Semester Abroad in Paris, France: Reflection



For my signature project I spent fall semester of 2018 studying abroad in Paris. While abroad, I took courses in French at a French university, the Catholic Institute of Paris (ICP) and lived with a French host family. The goal of my project was to improve my French language skills.

Over the course of my project I was challenged in many ways. It was difficult assimilation into a country where I had a limited knowledge of the language and culture, especially because I was on my own, far away from any friends, family, or classmates, for the first time. This forced me to be more confident, open, independent, and accepting of failure.

Living with a French family and learning how to communicate with them was challenging at some points. I had to patient and observant in order to adjust to their different lifestyle. The experience offered a great window into life in another culture, something I wouldn’t have truly been able to understand without having being immersed in it for an extended period of time. My time in the house was also very beneficial to my language acquisition, as it was great way to practice my speaking and to learn more common and colloquial phrases that aren’t always taught in class.

Studying at a French university was also an unexpectedly a new experience for me. The French university system is much different from the U.S., with a lot less technology involved and a bit lacking in organization. This required me to be more flexible and willing to ‘go with the flow,’ as you could not expect as much structure from French courses as you would typically expect here at OSU. For example, no French courses offer any form of syllabus of course plan, and professors do not always announce things like

grading system or even exam dates ahead of time.

One of the most beneficial parts of my time in Paris was the ability to explore the city and make it my home. I became a regular at a boulangerie near my school, where I would get lunch everyday between classes. I learned to easily navigate the city without using Google Maps, and even gave directions to tourists on many occasions. I frequented museums and other cultural sites, and was able to experience first hand French culture and lifestyle. I had classes at the Opera and the Louvre, the largest art museum in the world, and even had the opportunity to give a presentation, in French, at the Louvre.


I also had the opportunity to take many weekend trips to other parts of France and nearby countries. I traveled to London, Amsterdam, Brussels, and many parts of Switzerland. I saw the beaches of Normandy and the South of France, and swam in the Mediterranean for the first time. On many of those occasions, I was traveling by myself. I needed to be resourceful and adventurous to find my way around countries where I didn’t speak the language and have the confidence to explore on my



Overall, this project was a great period of growth for me. It had made me more confident, independent, and open to new experiences, all of which will help me moving forward. My French language skills have improved massively, allowing me to complete my minor in French, which compliments my International Studies major. I am not entirely certain yet what career path I plan to pursue after graduation, but I am certain that this skill set will make me a better candidate for any job and will make me a better individual in all other aspects of my life.

A month In London

Name: Gale Collins

Type of project: Study Abroad


  • Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

My study abroad trip was a month long stay in London, with visits to Edinburgh and Oxford.  Our class was focused on the history, culture, and politics of the UK. as part of the class I attend a several performances, including a musical, some slam poetry, and several plays.


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

I have traveled a lot in my life before this, including all over the US, 2 trips to Canada, and a trip to Romania, and every place I go has taught me a lot. I also have been interested in one day living outside the US, so being able to have a trial run, where you have to manage traveling overseas, getting to class on time in a brand new city, budgeting for your own food and supplies, all mostly on your own was really helpful. This was the longest I had ever been away from Columbus before as well, so it helped me get a real feel for what it would be like to live in another country, even one relatively similar to my own. It helped me feel more confident in my ability to be a functioning independent adult.


  • 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?

Being able to navigate my way around a city as big and crowded as London was a challenge for sure.  It was a confidence boost once I felt confident in getting to where I needed to go (class or an event for class, or someplace during my free time) and managing to reroute as needed if there was a tube closure of delay, and still getting to class on time. It was sometimes stressful, but the longer I was there, the easier it got.


Another thing I had to navigate was the language. Even though they also speak English, and I had watched plenty of British TV shows, the accent and dialect was still somewhat difficult to navigate. Often when ordering food, or if i was just talking to someone I had met, I would need them to repeat something they said so I could understand it. I think it helped thought that my accent immediately let them know I wasn’t British, so they knew I might not know all their slang.


I think the thing that was most important however was having to budget money and time to do things like eating, or buying any supplies I needed. I had to track down the nearest grocery store, and find things in my budget to eat. Most shops tended to close a lot earlier that I’m used to, so I also had to make sure I didn’t put it off til the last minute.  Weekly shopping (as opposed to every few weeks here) was really different, and making sure I bought good food without having to carry too much back to the dorm.


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

Learning to sustain yourself in a new place, especially a new country I think is an important skill,and one that isn’t really taught. I think traveling abroad has helped me feel more independent, and has given me confidence to work towards living abroad in the future. I have lived in Columbus my whole life, but but by traveling I have been able to experience things I never could have here, and become an individual with more worldly experiences.

