Summer in Paris

For my STEP Signature Project, I did the IES Summer Language Immersion Program in Paris, France. I lived in a homestay for 7 weeks in Paris while taking classes in film studies and French grammar at the IES Center. Outside of classes, I was able to travel to many places within Paris as well as Giverny and Reims outside of Paris and then Brussels and Amsterdam outside of France.

While I had travelled to France before as a senior trip for high school, I had only spent a week there which did not provide the immersion in French language as my program did. When I arrived in France, I realized I was not as confident in my French speaking as I thought I was, because I had not taken a French class in a little over a year. As the program went on, I was able to become more and more confident in my French speaking abilities through taking classes and interacting with my host family. I also became more comfortable in doing things by myself because I did not have a roommate to go to everything with. I had to navigate the Paris metro alone to get home, which was intimidating at first, but allowed me to become more familiar with the city of Paris. Finally, I realized how big the city of Paris was. I hadn’t realized how big it was when I visited the first time because I was in a bus the whole time, but living there I had to use the metro or walk, and everything seemed to be at least a 30 minute metro ride away, even though I was pretty close to the center of Paris. Finally, I was able to experience other cultures in Europe and more deeply experience world cultures which helped me understand other points of view in the world.

The USA vs Chile game at Parc des Princes in Paris

I think that these transformations were made possible by my host family. I lived with an older French woman, whom I called my French grandma, and she probably was the one that made my experience so enjoyable. At dinners, I was able to practice my French with her, where we discussed French culture, politics, history and the differences between France and America. We would have traditional French cuisine for every dinner. She would bring over her grandchildren and children for some dinners so I could practice my French with other French people, and I could see the cultural differences between France and America for people closer to my age.My favorite part about living with her was watching French television shows with her. We watched a lot of shows about the D-Day invasion because it was the 75th anniversary while I was there and a couple movies. This helped me practice my comprehension of other French speakers while learning more about the history of France and their perspectives on other historical events, while seeing the cultural differences in their media and news reporting.

I feel that my classes and my program also had a significant impact on my transformation throughout the experience. Both my professors were very focused on teaching the subject material, but they also made sure that we learned more about French culture and new useful words in French. My film professor would teach us new words in French including a lot of slang that was used in the films. He would also make an effort to discuss French cultural topics before class, including French music and events happening like the World Cup in France. In my grammar class, my professor would have us present an article from a French newspaper and we would discuss it as a class. This activity taught me about a lot of French current events and how French people viewed them. My program also had us develop goals at the beginning to help our French. My goals were to write a paragraph about four photos that I had taken every week which was more like a journal, and to listen to a French song four times a week and make flashcards of the words that I didn’t know. The journal helped me practice my French and apply the grammar I had learned in class. This journal also recounted the days that I had taken the photos and was useful in documenting my transformation and reflecting on my experience. Listening to French songs gave me a deeper understanding of French culture and helped build my vocabulary, as I learned a lot of new slang words by listening to the music.

My excursions outside of classes gave me a broader view of the world as well. I saw all the major monuments in Paris that I wanted to see, but I was also able to travel outside of the city and the country of France on some of the weekends while I was there. Included in my program was a trip to Giverny, where we saw a museum on Monet and then visited Monet’s home and gardens where I saw the waterlilies that he had painted so many times. Also included in my program was a trip to Reims, a bigger city in the Champagne region of France. We visited the church and museum where French kings used to be coronated, explored the city and went on a champagne tasting. I had never been to either of these cities before my trip and it was interesting to compare these two French cities to Paris, where Giverny is a very small town and Reims is a larger city in France. I was also able to travel to Brussels and Amsterdam on weekends. Brussels had both French and German influence, and I was able to use my French there. Amsterdam was very different from anything I had ever seen before and I had never been to a country where I didn’t speak the language before. I found it interesting to see the differences between the different countries and big cities in Europe.

This experience brought a significant change and transformation in my life because I went on this trip wanting to improve my French and become more fluent. I feel that I have achieved that, and with the classes that I took abroad I was able to finish my French minor. My French skills can now give me a competitive advantage as I search for jobs, and I could eventually find work or live in France after graduation. I was also able to have experiences that I have been dreaming about since I started taking French when I was 11. This experience has given me a broader perspective on life and given me more independence in my own life. I realized how much I liked living in a big city and how much I enjoyed travelling. I can’t imagine doing anything different, and if I have the chance I would do it all over again. I made amazing friendships with people in my program and my host family, and I know I will be in Paris again someday.

Valencia 2019

My STEP Signature Project Proposal entailed a study abroad to Valencia, Spain. There, I took classes at a university; lived in a homestay; and participated in various excursions around the city and country.

Regarding transformation of myself, I was placed in an environment that demanded I utilize Spanish to communicate. This immersion allowed for a precise self-diagnosis of my ability to fend for myself in a Spanish-speaking foreign country. I realized that I knew more than I thought, and was more able in certain aspects. However, there were many times when I struggled to effectively communicate or accurately understand. In addition, I was forced to utilize and enhance my navigation and awareness skills to get around the city as well as ensure my safety. I assumed Spain was a country of always beautiful weather, friendly people, and similar accents. However, Spain is a country ravaged by wild fires, majority reserved individuals, and a plethora of varying accents. My perspective on numerous aspects such as these were altered and influenced by the month I spent in the city of Valencia.

