My STEP Signature Project consisted of an Education Abroad to various cities and countries in Europe that were related to World War II. We visited many museums, cemeteries, and historical sites in each country and wrote blogs about what we saw and experienced in that particular country. In addition to the blog posts, we also presented a site report on a predetermined topic that was our specialization for the trip.
My STEP Signature Project was truly a life-changing experience. I learned so much about myself, the countries I visited, the people and culture of those countries and the topic of WWII. Coming into this trip I was skeptical about making new friends, trying new things, navigating foreign countries and still keeping up with the assignments. Since this was my first time abroad there were obviously many anxieties and unknowns coming into the trip, but in an odd way that almost made it better. My first time on an airplane was because of this trip, my first passport stamp was because of this trip, it was my first time on a ferry, on the subway, on an overnight train; so many firsts were made on this trip. I became more confident in myself, I am no longer scared to ask questions, ask for directions and to try out my German-speaking skills with the locals. I became more inclined to take (reasonable) risks, go on adventures and stray away from my introverted ways.
Since this was a trip of many firsts, there were many things on this Education Abroad that impacted me. One was when I touched the ocean for the first time in Bayeux, France. It was such a surreal moment for me, the only beach I had ever stepped foot on was by Lake Erie but never a beach on the ocean. I was so excited to finally experience what a real beach felt like, but my excitement was extremely short-lived. The first beach I stepped foot on was Gold Beach, the place where so many Allied soldiers died in WWII while storming the beaches of Normandy. It was hard to process the excitement of the ocean along with the stunning reality that this was the very spot that so many lost their lives. It made me appreciate this experience so much more, that a huge first for me was shared with honoring those we lost in WWII.
A second experience that impacted me was missing my flight back to the United States following our Study Abroad journey. It took 4 hours on 2 different trains and an hour-long bus ride to get to the Milan airport from the small coastal town my comrades and I were staying at in Italy. I made the journey alone beginning at 6:00 am that morning. I had to handle navigating my way to the airport while still trying to maintain my composure after realizing I would definitely not be making my flight home after my train was delayed. I arrived at the airport at 11:15 am, the time that my flight was scheduled for departure. I soon found the airline desk and was helped to be put on a standby flight for the following morning to the United States. I was alone in an airport, in a foreign country, surrounded by a language I had absolutely no experience with for over 20+ hours waiting for my flight. While it was extremely tough and there were many a tear shed, I made it on the flight the following morning and back home the next day. Had this happened at the beginning of my Education Abroad, I don’t know what I would’ve done. The confidence in myself, the ability to not be afraid to ask questions, and increased independence I had gained during this trip allowed me to basically survive a night in the airport. None of that would’ve been possible without this study abroad.
This transformation will stick with me for the rest of my life. I would agree that traveling does indeed change a person in so many ways. The knowledge and experiences I gained on this trip will help me continue to understand other cultures and ways of life outside the United States. The confidence and love for adventure I’ve obtained will help me in my future career endeavors and overall growth as a person. Coming out of my shell and doing things I would’ve never thought of doing seems like such a simple thing but has honestly changed my life. I cannot wait to continue to enjoy the unknowns, rather than fear them, and to welcome new adventures, instead of turning them down. All of this was made possible with the help of my STEP fellowship assisting me in financing my U.S., Europe and the Second World War Education Abroad.