Beth’s Great New York Adventure

Also known as: My Official STEP Reflection

This trip to New York City was funded by the OSU STEP Program which provides a grant to second-year students to do a Signature Experience. My STEP project was a ten day trip to NYC where I interviewed artists about their work and its connection to emotion, and I traveled around the city experiencing different kinds of art.

The point of the trip was to be transformative. More than anything, I felt that I grew up a lot. This was the first trip I had ever taken alone. The organizational stuff was nothing new, but it was the first time I had to find my way through the airport, arrange transportation, travel alone, etc. For a young woman, there was definitely a lot of fear of the unknown. Eight million people within only a few miles radius is intimidating.

Aside from the maturation that came with the trip planning and execution, I felt really transformed in the way I viewed art. I did the typical things like go to the Met, see a ballet, attend a (bunch of) Broadway show(s). You know. The things people normally regard as art. But I also walked through the parks and admired the gardens. I walked through the buildings and admired the architecture. I did things I wouldn’t normally think of as “art”, even though they provide beauty, provoke thought, and take work to make.

It’s hard to pinpoint only a few things I did on the trip that led to my “transformation” because I did so many things.

So instead of a write a bunch of paragraphs describing how they all fit together, here’s a few key moments that really  taught me a lot about the way I view art:

  • I took a tour of NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and accidentally ended up seeing a live taping of Late Night with Seth Meyers. I had never been to a live taping of a TV show before and getting to see the background work that goes on and how many people are involved in every step of the process while taking the tour, and then getting to see it put into action at the live taping was incredible.
  • I walked through the Metropolitan Museum of Art which is HUGE. But what got me more than the beautiful canvases and sculptures was that there was a whole section of the museum where you got to see bedrooms and living rooms with original antique furniture and decor, which had never before been presented to me as art.
  • I walked a park called the Highline, which used to be an elevated rail track that never got used. But now it’s a gorgeous park which still featured some of the rail but now is a garden. It made me think of my mom because she likes trains and gardens.

These are just a few of the amazing things I did while in New York and they don’t even begin to feature the people.

While in the city I talked to four artists who all live (or lived) in the city and do very different kinds of art. I asked them the same questions: in your words, what do you do for a living? How does art convey emotion? etc.

All their answers were different, which makes sense because they were all different people who have different arts that they approach in their own way. It was fascinating to hear about their work and how they process emotion through it and how the type of art they do affects their process.

The last question for the reflection is “how does this change affect my life?” That’s kind of hard to put into words, but I’ll try.

I work in the healthcare field and I study social work. I have an interest in politics. In short, everything I do has the potential for burnout. But I love it and I do it anyways because I love it and because I want to help people.

When May came around and the trip came nearer and nearer,  I was reaching my limit. Class had just ended, but I had started a new one during May term for a history credit. I had finished all my classwork and increased my work hours without really giving myself a break, because I knew I had one coming.

Everything was getting overwhelming and I was reaching a breaking point.

But then I went to New York. With the exception of my online Russian history class, I didn’t have any obligations. I could make my own schedule, eat whatever I wanted in one of the top culinary cities in the world, and best of all I got to go experience art. I got to see musicals and listen to music and do everything that I had not been doing in Columbus i.e. doing self-care.

Self-care is vital to people in the profession(s) I seek to enter, and pushing myself to the limit the way I had before the trip is the kind of thing that leads people to quit. Getting to take an amazing trip where I allowed myself to just be was a God send. It allowed me to return to Columbus (straight into a conference) and feel refreshed and energized so I could do my very best.

That was the most transformational part that directly impacts my life, because that’s the reminder I have to give mysef. Self-care is rarely an all-expense paid trip to New York City where I get to see the smash-hit musical Hamilton with 95% of the original Broadway cast. It’s the reminder that I can take an afternoon and walk through a museum, or go to the library and just sit and read.  The people who live in the city could take part in what I did any time they wanted to. So why can’t I take part in what my city has to offer?

Answer: I can.

And I will.

 The Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side

The 2016 Best Musical Tony Award winner Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre

My wristband from  Late Night with Seth Meyers on NBC

Upright Citizens Brigade-Chelsea (where many Saturday Night Live members train)

Sara Sweeney STEP Project

During my STEP project, I edited and uploaded photographs that I had taken throughout the summer.  Some of these photos were taken spontaneously, and others were planned out shoots that I did specifically for my STEP project.  I then used a site called Flickr to edit and upload those photos.  Along with this project, I am also learning more about Photography in my introduction to Photography class that I am currently enrolled in.  I have always had a passion for photography that I wished I could incorporate into my life more seriously, and through this STEP project I was able to do so.

