Cross-Cultural Nutrition Study

My STEP Signature Project was a nutritional road trip conducted in three of the fastest growing cities in the United States; Phoenix, Chicago, and Columbus during the summer of 2017.  I wanted to discover these communities with a nutritional lens to compliment my future career path of a Physician Assistant specializing in nutrition by documenting various foods, the cost and nutritional value from the diverse cultures within each community. I explored the variety of cultures in each of these communities and the types of food offered, document how it is promoted and its nutritional value and the prices.

These project opened me up to so many new experiences and to try various types of food. I met many people who were not born in the United States and had strong ethnic identities and I learned so much about various cultures through this project. This is truly an expanding experience for me because I am from a very small town in central Ohio that only has 2,000 people in it. To put that in perspective: Smith-Steeb and Park-Stradley could hold my whole town essentially. There was not much diversity and I’ve had limited experience traveling before coming to Ohio State.


While completing this project I went to various restaurants all over these cities in highly ethnic areas and tried so many new foods. I also stayed with a Hispanic family when I was in Phoenix and an Indian family when I was in Chicago and had home cooked meals as well. It was amazing to immerse myself in these cultures and open myself up to try these many new things and discover how much differentiation there is between what kinds of food and proteins that each culture prefers and consumes most. Further research gave me a better understanding about the health statistics of each of these minorities.

When I was in Phoenix I stayed with a lively Hispanic family. Its my best friend’s husband’s family so I have stayed with them previously. My favorite food that they make when I visit is their grandma’s green corn tamales which is so rare to find at other restaurants and stores. Besides Mexican food I also conducted my study on other high population minorities such as Colombian, Mediterranean, and Italian. As a disclosure I would like to say that every restaurant I went to was locally owned or only located in that central area of each state. My project focused on truly authentic restaurants to get the full culture experience. There was a language barrier ordering off of menus that were not English and staff that spook little English but the food was a better representation; and the crowd that these restaurants drew in were mostly their ethnicity which was highly relevant to my study.

When I was in Chicago I stayed with my Indian friend and her family. Her mother made home cooked meals including Dosa, Sambar, and Chutney . But Chicago is a highly diverse city which allowed me to try many different cultures. One of the nights I stayed in the Loop and we traveled to some of the neighboring subdivisions including Greek Town, and China Town. I also ate at the first Italian restaurant that was ever opened in Chicago  called The Village and it is still only located in Chicago. Once returning to Columbus I finished my project here but eating at the local New Taj Mahal ran by a local Indian family on High street and Lavash Cafe which is locally owned in Columbus.


These experiences along with additional research about minority health statistics give me a very in-depth understanding about different cultures and compliments my future career path. I intend to become a dietitian to gain health care experience and then move to a Physicians Assistants graduate program in which upon getting my certification I will work towards specializing in Nutrition. It has also helped me personally in gaining diverse experiences and immersing myself in other cultures in ways that my upbringing has limited me to.

Teaching and Learning in Thailand

  1.    For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to Thailand for three weeks to teach English at a pre-school in Thailand as part of an international volunteer program called Cross Cultural Solutions. In addition to the volunteer work, I had “cultural activities” everyday to learn more about Thai culture;  I learned Thai Boxing technique, visited temples and palaces, attempted to learn the language, tried new foods, and met so many wonderful people. I even flew out to the mountains one weekend an visited an elephant sanctuary.

2.     I always used to think that I had to plan everything I do out beforehand or else bad things would happen and everything would go terribly wrong. Sudden changes of plan would cause me a lot of anxiety and spur of the moment decisions made me nervous so I would usually opt out of doing whatever it was. I think this has caused me to miss out on a lot of really great experiences in the past. This is one thing about myself that has definitely changed since coming back from Thailand. Opting out of something because it was spur of the moment would have meant missing out on almost every cool experience I had there. Nearly everything we did was spur of the moment and plans changed a Lot, but I found myself being surprisingly okay with that. I have found that things are a lot more fun when you don’t have pre-formed expectations on how it Should be. I have brought this change home with me as well. Now I find myself saying yes to things I never would have before. When I wake up in the morning with an idea of something I want to do or somewhere I want to go, I don’t think about it or plan it out for a week, I just Do it. I have already done so many things, and my life is so much less stressful now that I am willing to “go with the flow” and not freak out if something changes.

