Name: Michaela Santalucia
Type of Project: Education Abroad
- Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
My STEP signature project fell into the education abroad category. I spent four months studying at a university in Madrid, Spain. During my time there, I not only took business core classes, but I also gained a deeper understanding of Spanish culture outside the classroom.
- What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
Two major things happened while going abroad: I gained a deeper understanding of my own personality and preferences and I realized that the world is more similar than anyone or any news outlet wants you to think. While abroad, I had a lot of free time outside of classes due to the limited amount of available extracurriculars and my inability to work. This gave me opportunities to go to places (restaurants, festivals, museums, etc.) that I would have not had a chance to go to in the U.S. Since my spanish was not completely fluent (and neither was my friends) I ended up going a lot of places that I was not 100% comfortable with going due to my perceived inability to ask clarifying questions. However, with four months on my hands, I refused to hold myself back. I tried so many different foods and restaurants, visited tons of new places, and took the metro places by myself to explore the city. Before going to Spain, I wouldn’t have dared to go to a restaurant or event without a friend, but now I don’t even second guess it. This has been extremely beneficial to my personal and professional development because I can try things I am interested in without boring my friends or being scared of looking like a “loser” attending an event by myself.
The other major transformation I experienced while abroad is that the world is more similar than we are different. Oftentimes, it seems like the United States is the only country struggling with problems like immigration, refugees, the path to citizenship, drug crimes, etc. The media oftentimes demonizes the U.S. by saying our policies are significantly worse than other countries, which in a lot of cases they are. However, before going abroad I didn’t realize that many other countries have the exact same problems as us. A lot of European countries have much more stringent policies than those of the U.S., for example, in many countries, being born there does not make you a citizen. Additionally, even Spain has some issues with disliking foreigners. A lot of older Spaniards would be visibly annoyed by myself and my friends speaking English, and some would even say things under their breath about how we should speak Spanish in Spain and that we are all dumb Americans. With the recent increase in non-native English speakers being accosted for speaking their home language in the U.S. it was enlightening to be on the receiving end of such hatred, and realize that most problems are worldwide.
- 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?
Two major things contributed to my deeper understanding of myself while abroad: travelling completely by myself and dealing with a plethora of various problems outside of my control. I was the only student from Fisher to go to Madrid for the fall semester. This meant from the time I left the airport in my hometown, to the moment my plane landed back in the U.S. I was completely by myself. Although this scared me at first, looking back I would not have developed as much if I could’ve used other OSU students or advisers as a crutch while abroad. By being alone, I was forced to do things I wasn’t initially comfortable with: going to orientation events alone, eating by myself, and visiting sites in Madrid by myself. In doing this, I was able to meet other people at the university and form friendships. However, by the end of the experience, even though I had the option of going places with friends, I would sometimes choose to go somewhere by myself because I learned to enjoy my own company and how I processed my surroundings. By the end of the semester, I felt confident enough in my own abilities to travel to Berlin by myself for four days (I don’t speak German) because I knew I could have fun by myself and felt confident in my ability to manage the trip.
The second reason I experienced a transformation was due to some problems I experienced early on in the trip that made me feel like a warrior. First, I almost lost my phone getting in the taxi on my way from the airport to my new apartment (I already thought I was going to die being in a country alone and this did not help). Next, my apartment manager was ten minutes late to the apartment leaving me outside with all my luggage and no cell reception. Instead of freaking out I ran down the street and stood outside a building that said free Wi-Fi and called them on WhatsApp to check their location (I thought that was pretty creative problem solving after 16 hours of travel and my first 2 hours in a new country). After I got settled into my apartment, I decided to leave the next day. I got locked out of my apartment and had to ring multiple doorbells to assist me with the ancient key I was given for my apartment. Fifteen minutes of me and another woman trying to unlock my door later, and I was inside my apartment with my landlord still not answering. I then spent the next three days inside my apartment without leaving because I was afraid of getting locked out again. I think this three day period was when I wanted to go home the most during the trip because being trapped inside my apartment was not what I thought Spain would be like. A few other minor things happened (toilet breaking, broken balcony, missing my trains) during the trip also. However, having to solve these problems without my parents, my friends, or OSU there to help me made me more independent and competent than I was when I left the country, and I am forever grateful for the lessons I learned.
In terms of realizing that the world is very similar in terms of political problems, two main things influenced my experiences: interacting with other exchange students and being confronted on a train. During my time in Madrid, I met students from all over the world (mainly North America and Europe) because my university had an incredibly vibrant and diverse exchange program. Over the course of the semester we were able to discuss major political and economic events in our classes, and learn more about each countries’ policies. It was at this point that I realized every country is dealing with difficult to manage issues, but media reports from a U.S. and worldwide perspective often focus on U.S. policies due to their influence on the world. However, countries like Denmark have even stricter immigration and citizenship policies than the U.S., but it is never discussed. Learning about these differences helped me to understand the U.S.’s place in world politics much better and realize that a lot of today’s problems affect everyone worldwide.
One specific realization of these similarities happened when I was travelling back from a trip on a train with two other students from the U.S. and one from Mexico. We spoke English to each other because it was easiest for most of us and the girl from Mexico (my roommate) wanted to practice her English with us. Out of nowhere I hear her start practically yelling at the group of people sitting in front of us. Since she was usually incredibly quiet so this was alarming, and the people she was yelling at look obviously bewildered. It comes out that that group of people had been saying things like “If you’re in Spain, you should speak Spanish”, “Dumb American girls don’t even bother to learn English”, etc. Since our brains were in English mode, we didn’t hear these people talking about us, but my roommate did and stood up for us. Once she told us what was going on we all spoke back to them in Spanish because they didn’t believe that we could speak/understand Spanish and we felt the need to stand up for ourselves. Although this is the only time I had ever been accosted for speaking English, it gave me greater insight to how many non-native English speakers are treated in the U.S., and that this problem is not specific to any one country.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
My major goal of going abroad was getting a deeper understanding of myself and becoming more independent. Since my hometown is only an hour away from OSU, I always felt like if the opportunity arose to live/work in another area of the country, I would be too afraid to take the plunge. Going abroad as the only OSU student at my institution helped me to conquer these fears. Not only am I confident that I can keep myself alive (remembering to eat and other basic things), I can travel and manage myself independently. I funded my entire experience abroad by myself through scholarships and financial aid, made friends and connections in the country by always networking and attending social events, and learned a lot about myself because I was not influenced by anyone who knew me before. Oftentimes, you become who people tell you you are (you grow up around your parents and are influenced by their opinions on your character for example) but being abroad releases you from that. I was able to see who I was in an entirely new environment filled with new people and an opportunity to recreate myself if I so chose.
This trip allowed me to realize that when/if the time comes I will be able to take the plunge and move away from everything I’ve ever known. However, the trip helped me affirm my decision that Columbus is the place for me for a few years after graduation, and that has lifted a major weight off of my shoulders.
To see more photos from my trip visit the Fisher Go Global Instagram to see my Instagram takeover from December 10-December 12. CLICK HERE to visit their Instagram.