For my STEP experience I completed a course on chocolate science and I did an independent study abroad to Weiz, Austria to learn about the chocolate culture. During my 3 week trip, I sampled chocolate and chocolate desserts from the cities of Weiz, Graz, and Vienna, Austria. I also toured the Zotter Chocolate factory and learned about the manufacturing of chocolate. I created a blog to document my experience and my chocolate adventures.
2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
My knowledge about chocolate was insignificant before I began my step experience, though I have always had a strong curiosity for it. Before I traveled to Austria to learn about the chocolate culture there, I took Chocolate Science at OSU. This class opened my eyes to a whole new meaning of chocolate. I learned start to finish how chocolate was produced, and I even made it myself. Once I began my experience in Austria, touring a factory and sampling different chocolates was so much more enjoyable than before. Because I fully understood the effort that it took to produce those chocolates, it was no longer just a sweet treat for me. It was a moment of appreciation to the chocolatiers of the world.
Not only did I experience the science behind chocolate and taste the many chocolates of Austria, I got to experience a chocolate culture in a new country. Throughout my 3 weeks of sampling chocolate, I also observed the marketing of the chocolate and how it fit with the everyday lifestyles of the Austrian people. Being able to observe cultural differences in chocolate consumption opened my eyes to even more cultural differences. I became a much more excepting and appreciative individual for new cultures and new experiences because of this STEP project. My trip to Austria and my travels outside of my STEP experience also lead to an even greater personal growth of confidence, adjustment and independence.
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?
There were several events and activities that lead to my current body of knowledge about Austrian chocolate and chocolate culture. My tour of the Zotter Chocolate Factory is something I will never forget. When I arrived, I first watched a short film about the owner of the factory/company, where I learned about the bean to bar production of their chocolates. For the first time, all the course material I had learned was being put into a real life, visual representation. After that, I was given a small glass spoon and sent off into the factory with a hand-held prerecorded tape (in English, thankfully) of a play-by-play of every room I entered into or saw from behind glass windows. Throughout this tour, I sampled and noted all the different chocolates and my interpretation of their flavors. Mostly everything was in German, so I took photos of the descriptions of each chocolate I sampled and translated it later. It was almost a sensory guessing game for myself because later I checked to see how close I was to guessing the many flavors of each chocolate.
Throughout my trip, I visited three different cities in Austria and explored the streets to see how easy it would be to find chocolate; it was! That was one of my favorite parts about this experience. Being about to be spontaneous and try new chocolates from different cafes or stores throughout all the cities was so much fun. I also explored the local grocery stores to see just how popular of a house hold item it was. From what I can assume, I would say that 2 full isles of chocolate in a small town store means it is in high demand. These experiences added to my impression of the chocolate culture that included the marketing and consumption of chocolate, but the most chocolate culture I learned came from my host families. Because I stayed with two different host families, I got to see how often they bought/ate chocolate and for what occasions they served it for. For example, one evening my host said that she was going to invite some friend over to hang out. I asked her what she had planned to do. Her response? Chocolate fondue. She said she does this often and that it is a very common thing for her and her friends and family. I found this extremely interesting because in America, most of us don’t even know how to properly melt chocolate, yet alone own double boiler for only chocolate fondue.
Not just my time in Austria contributed to my overall personal growth. Because of STEP, I had to opportunity to also travel before and after my project. In total, I traveled to 5 different countries in 7 weeks. This made me become a more confident, well adjusted, and independent person. My confidence grew specifically when I was in Austria because I was forced to speak German. I have taken 3 semesters of German and really enjoy the language, though I was always too shy or nervous to speak it. When I was in Austria however, most of the time, it was either I spoke up or I didn’t eat lunch that day. Asking for directions, ordering food and simply making friends allowed me to overcome my anxiety of speaking a new language and become confident in myself in a new way. Traveling to new countries every few days to weeks made me also have to learn to adjust quickly and deal with unexpected problems. However, from those unexpected problems or culture shock situations, I grew as an individual and gain a strong sense of independence from accomplishing this goal traveling the world and learning about the chocolate culture of Austria.
4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
This experience did change me as a person, but it also redirected some of my future goals and aspirations. Learning about chocolate, the process of production and how to properly taste it, had always been goals of mine. After traveling to Austria, achieve something I would consider to be a life goal of mine, has inspired me to keep setting new goals to work toward. Having to provide structure and a planning processes to a goal taught me how to use rational thinking and utilize resources to achieve any goal. I now want to continue to expand my knowledge of chocolate, if not learning more about the production process, than simply trying new kinds. I would love to try more chocolate from other places around the world and see if they vary.
This experience has also impacted my academic goals as well. As a student of German, the opportunity to travel to a German speaking country was amazing. Unfortunately, I was unable to take another German class this semester due it being my final semester, I have inspired to continue building my knowledge of German after graduation. I was able to practice my language abilities in Austria; using it to independently navigate and communicate throughout the cities. This has made me want to set new goals to create more opportunities to travel again and grasp the language even more.