Another thing that has changed is that I am much more willing to take initiative, and to put myself in situations I might not be 100% comfortable with. Before I left for Thailand, I would usually wait for cues from others before I would do anything, I avoided situations I wasn’t familiar with, and have always been rather quiet and shy around people I don’t know.  This is all because I was afraid of looking stupid if I do the wrong thing. That had to change quickly in Thailand; a different country with a different language and culture, plenty of people I didn’t know, and a whole lot of unfamiliar situations. Not having a choice to avoid all of this forced me to face it instead. I’ve learned that putting yourself out there is the best way to learn, and that it is okay to make mistakes because it’s really not a big deal if you do. Understanding it’s okay to mess up and look stupid sometimes has made me so much more confident now than I was before this experience. I am much more likely to start up a conversation with a stranger, to go to a party where I might not know everyone, and to jump in when it looks like something needs to be done instead of waiting around to make sure it’s okay first.

3.     In Thailand, things aren’t so planned out and organized as they tend to be in the states.  A lot of the time, our planned out activities for the day would change and we would end up doing something else, going later, etc. Oftentimes, our entire day wouldn’t be planned out at all and we would leave in the morning with a rough idea of what was going on and end up doing a bunch of other stuff we were never ever told about. One of the first days this happened I was confused at first, but it ended up being one of my favorite days there. It was a holiday, so we had no work that day, instead we had plans to visit the floating market, a temple, and go out for lunch. Well, we did do all of those things, but we also visited second temple, this one was Chinese Buddhist. We just showed up there in the van without even being told we were going there. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen! I could have spent a week there just exploring, observing, and taking pictures. I was something I never planned on doing, but it is one of my favorite memories of the trip. From that point on, I decided I would say yes to everything, to try to experience everything without expectations, and not to let myself get too caught up in planning.  I was a great decision because all of my favorite experiences were the ones that were unexpected. Almost every night when we had free time, we would spontaneously decide to go somewhere and it was always a blast. We planned a weekend trip to Chiang Mai only two days in advance; we ended up at an elephant sanctuary and it was the coolest thing I have ever done. Sometimes things didn’t go perfectly smoothly, but that was okay. I learned to be confident in my ability to figure things out in those situations.

Teaching three-year-olds in a pre-school where the staff speaks only minimal English taught me pretty quickly that I needed to learn to take initiative, and that being shy simply wouldn’t do. The teacher I was partnered with and I had quite a bit of trouble communicating in the beginning. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing a lot of the time and always was waiting for her to tell me, but she couldn’t obviously, because we had a significant language barrier. The kids were great but I was afraid of attempting to teach and having them ignore me or of overstepping the teacher. Finally, she handed me an alphabet book and mimed that I should go through the sounds with them. I did, and I was blown away by their enthusiasm. They were so eager to learn! Eventually I started planning out my own lessons, jumping in when it looked like the teacher needed help, comforting crying children, attempting to sing along to the Thai songs, and joining in at play time. I saw as the children grew and progressed with their English, and I formed real relationships with them. My relationship with the teacher got better as well and became something truly special. We started to be able to communicate using gestures and hand movements, facial expressions, pictures, and the few Thai and English words we both knew. Sure, sometimes I said the words wrong and sometimes I probably looked a little silly. But the point was, I was making an effort. My experience was so much better and wonderful having tried, than it would have been if I had just sat awkwardly in the corner and never put myself out there.

4.     I believe that these changes will be significant in nearly all aspects of my life.  With life in general I feel like nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. That always used to bother me, but I am hoping that my newfound appreciation for spontaneity will help me to take those changes as they come in the future.  As for my personal life, I have wanted to expand my social circle; to meet new people, make new friends, and feel more comfortable with people I don’t know well.  After this experience, I feel like I might actually have the confidence to do that.  Academically, I feel empowered to take more initiative on projects, pursue my interests, and to participate more in the classroom, now that I am not so worried about making mistakes.  Finally, my primary professional goal is eventually become a medical doctor, and I believe that both the ability to cope with change and to take initiative are essential for success in the medical field.  Overall I am sure that I will be drawing on my experiences from this project for the rest of my life.

Teaching English in Bangkok, Thailand

1. For my service learning trip, I traveled to Bangkok, Thailand and taught English to kindergarten students at a local school through Cross Cultural Solutions’ volunteer program. Along with volunteering, I was also able to sight see around the city and travel throughout Thailand. I visited multiple Buddhist temples, learned how to give a Thai massage, and stayed overnight at an elephant sanctuary, among many other amazing experiences I had during the two weeks I spent in Thailand.

2. Before coming to Thailand, I thought the evident language barrier would greatly hinder my experience. I figured that because English is the language that is expected for everyone to speak in America, surely Thai people would not have any patience for a young American girl who spoke no Thai. I assumed I would not be able to explore Bangkok without a tour guide, and everywhere I would go I would stick out like a tourist. While I did obviously stick out as an American, Thai people were so kind and willing to help the group I traveled with. Thailand has been refereed to as “the land of smiles” because of this. The people here are very proud of their culture, but they are also eager to share it with others. I soon came to realize that this openness and kindness Thai people show to strangers would completely alter my experience for the better.

Along with this kindness that Thai people are filled with, they also have a very reverent and respectful way of life. For the first time in my life, I experienced a nationwide, upheld respect for religion and politics that is ingrained in the culture. Most people in Thailand practice Buddhism or at least have an appreciation for it, and the royal family, especially their recently deceased king, is adored. This attitude also attributes to Thai people’s peaceful and respectful ways. Their culture has lead me to reflect on American approaches to life. Especially with social media, it seems that we live in a world full of harsh critics that will judge and disagree with everything that is said and done. Being surrounded by a culture that is hardly divided on issues in politics and religion was refreshing and inspiring.

3. So many Thai people showed an eagerness towards English and American culture. My first experience with this excitement and acceptance was at the school I volunteered at. Every day my kindergarten class could not be more excited to sing “head, shoulders, knees, and toes,” and the alphabet. I also helped the teachers perfect their English and learn new words. The enthusiasm from both teachers and students to learn English was endless and heart warming. Outside of the classroom, complete strangers showed my friends and me so much kindness and willingness to help us, despite that we were obviously lost tourists. On the first day I was in Bangkok, I left the home base to go to a market with two other volunteers. We stood at a street curb for a few minutes, unsure what direction to walk in and how far away the market would be. A man shortly approached us and helped us hail a taxi and made sure the driver knew where to go—even though he himself spoke very little English. This small act astonished me and was only the beginning of my exposure to the acceptance and kindness of Thai people.

While Thai people are very kind, they are also very humble and reverent, particularly towards their recently deceased king. He passed last October and all Thai people have been in mourning since. As soon as I landed in the country, I saw huge paintings and shrines honoring their king. These were not just outside government buildings and around the airport; there were shrines outside of schools, shops, and even car dealerships. Many people wore black in public to show that they were mourning. Nearly everyone I saw in attendance at the Grand Palace was dressed head to toe in black. This nationwide respect for him was moving, and I immediately noticed the vast difference seen in American politics. Thai people also have a huge respect for Buddhist monks. There are strict rules that one must follow when interacting with a monk. Many Thai people will also do all they can to help them in little ways, such as giving a ride to a monk walking down the street or giving them food at a market. This is done to build good karma. I learned about these practices while talking to a monk at Wat Arun, a famous temple in Bangkok, but I also saw them in action all around the city. I was in awe of experiencing in culture that had such a widespread, understood respect for their political and religious leaders.

4. These transformations have greatly affected me. I have experienced a culture completely different from my own and have learned so much from it. I have seen how mutual respect and kindness can go a long way, especially with strangers. This has taught me how important it is to go out of my comfort zone and work with people that are different from myself. I have gained effective communication skills and have seen that I have so much to learn from the world and people around me. This can easily be applied to my future career in the health care field. Every day I will encounter people who may be very similar or very different from myself. I have learned how to think out of the box when language and cultural barriers are in place. With this experience and the tools that I have gained from it, I can continue to develop into my professional role in the health care field.


Operation Breakthrough

1. For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled with seven other Ohio State students to Kansas City to volunteer at Operation Breakthrough. This organization is an early learning center for low-income families in Kansas City that also offers food, clothing, and therapy/counseling as families need them. Each member of my group was assigned to a classroom, where we helped supervise and play with the kids for most of the day and assisted with other projects during their nap time.

2. Before this project, I assumed I would gain a better appreciation of the advantages I had growing up, such as plenty of food, a well-furnished house in a large neighborhood, and access to whatever school supplies I needed. What surprised me about the project was the emotional and psychological support that I took for granted. I had never considered the positive implications of stable housing, parents who had the time to help me develop, and a lack of traumatic experiences; similarly, I had not considered the long-lasting negative influence of homelessness or violence on the children I would be interacting with.

3. One of the most meaningful experiences at Operation Breakthrough was talking with the center’s behavioral therapist. Early in the week, I sat in on a session the therapist had with the girls in my class. She taught deep breathing exercises and mindfulness through fun scenarios like picking a flower and blowing off the petals. Later, she talked to the entire volunteer group during the kids’ nap time about the challenges she has had with some of the kids. The therapist talked about how the kids often don’t always express the reasons behind why they act up and negatively react to each other acting up, which can make classes very challenging to manage when 15 kids have behavioral issues. This experience made me more aware of the emotional needs of the kids, and of kids in general.

With that in mind, one of the hardest challenges for me was figuring out how to apply this knowledge when interacting with the kids. Thankfully, my class only had two or three kids with major behavioral issues. However, like many 3- and 4-year-olds, the kids liked to test the limits to see what they could get away with, whether it was moving to other play areas without cleaning up, spraying each other with the water bottles used to water the plants, or climbing up the slides on the playground. I tried my best to keep a sense of order while praising when possible and maintaining my friendship with the kids. This was a gradual process that took the entire week, but the teachers helped to explain why they reprimanded when they did based on long-term observations of the kids.

The other most meaningful experience was on our last day, when the volunteer coordinator took us on a walk to see some of the other nearby resources in Kansas City. We heard stories of some of the parents who brought their kids to Operation Breakthrough, like a mother who got her kids ready before 6:30 AM every day so they could catch the bus to school and work. Some of the stories offered a different perspective on common assumptions. For example, one parent made it a significant priority to clothe her kids well, not because she was too ignorant to put other needs first, but because she feared others would accuse her of neglecting her kids and they would be taken away from her. Hearing these personal stories helped me understand the extent to which these parents cared for their kids, fighting for the best for them despite their past experiences and current difficulties.

4. This experience has encouraged me to explore and invest in similar organizations in Columbus. I know there are several local Head Start programs, but nothing as extensive as Operation Breakthrough, so several of us who went on the trip have considered helping to expand one program’s services. Even if we don’t accomplish something that large, I have a new appreciation for those programs, and would like to start volunteering with them once I have the time and transportation to do so.

However, the most significant contribution to my life in general is the concept of understanding people’s motivations and causes to their actions, but still responding appropriately. I can apply this concept when interacting with my own kids someday, but also in a broader sense when I’m dealing with an unpleasant classmate, coworker, or friend. Looking beyond actions to the people who did them will help me be a less judgmental and more compassionate person, which will benefit all areas of my life.

Service in Cochabamba, Bolivia

Claire Casuccio

Service-Learning & Community Service


  1. My STEP Signature Project took me to Cochabamba, Bolivia, specifically, to a small school for handicapped children called CEOLI. At CEOLI, I helped teach the young kids the alphabet, worked with them on using their five different senses, and helped them perform everyday activities. I also helped feed the children and play games with them to entertain them.


  1. My view of myself and the world changed because of this experience in Bolivia. To start, the thoughts I had of myself transformed completely. Before this trip, I did not realize my own strength or the ability I had to help people. This trip led me to understand that I am strong enough to help many people in many different places. Despite the fact that I was only in Bolivia for a short time, I realized the power behind my actions. I was able to help the teachers and kids at CEOLI in such a short time. My two hands gave more relief and help than I ever knew was possible. I think this trip made me understand the importance and power that service can do for others. This trip showed the power I have to change the world, even if it is one person at a time. In fact, I now believe helping just one person can change the world.

My view on the world changed dramatically with this trip, as well. I realized how privileged I am to have been born and to live in the United States. In Bolivia, there is a gate to enter every house, there are many beggars on the streets, there is no fresh water, and kids play with very old, dirty toys. I came to the realization pretty quickly that the world I live in is far from the world many people outside the United States live in. They do not have the easy life that I enjoy in Ohio. However, I also saw that many people did not need the lavish material things that take up my life to be truly happy. They needed their family and friends. They value family and friends more than anything. My view of myself and the world truly changed from this trip and I realized that people will always be more valuable than any material thing.


  1. I do not believe I truly understood the help I was giving to the teachers and kids at CEOLI until the very moment I was leaving. There was a definite language barrier between me and almost every other person in Bolivia and at CEOLI. I only spoke English and most people in Bolivia only speak Spanish. Throughout my time at CEOLI, the teachers would tell me what to do by showing me with their actions or by pointing. Not many words were spoken between us. However, on the last day when I was leaving one of the teachers gave me a hug and then looked me in the eyes and said “thank you.” The magnitude of those two words did not hit me until I was in the taxi leaving. Despite the language barrier and the little time we had known each other, I had helped the kids and the teachers and the teachers and kids had helped me. I understood the importance of service in that moment and the fact that two hands are enough to help a situation.

An event that showed me the importance of people, rather than material things actually happened every day. It was a simple activity, but it proved to me the importance of family and friends. This event was lunch. I saw how high family is held in the eyes of the Bolivians by the fact that most families in Bolivia sit down to have a nice, long lunch as a family every single day despite their busy schedules. The parents come home from work and the kids come home from school, so that they can enjoy a nice meal together and talk about their day. In a country where material things are not as important, family and friends truly shape the life of the people.

Lastly, one relationship changed the way I saw friendship and its importance, but the relationship did not involve me. The relationship was between my site director/tour guide and a man in a small village who made pottery. My site director named Arielle took me and my roommate on an hour long drive. When we finally made it to our final destination we were at a site with two small buildings. Arielle told us that the man who lived at this site had been his long-time friend and he would show us how he made his living, which was by making pottery. This man taught us how to make a bowl and then allowed me and my roommate to make our own bowls. This man made his whole livelihood off of clay and pottery and he very openly let two people he did not know use his supplies. He was willing to help us perfect our bowls and showed us some of his special techniques. He did not have a lot, but he was so selfless in the way he welcomed me and my roommate in and allowed us to use some of his supplies. He has let Arielle bring people to his house for many years. The trust, love, and gratitude between the two of them was very special and showed me the selfless way people are when they value relationships over material things.


  1. Personally and professionally this transformation can be very positive for my future. Personally, I think the knowledge that I can make a difference and it will matter, despite how small the difference may be, will motivate me to continue to serve others. This transformation will make me want to serve others in my everyday life, not just when I am half way across the world. I also think this transformation will make me focus on the relationships I have in my life. I now know the power of relationships and how material things will never give you the happiness that relationships between friends and family can give you. I think my focus on family and friends will ultimately make me have a more positive outlook on life.

Professionally, this trip and the transformation it has brought me will definitely be beneficial. I am eventually going to be an accountant and with that comes an ability to form a relationship with your client. Like I have said, this trip has shown me the importance relationships are and I think I can use that knowledge to help my clients. I also will use the selflessness that I was shown in Bolivia to motivate me professionally. At most jobs, the tasks you are completing are for others, not yourself. Selflessness is always necessary when you are working and I can use this trait to be more useful and productive at work. If I am selfless, I will work harder and better because I will be willing to help someone else. My STEP Signature Project has been and will continue to be beneficial in every aspect of my life.