I learned a lot about myself throughout this project.  Before I started, I had the idea in my head that art was easy and that people who studied art or created art as a profession had it easy.  I am a creative person and have always been interested in art, but especially photography.  I always said that if I could pick anything to do for the rest of my life and did not have to worry about income or job security, I would be a professional photographer.  I am not trying to say that money is the most important thing nor am I trying to say that photographers and other artists do not make a lot of money.  I just mean that it can be a risky field to get in to because the competitive industry can be difficult to navigate.  Because of these misconceptions I had, I did not take a career in art as seriously as I would have taken a career in the medical field, for example.  I thought that this project would be a fun way for me to be creative without having to stress much about my results.  However, I quickly learned that this was not the case.

My project was much more challenging than I thought that it would be.  My project only lasted a few months, and even then I felt like I had run out of ideas of things to shoot.  I cannot imagine how hard it must be for professional artists to have to come up with new and exciting ideas of things to create even when they feel uninspired.  Initially, I did not plan out much when it came to my photo shoots.  I would just leave the house with my camera and take photos of whatever I thought looked cool.  As the summer went on, it got more and more difficult to find things to take photos of.  It was only when I started making plans to go to new places before hand that I was able to get better results with my photographs.

Besides struggling with the subject of my photos, I also struggled with technical aspects of photography. Throughout my experience this summer, I learned that I had to take time of day, weather and lighting into consideration when planning out my photo shoots.  I also had to deal with adjusting white balance, aperture, and shutter speed while taking the photos.  I had to think about depth of field, frame, focus, and many other things when shooting.  It is helpful now to be taking a photography class that teaches about these concepts.  During this summer I had to figure out the settings of my camera on my own, but now I have an experienced photography professor to teach me more about the technical aspects of photography.

I underestimated all of the work that would be involved in completing this project.  I learned a lot about myself creatively during this experience.  The misconceptions that I had going in to this project about art professions have been shattered.  I gained so much respect not only for photographers, but for all other artists as well throughout this process.  Nowadays, it seems that anyone with a smartphone can be a photographer, but there is much more to it than snapping photos mindlessly.

The lessons that I learned this summer are ones that I would never have fully grasped had I not completed this STEP project.  Being a business student that has a challenging course load, it is easy to write off other majors and industries.  During a late night study session, I will sometimes think about how much easier it would be to be working on a creative project to turn in rather than studying for an extensive written exam.  However, in doing this project, I was quickly brought down off of my high horse and reminded that art majors do not have it as easy as I think.  The grass always seems greener on the other side, as I am sure some art majors wish they were studying for an exam rather than spending hours working on a studio project.

Another important thing that I took from this project involves my interest in photography as a hobby.  I have always hoped to incorporate photography into my adult life because not only am I good at it but I also genuinely enjoy doing it.  I even dreamed of taking on small photography jobs along with a full-time business career.  However, after realizing how much work it takes to actually be a photographer, I have had somewhat of a change of heart. The time, energy, and equipment that it would take to be successful in a part-time photography career is not something that would be realistic for myself to pursue along with working 40 hours a week somewhere else.  Producing professional quality photos is something that requires a more serious commitment than a part-time side job.  However, I do not feel upset about this rationalization but rather grateful that I have accepted that it is not a reasonable task to take on.  Had I not done this project, I might have tried and failed to pursue a part-time career in photography.  Doing so would have been a waste of not only my time, money, and resources, but of other people’s time, money and resources as well.

Click here to view the images from my STEP Project:

STEP Reflection: 40 Day Dream

For my STEP project I chose to create my own artistic transformational endeavor. I traveled all across America by car with one of my good friends. We mainly camped in National Parks and stayed in a few AirBNB’s in cities. The highlights were Denver, Arches National Park, The Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Yosemite National Park, Portland, the Columbia River Gorge, Seattle, Vancouver (BC), Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and the Grand Tetons National Park. Throughout the trip I worked on enhancing videography and photography skills, along with reading works by famous authors such as Kerouac, Thoreau, Tolkien, and John Muir.

When I first envisioned this trip I knew it would be life changing: you cannot tour the United States by car for 36 days and not have a transformational experience. Yet this trip ended up meaning more to me than I could ever explain. I participated in STEP during the 2014/15 academic year. This past semester of spring 2016 my father unexpectedly had a heart attack and died. I do not have the words to describe how this affected me, but my father was the most selfless and caring person I have ever met and my heart completely shattered after losing him. Throughout the rest of my semester I avoided all thoughts of my father and focused all of my energy on my schoolwork. I considered dropping out of school and became severely depressed, and the main thing keeping me focused was the prospect of my STEP trip.


The first day of my trip I was relieved to have completed the most difficult semester of my life, and was able to focus on myself and begin to process the events that happened to me. I spent most of my time thinking about my father and how much my life would change, but I also spent time in some of the most beautiful places in America. I am not a religious person, but I seek solitude and sanctuary in nature, and being surrounded by so much beauty was a transcendental experience for me. There is something about standing next to the Grand Canyon, about viewing Yosemite Valley for the first time, about standing on top of a mountain looking over Oregon and Washington, which makes you forget your own problems and significance and allows you to be absolutely present in the moment. I was able to immerse myself in all of the natural wonders of America, while reading adventure novels of those whole traveled before me.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

During the whole STEP process I found a strength in myself that I have never used before. I planned a 36 day cross country/international road trip all by myself. The trip was the first time I relied solely on myself in my entire life. I overcame obstacle such as unexpected road closures, being lost in Death Valley on a 97 degree day, hiking a dangerous back country trail, hiking a dangerous mountain ridge trail, navigating through unfamiliar cities, and hiking/camping during a brief spell with a stomach parasite. I learned that I can make it through obstacles by myself, and that the world (or America) is not such a strange place. People in Oregon and Washington are just like people in the Midwest, and you can always find a place to fit in wherever you travel. For over a month I was able to rely on myself, my wits, and my own inner strength.

My father is the reason I enjoy adventures and nature so much. I grew up going camping multiple times a year, hiking almost every weekend, and began backpacking at the age of fifteen. My father would was the most adventurous person I knew, and he went on multiple road trips out west throughout his life. Following in his footsteps and going on my first road trip in itself was a transformational experience. After he passed, many people have asked me “do you feel him with you at all?” and I always thought they were delusional (I’m not a religious person and do not believe in an afterlife.) But there was one moment on my trip where I envisioned my father hiking alongside me. Not the father I knew, but the 20 year old version of my father. My friend and I were finishing a 9 mile hike in Zion National Park to see the Subway, a trip we needed specific permits for. I was struggling on the last mountain of the hike, and I just envisioned how much my dad would have loved the scenery, and I envisioned him walking a long side me. It was an odd moment, because I never imagined a moment like that could happen to me.

Hiking "The Subway" in Zion National Park

Hiking “The Subway” in Zion National Park

The first challenging event was driving from Zion National Park to Yosemite National Park, a supposedly 9 hour car drive. We decided to drive through Death Valley National Park on the way since it is located between Zion and Yosemite, my biggest regret of the trip. First we almost ran out of gas while in Death Valley, on a 97 degree day with no cell service. After we filled up on gas our GPS stopped working and there was no visitor center with maps, and we got lost. I pulled out my road atlas and we finally navigated outside of the park. We drove about 4 hours parallel with the Sierra Mountains, then found out there was a road closure in the mountain pass to Yosemite, and we had to turn around and drive around the opposite side of the mountains. We arrived at Yosemite at 3am and someone was in a reserved campsite, and it took me an hour to properly store our food from bears. All in all we drove 17 hours that day, and it was the most stressful day/night of the trip. Thankfully that day was early on in the trip, and I felt like we got the worst over with. That day tested my patience and problem solving abilities, and although I was stressed I was extremely proud of myself after setting up my tent and finally going to sleep in Yosemite.

Driving through Death Valley National Park

Driving through Death Valley National Park

Another eventful moment was towards the end of the trip, when we were hiking to Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park. The hike to the lake was probably the most beautiful hike I have ever taken in my life, and we met some interesting people along the way. When we finally reached the lake after 3.5 miles, we stopped in the shade to eat lunch. Someone we met on the trail caught up to us then and told us that there was a baby moose lounging in snow just a few feet away, and that was the first time I have ever seen a moose so close. I know it sounds corny, but it was extremely majestic to be in the middle of the wilderness with a wild animal sitting peacefully right next to you. The hike back to my car was another story. Early that week my stomach started to feel odd, and during the hike back I knew something was wrong. I had to hike 3.5 miles feeling like I my stomach was about to explode, and I almost went to the hospital straight away. It turns out I had a mild stomach parasite that went away after two weeks, and dealing with that while camping and driving from Montana to Ohio was quite the challenge, and truly tested my inner strength.

Hike to Grinnell Lake

Hike to Grinnell Lake

My relationship with my friend changed as well. I traveled with my best friend from high school, Moira. She’s been my absolute best friend for years now, and we’ve gone through some serious and rough times together. She was the first, and to this day the only, person I have been able to comfortably talk about my dad with. We grew to rely on each other, and we both went through this amazing experience together. Part of the reason we both decided to go on this trip is because we both wanted to move out west after graduation. Before the trip Moira and I have only ever been to Seattle, so we were not sure how well we would actually like the Pacific Northwest. We scouted cities and areas we liked, and we both decided that we would still like to move out there.

The transformation I went through on this trip will affect my personal life for years to come. I love to travel, and adventuring national parks for over a month was the most freeing experience I have ever had. After all of the turmoil I went through this past spring semester, words cannot describe how much this trip meant to me. I was able to relieve myself from the stress of coursework and finally was able to begin to process the loss of one of the most important people in my life. I was able to feel connected to my father in the only spiritual way I know how. I was able to find strength in myself and in the words of famous authors, and it was the most therapeutic experience of my life.

Accompanying blog:

By Michelle Roman

STEP Reflection

Type of Project: Artistic and Creative Endeavors: Writing and publishing a Children’s Book

For my STEP Signature Project, I decided to use my artistic and creative abilities in writing and helping illustrate a children’s book. This children’s book is aimed at teaching four to six year old children how to write their numbers correctly in a fun way. Once I wrote and helped illustrate this book, I brought it to the hands of a publishing company and am in the process of getting published.

Because of this opportunity Ohio State gave to me, I was able to transform more than I could have imagined. I always knew that I wanted to create a career in healthcare so following that route has limited the other activities I wanted to be involved in. However, STEP allowed me to go out of the box and reach for something that was completely different than my healthcare dreams; it was a dream to write. Because of STEP, I was able to transform myself into an entrepreneur, an author, and an artist. I would have never been able to become any of these three things without STEP’s help. Moreover, I appreciate and thank this organization for allowing me to open up my horizons and allowing me to change the world that those awed- eyed toddlers and me live in. I hope that like STEP, I too can make a difference.

I created many relationships and networks as my STEP Signature Project progressed. My STEP mentor was my biggest advocate. She guided me into wanting to even write and publish a book and helped in any way she could on getting me there. She answered any of my nettlesome questions even after my STEP experience was over. Also, I networked within the publishing company I chose. I was able to network far beyond what I had imagined for my college experience. Above all, these relationships affected me. Because of STEP, I was able to broaden my network and as a result, it had changed the way I interact and act. It gave me the courage to experience outside of what was comfortable for me.

Aside from my networks, I perfected my organizational skills in this experience. I had deadlines I set for myself and I abided by them. I created a demo book within a month’s time span so that I can have something to hold, go back to, and to show to anyone interested in my book so far. When I had questions about the creation of the book, I was able to call the companies and discuss my confusions. My favorite story while enduring this opportunity permanently resides in me now: I was on the phone with Shutterfly whist asking them questions about how to change the color of the background. The man on the phone was from Texas and had a thick southern accent. He yelped with glee when he started to glance over my creation. He stated that once it was published, he would buy it for his three-year-old son in hopes of teaching him his numbers. He even showed his other coworkers who were passing by. It was the most powerful moment I had in this experience. It showed me that I can make a difference across the country; to people I hadn’t even known and that my book was already speaking volumes. I had supporters everywhere and was so excited to continue on my journey.

However, obstacles did arrive at times. I struggled with finding a publishing company I truly desired. I did my research and found that many of the publishing companies I had wanted prior were either scams or difficult to work with. I also was finding that the more I wanted with the book, the more expensive it was going to be. These specific obstacles alone had transformed me. They taught me to truly look deep into the Internet’s offerings and see who was real, who was phony, and who had what I wanted. I became more of a businesswoman than I thought.

This transformation is significant to me because it has shaped me for my future endeavors. I now am able to teach children how to write their numbers correctly. Because of STEP, I have created a teacher and author within myself. I am able to show children a project that I created with a sympathetic hand. I am able to write even more stories because STEP has opened up that opportunity for me. This experience has changed me because it has changed my route; I have always wanted to be in the medical field because I enjoyed helping others. But now, I can help others in a different, more unique way like a children’s book. Thank you STEP for allowing me to experience something different, demanding, and overall remarkable.

My STEP Experience: Focusing on 2D Animation – Catherine Lee

For the last year, I’ve spent my time focusing on creating work to submit to exhibitions and adding to my portfolio. Using the funds from STEP, I was able to buy the equipment that I needed to create the work and present it during exhibitions. I also decided to open an online store and submit my work to screenings and exhibitions in order to help start saving for graduate school.

Through the project, I was able to learn about what kind of work I am interested in doing in the future. In my major, there are no classes that teach 2D hand-drawn animation, but I had the opportunity to take a course that helped me get started on understanding the basics of 2D computer animation. I really enjoy 2D animation, and through making those animations, I hope to enter graduate school with a focus on 2D animation. I also realized through the project what kind of content I enjoy creating, and I was also able to figure out a process to create my work. The work I create starts with an emotion and maybe a phrase related to it that soon becomes a still image. From that image, I become inspired to think of other imagery related to the emotion. From there, I create a rough storyboard of the sequence of images. Even then, the sequence isn’t finalized until after I have created the animations and I am starting to piece them together.

My animations were inspired by the experiences I had after coming back home from meeting and getting close to a group of people I met over the summer, in a separate program not related to my STEP project. The experience I had with them really impacted the way I felt after coming home. This helped motivate me to create the animations that I had created, which led to me figuring out what kind of work I enjoy doing.

During the project, I also had a professor that helped me figure out how to approach these emotions and animations. She helped me by talking with me about my thoughts, and gave me advice that really helped me push forward. Because the animations are the result of my personal experiences, I began to feel conflicted about how much of myself I am showing to the world. It made me feel vulnerable, since I was translating my emotions into my work. The endings of the animations were a struggle in this sense. I didn’t want to leave the animation on a heavy note, yet it didn’t make sense for things to end bright and positive, as if nothing was wrong in the first place. So my professor told me that I can try to make things end on a lighter note if I wanted to find a way to do that, but if I couldn’t then that is okay. In the media and in the movies, animated movies always seem to have this happy ending that is a resolved ending. There is something nice about animations that don’t do that, and in the end leave people wondering about what happened. In my animations, I hope that I had left people wondering about themselves, and their own experiences.

The feeling of being vulnerable is something that I had to learn to accept. My animations were accepted into exhibitions and screenings in the past year, and being able to share those to a larger audience made me accept this feeling. Because I realized that I’m not the only one that has these feelings, and these experiences.

This change impacted the way I felt about 2D animation. Animation can become a way for me to share my thoughts and experiences to the world. It can be a way to allow for contemplation, and for introspection. It doesn’t need to follow the traditional look of animation we see through movies and cartoons. I really enjoy the kind of work I make, and I would like to keep doing it. I plan on going to graduate school, and I hope that I can bring this kind of work to whatever program I am accepted into. I had considered going to a school where everything is just 2D hand-drawn and traditional animation (pencil and paper animation), but then I would feel a loss in what I have been working with—digital hand-drawn animation, and video and color layers within them. Perhaps a program where I can further develop my 2D hand-drawn skills to create digitally produced works would be better. Entering a different environment than the one I’m currently in and have been in since I was born would definitely influence the narratives I create. Because of the project, I’ve realized how I still have a long way to go when it comes to animation. Since I already know that I would like to attend a graduate school to get a degree in animation, I know that I will keep working hard to improve my skills and create more work, even after this project.

My Vimeo:

My online portfolio:

Hannah Tuttle Summer 2016 Japan Trip

Over this summer I had the opportunity to go to Japan. While there I was able to study the drawing techniques used in manga, Japanese comic books that contain a unique drawing style. Also while there I was able to learn about the history of manga drawing and observe the culture of Japan which has a strong influence in manga drawing.

Not only did I learn about drawing while on this trip but about the Japanese culture. Before going to Japan I thought that it would be a huge culture shock and it would be completely different then everything I had ever know but while there I found many similarities to American culture. I also came to understand that I can’t always just rely on myself and technology. Finally I gained a bit of trust in humanity as a whole, it is so easy to watch the news and assume that there are a lot of bad people in the world but after this trip I have gained a bit of faith in strangers.

One incident that really stands out regarding similarities within cultures was I saw a few guys on the train fooling around just like any unsupervised American teen would. Just from my experience from reading manga I was expecting everyone on the train to be on their phones or reading not laughing loudly and sitting on each other. I found that after a few of these experiences I began to think that even with different upbringings and social norms people are intrinsically similar. Once getting back to the States when meeting people from other countries I would immediately start looking for the unique characteristics in the person whether than seeing if I could find any influences of from where they come from.

Another thing I took away from my trip was the realization that sometimes you just have to ask for help. I am at my core a very independent person and I will always try to do everything by myself. Before coming to Japan I planned out everything I was going to do and how to get there but once I started to try to get places I quickly realized I am useless when it comes to get from point A to point B. Even with the use of technology I was constantly getting lost but was fortunate enough to find English speakers who would help me find where I was going. At first it was very hard to swallow my pride but I soon found that people were very kind and understanding.

The biggest thing I took away from my experience was I became a little less jaded. I like most people my age am on the Internet so I am constantly faced with the atrocities people commit against each other which has made me less inclined to believe in the good in people. While in Japan I was fortunate to see and experience a lot of kindness. On one of the last days I was in Japan a friend I had met up with and I were stopped by an elderly man just so he could give us a piece of candy. It was a very small action but at the time it made my friend and I so happy that someone who didn’t know us would do something to try to brighten our day.

My journey to Japan was full of experiences that will have a lasting effect on me. After going to Japan I have made it a goal to travel abroad again and get a chance to learn about different countries and their cultures. It has also inspired me to focus on East Asian business moving forward in my career as I greatly enjoyed my experiences with the unique Japanese culture. In addition, I will apply the techniques I learned to improve my drawings as those are what tend to keep me sane during stressful times. I am happy for a chance to become a better artist and I am very grateful to have had a chance to visit Japan and will carry aspects of this trip for years to come.

Stepping into Singapore: Blogging about one of the world’s most diverse cultural melting pots

Amanda Etchison (left) and Pallavi Keole at the botanical gardens in Singapore.

Amanda Etchison (left) and Pallavi Keole at the botanical gardens in Singapore. (Credit: Courtesy of Pallavi Keole)

The humid heat seeping through the retractable walls of the jet bridge was the first change we observed as we exited the plane in Singapore. Despite it being a little past 2 a.m. local time, the darkened air was heavy with moisture. Steam hovered above the pavement beneath the aircraft’s wings, a ghostly gray mass illuminated by the bright runway lights.

The tropical atmosphere of our southeast Asian destination was a far cry from the chilling winds we left behind in Cincinnati, but the climatic variations were just the first of many differences we discovered during our 10-day adventure.

About our trip

A view of the Singapore skyline. (Credit: Amanda Etchison)

A view of the Singapore skyline. (Credit: Amanda Etchison)

Singapore is an island city-state located in Southeast Asia at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. The country is situated one degree above the equator. Establishing itself as an independent nation in 1965, Singapore is now considered a hub of modernity and a multicultural melting pot. With a population of 5.54 million people (as of June 2015), Singapore is home to a variety of cultures that coexist within a city approximately 3.5 times the size of Washington, D.C.

My roommate-turned-travel-partner and I initially proposed this trip as an artistic and creative experience. As a student majoring in journalism, I intended to try my hand at travel writing and photography.

During our 10-day trip, we hoped to explore the diverse streets that make up a cosmopolitan nation that is both rich in history and alive with new ideas and innovations.

Travel transformations

Mint tea from Arab Street in Singapore. (Credit: Amanda Etchison)

Mint tea from Arab Street in Singapore. (Credit: Amanda Etchison)

After several days spent roaming around Singapore with a DSLR camera around my neck, snapping photos of street vendors, architectural details and anything else that passed in front of my lens, I became fascinated with the cultural eccentricities that surrounded me.

This trip to Singapore marked the first time I had ever traveled abroad to an overseas destination, and, although English is one of the main languages spoken in the country, the

Mee siam in Singapore. (Credit: Amanda Etchison)

Mee siam in Singapore. (Credit: Amanda Etchison)

unfamiliarity of a foreign city still required a great deal of pre-planning each day.

As my roommate and I researched destinations, requested directions and attempted to master the Mass Rapid Transit system, we celebrated small victories every day. We rewarded ourselves with ice cream if we managed to make it to a park without getting lost. We budgeted our money to ensure we weren’t overspending, and looked for authentic, local eateries that provided good, filling food for a fraction of the cost of international chains.

The White Rainbow bridge in Singapore's Chinese Gardens. (Credit: Amanda Etchison)

The White Rainbow bridge in Singapore’s Chinese Gardens. (Credit: Amanda Etchison)

By the end of our 10-day journey, we felt comfortable navigating the streets at any time of day or night. We memorized the important transfer stops on the subway and laughed as we attempted to pronounce their names in Mandarin and Malay.

Now that I have experienced traveling around a foreign city on my own without a local guide or instructor to follow, I feel that I have gained problem-solving skills that are applicable to everday situations back home. I have learned to plan ahead, make necessary arrangements and do my research and be open to flexible solutions to unanticipated problems.

Had I not had the opportunity to practice these skills during our Singapore trip, I might not have been able to truly make the most of other transformative experiences I have had this year, such as traveling to Japan on a scholarship for 10 days or living on my own and working in Phoenix, Arizona, for three months this past summer.

Not only did this trip help me gain the confidence I needed to face challenges and work through problems on my own, it introduced me to a fascinating island country that prides itself on its intercultural identity.

I was adopted from China when I was five months old, and I have often struggled with defining and accepting my distinct cultural identity. I feel very connected to my adoptive family, yet I have tried to make an effort to understand elements of my native culture as well. This desire led me to choose the major of Chinese as a secondary area of study while at Ohio State, and it also influenced my decision to travel to an East Asian country as a student in STEP.

My time in Singapore granted me the opportunity to truly see how different cultures can coexist and enhance the rich diversity of a nation. Seeing the easy flow of languages, the cuisine that mixed elements of a variety of traditional cooking styles and the widespread acceptance and celebration of others’ unique traits inspired me to wholeheartedly embrace my background.

Indeed, Singapore takes national pride in being a country of many voices, faces and beliefs. While in America it seems that these differences often divide the population and cause stress, anxiety and anger, in Singapore, it is almost the exact opposite. Our visit to Singapore showed me that acceptance of things that might be foreign or strange at first isn’t something we should fear. I fully intend to continue to explore my personal cultural history with this mindset moving forward.

Reporting back upon return

Amanda Etchison on the White Rainbow Bridge in Singapore's Chinese Gardens. (Credit: Pallavi Keole)

Amanda Etchison on the White Rainbow Bridge in Singapore’s Chinese Gardens. (Credit: Pallavi Keole)

With suitcases packed full of souvenir chopsticks, fabrics and porcelain cat figures, we disembarked from a 13-hour flight across miles of ocean and land. With smiles and hugs, we were welcomed back to Ohio by our families, who were patiently waiting for us by the rotating baggage claim in Cincinnati’s airport.

As we prepared to bundle up for the cold — something we hadn’t needed to think about for more than week in Singapore’s balmy 90-degree climate — we reflected on our experiences between jet-lagged yawns.

We came back from halfway around the world with more than just an album of photos. Our trip taught us that it is okay to go off the beaten path every once in a while; that eating where locals eat, even if it means trying dishes that you’ve never heard of before, is usually the best way to learn about local culture; and that asking for help is perfectly okay.

We learned that planning ahead is a necessity, yet spontaneous discoveries are what you will ultimately remember. We discovered the value of having a curious spirit, of diving head first into new experiences and of analyzing situations with an open mind.