A picture of the London Eye on a nice day   A picture of one of the halls in the British Parliament building. there are chandalier and art on the walls, where are very ornate

A Trip Half Way Around the World: Completion

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

This summer I traveled 7,000 miles from home to participate in OSU’s study abroad program based in Suzhou, China. For 8 weeks I took part in an intensive study of the Chinese language, met local Chinese persons and discovered Chinese culture first hand.

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

I am a natural worrier. I worry about all types of things; from people to plans. You name it, I have probably worried about it. There were many fears that I had when it came to prepare to travel abroad to China. I was so over prepared and over packed that when I finally got on the last plane before landing in Shanghai I was mentally and physically exhausted. But there was still an underlying worry about how I would react to living on my own, 7,000 miles away from my support system. I was also insanely curious about how I would adapt to the daily life of China. Many people I had talked to told me about how different Chinese life is compared to how we live in America. After visiting I can attest to this with much experience

Surprisingly I had no trouble adjusting to living in China. It was easier than transitioning back to living in America. I quickly found that I had nothing to worry about, almost all of my worries were reduced to nothing as I started my studies in China. Thanks to a previous intensive study I found the class work manageable and even light at times. My depression was gone, I didn’t have my usual problems sleeping at night, I was able to have a diligent and efficient study time everyday and as a person I grew tremendously. Life is China was laidback and convenient, our language partners were training to be Chinese teachers themselves which made it easier for us to lean on them for help. I personally became close friends with both of my language partners and still to this day video chat and message with them. This trip has given me new friends, both in America and in China, renewed my drive to do well in school, enforced the goal of living in China and helped me focus in on the part of business I would like to work in.

  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?

               One of the most impactful parts of the trip were the times that you would stop, look around you and realize that people live their whole lives surrounded by the beauty of China. One of the most beautiful sunsets I saw in my life was laundry day for a woman washing her clothes in the lake. Every day we were greeted with more examples of the appeal of China and was astonished by the number of locals that passed by without a care. One of the more rememberable experiences was when some classmates and I were walking around the ruins of the wall around the old part of Suzhou. We were at the top of Shumen gate surrounded by over 600 years of history. But the locals only wanted to look at us and take pictures of us. It was mind blowing that they could not see the beauty of the world around them and would rather stare at us. Being there made me want to live in China, no matter what I was doing there.

The first time I bonded with my language partner I was in an almost delirious state of mind. I had been in the library café for 6 hours that night, we were trying to get through all of the homework before heading to dinner. Admittingly I am not the best at listening comprehension and so tensions were high between my language partner and me. Both of us were frustrated with the other and at one point I remember being close to tears. But as the hours dragged on I started to realize that I could understand bits and pieces of her speech and therefore start to understand her, and the other language partners that would come to ask if we wanted to go eat or go have fun. I started using English less and less to describe what I wanted to say and by the tail end of it all leaned over to my classmate to complain about how tired I was in Chinese. English felt foreign to use, Chinese coming most naturally at the time. When we finally wrapped up and went to have food, even though I felt so odd I was able to hold a decent conversation all in Chinese where we explored the difference in customs between us and our language partners. To this day I am thankful for that day that jumpstarted my comprehension of my language partners Chinese and our friendship.

I have been completely and utterly lost on the idea of where I want to head with my career. I have explored a few areas within my major, but on a whole I didn’t know where to start. So, when we were tasked with a research project with individualized topics, I was a little lost on where to start. I started off really broad, but as I continued to narrow down the questions to ask people I realized that all of my questions were business related. As the project continued to change I realized the direction I was headed: China’s E-Commerce. I had had a small amount of exposure to this topic before but conducting research in it was something I had never done before. However, by the end of the summer I gave a 30-minute presentation on my finding of the subject and answered questions from my classmates, all in Chinese. This has given me an understanding of where I want to go with my career as an International Business student and has opened me up to the pathway of research and possibly graduate school.

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

I like to think that this trip was 6 years in the making; from the first day of Freshman year of High School to the day that I landed in China. The Chinese language and culture have become such a significant part of who I am and helped broaden my views on the world around us. In a way this trip marks an end to something that has been a big part of my life, but it also marks the beginning to the next stage. I have clear goals for what lays ahead of me, a renewed vigor to achieve them and a sense of confidence in my abilities to accomplish what I have put my mind to. For the first time in a long time I feel certain of who I am and who I want to be, and I know I won’t stop until I can make my dreams a reality.

Caught in a typhoon

Finally completing the route to 胥门(xumen)

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: