STEP Reflection

STEP Post-Project Reflection Prompts

 

As you may recall from your STEP Signature Project Proposal, your project was designed to foster transformational learning—that is, learning that challenged you personally and helped you gain broader and deeper understandings of yourself, others, and the world around you. Please address the following prompts to help you reflect on your experiences following the completion of your STEP Signature Project; please give careful and critical thought to your responses.

 

  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.

 

My STEP Signature Project was a liberal arts with locals study abroad trip to Lima, Peru. During this trip, I was supposed to attend a local Peruvian university with both other international students and native Peruvians while doing a homestay in the city of Lima.  Here I was going to not only improve my Spanish speaking capabilities in the classroom, but also my ability to converse with people in day to day interactions. However, many of my plans did not come to fruition due to the emergence and spread of COVID-19. As a result of the virus’ spread, my program was cancelled and I was flown back to the United States through the U.S. Embassy in late March.

 

  1. 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.

 

Many things about my understanding of myself, my assumptions and my views of the world were changed during my STEP Signature Project, the most significant being my feeling of privilege to live in such a wealthy and developed nation where we have so much. Throughout my time in Peru, I saw many people that were struggling for things that we would consider basic in the United States, like running water and electricity. Additionally, I saw how much of a difference there is between the U.S. dollar and other currencies. I was able to buy almost anything I wanted in Peru due to the strength of our currency, while native Peruvians were not. Both of these experiences gave me a great sense of gratitude to have what I have and opened my eyes to how much of a difference there is between the country I come from and others around the world.

 

  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? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

 

One of the first changes that took place regarding my understanding of myself and my view of the world was when I made my first purchases at a local food store using the money I had converted to Peruvian Soles. My family and I are part of the middle class in the U.S. and therefore, we often do not struggle for much financially. However, when I made my first purchases at the food store, I realized just how well off most Americans are in comparison to those around the world due to the strength of the U.S. dollar. Upon making those purchases, I immediately felt very grateful to come from such a wealthy country and to be a part of my family where we do not have need for much.

 

Another change that took place regarding my understanding of myself and my assumptions was when I began speaking Spanish to people who did not know I was fluent. During my time in Peru, most people assumed that because I was white, I was from the U.S. and did not speak Spanish. However, when I began speaking to people in Spanish, many of the conversations I was having changed. There was a sense of understanding and a level of comfort that immediately increased. This made me realize that learning and speaking another language greatly impacts not only on the individual learning the language, but also the interactions that they will have with other people while speaking.

 

The final change that took place during my trip was when my fellow ISA students and I were about to begin the day of orientation at the Peruvian university and received news that, due to COVID-19, the president of Peru had closed the country’s borders and shut down all the schools. Upon hearing this news, my fellow students and I were immediately forced to find arrangements to leave the country as soon as possible, or else we would risk being stuck in Peru until further notice. During the next week and a half, I was constantly communicating with my program coordinator, ISA staff, Ohio State staff and my parents to try and coordinate all the information we had to arrange a flight home. This was a time of great stress, but it also provided many opportunities for improving communication and problem solving between everyone involved.

 

 

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

 

Although my trip to Peru was short, I learned a lot in my time there that will help me in both my personal and professional life. The communication skills that developed under the stress of quarantine in a foreign country will certainly be useful in my personal life and career, as so often communication falters during stressful times. Additionally, the changes that occurred in my mind regarding the impact of speaking another person’s language will certainly prove useful, as I plan to become a Spanish teacher after graduating college. So often language instruction can feel like a monotonous task that has no practical application due to a lack of personal experience in both the teacher and the students. However, I will be able to pull from my real-world experience of communicating with people in Peru to provide examples for my students of the impact of speaking another language and the effect that it has on better understanding and relating to people of other cultures. Furthermore, I can plan to give them similar opportunities to practice speaking the language with native speakers in hopes that they can experience a glimpse of what I was able to during my time in Peru.

My Experience in Brazil

My STEP project entailed traveling to Brazil, and studying in Curitiba, Parana. In March I was forced to leave due to the CEO of Brazilian Experience cancelling the program on zero notice and so I went to live with family in São Paulo.

I had always been told to trust people with authority, power, and position. After this experience, I have completely thrown that out of the window. I have worked with invoices and contracts for years, working in corporate positions and owning my own business. What I have always believed is that our word is our bond, and when two people agree to the terms of the contract, that BOTH sides are bound by those terms. This experience has taught me that there are people who do not operate in such a manner. I have learned that such things are acts of good faith, and unless enforced by legal action they mean nothing. 

I put my life in the hands of this company, the ultimate form of trust, only to be treated as if my health and safety is worthless. I had exchanged emails with Rafaela Rolim several weeks before I left for Brazil. Under her direction I was told to apply for a Brazilian visa, knowing that I am a Brazilian citizen. I trusted her (and didn’t know any better) and ended up wasting a trip to the Brazilian Consulate in Washington D.C. along with $120 worth of processing fees for a visa I´m ineligible to even apply for.

Once I arrived in Brazil, the assurance from Rafaela was almost constant. She assured that whatever I needed that she and her people would help me. I, gave her and her people a second chance when I trusted them to help me obtain a CPF, the brazilian equivalent of a taxpayer ID. They directed me to the agency and told me the documents needed and I followed everything to a T. I woke up at 4 in the morning to be one of the first people in line, per their instruction. I ended up waiting behind a line before me several hours only to get rejected and told that I didn’t have the sufficient documentation.

The last straw was in the weeks leading to the outbreak of the coronavirusRafaela and the people were often asking me if I was “OK.” I found it considerate that they asked about our mental health in a difficult time. Among all the confusion going on, she seemed to be working for us, talking with homestays and OSU, claiming to monitor the status of the outbreak. Then on a random evening in March Rafaela called my homestay and called me after. Rather than be honest about the situation, she claimed that the program would be “paused” and put “on hold.” I had to press her for her to admit that the program was cancelled. She cut the program abruptly and told me I had to get the next flight out of Brazil. I knew she was hesitant to use the word ‘cancel’ because I had read the terms and agreements of the contract that was part of the invoice for the program fee. It was clearly stated that if the program was cancelled by her and her company that students were owed a full refund. When I confronted her about this, Rafaela only said she would try to get the tuition refunded, which was only a small part of the fee. The majority of the program fee went to her and her company, and that was when I realized she completely broke the terms of her own contract and refused to acknowledge it.

This experience has been invaluable to me. It was important for me to understand that at the end of the day, a contract is still a piece of paper. I plan on working with contracts for the rest of my life as a business owner, in my goal to work in real estate and logistics.While it was unfortunate that I have lost a lot of money to slimy business, I now recognize the importance of not only reviewing terms and conditions for myself, but going over it with the other side and confirming all the action that will and won’t be taken should the contract be broken or its requirements not be met.

Academic Year in Japan

I chose to use my STEP project funds for my academic year study abroad program to the International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan. I spent the year studying the Japanese language and culture at the university while participating in cultural exchanges with native Japanese students and other international students. I also experienced traveling around Japan and visited different cultural heritage sites and other local specialties.

Spending this year in Japan was an extremely transformative process. My understanding of myself, my assumptions towards others, and my view of the world all changed.  As I had never been outside of the country or away from my family for this long before, I was extremely nervous before beginning my program. I was worried about things like not having the Japanese skill to successfully make my way from the airport to my Airbnb, and not being able to make Japanese friends. I lacked the confidence in myself to believe that I had the ability to make the most out of this program. I could not have been more wrong. Throughout this program, I learned more about myself then ever before. As my Japanese language skill grew, so did my confidence in using Japanese conversationally to learn more about the Japanese people around me. I pushed myself to join clubs and participate in activities that actively pushed the boundaries of what I assumed about the world. Coming into this program, I already had preconceived notions of what I thought Japanese culture would be like, which were all blown away by the end of the program. Japanese culture is so much more nuanced that what is seen from the outside, and I learned the dangers of assuming that you know something about that which you have never experienced. My world view expanded, and I realized that things I have experienced through my life are not necessarily shared experiences by everyone I meet.

My relationship with my Japanese roommates was one of the experiences that brought about the most change within myself. I lived in a unit with three other girls, all of which are native Japanese. As such, the primary language we used to communicate with each other is Japanese. Through numerous daily communications with them, my Japanese language ability grew exponentially as I had the opportunity to use it every day. It was also a way to become good friends with native Japanese people and learn their perspective on different levels. The four of us made a conscious effort to take one trip together every month. Together we ate delicious food, went to a trampoline park, and even went to Tokyo Disneyland. Making native Japanese friends can be hard for foreigners, but these trips allowed me an insight into what normal Japanese girls do for fun. My confidence in my Japanese grew alongside my ability to communicate with them, and my world view shifted as I came to understand their perspective on several different issues. I treasure the memories I made with them on this program and how they shaped me to become a better person.

The second experience that led to my transformation was my participation in the Japanese Traditional Dance Club. This club was overseen by two Japanese Traditional Dance masters, as they taught us several dances which members then got to perform at the end of term performance. I was invited to this club by my other exchange student friend, and I was initially hesitant. I am not the greatest dancer and thought I might have a hard time with it. After the first practice session, however, I was in love. The dance style we were taught is completely unlike any form of Western dance I have seen, as the motions are extremely controlled and delicate. The beauty in the dance comes from subtle movements that tell an overall story. Through this club I got to experience an art form that is uniquely Japanese, and got to experience wearing a kimono, traditional Japanese dress. I also had the opportunity to interact with Japanese dance masters. In Japanese culture, treating elders with respect is so important, that it is even built into the language. Different grammar forms and words are used with those above you, and so I got the ability to practice that with our elder teachers. Before I came to Japan, I thought interacting with elders might be difficult because of this, but the teachers were so welcoming and accommodating that my fears were blown away. I also was called upon to translate for the rest of the exchange students in the club, which also made my confidence within myself grow. Unfortunately, our later performances were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I fell so in love with this dance form that if I return to Japan, I would love to start doing it again. I likely would never have known this dance existed if I had not come to Japan and because of it I learned so much.

The third event that led to the changes within myself was the amount of travel I did within Japan. I knew before coming that I wanted to try and see as much of Japan as possible. Over the course of this program, I went to the cities of Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe, Niigata, Matsumoto, Sapporo, and many more. I also traveled extensively within the city of Tokyo and its surrounding suburbs. Throughout my travels I saw wonders that I could never have imagined. I visited multiple Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, saw natural wonders of Japan, and experienced many regional food delights. Although Japan may seem like a completely homogeneous country from the outside, I saw a lot of variation within all the places that I went.  My view of the world expanded each time I took in the culture of each city. Different cities practiced different cultural rules and took different approaches to food and hospitality. I was able to practice my Japanese in a variety of different situations, and when my family visited, tried my best to translate the menu of a 6 course meal at a Japanese traditional inn. The souvenirs and memories I collected throughout these travels will stay with me for the rest of my life. Moving forward, all these experiences have made me a completely different person then who I was before the trip, and I could not be more thankful for how it has improved my confidence and world view.

This program fulfilled a personal goal that I have had since I was a child. I have always wanted to live in Japan, and this program gave me the opportunity to be able to learn what that would be like so I can apply it to other academic, professional, and future goals. One academic goal I had coming into this program was to improve my Japanese in speaking, writing, and reading. I believe that total immersion in the country of your target language is the best way to improve, and that belief turned out to be true. Japanese uses Chinese characters in its writing and reading system, and right from the start I was surrounded by them. This did wonders for my reading ability, as I picked up several characters a day. My speaking and conversational ability also vastly improved. I interacted with native Japanese speakers in my dorm daily, and my Japanese language classes were conducted entirely in Japanese. I presented projects and wrote formal reports in Japanese. As such, my Japanese language ability rapidly improved. The Japanese program at the International Christian University has great teachers, who also teach about Japanese culture alongside the language. The program prepared me so well I am currently studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which will aid me in my goals to use Japanese in my professional life.

Besides just improving my language ability, this program also prepared me for fulfilling my future professional goals. It made me come to the realization that I want to use Japanese in my professional career, and that I want to focus on translating. It also exposed me to industries that have a need for Japanese translation that I had not known of before. Video games, movies, and professional industries like shipping and manufacturing all need Japanese translators. Many of those at my dorm were seniors, and through them I came to understand what job hunting in Japan looks like, and what was expected of applicants throughout that process. This gave me a clear idea of what I need to do during my senior year at OSU to accomplish working as a translator. As I mentioned before, this includes taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, but I also now know of job fairs that are specifically geared towards those wanting to work in Japan that I am interested in attending. As I move forward into accomplishing my professional goals, my study abroad year in Japan will prove invaluable in the connections and experience that it brought me.

Study Abroad Sevilla

  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.

 

My STEP Signature Project was an Education Abroad experience to Seville, Spain through OSU and Connecting Worlds Abroad. I was there from January until March, however the program was shortened due to COVID-19. I was there to study Spanish exclusively with native Spanish speakers in my home and in the classroom., and I also participated in a program-led weekend excursion to Madrid and Toledo to explore the country better.

 

  1. 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.

 

While completing my STEP Signature Project, my assumptions about the country of Spain itself changed because I was able to witness the culture on a first-hand basis. My idea about religion in the country changed the most because most people from the United States imagine Spaniards to be very religious, when in fact only about 10-20% of the country are practicing Catholics. Citizens see Catholicism more as part of their culture and not a religion to be practiced like it was in the past.

I also got to see the lifestyle of Spaniards, which was similar, but definitely not what I thought it would be. I knew they were a little more relaxed in their day-to-day lives than citizens from the United States, but it was more than I thought I had more time on my hands even as my class-load increased, which is not something I am used to. I am used to always having something on my list of things to do throughout my day. I was never bored as I found new ways to occupy my time, but it definitely took some getting used to. Now that I am back, I realize I miss that kind of lifestyle, because it fit my personality better than I thought it would. This aspect of the project has definitely changed my understanding of myself and who I am.

 

  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? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

 

My relationship with my host mom Lucia gave me the best indication of the lifestyle of citizens who live in Seville specifically. She was an older woman who had a very spunky personality and loved to cook. My roommate and I took a little time getting used to the later eating schedule, but we loved our host mom’s cooking. It was with her that we also got the best use of our Spanish. Lucia was the bridge between the lifestyle and culture of the United States and Spain, and her relationship with us was crucial to the adjustment period. She told us places to explore in the city, and was genuinely interested in what we were up to while we were exploring with our friends, If I had been able to stay the full five months, I can’t even imagine how much better our relationship would have been with each other. When I told her that I had to leave so suddenly due to the global situation, her face fell and it was then that I realized how much I cared for her and how much living with her had helped me adjust and fall in love with the culture.

In every new culture and every study abroad program, you forge new and strong relationships with people you know are going through similar things to you. That happened with my closest friends and I after we took a random trip to Portugal. Neither of us knew each other very well, but after that weekend we were all inseparable. We saw each other outside of class almost every day after that trip, and we went through so much together. Although they may not have known if I was struggling to adjust or vice versa, they made it easier to get through the hard days because I knew they were there for me, and in a similar position. We also had plans for the remainder of the program we did not get to experience, but when we all had to come home, we still called each other often and continue to talk almost every day. It may not have turned out the way any of us wanted, but our friendships helped us adjust to the new culture and to the old one when we got home.

With the program itself we took a weekend trip to Toledo and Madrid. There we saw museums, cathedrals, and Carnival While in Toledo, I visited one of the oldest synagogues in Spain and got to show that side of me to my friends. Seeing the synagogue was also important as it demonstrated the presence of other religions. I knew they were present in Spain; however, everyone thinks of Catholicism when they think of Western Europe. Seeing other places of worship outside of Sevilla (where Islam is a great influence on architecture) helped shape my idea about religion in Spain. We also went to a free carnival concert which was one of the highlights of the trip as a whole. This is because we got to experience how they celebrate important holidays. They were all so energetic that we got just as excited even though we had never heard some of the music.

In Madrid we took a tour of the city and got to see the royal palace, giving us a close-up of the governmental structure of Spain. This trip showed me a different part of Spain that I may not have otherwise seen, helping me adjust to the culture even more and showing me how much I truly loved it. Getting to see the lifestyles of Spaniards in other parts of the country exposed me to the culture that the country of Spain holds. Each autonomous community is different, but that does not stop each citizen from embracing their culture as Spaniards. Having the opportunity to travel outside of Andalucía and Seville itself showed me that although lifestyles may be different in other parts of Spain, the culture as a whole is not.

 

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

 

This transformation is very valuable to my life because I gained irreplaceable memories that shape who I am now. My Spanish-speaking skills may not be where they could have been had the program continued as normal, but I am significantly better than I was prior to living in Spain. I feel more confident and know that I could continue my skills in the right environment at school and in a career post-graduation. Taking a European Union class in a member nation has also increased my global awareness. I know how the EU works better and I wouldn’t have been able to do that as successfully had I learned about it in the United States. This class has helped me figure out geographical areas I would like to work with in a future career in international affairs. I have always been interested in European global affairs but knowing more about how those affairs are handled have helped me see I want to be a part of that process in any way I can. My knowledge of the EU ad Spanish will greatly increase my chances of doing something like that in a professional capacity.

 

Study Abroad Sevilla

For my project I was supposed to complete a 6 month long be a study abroad in Sevilla, Spain through the program Connecting Worlds Abroad. Due to the current COVID crisis I was forced to return home early in early March. The program I was in is  program has a home-stay component that provided the opportunity to consistently speak and interact with people in Spanish. Through the program I enrolled in 15 credit hours of classes, some will be taught through the COWA program teachers, and one at Universidad de Sevilla where wet I was still in country I was in class with native Spanish speakers. This program also included several excursions to nearby cities, such as Madrid, and to near by historic sites, including Álcazares and Roman ruins. Unfortunately, many of these trip were canceled do to inclement weather then due to COVID. The initial draw of the program was its location in Spain, and the accessibility of the high speed rail, that would have provided the opportunity for me to travel around to different parts of the country, to different countries in Europe, and possibly even to northern Africa. Due to my early departure most of my travel secondary to the program was canceled.

I am unable to say that this was a transformational experience for me because just as I was starting to get used to being in country I was forced to leave. The majority of what I experienced and learned those first few moth was introductory or information that was already familiar with. The only truly transformational thing that I experienced was the noted difference in university culture. College student there are treated as adult who are able to time manage for themselves. There are no daily assignments and attendance is not taken in class, meaning each student is responsible for themselves and does not have to fret over time wasting assignments, which I have found to be common in my classes at OSU.

This allowed my to more clearly acknowledge that the culture of the united sates and the way we educate only ensures that students with develop anxiety, stress, and depression related issues. In Spain the education system encourages life outside of the class room and involvement in the community. In the US we claim to promote such things but in reality students are expected to complete many tedious assignments that the average student barley has time outside of their class work to appreciate their time in college.

Additionally I found my teachers in Spain to be far more invested in the success of there their students, and more actively support students acting proactively to help student that feel are falling behind, instead of leaving them behind.

My realizations about the US education system and culture came as I was trying to get course approved for tanner credit for a class I wanted to register for at the Universidad de Sevilla. In my communication with OSU I was told I needed to translate all of the syllabi for the different classes I was interested in. In the end I had to translate a total of 10 syllabi to email back to OSU. A bit later I received a response telling me that none of the classes would be accepted, in this response in which clear that they had not actually read the syllabi I had just spent 5 hour translating for them or they would have seen that each class was applicable to the literature credit I was trying to fill even though some of them were taught by the history department. On the other end of they process my teacher in Spain were very supportive and helpful when I came to this precess and see equally frustrated with the response from OSU.

I appreciate greatly the people I met while there, my teachers, friends, and host family were a major light from this abbreviated study abroad experience. I hope to be to maintain these friendships and relationships for a lifetime. I was fortunate enough to be assigned a great host family, Monica and Jose, to whom I am grateful for their hospitality and love. I hope to be able to go back and visit them when I have to opportunity. I was also able to get to know people form all over Europe including Portugal, England, Ireland, France and many other places.