A view of Singapore's skyline at night. (Credit: Amanda Etchison)

A view of Singapore’s skyline at night. (Credit: Amanda Etchison)

Our trip to Singapore introduced us to new foods, new languages and new people. We gained skills that will help us through life’s unexpected twists and turns, as well as some that are of a more technical nature (i.e., how to take a well-composed photo and write compelling blog posts).

But most of all, we learned that this trip is just the beginning. We can’t wait to explore more of the world and do it all over again.

READ MORE: Stepping into Singapore Blog

Musical Adventures in the Catskill Mountains

For my STEP experience, I went to a two-week music festival in Rensselaerville where I was able to study violin with professors from all over the country and interact and collaborate with other student musicians.  I took private lessons and group coachings from professors, participated in playing chamber music, and attended musicology and performance lectures.  The venue was surrounded by nature, giving me the opportunity to spend time “off the grid” and explore some of the area in the Catskill Mountains.

I learned and grew significantly at this music program both as a musician and a person.  One important skill I developed was optimizing the time I spent practicing violin to get the best result in the least amount of time.  This is especially important because that was a personal goal I had going into the festival, and I was able to achieve it!  Second, I found the lectures I attended to be particularly inspiring, and I learned lots from them.  Finally, something I learned at this program that was quite useful in the year that followed was all the training I received from one of the professors on a piece I was working on, Havanaise by Saint-Saens.  I went on to compete in the Ohio State University School of Music concerto competition with this piece, and I won, allowing me to play it as a soloist with the OSU Symphony Orchestra.

Before I left on my trip to upstate New York, one of the music professors here at OSU gave me a book on how to make the most of practice time.  I read this book in the airport (I was there a while due to a delayed flight), and was able to apply what I learned to my practice sessions in the following two weeks.  This was the perfect time to amend my practice routine, because the participants were allotted a fair amount of free time each day, most of which was spent practicing.  So I was able to practice every day, usually for at least three to four hours, with no distractions.  By the end of the two weeks, I had developed a much more efficient practicing method which allowed me to both learn a good bit of repertoire and further improve my technique.

In addition to private lessons, chamber group rehearsals, coachings, and performances, this summer music festival included a lecture series given by some of the violin, viola, cello, and piano professors on site.  Most of the lectures blended elements of performance and musicology, and they were very enlightening.  My three favorites were “Contemporary music for strings,” “Romantic sonatas,” and “Baroque technique.”  Each of these lectures discussed a lot of the elements seen in the music of each respective time period and how to realize them from a performance perspective.  These lectures helped me understand the importance of understanding the history behind the pieces I play in order to create an educated interpretation of the music.

One of the teachers I took private violin lessons with at this festival was Peter Zazofsky of Boston University.  I brought him a piece I had just started working on, “Havanaise,” by Saint-Saens.  Mr. Zazofsky, an avid fan of Romantic era music and a fan of Saint-Saens, was very helpful to me in learning how to transform the notes on the page into a musical experience.  He even convinced me to compete in the OSU Concerto Competition this school year with that piece, and luckily I won and was given the opportunity to play it with the orchestra!  The level that I brought Havanaise to was the highest I had ever achieved, and I must say, I’m really proud of that.  I do believe that because of this experience I now know how to approach learning new pieces and bringing them to a high level.

As a molecular genetics major, my future career plans do not include music.  Was this trip a waste of my time, then?  Absolutely not.  First of all, even though I’m planning on pursuing science, I want to be able to continue playing violin on the side.  Since I won’t be completing any graduate school in music, I will need to be as self-sufficient as possible.  I will need to be able to learn new repertoire, learn about the history of the music and relate it to what I already know, and formulate a unique interpretation of the music, all without the help of any teachers.  And while I do just want to keep playing music simply because I love it, I still do firmly believe that maintaining my art will help me as a scientist.  In a world full of facts, equations, and analytics, it is vital to have a creative mind.  Out-of-the-box thinking is necessary to propel the field of science forward, and for this reason and many others, I am determined to always nurture the creative side of my brain.

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My STEP Experience: Attending the Doug Varone and Dancers Winter Workshop

IMG_3667For my STEP Signature Project I attended the Doug Varone and Dancers Winter Workshop in Boston, MA at The Boston Conservatory. At the one-week long workshop I took Varone technique classes with all of the company members, learned choreography from their current repertory, took dance composition classes with Doug Varone himself, and watched the company perform their current works in an intimate studio setting.

During this workshop, I made a transformation from primarily being a performer to becoming both a dancer and choreographer. As a dance major and someone who has performed all of my life, I’ve always seen myself primarily as a performer. It wasn’t until attending this workshop and taking dance composition classes with Varone that I started to also view myself as a choreographer.

In his composition classes, Varone shared the choreographic devices that he uses to create his work. His choreographic process places emphasis on intuition and play, which I found as a very conductive atmosphere for my own creative process to thrive. My experience working with Varone and his dancers in this class has changed my entire understanding of my own choreographic process and I left this workshop with newfound confidence in my ability as a director and choreographer. This understanding and confidence will aid me in my future as a dancer, choreographer, and rehearsal assistant – all roles that I am interested in pursuing upon my graduation.

My initial interest in Varone technique sparked from my experiences within the OSU Department of Dance. I recently took my first semester of Varone technique and performed a piece of Varone repertory in Dance Downtown. My interest in Varone technique is what led me to the workshop and fueled my desire to dig deeper into the technique.

IMG_3676During my time at the workshop I found how comfortable and at home my body feels within this technique and how satisfying the movement feels in my body. The daily technique classes transformed me into a dancer that has a deeper bodily understanding of Varone technique and its aesthetic, as well as more clearly understanding my own movement aesthetic. This understanding has stuck with me ever since and has aided me in my continued growth in the OSU Department of Dance this past semester. And I believe that this understanding will continue to aid me in my growth beyond OSU.

Through my experience with this workshop I have redefined and clarified my desires for my future upon graduation. I have always been interested in performing and traveling with a dance company based off of my previous experiences within the OSU Department of Dance. Working intimately and socially interacting with Varone and Dancers has expanded and transformed my view of company life. Much of what I learned about company life from the dancers supports the knowledge that I already had; however, I gained new information that deepened my desire to experience this life. I’m thankful for this experience because it has reinforced my hopes for my future as a professional dancer.

To learn more about my STEP Experience and my experience as a Dance Major at OSU:

Blacksmithing in the 21st Century @ The Columbus Idea Foundry: Alex Cochran

My STEP project saw me traveling to the Columbus Idea Foundry (CIF) to take blacksmithing classes. The CIF is located in Franklinton, right across the Scioto River, and is a “makerspace”– a place where artists, designers, and even those with little to no artistic talent (such as myself) can go to practice or learn a new creative technique. With funding and donations from the City of Columbus and many of its members, the CIF contains millions of dollars of tools and equipment its members can use for 3D printing, laser cutting, welding, painting, jewelry making, glass cutting, blacksmithing, and more. I focused my STidea1EP funding on taking blacksmithing classes with Adlai Stein, the CIF’s resident blacksmith.

I’ve always wanted to try blacksmithing. It’s always been something I’ve been interested in, but it’s not really something incredibly accessible to the public anymore. What used to be a series of techniques that needed to be learned in order to create the metal tools and products used by society are now generally automated and completed by factory machines. Being able to begin to learn how to shape and reform metal pieces into useful or creative designs allowed me to explore a creative side of myself that I rarely get to see. As a Materials Science & Engineering student at Ohio State, my daily studies explore the complexities of metallurgy, but we don’t usually see or experience steel being heated and reshaped. Reshaping metal doesn’t require equations or much of a conceptual understanding of high-temperature crystal transformations, only a vision for the end-product and the knowledge of how and where to hit the piece. The instructor made sure that I understood that the metal is very much like extremely tough clay– it can’t ever be completely ruined. Never having been much of a painter, blacksmithing provided a unique creative experience for me. It expanded my perception of what I though art could be, and especially what I thought I would be able to make with my hands. instructor-cif

Working with Adlai was one of the major reasons I feel comfortable calling my project transformational. Though his experience with blacksmithing is purely hobby-based, he managed to turn it into his full-time job, earning a living selling his pieces. During each project that he helped me complete we’d often talk about the different aspects of blacksmithing that make it interesting. He helped relate a lot of the theory that I’ve trudged through in school to the different types of hammer strokes and techniques used to temper the metal.

Spending several hours during each week reshaping metal into usable tools showed me how useful an ancient technique could be. The most interesting and involved project that I completed during my STEP project was a steel knife. I made the knife out of rust-resistant 1040 steel and gave it a handle made from Purpleheart wood, and I regularly use it to cut fruits and vegetables in my kitchen. It’s much sharper than any of the other knives that my roommates and I own, and also looks the best. It is extremely rewarding knowing that I was able to make it with my own skills. Since then, I’ve made several other things, such as a bottle opener and a hatchet, each used regularly.

Also integral to my transformational experience was the community at the Idea Foundry. The members of the idea foundry are all there to express their ideas in a plethora of different ways, and everyone is open to collaboration. Often when walking across the shop floor I can hear members asking others for constructive criticism. It doesn’t matter if you are just beginning to learn your craft or you’ve been at it for years; all of the members at the CIF love to ask questions, offer advice and ideas, and never stop giving words of encouragement. Learning to blacksmith wasn’t easy. Even though I’ve done it more than the average person, I’m still terrible at it. Regardless, Adlai and his other students and fellow artists are always positive and ready to help.

Starting on my way to learning how to blacksmith has been a valuable experience. It has solidified the interest I have in my major, shown me a wonderful creative outlet, and introduced me to a community of interesting and extremely well-rounded individuals who understand my need for a way to express myself in a way different from anything I’ve ever done before. Applying the knowledge I’ve gained in class to something I can do with my hands has been very liberating, especially as it has been taught to me by a group of people I can relate to. In addition, I’ve been able to make some pretty cool stuff along the way.