team took apart a water pump that was not being used. The community had access to another nearby, but we were curious to see why this one had broken. As we starting taking it apart we realized it was working, water was flowing. Upon further inspection we realized the problem was in the smaller components and had just compounded. The pump was working, it just wasn’t maintained, but everyone had just told us it was broken. This is a perfect example of something you need to research before going in with a solution, if this had been found beforehand, the community might have not needed the other pump.  

Throughout the trip we had the opportunity to interact with so many wonderful people in these communities. Many allowed us in their homes and let us learn more about their lives, it gave me the motivation to work harder and try to find some way to help as many people as we can.  

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

Before this experience I had no prior experience with Humanitarian Engineering, but moving forward I hope to make it a bigger part of my life. I’m not sure exactly yet of what this will involve, more school trips, donating to organizations, or maybe as I move into my professional career I can research and create products to help people in developing countries. Hopefully I can use my background of electrical engineering to possibly design renewable energy resources for those who don’t have access to electricity. Having power isn’t a basic human need, but it can be a valuable tool in providing access for people in need.

Service Abroad in Honduras

My STEP Signature Project involved a week-long service trip in Siguatepeque, Honduras. It focused on learning about coffee processing from the farm to consumers. Some of my main activities included picking coffee, helping build a house for a coffee farmer, tours of farms and plants, and more.

My STEP Signature Project gave me the opportunity to travel outside of the United States for the first time. I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and the result was a very positive experience. I was previously unaware of my ability to adapt to a new environment and how little I knew about the world around me. After completing my STEP Signature Project, I know that I am capable of trying new foods, learning a variety of new vocabulary terms in Spanish, helping serve communities in need, and much more.

One of the things that had an impact on me was interacting with the locals. I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the culture and everyday life in Siguatepeque. I also was challenged to engage in some conversations that were completely in Spanish. Most of the time, I was able to understand what was said but not knowing some terms hindered my ability to be able fully comprehend everything. I saw how difficult language barriers can when getting to know someone. So, as a Spanish minor, I am going to continue developing my conversational skills that way I will be more advanced the next time I travel abroad.

I am a very picky eater. So, prior to traveling abroad I was very fearful that I would be unable to find dishes that I really enjoyed. However, when I was in Honduras, I challenged myself to try new dishes and I found I really enjoyed the cuisine. I loved the fact that a lot of the food was fresh. It was also surreal to indulge in various cultural dishes that I had only read about in textbooks.

Finally, the service aspect of my trip had the largest impact on me. It is one thing to learn things in a class presentation and it is another thing to actually see other parts of the world yourself. Growing up in America, it is sometimes easy to assume that people in other parts of the world are unhappy because they don’t have the same privileges. It was wonderful to find out how simple, peaceful and joyful the people of Siguateque were. Their lives didn’t revolve around material gain or academic success. So even though I was happy to have contributed to making some of their lives easier through our projects, I learned that they were more than satisfied with their lives.

My main take away from my STEP Signature Project is that I know I am going to continue to travel abroad throughout my life. I want to integrate service trips into my future career as a physician. I am aware of the limited healthcare access that exists in third world countries. I think focusing on helping those in need is worth sacrificing a large salary or notoriety. I now know how important it is to try to make a difference not just on my surrounding environment but on the world at large.

STEP Signature Project

Name: Maria Cantemir

Type of Project: Education Abroad


So what was your project?

My STEP Signature Project entailed me studying abroad at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, France. There, I took classes not only on French language and grammar, but culture (such as a class on the history of French fashion, the history of the French language etc.). The program I studied abroad with (ISA) additionally took us on cultural excursions to different parts of France (Normandy) as well as to Belgium.


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

The biggest transformation in my understanding of myself was going from thinking of myself as someone a bit more reserved and thoughtful to someone who revels in spontaneity and the unexpected. I’ve always enjoyed traveling and while this wasn’t my first international solo travel experience, it was the first time I actually considered myself to be living in a foreign country. All of the challenges and difficulties that came along with this experience inspired me to be more confident and taught me how to handle uncomfortable situations on my own. I now no longer rush to call my parents the first second something goes badly; I can now strike up conversations with total strangers (which I’ve had trouble doing in the past); my stress-levels don’t immediately rise when things don’t go along with my meticulous plans; I’m not afraid to make mistakes anymore. Really, the biggest change was that I “came out of my shell”, so to speak, and I’m looking forward to using my new-found confidence in all of my future endeavors.


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 biggest things I learned in this experience was that when things don’t go according to plan, it’s ok. In fact, I’ve learned that while certain things definitely do need to be planned ahead of time (loding, transportation etc.), it’s nice to leave things to chance sometimes. I learned this most clearly when I traveled to the UK over fall break where I visited a friend in Durham, England and then traveled to both London and Loch Ness in Scotland. In London, we had a set-schedule that was ruined due to delays and health issues. While initially I was very frustrated and irritated, we actually ended up doing “more fun” spontaneous things (ie. going to a street music festival celebrating African artists) than what we had originally planned (ie. a tour of the National Gallery). This taught me that as long as I’m open to change, I’ll still manage to have a good time.

Another important life lesson is that it’s ok to be wrong as long as I learn from my mistake. I learned this most clearly in my French courses, which were quite honestly some of the most difficult courses I have ever taken. This was due in part to the French grading/teaching system but additionally due to the content itself. I placed into the most challenging course the Sorbonne offered (C1), and I have never, ever, ever in my life encountered a French class so difficult. It felt like every single grammar rule I thought I knew to a T 1.) suddenly had exceptions and 2.) I was expected to know these exceptions and 3.) by not knowing these exceptions, I was significantly behind my peers. I had to spend quite a bit of time outside of class learning both the materials and trying to patch the holes in my knowledge, but ultimately what helped the most was not being afraid to “ask” dumb questions in class as well as getting rid of my fear of responding with an incorrect answer so that I could listen to what really was the correct answer. Ultimately, I realized that my education is worth more than my pride, and I’m so happy I got to learn this.

Finally, I learned to truly depend on myself. Before, I would always consult my parents when it came to important decisions because I valued their input and opinions. I definitely still do value these things, but I definitely learned to depend on myself when I don’t have the time/option to consult anyone else. I realized this most clearly when the metro suddenly closed when I was supposed to be on my way to the airport. If I didn’t figure out a solution ASAP, I was going to miss my flight, so I took decisions on my own and worked out a solution by myself.


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

These changes are so significant to my life because they’ve completely affected my decision process. I’m now much more able to understand what’s important and therefore streamline making a decision while being more confident in that if something goes amiss, I’ll be able to handle it one way or another. These are such important skills for me to have because as a lawyer, I’ll be faced with having to make quick decisions almost constantly if I go to trial. Learning how to do this now as opposed to while actually practicing is invaluable in terms of career success and potential. Overall, my experience studying abroad has better prepared me for my career while also helping me to ameliorate my self-confidence.

Living in Dijon

Georgia Drost

Study Abroad

Studying as an international student in Dijon, France, changed my career path and my life plan. I lived independently for four months while deepening my understanding of the French language and culture and meeting other students from around the globe.  While similar to my time at Ohio State in the demands for personal responsibility and independent decision-making, my time at the University of Burgundy challenged my ability to creatively problem-solve and to live without an established support system.

I have always loved language, and French in particular. From a young age, I have been fascinated by the workings of my native language and those that I have encountered, and I believed that those who love foreign things must live abroad. The four months that I spent living in France were transformational fun, and educational, but they also taught me something important about myself: I don’t want to permanently move out of the United States.

Being on my own was very hard, especially at the beginning and the end of my trip. I travelled to Dijon with another Ohio State student that I’d met twice before, the name of the city, and the assertion that I had somewhere to stay, assuming that I could locate the correct building. With no prior contacts and no cell phone service, I had no help but my own reasoning, meager French ability, and a non-jetlagged British girl headed in the same direction. The weeks that followed were full of challenges like walking to IKEA because public transport didn’t service their location, contacting my credit card company without phone service and in a different time zone, and making friends with people who shared very few of my experiences and didn’t speak the same native language that I did. My saving grace in the experience was my professor, Estelle.

Estelle taught me and eleven other international students French at a level designed to prepare us to function independently in francophone society, but she also took a personal interest in our lives in France. She informed me of previously-unknown double meanings in my speech, advised me on living in Dijon, helped me understand a notice from my landlord, and cautioned me against going downtown during weekends with expected protests.

My classmates came from all over the world, and each had their own story and their own reason for learning French. One of them was hoping to study at a French university because they provide stronger academic programs than those in his home country. Another was running a restaurant with her also-immigrant mother, and someone needed to be able to speak to customers and suppliers.

Living and studying in this environment opened my eyes to a section of the world population I had heard of but never really considered: people who want to improve their lives but don’t speak a language that will help them to do so. The students I met were driven, hard-working and ambitious and Estelle did her best to help them on their journey to a better opportunity in life. Living as a near-immigrant in France reminded me that I am fortunate to be a United States citizen and to have access to quality higher education, an access that many people are not afforded. The attention that Estelle paid to each of her students, including me, made me feel that I can make a difference, too. As a teacher of English as a Second Language within the United States, I could impact the lives of students and immigrants who have not had the same opportunities as me but work just as hard for acceptance in a culture they cannot navigate. I have been worrying about my career path for a long time, but the transformational experience of my STEP project has given me a challenging and fulfilling end destination that will enable me to transform the lives of others.

For more information about my trip, visit my blog:

Going to school in Barcelona

Name: Cassandra Chenoweth

Type of Project: Study abroad


  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.


I participated in the ISA (International Studies Abroad) Spanish Language, Liberal Arts and Business program in Barcelona, Spain during fall semester of 2018. I took three classes to complete my Spanish minor and one additional class toward my political science major. I also traveled for several weeks after my finals (which was why the end date listed for my project was not accurate).


  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.


The main thing that changed over the course of the last four months was my concept of time and the anxiety I felt about achieving my career goals. At my age I think that most of us see our lives as a sort of race to an unclear objective. I have pushed myself to graduate a year early while working tons of internships and jobs that were supposed to lead me directly to the job that I thought I needed. For many years, I have wanted to work as a legal advocate for people experiencing gender violence, and focused an unhealthy amount of attention in this goal. While I still intend to one day have this job, studying abroad helped me realize that life is (typically) quite long and I don’t need to race toward any sort of end goal. Instead, I can explore a variety of jobs, places and movements.


  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 believe that a variety of factors led me to this realization. Most importantly, my study abroad made me realize how valuable a few months can be and changed my conception of what that value was. In the three months that I was in Spain, I interacted with not a single person that I had known before leaving the United States. I lived an entirely new life, speaking a different language and exploring an unseen continent. I thought about how many small segments (like the three and a half months I was in Spain) that I have ahead of me in life, and I slowly realized that it’s pointless for me to plan on doing the same thing in the same place for all those segments.


While I was gone, I also did a lot of thinking about the negative effect that my eventual career could have on my mental health if I try to do it too soon. When I studied abroad, the people I became friends with and the interactions I had helped me pick apart some questions I had about my psychology, and I had to acknowledge that working as a legal advocate for people experiencing gender violence may exasperate my anxiety if I try to do it too soon in my life.


Additionally, I realized how much I would like to teach. I had one teacher in Barcelona that I respected like none other, and I want to serve the same purpose in someone else’s life that she did for mine. Thus, working as a teacher in another country has become one of my goals.


  1. 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.


Later this week, I will be applying to work as an English teacher in China and/or South Korea. If I had not studied abroad, I definitely would not be considering these jobs. I fully intend to find ways throughout my life to live in as many different places as possible, which was a goal that I didn’t think I would have. I expected that living in another country amongst strangers would be much scarier than it was. After realizing that I currently enjoy being abroad more than I enjoy being home, I researched ways to spend more time oversees. Teaching abroad appears to me to be one of the most feasible options, but I plan to explore many jobs abroad later in life. Again, studying abroad directly influenced this desire to continue to live in other countries.

Ghana – Reflection (2018)

Mia Feist

Education Abroad

  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.
                                       Pictured above: Myself attempting to carry water from a stream a half mile from the family’s home

My STEP project began by spending the semester researching the country of Ghana, Africa. More specifically the water issues that plague the Kpando community in the Volta region. This was followed by a ten-day immersion in country. While in country, my team interviewed people and families from many different surrounding communities to help better understand the common issues within their communities.

  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.

This isn’t my first experience with a developing country; I spent this past summer (2018) Living in Guatemala. I had an idea of what I was walking into, but the raw sight of everything brought back a familiar anxiety mixed with amazement. Amazement at how these communities’ function. That these places are pretty developed for developing countries. Sure, they don’t have computers, laptops, high tech phones, or movie theatres, but they still function. Anxiety, for how I was supposed to help them. While their branches have stemmed, long and strong, their roots are weak. Their education system is short coming, and their water supply is horribly contaminated.

I know I can’t change the world in a week, I know that there is no perfect solution that will fix every water issue out there, but I want to help. This trip helped me better understand the importance of research. I love researching countries, but with so little information on many of them, it gets difficult when it comes down to the details. So, by immersing myself in these communities I was better able to understand some of the data I had previously collected and compare it to what I was finding now.

  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.

The first thing that pops out to me is the water issues. Many of the communities I visited did not have access to piped water, like what we are used to in the states. Many had a Bore Hole, basically a water pump that is treated with chlorine, or collected all their water from a stream. This includes drinking, bathing, cleaning, and washing clothes. Many even choose to do this over the water pump because of the metallic taste caused by the chlorine. I had to re-evaluate what I consider a solution at this point in my research. What good was a water pump, with clean water, if the people refused to use it. We can’t expect them to immediately by eternally grateful if they prefer another option.

Another moment that stood out to me was when I was playing with the children. I had sat down with a group of 10 or 13 children of a variety of ages. Originally the language barrier was an issue, but I found other ways to speak with them. They knew a few words of English from their studies and I had a rather large stick and some dirt. So, I took to drawing on the ground. I drew a fire, moon, bird, cat, etc. With every picture the children would excitedly shout out the name in English, then tell it to me in Ewe, their first language. I was later quizzed on this by the very excited older children.

                                                       Pictured above: Myself with a few of the children in the Kpando-Adolfe Community

Many of these kids went to school in a small building just down the walkway. Once they reached the equivalent of 6th grade, many had to find another school or just drop out entirely. The closest school with higher grade levels was about a 45-minute walk. They walk 90 minutes everyday just so they can get an education. Then they come home to fetch water, do the dishes, make dinner, and finish their homework. That is a lot to deal with as a young child. The joy they had at someone coming to play with them, to focus on them purely, was heart breaking. They don’t always get that kind of attention.

  1. 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.

During my first year, I added a Humanitarian Engineering minor to my degree. This minor demonstrates what I want to be able to do with my major, the people I want to affect. The people around me have so much. We have so many studies dictating the best materials to use for bridges, buildings, roadways based on climate, height, natural disasters. Which is extremely helpful, not to mention the budget and resources we have to acquire these materials. But what I want to focus on is creating these items with materials that are less than ideal.

Many of the homes I visited in Ghana were made out of a mud and clay mixture that coated simple wood walls. My future goals are to be able to find an affordable and accessible option for housing and roadways in these types of communities.

AIFS Salzburg Fall 2018 Reflection

My STEP Signature Project was a semester studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria through the American Institute of Foreign Study. I lived and went to class in Salzburg for the entirety of the Autumn 2018 semester.

This Signature Project completely changed my life. I always knew that I wanted to study abroad in college, and I worked hard for my first two years at Ohio State to make that dream a reality. Once I landed, it was clear that I had made the right choice. Being abroad taught me so much about myself, about how to be a better traveler, about how to think and live independently, and how to be a respectful resident in someone else’s country. Being abroad helped me to expand my German language skills, as German is my minor here at Ohio State. It taught me how to make friends with anyone, even people you think you have nothing in common with. Most importantly, being abroad taught me that even though we’re all different, we are all essentially the same.

Living in the heart of Salzburg was amazing, because it allowed me to interact with locals all the time. Also, choosing to go on a program with AIFS instead of an Ohio State program really forced me to step out of my comfort zone and to force myself to make friends, since I was the only student from OSU attending the program. The style of the program allowed us to travel on weekends if we liked, and I managed to make it to seven other countries besides Austria during my time abroad, all of which ranged extremely in their cultures and allowed me to see so many different places and people.

I think this development of myself matters because it wholeheartedly made me a better, broader, and more understanding person. To know that there is an entire world outside of the place you call home is something you can’t truly understand until you go out and see it for yourself. I can now say that I have friends not only across America, but some even halfway across the world too. I think this transformation provided me with skills that will be essential for my transition into adulthood following graduation, like how to think on my feet in stressful situations, and how to live independently from the comforts that I have always been used to. This development relates to my academic and professional goals because experience abroad is always a nice aspect to have on a resume, and it gave me the leadership skills to know that I can do things completely on my own.