Public Health Perspectives in Finland and Estonia

Name: Melinda Dang

Type of Project: 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.

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in the Public Health Perspectives: Finland and Estonia education abroad program that took place from May 18th to June 1st, 2018. I explored these two countries’ health initiatives, health challenges, education systems, unique cultures, and rich histories. By traveling to six cities within Finland and Estonia, visiting various museums, and going to cultural landmarks, I gained a more comprehensive understanding of both nations.

The class took a group photo in front of the Helsinki Cathedral. What a striking shot.

2. 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 never traveled internationally before, I was unfamiliar with Europe and especially Eastern Europe. Finland and Estonia are countries I have heard of, but lacked knowledge about. Visiting these two countries expanded my knowledge of their history and health outcomes. Throughout the experience, I was curious and attentive, and I journaled each day to help me reflect on the day’s activities and what I learned. I aimed to be like a sponge and absorb all the information and sights, sounds, and senses around me. I especially enjoyed the excursion to the Finnish Institute for Health & Welfare, where I gained insight into current research and health challenges in Finland. I observed school lunches in a Finnish university and high school, and in both countries, I noticed cigarette sales and eating practices. This all informed me on how Americans can improve our own health outcomes. We can use more reusable utensils, offer more fresh food in schools and elsewhere, and make our cities healthier by having wide sidewalks and bike paths so that people can increase their physical activity.

Students actually want to eat their lunches in Finland; healthy, fresh options are offered!

I tested my capabilities of traveling internationally and independently. I explored on my own a few times, including taking flights alone, which all the more enhanced my self-efficacy skills. By booking my own flight and perusing tourist brochures to plan what to do during my free time, I learned about preparing for travel. Flexibility was a skill I often employed, whether it was adjusting to the extended amount of daylight abroad or the different style of bathrooms in Europe. In addition, I became familiar with taking various forms of transportation: ferries, trams, trains, taxis, and buses, so now I feel more confident in traveling. I engaged in intercultural exchange with tour guides, students, and everyday people; we shared our life stories and found commonalities and contrasts. This allowed me to strengthen my networking and interpersonal skills. Because of my experiences abroad, I evaluate my life and the rest of the world in a different light, and through different lenses.

3. 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 the project that led to this change.

Interacting with not only my peers but also the people I encountered in Finland and Estonia contributed to my transformation into a more globally-aware Buckeye. I realized the vast interconnectedness among humans and the extent of America’s cultural influence; I saw McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants as well as Deadpool 2, Solo, and Black Panther showings. At Keuruu High School in Finland, student artwork showed references to TV shows like Adventure Time and Spongebob. The students discussed aspects of their daily life with us, including movies, Netflix, and memes. They even prepared presentations for us about Finnish cuisine, holidays, values, and music. I am grateful that they openly welcomed us. I learned that they ride bikes or scooters to school; they do not lock up their bikes because nobody steals items. It is no wonder that Finland is ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. These conversations were enriching because I got first-hand narratives from people.

Sometimes I was approached by store clerks who began speaking in Estonian, and I was bemused that they thought I would understand; I only knew “Thank you” and “Hello.” When I received a manicure from a woman who only spoke Estonian, we still communicated through hand gestures. I never found myself frustrated when communicating with people; I just remained open-minded and respectful. Having patience and composure regardless of where I am will get me far.

With my group, I participated in a myriad of events and activities. I developed relationships with my peers by exploring these unfamiliar areas together and sharing insights into health issues for our class assignments. We went into grocery stores to see how cigarettes were sold and we walked around towns to evaluate how walkable the cities were. We stayed a few days in cottages at a farm in rural Petajavesi, Finland, where we had an authentic sauna experience to better understand the significance of saunas in Finnish culture. We went to museums to learn about the history of Estonia and how people lived centuries ago. We also went to a science center, an U.S. Embassy, and three college campuses.

Another facet of my transformation was that I strengthened my responsibility and money management skills. With countless opportunities to shop, I exerted self-control and strategically bought souvenirs for close to 20 people, and I was still under budget at the end of the program. I was fully funded for my STEP Project because I fervently applied to multiple scholarships and received some assistance from friends and family. I learned of how much effort and planning goes into study abroad. The entirety of this STEP project was a learning experience for me, and I aim to study abroad in the future to continue learning more about the world.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
Write 1-2 paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

The transformative experience of studying abroad is significant to me in multiple ways. First, it fulfilled a personal goal of mine to travel. I enjoy learning about cultures, and this opportunity allowed me to study different walks of life. Secondly, as a budding public health professional, this study abroad experience encouraged me to blossom even more. I learned about how both Finland and Estonia designed cities to be sustainable and more people-friendly. Traffic lights and signs work well and are clearly marked. In Estonia, speed limits are even painted on streets. Both countries have tighter regulations on cigarette packaging and more graphic, emotion-evoking warning labels than on America’s cigarettes. From my observations, it is clear to me that Finland and Estonia invest more into their communities and are more concerned for the welfare of their people.

Our in-country homework assignments allowed me to analyze issues at home and abroad and synthesize them into Instagram posts, which I created using graphic design tools. By posting my homework online, I am communicating this health information with the rest of my network and beyond. Furthermore, I see social media as an essential tool for reaching populations, spreading awareness about health, and influencing behavior change. In the future, I hope to include this aspect of health communication and social media marketing into my career. In addition, I want to work hands-on with communities to improve their health. With a strong understanding of what it is like to live in those communities, I can effectively influence change so that people have access to transportation, healthy food, and more.

*** I encourage you to read my two-part blog post on my main Honors & Scholars e-portfolio page, where I describe my travels in greater detail. The link to my page is: http://u.osu.edu/dang157hseportfolio/

Psychology and Culture in Europe!

My STEP Signature Project was an education abroad trip to Cologne, Germany and London, England during the first weeks of May with 16 other students. As a group, we visited several sites pertaining to psychology (like Freud’s House and psychiatry museums) and the different cultures (like the National Socialism Documentation Center in Germany). The trip broaden my knowledge about history of psychology as I know it today.

London Eye

Psychiatry Museum in Belgium

Cathedral in Germany

Freud’s home in London

Coincidentally, we were learning about this while it was Mental Health Awareness month in the US and it was Mental Health Awareness week for London while we were there. The trip opened my eye to how the mental health stigma is treated at a global level. The contrast of dedicating a month versus a week to mental health awareness reflected the importance different cultures’ perspectives. I noticed on the trip many Europeans did not make it such a huge deal because they follow a philosophy that taking care of yourself in a holistic perspective starting with physical health will improve one’s mental health. Europeans are very actively and spend more time outdoors than I noticed here. I really liked their perspective and am trying to implement these aspects into my daily life, like being outside as much as I can and recycling. Also, this experience has shown me that mental health is just as important as one’s physical health. I plan on joining organizations on and off campus that help break the stigma and help those fighting the stigma.

Along this trip, I grew as a person- mainly as a leader. I discovered that I have natural leadership skills which I did not know I processed. Being one of the only students with a background German, I was the go-to person while we traveled throughout Germany. I embraced my role as leader and I really enjoyed it! I found that I enjoy helping people whether the task is big, like navigating through a train station, or small, like ordering food. I have had leadership positions before while I was in high school and have not had a chance to be a leader since arriving to college. This experience has boosted my self-esteem and confidence. Since the trip, I have gotten out of my comfort zone more; I am no longer shy. Just recently, I signed up to volunteer at a 5K which I would not have done previously without someone else coming with me. I hope that I continue to build myself up as time goes on and I have to thank this trip for starting this.

 

As mentioned before, I helped the group this trip by being a leader amongst the students. Germany had an obvious language barrier that many students struggled with and became nervous about. Luckily, I have taken German courses throughout high school and college, so I felt more comfortable than some. One day, we were traveling to Bonn by train. There was an announcement while we were waiting at the platform spoken in German. Typically, there would be an English speaker afterwards stating the same announcement, but there was not! So, the resident directors kinda looked at me for help. The announcement was said again and I listened over the roar of people around us. They said our train for Bonn would be arriving at a different platform, so we had to move there within the next ten minutes. It turns out that the new platform was right next to ours! I was glad I was able to help the group and we were able to have a safe trip along the train!

Another incident where I noticed my leadership skills shining through was in London the beginning of that week. This is a smaller example, but I still felt proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone and stepping up when needed. Our tour guide, Victoria, asked if anyone would like to be the leader for the day. Immediately, I felt an urge to raise my hand. However, I thought to myself: “okay, I’ll wait and see if anyone else wants to be,” because I did not want to take away the chance for another student. After about two minutes of looking around at each other waiting for someone to speak, I said “sure.” So, Victoria gave me instructions about which underground train stations we were to take to arrive at the first museum for the day. I memorized very quickly and we were off! Students asked me throughout the journey what station we were getting off at and what was the next step. Luckily, I navigated the group safely and did not loose anyone along the way! That day I realized I wasn’t nervous to step up and I felt more comfortable stepping up to help rather than keep to myself.

Traveling together as a group helped bring us closer I thought. We were all able to get to know one another while traveling and all able to help in our own ways. Several times throughout our stay in London, the other students looked to me for guidance while traveling the underground train system. I had downloaded an app that helped me route which tubes we should take and what would be most efficient. Because of this, many of the students would ask me how to get to place to place or would follow me. I did not mind this because the train system was overwhelming at first and the app helped me sort through the chaos. I became accustomed to the train system and helping other members in our group. My parents and family were very proud of me for helping the group and becoming a leader. I always knew I processed the qualities to do so, and this trip tested me- I think I pass haha!

 

I have always been known to be a shy person. I was the smart student who did not talk much in class, except when I rose my hand.  This always bothered me throughout my life. I was very talkative and energetic when I was with my groups of friends, but I was also reserved in large classroom settings or with people I didn’t know. While in high school, I decided I needed to start working on this quality about me. I joined different clubs and became very involved. This helped open a door for me. I noticed that I was gaining more friends and was more comfortable with myself, so I felt more comfortable with other people. Also, I was the marching band’s drum major which was a huge leadership role I took on. This was where I started to develop my self-confidence and leadership skills. When I arrived to OSU, I didn’t join many clubs and closed up. I noticed I was going in reserve. This trip helped me start to go in the right direction once more. I was with a group of students I never met before which I was nervous about. However, we all became friends by the end of the trip! Everyday I worked on talking to someone new in hopes this would help me overcome my shyness. I did not let myself become discouraged and tried to see everything in a positive light. This helped boost my self esteem which in return boosted my confidence. With both of those increasing, I was able to become a leader amongst the group and feel comfortable doing so. This trip has allowed me to feel myself again.

This project helped me gain the confidence I needed that will help drive me for my future goals. Throughout the rest of my undergraduate academic career, I plan on becoming more involved through joining clubs so I can interact more with fellow students. These interactions will me beneficial because I can gain more friendships which will be a constant test of the skills I have gained over the last month. Many employers look for applicants whom are well-rounded and feel comfortable in their own skin as it reflects on their work ethic. I am able to say that I am a team player and a leader. Neither side outweighs the other or conflicts. Also, I plan on continuing my academic career by becoming involved in research. This requires one to be able to work well as a leader to guide one’s group to finish the project. Without the qualities I have rebuilt through my signature project, I would not be able to fully compete my dreams to the best of my capabilities. I plan on not holding back and chasing down my goals because I know I can. I now see each day as a new opportunity to explore the world and my mind.