The city of Sevilla will forever hold a specially place in my heart because I feel like it was finely in this city that I felt at home; in that place, among its people, and in myself. I felt like I had finally figured out who I am and how to express myself fully. The person who I was before I want o Spain and after my return are the same, but I fell more at home with myself.  This was inspired by the people I met and by the culture of the Sevilla. I will take this comfort in my self forward with my in my professional, educational, and personal life.

 (great time getting to know the different parts of the city)

Aix En Provence Semester Abroad

For my STEP project I studied abroad in Aix-En-Provence, France for a semester. This was possible through one of the Office of International Affairs programs. While in France, my goal was to take courses, learn about other cultures, and hear stories told from different perspectives. I set out with these intentions, with the hope that I would grow as a college student as well as as a person. 

From my extraordinary time abroad, I learned many things about myself and who I can truly be. Firstly, I learned that I have a great amount of perseverance. I came to college knowing that I wanted to do a study abroad experience for a semester but shortly after talking with different advisors, I worried that I would not be able to cover the financial burden. However, I was quite determined to push past this obstacle. I talked with many campus resources about funding for the semester as well as more affordable programs. Then, the steps to get to France were many. Obtaining a VISA (or at least a French VISA) is a lot harder than it would seem. There are numerous applications as well as a required drive/flight to one of their in-person application centers. Once I finally made it to France, I was very proud of myself for all the effort that I had put into making my dream come true.

I also learned how independent I can be. This trip forced me away from all the people I’ve ever known and pushed me away from my comfort zone. It was disarming at first, and of course many tears were involved. However, after navigating two humongous airports on my own (one without English signs), I truly realized what I was capable of and how strong of an individual I am. Knowing this about myself encouraged me to climb a mountain on my own. It’s an all-day hike but the view is worth all the sweat and tears. I learned how to get around in a foreign country on my own and gained self confidence I never could have previously imagined. 

That’s not to say that I didn’t make numerous friends during my time abroad, some of whom I’m even hoping to visit in the fall. I was surprised at how easily I was able to make friends. In the past I have struggled to open myself up to strangers and often miss out on the friendship making moments. I knew that I was taking this semester to grow myself so I pushed through all the uncomfortability and was the first to make moves towards friendship. I hope and predict that this success will encourage me to put myself out there more in the future.

One of the most surprising and life-changing things that occurred during my STEP project was my being forced to leave the country due to COVID-19. When COVID hit Italy, a neighboring country to France, we saw schools begin to panic and pull their students out of the program. Ohio State gave their students the option to stay or return and I decided to stay. Confinement began in France almost immediately after. It seemed as though all the things I loved about France were far off now but yet I still found myself enjoying my time there and growing as a person. My family came to respect my decisions as an adult and supported me as much as they could from abroad. Life had changed but it was still progressing. Then COVID began to hit the States harder and more restrictions were being placed on travel each day. The school I was studying at highly encouraged the students to leave or warned that they may risk being stranded in France. It was with a heavy heart that I decided to end my time in France. I rapidly booked flights home and quickly endured the arduous journey back. My return was greeted with two weeks of not leaving my basement and constant fear from my loved ones that they would catch a disease they didn’t even know I had (I did not and do not have the disease). As you can imagine, this was entirely heart-breaking but I realized that there was nothing else I could do and that I needed to look at my positives from my time in Aix.

I learned a lot about French culture while in Aix. From a simple cafe to elections, family dinners to public transport, city markets to outlooks on life, all of it was present by those living in Aix. The Aixois like to say that in their city, life slows down. It truly does. My time in Aix forced me to step back and enjoy all the little moments that I experience in my life. Walks to school became promenades, a good book became the perfect afternoon pastime, the passion that shopkeepers put into their wares, and absolutely the divinity of good bread. I have been able to take my enjoyment of these simple pleasures and find them in my life here as well. I expect and will work to continue doing this for the rest of my life. Pleasures bring happiness, so why not find them everywhere?

Madrid Study Abroad

Earlier this year, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Madrid, Spain as an exchange student at la Universidad Pontificia Comillas. Although the program’s duration was shortened to a blissful two months, my time there gave me an unforgettably life-changing and lasting experience that I will forever hold dear to my heart.

In my time abroad, there was a multitude of things I learned, but I believe there is one significant way of life there that altered the way I approached my day-to-day. There is an understood stillness to the pace of life in the Spanish culture. A cup of coffee is no longer the caffeine hit for the day, a break from classes isn’t the chance to squeeze in one more episode of the show you are binging, you aren’t rushing past friends to get to your awaiting lecture hall. There is a deeper appreciation for life and these seemingly small day-to-day things. There was so much time put into looking around and simply appreciating that moment. I was no longer feeling rushed over sprinting to my class that was across campus, rather I found myself attentive and present in each class and moment. This allowed me to see and truly appreciate these small wonders.

Throughout the program, I was able to interact with people across the globe of all backgrounds and interests. The university organized many social events to meet more students within the program and get to know one another. It was through these conversations over ‘tapas y copas’ that we all were able to share our thoughts and feelings over the extraordinary lives we all were getting to live out. My most favorite part about these introductions was hearing why people chose to study abroad – “I want to see the world”; “I needed a change from back home”; “I want a change for myself” – the idea of change was a common desire out of this program, which often troubled me throughout my time abroad. Of course, everyone, myself included, longs for an experience like studying abroad to try new things, live past their boundaries, find the change – the purpose to living out such a beautifully unimaginable reality. However, I found early on that through trying to find and make this grand ‘change’ within myself, I was blinding out the simplicities around me. I realized that change wasn’t going to come from a blurry weekend trip to Ibiza, it would come from the ‘now’, what was right in front of me. It would come from having the conversation in Spanish with the older couple in the café that was closing shortly, listening to how they had met as children and found each other again 12 years later. They have been married for 57 years, and he still takes his ‘cielo’ out dancing every Thursday. I know the waters of Cala Comte are incomparable, but I believe there is also beauty in stumbling into a conversation with strangers, and seeing how life has seemingly blessed them.

I remember arriving my first week, plugging in my headphones and roaming the streets every day until the sun would go down. I would walk up and down tightly enclosed alleyways; go in circles around the crowded Plaza Mayor, discovering a new exit each lap; and always finding myself sat in a café, drinking my fourth espresso of the day at the end. I lived off of fresh tomatoes and bread for that entire week, unsure of what produce I could buy that wouldn’t end up ruined by my attempted culinary skills – in the end, it was always those two items, and caffeine that would sustain me. I vividly recall the overwhelming nature of that week – having little contact with my family, using my phone only for music and the ultimate need for Google Maps when I strayed too far off. Looking back, I realize that that week may have been one of my favorite parts. I was seeing everything with fresh eyes, there were no expectations as to where one street would take me. I remember the first day, I walked five minutes south from my apartment, and right across the street stood the Palacio Royal – five minutes from where I lived. The next day, I decided to walk west, where in ten minutes I found myself inside the Museo del Prado, a place I would later come to weekly exploring each wing. In short, I found this first week quickly allowed me to see the blessings that lay in each corner around me. Looking at Velázquez and Goya paintings became a calming activity throughout my weeks, and sitting outside of the Palacio de Cristal was our afterschool hangout – it’s a beautiful realization to have when you take a moment to look at the moments you are living out, and find that they are the ones you have longingly wished for and dreamt about. I think I walked somewhere between 70 and 80 miles that first week, but despite blistering toes, those aimless adventures led me to a greater appreciation of those winding cobbled streets, and all of the beauties that lay between.

During my time abroad, I was able to befriend people from all over the globe. Yet, funnily, I became very close with another student from Ohio State – perhaps, the Midwesterners’ gravitational pull – who ended up later moving into my apartment after realizing the dorm experience in Europe wasn’t as glamourous as he had hoped. He moved in during our third week of classes; the same time at which we also had another roommate from the Netherlands joining us. I don’t think there is another way to describe how these two strangers quickly became two of the greatest people I’ve ever known other than by saying that God truly blessed me with them. They were both utterly unique, and so wonderfully bold and confident of the fact. There was never a moment with them that wasn’t filled with laughter or dancing. They taught me how to find abundance within limitations, to accept life’s circumstances and how to approach them with mindfulness and grace. I can truthfully say; indeed, this world is covered with magical sights and scenes, but finding the people who hold only loving intent and truths, people who exude authenticity and offer kindness, those are our hidden gems that can make life truly extraordinary.

Through the disarray of the last five months, I have found myself reminiscing on this crazily beautiful experience, nostalgic of my early morning metro rides and 10 p.m. household dinners. As easy as it may be to fuss over lost time, those short two months gave me more to learn about life than I have ever encountered elsewhere. I was able to come home with a sense of reassurance about people, and this messy world, and the unknowns of the tomorrows. So often, I think our culture forces us to follow a specific pace, one in which that can either set you up competitively, or steer you off track should you not keep up. I have found that my future should no longer rest dependent on the words of a resumé, or on the job that is the skipping stone to success – but rather through the passions we hold; only through these passions can we find the most precious successes. In regard to the pace of life, it only takes a moment to look up from our screens and smile at a stranger, or to sit down for a meal with others and really enjoy the food and conversation. Each day, we are given millions of small moments – these daily insignificancies that we constantly overlook; yet, should we take those few seconds to appreciate them, you could find immense beauty amidst the chaos.

Semester Abroad in Milan, Italy

For my STEP signature project, I used my funds to study abroad at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. As soon as I landed in Milan, I was in love. The city was so beautiful, and the food was amazing! I was excited to live in the heart of business activities of Italy.Being a finance student, I wished to broaden my international business perspective by taking multiple finance and international business classes during my time at Bocconi. But, while the semester did not go exactly as planned, I learned more about myself and business in two months than I have up to this point in my life.

 

My abroad experience was transformative to say the least. For myself personally, I have grown to appreciate the uncertainty in life and roll with the punches. I have always been a person who likes to plan everything out. However, when the COVID-19 situation took a turn for the worse in Milan, I was forced to develop a new way of thinking. I was travelling around Europe with the time I had left, balancing my schoolwork with trying to squeeze in as much sight-seeing as possible. I was making travel plans hours in advance, which was something so unfamiliar to me. I was growing in ways I did not think I would or even could, but in the most bizarre way the COVID pandemic helped me become someone who is more “go with the flow” and not so type A all the time.

As for my view on the world, my favorite thing about traveling during my time in Europe was getting to interact with the local culture everywhere I went. I loved talking to my waiters and waitresses and getting recommendations from them. I loved experiencing the local places to see—not just the well-known tourist sights. I saw that no matter where I went there were good people, who all had the same mindset. Everyone I met had such an open view of the world and traveling, it was something so unique to experience. Before January, I had only been to Italy in Europe, so seeing all the different cultures from each place I went was really cool. I enjoyed comparing each place I went to see the differences in the cultures and tried to understand why each culture was the way they are.

 

Off the top of my head, the COVID situation was definitely an event that caused a lot of transformation in myself as well as in my project. Not only did COVID teach me to roll with the punches and be quick on my feet, it showed me how much love there is in this world. Even after I left Italy, I really enjoyed seeing the social media posts about “One Italy” and How everyone, especially in Milan, had come together to fight the pandemic. Seeing and experiencing this firsthand truly transformed my view of the world and what it can be. While the COVID situation was not ideal, it made me realize that when everyone comes together, we are stronger than any unforeseen circumstances.

Another event that really stuck with me in my time abroad was when I was in Munich, Germany. Each year they have a costume festival, where everyone gathers in the center city square to celebrate the Munich culture. There was dancing, singing and everyone ate traditional German dishes like Bratwurst. It was really cool to be there for this event, I loved seeing everyone celebrate their culture with such pride. Everyone was so friendly and loved to share stories about what Munich meant to them.

My last experience that really stuck with me was going to the Sunday market in Sicily. I really enjoyed getting a taste of the culture by experiencing it hands on. The Sunday market is a really big deal in Sicily, where thousands of people come every weekend to get fresh fruits, spices and meats. This was probably one of my favorite days in Europe. We walked around for hours trying all the different dishes and talking to the workers themselves. I really felt like I immersed myself in the Italian culture this day, and I have felt a connection to it ever since.

 

All the challenges I experienced in my two short months in Italy are ones I will value for the rest of my life. I know that in both my career and personal life, I will not get upset when one thing doesn’t work out how I planned. Instead, I will develop a Plan B, C, or even D to ensure I accomplish my goals. I have developed a new sense of grit, which is very important for my success in my career. I have also developed a new love for travelling that I hope to continue for the rest of my life. I know that everything I experienced abroad happened the way it did for a reason, and while it may have been unconventional, I am forever thankful for the time I spent in Europe. There is truly nothing else like Europe, and I am grateful that STEP allowed me to experience and grow in this place. I have grown and learned so much about myself and I will use the tools I acquired over the past few months for the rest of my life.

Humanitarian Engineering in Guyana

I spent 10 days studying in Georgetown, Guyana working on the beginning stages of a service-learning project. My 16 classmates and I began to establish relationships with three developing regions in Guyana for the future collaboration on sustainable energy projects with OSU. We consulted with the locals to comprehend the community’s perspective and aspirations for the planning of solar energy and water treatment systems. 

 

During my time in Guyana, I was able to explore diverse cultures and cuisines. I learned how the Guyanese people have a drastically different way of life compared to the average US citizen. People who live in the US have the luxury of obtaining clean water at the twist of a handle and overall have more advanced technology to improve their standard of living. Many people in Guyana do not possess these luxuries and being able to witness this first-hand during the trip was life-changing. This was the first humanitarian engineering class I took at OSU and I was inspired to use my degree to uplift people in developing regions of the world. I made friends with many genuine and kindhearted people on this trip.

 

One of the regions I met with was the Aliki community. I met a multitude of hospitable individuals within a village of 300 to 400 people. They collected water from the brown colored river surrounding them and added a cap full of bleach as treatment. There, I saw families who had to travel a great distance in order to receive potable water. Seeing this first hand made me realize how fortunate I am to have easy access to such amenities. Additionally, the villagers did not wear shoes because they had very muddy terrain, which brought their first request of paving a new walkway. We talked about how we could develop a solar energy farm for the community and educate them for proper maintenance. This day gave me a lot of perspective on my privilege.

 

My class had made the trip to Guyana to assist in developing infrastructure. I was amazed by the natural beauty of our destination. About 90% of the country is made up of rainforest reserves. I was inspired by how the entire country was so focused on long term sustainability. Seeing the renewable and efficient practices of the people of Guyana, I found it incredibly essential that people in the US should learn from their eco-friendly lifestyle. We went to the country’s science fair day, and each group of students came up with a sustainable energy prototype. For example, some students focused on oil spill clean up equipment while others dedicated their time to planting trees. I hope I can incorporate some of the sustainable practices I learned in Guyana to the projects I work on at home.

 

One of the days in Guyana we met with the Ministry of Public Infrastructure and learned about projects and goals they hope to tackle in the near future. This day was especially intriguing for me because I got to hear directly from the city’s head civil engineers. I remember hearing about these projects and wondering how I will be able to get involved in similar projects in my future career.

 

I really enjoyed learning about humanitarian engineering because I realize how I can make an impact on something greater than myself. I already enjoy giving back to my community with fundraisers and volunteer opportunities. Now, I have a newfound passion to expand these values around the globe and in my career. This project inspired me to apply to a senior Capstone project that develops water treatment systems in Tanzania, Africa. This experience in Guyana was transformative in teaching me about my privilege and how I choose to act upon it going forward. I have already seen the impact of this project translate to my studies and career aspirations.

Seville Study Abroad 2020 Reflection

 

Seville, Spain

Lisbon, Portugal

My STEP Signature Project was a study abroad program through the Office of International Affairs in Seville, Spain. Through this project, I was able to take classes in Spanish through a third party institution based in Seville, COWA, for the spring semester of my junior year. In addition to my classes, the program offered educational excursions through various cities in Spain that enhanced my cultural knowledge. Lastly, I was able to live with a Spanish family to enhance my immersion experience and improve my language fluency.

Through my semester in Spain, I experienced a complete personal transformation. First, I became much more  confident in myself. I realized that I am capable of traveling to a foreign country, living with a family from a completely different culture, and overcoming obstacles without the safety net of my parents. Before coming to Spain, I could not completely fathom how I would manage to live in another country that does not speak my first language. However, I found myself well adjusted in Seville and quickly felt like a local rather than an American tourist. This realization made me more open to the idea of living in a foreign country full time after graduation. As I overcame language barriers and travel-related obstacles, I could feel my self-doubt slowly dissolving and my adaptability strengthening.

Another surprising personal transformation was my view about the role of my family in my life. In Spain, family is highly important and has an influence on Spaniards throughout their entire life. Many young adults live with their parents long after they graduate from university and it is not looked down upon like it is more in the United States. Families are extremely willing to support their children and elderly. Often times generations of family members stay living near each other and continuing traditions, which is a much different perspective than my family holds.

Unfortunately, my study abroad experience was cut in half due to the coronavirus outbreak. Although this was very upsetting, it made me value all of the time I was able to spend with my family that I otherwise never would have been able to experience. My family was struck with a devastating loss that many families have dealt with during this outbreak and I am grateful to have been safe at home during this difficult time.

There were several specific instances that allowed me to grow personally and increase my self-confidence. When I first traveled to Spain at the beginning of my trip, I unfortunately missed two flights: one connecting me from Chicago to Germany and another from Germany to Madrid. As I was traveling alone, I was forced to deal with these issues by myself and wait for hours in customer service lines to reschedule my flights. Ultimately, I traveled for approximately 25 hours and arrived in Seville much later than the rest of my program. Despite the stress of these travel issues, I was surprised to feel a sense of accomplishment and preparedness when I arrived at the hotel in Seville.

The next few days in Seville tested both my Spanish language abilities and self-sufficiency. I moved into my homestay the second day and was immediately practicing my Spanish with my host mother. This was very challenging but after a few successful conversations I had hope for the rest of the semester. I also had to go to a Spanish bank to exchange my dollars for euros, go to a phone store to set up a cell phone plan, and purchase a metro card to use the public transportation. It was little obstacles like this that I handled by myself using Spanish that allowed me to feel more confident and capable of living in Spain. It suddenly did not seem so daunting to be an American living in a Spanish-speaking country. Throughout the rest of the semester, I traveled to different Spanish cities as well as Portugal and Morocco. Each time, I overcame language barriers and cultural differences.

In the end, my confidence in myself allowed me to focus on learning the culture and meeting new people. The relationships I made with other like-minded travelers and students inspired me to think in a more global mindset, as well as become a more independent person. I met several women staying in youth hostels who were traveling the world alone without fear of cultural differences, language barriers, or travel complications. They all had a mutual understanding that problems always arise, but these moments of discomfort are ultimately opportunities for growth. These relationships completely changed my perspective of the world and empowered me to continue my travel journey after the coronavirus outbreak is managed.

This personal transformation I have experienced will remain highly valuable for the rest of my life. Before I went to Spain, I was obviously interested in the Spanish language since I was a Spanish minor. As a business major, I thought it would be exciting to work for a company in a Spanish-speaking country. However, I did not truly believe I would be capable of doing that alone. It seemed impossible to truly live in a foreign country without being able to rely on a family member, partner, or friend to help me along the way. I doubted my ability to embark on such a journey alone, but after fully immersing and thriving in Spain I can absolutely see this as possible. In fact, I find myself constantly researching different opportunities for post graduation that involve moving back to Spain. It is hard to imagine myself not continuing traveling and meeting new people from different countries. Now, this feels even more feasible and I am no longer held back by my self-doubt. I am so grateful for this experience for not only the knowledge and cultural awareness I have gained, but also the personal transformation that I have undergone.