Key aspects that transformed my perspectives and assumptions of Spain were the courses I took, excursions I participated in, and homestay life. To begin, the courses I took were culture and literature. The culture course was extremely informative about history as well as contemporary circumstances. For example, we learned about several festivals; political conflicts and governments; and foods and traditions. The literature course was informative in a similar manner, however focused more on the history of the country e.g. the Neoclassic or Romantic eras.

The excursions we embarked on included visiting other cities or exploring Valencia. We began our journey in Madrid. There we learned about art, architecture, history and more. We saw famous landmarks and were given the freedom to completely explore the city. Next, we visited Toledo where we saw many churches and traditions e.g. metalwork. We also went to Gandia where we participated in water sports, saw the Sagrada Familia and Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, and the castles and fortresses of Peniscola. We explored as much of these cities as we could and with all our energy we had because we knew that time was short. We walked, learned, ate, and spoke as much as possible to take advantage of this experience. This freedom and desire allowed me to form some of the strongest and greatest bonds with like-minded people in the program. We leaned on each other for help all while laughing our way through countless endeavors. Going into this trip completely alone in a place I was entirely unfamiliar with and coming out of it with so many friends and knowledge of the cities and places I visited has caused me to evolve into a much more expressive, accurate, and improved version of myself.

The homestay aspect of this trip was the most daunting and terrifying thing. My roommate and I did not hit off at first, and I am used to living alone as I live in a studio apartment. That said, I went from just living with my cat to having a roommate and sharing a bathroom with three other people – all of which were complete strangers. The first few nights I dreaded it and I could not wait for this trip to be over. However, as things progressed my roommate and I began to speak more; and while we did not become the best of friends, we were cordial and talked a lot. My host mother was the sweetest old woman with a kind heart and fantastic cooking skills, and her daughter was extremely insightful and always giving recommendations or helping when we needed it. I am lucky to have had them as my host family, and feel I learned a great deal from them regarding life in Spain e.g. the economic job crisis.

This transformation of myself regarding cultural understanding, linguistic acquisition, and new relationships is one of the most valuable experiences I have ever done because of the intricacies and aspects of Spain life I experienced juxtaposed to my life in the US; the advancement and gauging of my ability to speak Spanish accompanied by improvement of my Spanish; and the pure joy that I experienced with the wonderful new people I met. Not to mention, obtaining credit for my courses. Such personal development has allowed me to reflect of my life and goals, it affirms my love of learning and epiphanies my desire to travel and diversify my world perspective; especially as it relates to my degrees in Economics and Spanish.

Lo que aprendí en Perú

My STEP Signature Project was a summer education abroad program based in Lima, Perú focused on global health and medical Spanish. I took two classes at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, a top medical university, and stayed in Miraflores, Lima, with my Peruvian host mom. My intention in selecting this as my project was to challenge myself to dive headfirst into the real-world intersection of an old passion, Spanish, with a more recently found one, public health. I had studied abroad two summers before, in Toledo, Spain, so I already understood firsthand the inevitably transformative nature of spending time developing one’s sense of self outside of their home culture. In fact, it was that understanding which made me so eager to see what else the world could teach me. 

Miraflores, Lima

Character in parade in historic downtown Lima

  Well, what did it teach me? During five weeks in Peru I learned about new ways to incorporate conservation and sustainability into my lifestyle. I gained a deeper understanding of the reasons why it is so important to do everything in my power to protect the Earth even if it means spending extra money or going out of my way to put in extra effort. I found a sense of spiritual connection to the Earth that I hadn’t anticipated and did not really even know was possible. I received validation of my own spiritual beliefs through learning about the spiritual beliefs of the pre-columbian societies of Peru. 

I feel more at peace with myself than I have in a very long time, perhaps ever, due to my renewed spiritual wellbeing, and to a feeling of confidence that the friends I met in Peru helped me find. I learned to be more open to strangers, who often have the ability to positively impact us as much as a friend. In summary, I learned that I am exactly who and where I need to be, and that I am capable of creating my own peace by finding it in myself and when I cannot, finding it in nature.

“No straw, please… an estimated 90 percent of seabirds have ingested plastics, like straws”

“Less plastic more life” campaign signs found in Cusco airport









How did I come to feel this way? Of course, I learned in the classroom, on field visits to the communities surrounding Lima, in museums like the Museo Larco or the Place of Memory, Tolerance & Social Inclusion, as well as from my Peruvian friends about many aspects of Peruvian life, from their peoples’ history and modern ideologies to cuisine and public health challenges. Peru seems to be a very environmentally conscious society, as evidenced by environmental campaigns like the one above in Cusco’s airport and the “plogging” [jog-a-thon for picking up litter] event held in Miraflores on the weekend I was in Cusco. I was also lucky enough to make American friends who are also environmentally conscious, so during a few bus commutes to class I was able to pick up tips from them, like the fact that mineral sunscreens are the only ones safe for coral reefs and that other kinds, especially aerosols, can bleach them. However, I learned the most from traveling around Peru on the program’s weekend excursions to Ica(desert/oasis) and Paracas(coast), Cusco and Machu Picchu(Andes region), and Iquitos (Amazon jungle). It was in those places that everything I was learning in more academic settings seemed to be reinforced. For example, during the Cusco excursion, I was able to look at the region’s landscape, which is without question the most beautiful I have seen in all my life, and understand why nature so totally inspired the people who lived there, the people who made some of the pottery I had seen at Museo Larco. 

Museo Larco: precolumbian jars representing animal reproduction

Feild Visit: “High risk zone” sign in Chosica, Lima warning about mudslides which devastate the community in the wet season








Lugar de la memoria, la tolerancia, y la inclusión social: this museum is dedicated to how Peru is recovering from an era of terrorism in the 80s/90s

What was crazy to me was that in each of the excursion locations, I could encounter incredibly diverse natural beauty just hours from each other. It made me think about what other beauty must exist in the world that I have never even dreamed of. The first weekend, in Ica, I was able to go sand boarding on dunes like I had only ever seen in movies, then go for a boat ride less than an hour away to see the thousands of birds and sea lions that inhabit the Islas Ballestas off the coast of Paracas. The islands also provided a chance to see the way native bird species contribute to Peru’s economy… by pooping all over them, creating guano which is collected by the thousands of tons annually to make fertilizer.

Boobies en las Islas Ballestas

The following weekend, in Cusco, there were moments when I couldn’t help but feel emotional at the sight of the sheer inclines of the Andes mountains. When we toured Machu Picchu, our guide led us to a secluded area on the edge of the mountain without tourists and asked us to meditate, focusing on the magical energy of such a sacred location and the natural world around us. I pressed my hands into the dirt and grass; observed the way the mountains before me turned from a wide palette of greens and browns to icy white snowcaps; heard the sound of the river below me and the songs of the birds that soared on the wind I felt blowing against me. I thought about my own place in nature as well as how the Incas had done the same and been moved to establish Machu Picchu as a sacred cosmic center. This kind of reflection is what brought me personal spiritual validation. About four years ago, I shifted to a belief system where nature sort of takes the place of organized religion. That is more or less how pre-columbian societies viewed things as well, so I figured if it worked for them, it was okay that I felt that way too. What really drove that home was our guide stating that they “didn’t need religion because they had the Pachamama [Mother Earth].” That weekend I also skipped rocks on the clear Urubamba River that rushes through the Sacred Valley towards the Amazon River. 

Río Urubamba, taken from the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo

Machu Picchu with new friends

The next, in Iquitos, I watched the moon rise over the Amazon’s mouth, and canoed and swam with pink dolphins in another of its tributaries, the Marañón River. I remember that the dolphins, which were about 15ft away at their closest, filled me with a sense of awe tinted with fear that was exhilarating. We also took two walks through the jungle, one during daytime and the other at night. During the night walk, we stopped, turned off all of the flashlights, and stood silently. I could only see the grey sky above me silhouetting the trees. Surrounded by darkness and the sound of insects and frogs, I was easily able to pretend that I was the only person there, as close to truly alone with the Earth as I think I’ll ever be. It honestly moved me to tears. I don’t imagine it’s possible to not be inspired to seek out opportunities to encounter nature’s beauty after feeling how those moments in Cusco and Iquitos made me feel. 


Solo canoeing on the Río Marañón, Iquitos

Aguaje palm climbing

Poison dart frog found during jungle walk








Finally, what does all of this mean for me going forward? Academically, it means I am beyond excited to take “Current Issues in Environmental Health,” the second to last course for my Global Public Health minor, this semester. It also means that I learned a lot about working with Spanish speaking patients, like how to conduct patient histories in Spanish. Professionally, it means I might have job options in new line of work someday because I am now open to possibly shifting my public health interests toward conservation and sustainability. Personally, it means I am trying my best to act on the lessons I learned in Peru. I have promised myself to prioritize responsible consumerism. For example, when I came home, I identified all the product I commonly buy– like my favorite cereal 🙁 –  that contain palm oil. Palm oil farming is a source of intense physical and biopolitical violence against Amazonian communities. (I learned more about this in my Global Health class.) From now on, I will always check food and beauty product labels for palm oil so I can avoid purchasing a product that has it. In order to learn more about other ways I can take care of the planet, I followed at least ten new Instagram accounts, all related to zero waste living, conservation news, sustainability, and so forth. I have already begun making switches to more reusable or plastic free products like zipper baggies, razors, and deodorant sticks. I am also trying to prioritize ecotourism in my future travels, starting with visits to US National Parks and Forests. I plan to spend this coming fall break doing so by camping for the first time. I even plan to focus on improving my physical fitness in order to someday be able to return to Peru to hike in the mountains and visit new places– after visiting my friends in Lima, of course.

{I’m the one on the ground}

My Summer in Paris

For my STEP Signature Project, I spent a month and a half in Paris, France with IES Abroad studying the French language and culture.  As a French major, this was an incredibly valuable opportunity for me to learn more about the language, culture, and people that I’ve dedicated my life to studying.  It also allowed me to grow immensely in terms of fluency due to the immersive environment of the program.  I attended two classes each day for four days a week in grammar and history. Through the program traveled to Giverny and Reims in France, as well as traveling with friends to Brussels, Belgium and Amsterdam, Netherlands on the weekends to learn about cultures and countries other than France.

I have learned so much about myself through this experience.  I’ve fallen in love with myself and my life as well as fostering an even deeper love for French and France.  I learned that just because life is hard doesn’t mean it is bad, and that it’s the difficult situations that cause us to grow as people.  Living for two months in a foreign country is hard– the culture can be shocking (hence the name “culture shock”).  It can be intimidating to go do something as simple as order food at Subway on the way home from class, like you’d done millions of times at home, because you have to do so in a different language.  I learned a lot about different cultural nuances, like how strangers interact with one another and what is socially acceptable to do in public in that country– and what isn’t.

My world view changed during this experience because I was hit hard by an understanding that these places are real. We spend our entire lives with a stereotype of a specific place or type of people in our mind.  Like Paris for example.  Hollywood portrays it as this glamorous city where everyone is stylish and thin, love is literally in the air, and life is perfect.  But it isn’t like that.  Paris is as real and raw a city as new York. There’s constant sirens and horn honking, garbage on the streets and homeless people begging for money.  But there’s also people spilling onto sidewalks from cafes, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes as they watch the world go buy, or reading quietly to themselves while taking the metro for their morning commute.  People in other countries and of other cultures are no different from you and me.  They are just as human, as flawed and invested in their own lives.  It’s made me want to travel even more, and experience other cultures and countries, using what I experience there to enrich myself.

Living with a host family and observing those around me truly helped me to have a better understanding of what life is like in another country.  We can learn the most about someone or something through observation, and I believe it was my watching of the people around me that gave me the best insight into French life.  I picked up eating with both a fork and knife, the French rarely eat with their hands.  I began speaking quiet, particularly in public, as the French are very private with their conversations.  I didn’t make eye contact or smile with strangers, because if I did I marked myself as a tourist.  I didn’t necessarily want to fit in, but I definitely didn’t want to stand out.  So I had to adopt the French habits so I could adapt to my new culture.

Living with a French family forced me to be flexible.  Living in someone else’s home isn’t always comfortable.  Its odd because though you may have privacy, you’re always conscious of the fact that it isn’t your space.  In my experience, my host parents would have guests over or they would leave for the weekend without telling me, and that was something I had to learn to accept and be flexible about.  I also ate things that I wouldn’t normally eat because I wanted to do what was expected of me and to be as polite as possible.  After all, they had invited me into their home. I had to follow rules that didn’t exist where I lived at home, and adjust to a different routine of life.

Coming from a suburb of Cleveland and going to school on such a large campus, I do a lot of driving.  That was not something I was able to do in Paris, and I had to learn how to get around like a Parisian.  I walked ten minute to a metro station every day before taking a 25 minute metro commute with two different trains to my stop near my class center, before walking five more minutes to the center itself.  This was a different experience for me because I had to block out 30-45 minutes to get anywhere I wanted to go, rather that 15-20 to drive wherever I needed to be.

It was because of these challenges and changes, and countless more, that I think I was able to be transformed through this experience.  I was essentially thrown into a new world and had to figure out how to get by.  It was very much a situation where U had to learn how to tread water so I didn’t sink.  And I believe closer to the end, I was getting a little better at swimming.

This transformation is significant and valuable in my life.  It’s significant because it caused me to transform into a more cultured, competent, brave, and confident version of myself.  I’ve learned to love things about myself that I didn’t love before this experience merely because I was forced to.  I was on my own in a country I didn’t know, with only myself for company at times.  I was forced to become best friends with myself and accept every part of who I am.

I also learned to cherish time.  Time, I’ve discovered at last, is incredibly fleeting.  My month and a half in France went by in the blink of an eye, and in order to truly get everything out of it I had to cherish every moment.  I don’t want to o through life anymore looking forward to the future, or relishing in the past, and forgetting to live in the moment.  This experience taught me how to truly live in the moment, and not just exist as I felt like I had been for a long time.

It’s valuable to my current life and my future in an academic and career-based aspect as well.  As a French major going on to become a French teacher, fluency and comprehension of the French language and culture is imperative.  Through this experience, I feel that I’ve truly gained a much deeper understanding and appreciation of those two things.  Through my acquisition of these things, I feel more prepared to go into my final year of my education and (hopefully) into my own French classroom a year from now.  I feel that it is almost impossible to try to teach about something you’ve never experienced first hard, but now that I’ve lived in France and had the experiences I did, I can authentically teach my students about the language and culture I love so much.

I also blogged my experiences while in Europe.  You can find it all here:

Thanks for reading!

STEP Post-Project Reflection- Barcelona Abroad

  1. My STEP Signature Project was a study abroad program that took place in Barcelona, Spain. It lasted 32 days in which I stayed with a host mom for the duration of my program. I attended the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo in Barcelona to earn credit for my major, Spanish, at OSU.
  2. This abroad experience was my first time traveling outside the U.S. and especially traveling with neither friends nor family. I was nervous at first about navigating the airport, the streets of Barcelona, public transportation, being immersed in a new culture and language, as well as the differences in currency all on my own. However, the resources from school at OIA and from my ISA program leaders helped me make a smooth transition into the European lifestyle. My roommate and host mom I was paired with also helped with my transformation, and helped support my newfound independence in a new setting. It only took a few days before people would stop be on the streets asking for directions and I could easily communicate with them, as well as help someone else. My progression with my Spanish was the most significant transformation, and I’m very grateful for this change.
  3. My program’s main focus and my largest transformation was the academic side of my abroad experience. I was enrolled in two classes, Art and Architecture, and Spanish Literature, in which both classes were taught completely in Spanish. I needed these credits to apply to my major which I recently changed to Spanish. Luckily, I’ve been taking Spanish since middle school, but I had still wanted to improve my fluency and confidence in speaking the language. The day-to-day interactions with my professors and classmates helped me become much more confident in my Spanish language skills.I also had the opportunity to stay with a host mom which was a challenge at first, but probably the best decision I could’ve made abroad. The very first day I had trouble keeping up with the conversation, as she didn’t speak any English, but with each day I was more comfortable with speaking to her and getting to know more about her life. She taught me about her culture, favorite foods, favorite places in the city to visit, as well as kept me up to date on current events happening in the country. It was so interesting hearing her perspective on life as well as seeing how her daily schedule differed from mine back in the U.S. Communicating and interacting with her everyday taught me so much about respect for others as well as learning to do things a different way that I normally do at home.My favorite part of my abroad experience were the three scheduled excursions we took as a group with the other ISA students. We traveled to Sitges, Costa Brava, and Valencia which are all different cities in Spain. I have always wanted to travel around the world and this was a big stepping stone in getting to see beautiful towns, architecture, nature, and other people from around the world. We got to experience so many different types of food as well as see various museums, beaches, and even the largest aquarium in Europe. Having free time to explore on our own taught a big sense of independence as well as awareness of your surroundings as you always should keep safety in mind when traveling alone, but open-mindedness was also an important lesson to be learned.
  4. My main transformation of becoming more independent and confident in myself relates to how graduation is approaching this upcoming year and with that comes being a real adult and getting thrown into the real world. Being abroad taught me to trust my instincts and proved that I can do things for myself as well as have fun, which sometimes is hard when solely focusing on the academic sense of school. I put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to academics and the lifestyle in Spain was very different than here, in which relaxation and “siestas” are sometimes much needed in life. However, it also still important to focus on school and I hope to use my Spanish language skills in my professional career, whether that be teaching it in a school or using it to communicate with clients if I become a veterinarian. The possibilities are endless, and that’s one main lesson I learned from this experience.

    La Sagrada Familia

    The water was perfect in Barca


IES Abroad Paris Summer Language Immersion

  1.  My STEP Signature Project was a study abroad experience at a third-party provider’s center in Paris, France. I took two classes, each included an hour and a half of in-class instruction each day, from Monday to Thursday. Both of my classes and the program itself also included field trips to nearby museums/monuments and cities outside of Paris.
  2. While completing my STEP Signature Project, my level of independence and self confidence greatly increased. I gained a much greater ability to solve problems and live on my own in a foreign country, even despite a language barrier. My assumptions of the world and the people of the world did change; however, they did not disappoint me. The “fairytale-like” version of Europe and of Paris that I had in mind before experiencing those places for myself was, of course, an inaccurate vision of how those places are in real life. However, I found that although these places were much different from what I had assumed them to be, they were even better than what I could have imagined.
  3. When traveling alone, you are solely responsible for yourself and making sure that you have what you need. Before embarking on my STEP Signature Project trip, I had always had someone else with me who could aid in finding help or finding resources when traveling outside of my hometown. For the first time in my life, I was completely responsible for asking for help and making sure that I got where I needed to go. While this idea was a bit scary at first, it was a challenge in the best ways possible. My adventure started right off with an opportunity for me to test my solo-traveler skills when my first flight was delayed and I missed my other two connections to Paris. The only option was for me to purchase another flight to Casablanca, Morocco in order to get to Paris in time for my school orientation! This part of my experience taught me that it’s completely OK to ask for help, ask questions, and to stand up for yourself in order to get where you need to go.Other significant aspects of my trip that increased my confidence in my abilities to problem solve and communicate with others in a foreign language are my home-stay and my sport. While studying in Paris, I was stayed in an apartment with a host family. Learning about my new family’s lifestyle, food preferences, and how their household functioned was an experience that I had never had any practice with before, never having lived outside of my parent’s house. It was bit awkward for me at first to live in the same space as two other people whom I had never met before, but I learned how to feel comfortable in a home other than my own and soon considered it my new home as well. This experience helped give me the confidence to do some more solo-travelling during my program. I felt confident that I could adapt to any new and different environments that I may encounter on my journey in Europe and the nervousness that I had about living outside of my parents’ home for the first time quickly faded away.

    During my time in France, I knew that I wanted to keep practicing my sport – competitive figure skating. The process of finding a figure skating club near Paris was a great example of how my assumptions about the world and its people were transformed. It was more difficult than I had expected to find a club that would accept me, given that I would only be training with them for two months of the year. During all of my efforts, I had the opportunity to communicate with several native French speakers and soon discovered more about the “French way of life.” Attitudes toward newcomers definitely vary from what is typical here in the United States and I found that many people were unwilling to welcome me into their “circle”. However, I did finally succeed in finding a club that would accept me as a guest for the summer and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I had been told that the best way to make connections with the French is to get involved in something, to push myself out of my comfort zone and join a team, a club, or a group – even though strangers are typically less “friendly” towards other strangers than they are in the US. Getting to train with a figure skating club right outside of Paris was my way to get involved and make these connections and I am very happy that I chose to be persistent despite the cultural differences which were discouraging to me at first.

  4. This transformation is significant and valuable for my life because it has created positive change for me personally, academically, and professionally. Before this trip, I was not satisfied with myself, my goals, or my prospects of what my academic path would look like after graduating and beginning a professional career. I had been trying to accept a limited idea of the opportunities that I thought were possible for me, personally, academically, and professionally. During my study abroad experience, my vision of myself, my education, and my future career was transformed into something so much greater. Living and going to school in Paris gave me the confidence and freedom to completely change my outlook on life. I learned to love myself more and believe that I was capable of more than I had limited myself to before going on this trip and this transformation nurtured positive changes in my academic and professional goals. For example, I have decided that I would like to pursue graduate school outside of the United States and perhaps even begin a career as a professor in Paris, France. I have seen a shift in my performance as an athlete and as a student due to my new-found personal freedom.

ISA: Spanish Language & Culture, Barcelona, Spain, Summer 2019

The STEP Signature Project I chose was an Education Abroad trip to Barcelona, Spain. For this month-long summer program, I was enrolled in two courses: Spanish Art & Architecture and Spanish Literature. 

It is evident that this STEP Signature Project was more than transformative for me. For myself, I was able to realize my ability to live and learn independently. It was no small feat to navigate an entirely new country, culture and language without the aid of my friends and family. 

However, studying abroad in Spain changed my view of the world in an unexpected way. It made me realize that, apart from cultural differences, we all still share a great alikeness in our human nature. I discovered that no matter what country you were raised in or what language you speak, we all still have similar basic needs, feelings, goals, mannerisms, daily routines and much more. 

Being thrown into an unfamiliar situation, I was forced to learn and adapt to it. From the moment I stepped off of the plane, I had to learn the public transportation system and familiarize myself with the foreign currency. For me, this was a huge step because I had never used anything such as the metro or subway system. Furthermore, I realized that if I wanted to make the most of my experience, then I would have to explore and visit places on my own. Before this STEP Signature Project, I was used to always trying new restaurants or going on adventures with a group of friends. Yes, I made an unforgettable group of friends while in Spain but this did not happen immediately and even so, we all had different interests or schedules at times, forcing me to try new things by myself. This vastly increased my level of independence and comfortability with being alone.

One person that had a huge impact on my experience was my host mom. Choosing to stay with a host family was one of the best decisions I could have made. She was fantastic about thoroughly answering any questions I had, ranging from dining etiquette to homework help. For this reason, I looked forward to having dinner with her at 8 o’clock every evening. Her house was definitely my home away from home. Coincidentally, many of her daily routines and signature dishes reminded me of those of my own grandmother, even though the two had completely different upbringings. The familiarity that my host mom brought me allowed me to come to the realization that at the end of the day, everyone is human and deserves to be treated as such. 

Finally, my environment and my study abroad courses pushed me to increase my use of the language, therefore improving it. In Barcelona, the locals speak both Catalan and Spanish. I had to adjust to hearing both languages and be prepared for the natives to switch back and forth between the two which was an unforeseen circumstance. In addition, I placed into advanced courses which meant that there was little to no use of English in the classroom. This differed from my advanced Spanish classes at Ohio State because when students didn’t understand something, they were able to explain it to them in English. However, this wasn’t a possibility at my university in Barcelona because the professors spoke little to no English. This full immersion into the language played a pivotal role in my increased ability to utilize Spanish.

This STEP Signature Project has caused a transformation that is extremely significant to my life. Most practically, it has fulfilled an academic goal of mine to finish my minor in Spanish. It would not have felt complete without the opportunity to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. Second, the increased independence that I have gained as a result of this trip has prepared me to move forward with my personal life as I transition into adulthood. I feel that I am better equipped to effectively adapt to novel situations such as moving to a new city or starting a new job. Last but certainly not least, this Signature Project is valuable to my future plans of connecting with and helping as many people as I can in my career. Although my career path is not certain, being able to communicate in Spanish, the second most common language in the United States, will allow me to reach a helping hand out to a whole other community of people. The impact of this Education Abroad STEP Signature Project on my life is truly priceless.

South Africa 2019

For my STEP signature project I went on an Education Abroad to South Africa studying exotic animal welfare and behavior. During my trip I spent most of my time observing the behavior of exotic animals such as elephants, lions, giraffe, hippos and more! It was truly an experience that I will never forget, and will forever cherish.

Before I left for my Education Abroad, I thought I had a plan for what I wanted to do with my life and career. After I graduate, I want to travel abroad and study and research exotic animals in their natural habitat. Once I stepped foot in South Africa and saw an elephant roaming by the side of the road, it gave me affirmation that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Seeing elephants, lions, zebra and cape buffalo just roaming by the dirt roads we were driving on was breath taking but at the same time, sad. It was breath taking to see these majestic creatures up close and personal, almost close enough to touch at some points. But it was sad when you start to think about the fact that us as humans have taken over so much of their natural habitat that they are starting to roam the streets people drive on in the search for food, water, shelter and mates. Seeing these things, and many others sealed my fate on what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

During my 17 days in South Africa, I saw and learned so many things that I will never forget. The first memorable event that happened while I was there was when we were driving on the second day and we all saw an elephant for the first time in its natural habitat. Seeing how big and majestic she was, was breathtaking. She gracefully moved around the trees, picking the greenery she wanted to eat. I would go on to see that seen a hundred or more times, but yet every time I saw it was like I was seeing it again for the first time.

Another thing that I saw that was unforgettable in a different way, was on the first day we were driving around, we would see people in the middle of four lanes of traffic selling a random assortment of items to help support their family. This was one of the moments that really hit me that I was not in America anymore. As we were driving around we would see houses made of pieces of scrap metal, wooden boards, mud, or anything they could get their hands on to build a small house for to house their family. Seeing the living conditions that these people lived in was a sad sight to see, and something that I will never forget. Seeing those made me and everyone else in my group really appreciate our living conditions and want to do more to help those who are less fortunate than us.

One of the things that really sealed my fate in what I want to do for the rest of my life was when we went on hikes outside of Kruger National Park in the wilderness surrounded by elephants, cape buffalo and lions. We got within 15 yards of two big female elephants who were not happy with us because we got too close to some babies in the herd. That was the first time in the trip that I, and the rest of my group actually got scared for our lives. Looking back on it now, it was a memorable experience that I’m glad that I had the opportunity of having. The next day we went on another hike and saw some lion tracks, our guide decided that we were going to track these lions down with the hope of seeing them. After about two or so hours of hiking we stumbled onto a herd of cape buffalo, we decided to go in the opposite direction of where they were headed. As we were walking away from them, we saw two lionesses leap onto a buffalo and we realized we were in the middle of a lion hunt. What happened after that was a blur. We had the opportunity to get within 50 yards of a lion hunt while on foot. It was insane. These two moments that happened only a day apart, made me want to have the opportunity to one day go back to South Africa and experience so many more things.

The experiences that I had while I was in South Africa were lifechanging. The reinforced in me that I want to work with exotic animals to some degree with my life. I want to travel abroad more and see these animals in their natural habitat and study their behaviors and environments and hopefully be able to help save at least one species in my life. The experiences I had and things that I learned I will continue to share with my family, friends or anyone that will listen to me talk about my experiences. And hopefully be able to educate others about wildlife conservation.

Education Abroad–STEP Post-Project Reflection

For my STEP Signature Project, I spent the semester living and traveling in and around Jerusalem, Israel. I spent 5 months studying as an international student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Israel (HUJI). While abroad, I continued working towards my BFA in Dance, taking daily classes at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance—an institution that partners with HUJI. Israel has a flourishing contemporary dance scene and community, and I was lucky enough to immerse myself in this world amongst other international students, as wells as Israeli students, working professionals, and professors. Along with studying dance, I also had the opportunity to take academic classes on issues in Israeli society, Jewish Mysticism, and the Hebrew language.

Prior to my STEP Signature Project, I had never been outside of the United States. Traveling to, and living in the Middle East was an enormous change to say the least. I flew to Israel with high hopes, but in reality, had no idea what to expect. I was living in Jerusalem for a total of five months, and it was not until about month three did I truly find my stride. I was surprised at how long it took me to adjust to my new life. During this three month adjustment period I saw myself undergo many changes. These changes happened on a smaller, day-to-day basis, that by the end of my time in Israel, culminated into a larger change on how myself and others operate as outsiders in a country. 

Israel remains an anomaly for mixing Eastern and Western society and culture. Throughout my time in Israel, I was forced to struggle and grapple with this new way of life. Ultimately, I saw myself not only adapt to this new culture, but also adopt some of these new aspects back into my life upon my return to America. Among these adaptations was food, an enormous cultural tool that did much to unite a very divided region, and learning and using the Hebrew language. As part of my study abroad program, I was required to take a month long Hebrew language intensive. This taught me the basics of the language, but it was really the remaining 4 months of my time, living and being around Hebrew speakers, did I really adopt this language into my everyday use. By the end of my trip I was nowhere near fluent, but had managed to pick up enough of the language to successfully maneuver through the open markets, public transportation, restaurants, and small daily interactions with the locals. It was quite liberating to track my progress with the language and find more and more of sturdy footing in a country so different from my own. Ultimately, it was quite humbling being an outsider in another country. It forced me to be uncomfortable and to listen and look more closely at the people, to follow their way of life to find my own. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to experience being a new immigrant in a different country.  

While studying at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, myself and the other 20 international in the Dance Jerusalem program took all of our dance classes with Israeli students and teachers in Hebrew. Taking daily dance classes in Hebrew changed much about my perception of studying dance and how I process physical information. While there was a large language barrier present in the dance classes I was taking for the semester, it was interesting to see how dance remained the universal language between a diverse group of people. Taking dance classes in a language other than my own, forced me to look more closely at body language, and physical cues from the Israeli students within the class. Ultimately, this obstacle forced me to change the way I look at, think about, and participate in dance classes. Taking classes in Hebrew also greatly enhance my Hebrew vocabulary in directional words, action words, and body parts. 

While being abroad, I have also been thankful enough to have the opportunity to travel internationally, outside of Israel. Because I was in Israel for an entire semester, I also had two weeks free for my Spring Break. Being outside of America during my STEP Signature Project gave me a better opportunity to explore other parts of the world that I may not have been able to experience if I wasn’t already in Israel. During my two week break I travelled to Europe, visiting Croatia and Budapest, Hungary. Visiting these new countries expanded my world view and taught me how to travel independently. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to explore other parts of the world, made possible by my STEP Signature project. 

I decided to study in Israel for the semester to enhance my academic and professional goals in dance. While I learned much from a diverse group of students, professionals, and professors in the dance field, I find that my trip abroad did most to change and develop my personal future plans. Learning to live in a different country and region taught me much about my own independence. I have always considered myself a pretty self-sufficient and independent person. However, before now, I have never had the opportunity to see how living independently, in a foreign country, could truly test my independence. Now having this experience under my belt, I have much more confidence to venture off by myself. I have a much better grasp on traveling independently as a young woman. These new personal experiences thus open an array of doors for my future professional endeavors post-graduation. In many ways, my experience abroad had emboldened and encouraged me to look at professional dance opportunities outside of the United States. 




STEP Reflection: Italy

The Knowlton School of Architecture Rome Program focused on outlining the different strategies for the study and design of the city of Rome. Sketching was one of the most important activities the program focused. It was one of the ways we used to analyze the use, movement, and design of many famous landmarks in the city of Rome.

After completing the program, I was able to come back home with a different perspective of myself and the world. Prior to going on this trip, I did not have a lot of abroad experiences. I was scared that with my lack of traveling I was not going to enjoy this new environment. But regardless of that, I came back home filled with joy that I discovered a new part of me. A part that enjoys traveling, meeting new people and engaging in new cultures. Being part of this trip helped me view life in a fearless way that taught me that being away from home is fine, that taking risks can be fun, that making friends with is strangers is not scary, and that trying new things can create amazing memories. Italy is a country filled with adventures and surprises, a culture of its own, where everyone treats you as if you were home, and carrying that with me is an unforgettable gift. At the end of this program, I was able to understand that traveling it’s the medicine that helps us get through our fears.

Spending five weeks in Italy were the most incredible and most mesmerizing experience I’ve ever had. Literally every day I went outside my apartment even if it was only to buy gelato, it was filled with unforgettable memories. Every corner and every walk I was able to enjoy during my time in Italy are memories I will always cherish. Five weeks allowed me to be more than a traveler but to emerge with the locals and see life and culture from their perspective. It’s hard to choose an event or activity that marked my life because just landing in Rome for the first time was a memory that changes my life in a way I can’t even explain. But there are two things that changed my life forever.

I remembered it was a Wednesday morning in Rome and my group and I were meeting in St. Peter’s Piazza. Our professors and our tour guy were going to show us St. Peter’s Basilica. Being raised in a strong catholic family this was a very important event. As the group went through security and we were getting closer to the massive entrance door of St. Peter’s everything started to get more real. And as soon as I passed through those doors and immediately looked up, I felt like my body just paralyzed. I was very happy that my professors allowed the group an extra 30 minutes at the end of our tour to walk and explore this masterpiece. As I stood under the biggest dome of the world and I looked around, up, to the sides, just everywhere my eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The level of detail, the gold, the art, the architecture, the story, everything about that moment just felt unreal. As I stood there I thought about so many times where I dreamed of being in this place, where I imagine this exact moment and how I was going to react. As I approached the exit and I took that final look at St. Peter’s, the only thing I could think of is how can a human had the power to create such a powerful and massive worldwide monument as this one. Truly an experience I’ll never forget.

The second experience I had was when I visited Florence. Besides its incredible and unique beauty, I was able to meet incredible people. It was my first time staying at a hostel and having the experience of sharing a common space with more travelers I didn’t know. While I stayed there, I meet three Dominicans. As a Dominican, myself, it was so odd and shocking to find people from my homeland staying in the same place as me. I haven’t been to the Dominican Republic in around 11 years, and connecting with them was like being back home. It was truly an experience I would never forget because not only did we have fun exploring the city, we were also able to create a space that felt just like home even if we were so far away. I created friendships that I brought back to the states and memories I would never forget. Besides creating new friendships, this experience was a deep relieve for me because when you’re far from home there are times where you feel scared and alone and more if you’re so far. And being able to meet them was a moment that reminds me that even if you’re far from your family you’ll always find people that would make you feel at home.

Having the opportunity to go on this trip changed my life forever. It showed me to have self-confidence, to broadened my perspective, and to live life to the fullest. Five weeks can be super challenging to be away from home, but without these five weeks in Italy, I wouldn’t have discovered this new side of me. I wouldn’t have made amazing friendships with my classmates and even with people from other countries. This program transformed me in a way where I’m now confident about being on my own in a foreign country. In a way where I can understand and engage in different cultures and environments. The experiences and knowledge I was able to obtain from this program not only help my personal life but also helped my professional and future plans. International experiences are crucial for when applying to a job in architecture, and having this program in my resume can boost my chances of getting hired. Also, it shows the employer that I’m able to adapt to different types of environments. As future plans, this trip encouraged me to keep that same excitement to discover and travel to new places.