Minnesota Mission

Group Picture Of the Buck-I-Serv team!

One of the many drawings made by a camper.

A beautiful painting on the wall of Funky town

A heartbreaking drawing by a camper.


Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

For my STEP project, I went on a buck-i-serv trip to Camp One Heartland in Willow River Minnesota. My job there was to do any work around the camp they needed such as planting trees, staining picnic tables and making useful things with wood.

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

Before going on this trip, I did not know much about the children affected by HIV/AIDS. I never really thought about HIV and AIDS, having no connection to the diseases except for learning about them briefly in biology and health class. I knew the facts of HIV/AIDs but knew little about the people. At camp one Heartland they have a camp dedicated to kids affected with HIV and AIDS. This is a place that kids who have HIV/AIDS or have family members with the disease can forget about their troubles for a week and just be kids. When I hear something about HIV or AIDS now, I no longer think about the biological facts, I think about the people who deal with it every day. Camp One Heartland specializes in having camps for kids who would not be able to go to traditional camps. Not only do they have camps for kids affected by HIV/AIDS but for kids in transitional housing, kids who identify as LGBTQ+ and may or may not have been kicked out of their homes and many other kids. Camp One Heartland lets kids in tough situations just be kids and I am inspired by their work and dedication. Volunteering at Camp One Heartland helped me to realize that the world needs more places such as this, where kids can just be kids when they still can be.

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?

Most of my work at Camp One Heartland was physical labor. My groups job was to help the camp director and her staff to prepare the camp for the campers. The camp is a very large place and the preparation took place in all corners of it. I made wooden boxes for fans to put in the cabins so the kids could not knock them over and break them, stained picnic tables, planted trees and many other tasks throughout the week.

Most of what was transforming was not the work itself but the place in which it was done. Camp One Heartland is a warm and loving place, the campus is beautiful and the staff is amazing. After service, each night or sometime during the day, we would have some sort of educational activity. These activities were to help us understand the kids who come to the camp, since we could not meet them at the time. The staff found several movies that they thought would teach us about the situations the campers are in. After we watched these movies we would talk amongst ourselves and reflect on what we have seen. The staff members were very good at explaining what in the movies applied to the kids. One of the movies was about the HIV/AIDS outbreak in New York. The movie really opened my eyes to how terrifying these diseases really are, especially without treatment. They explained to us that most kids now can live very long lives with the disease if they take their medication. They also explained that when HIV progresses to AIDS the treatment is harder and lives can be cut short. They expressed frustration with how HIV/AIDS continues to be treated as just another STD when it is so much more than that. I saw how deep the stigma is for kids with HIV/AIDS or kids who have family With HIV and AIDS. Another movie we watched centered around kids in transitional housing. It really got you to think about the horrible situations some of these kids are in and how important it is to give them a happy place and experience to hold on to.

Probably the most moving experience I had happened on the very first day. Upon arrival, we went on a tour of the main cabin in which we stayed. In the basement also known as “Funky town” there were drawings created by kids about HIV/AIDS. The drawings were heartbreaking, begging for understanding and compassion. I saw what the stigma of HIV/AIDS did to the children most affected by it. Going down to the basement hundreds of paintings are on the walls. These paintings were more hopeful and you could see how happy the kids were at the time that they painted them. Camp One Heartland helped them feel happiness when so much of their lives are filled with the opposite. I am so thankful to have played a small role in making that happiness happen.

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

The transformation that Camp One Heartland brought me will help me in my future as a physician. It is easy as a science major to look at diseases and such as just facts to memorize in a book but we need to look at the actual people affected by it. Some doctors are very detached from their work because it makes it a little easier. I will use this experience to remind myself that the most important thing about my job is the people I will be treating. I am so grateful for this experience.


Forest Animal Rescue

Name: Kayla Tomsen
Type of Project: Service-Learning & Community Service

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.During my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to Silver Springs, Florida to Forest Animal Rescue, a non-profit organization that works to take in animals that cannot be released back to the wild. During my time there, I worked long, hot days erecting a tiger cage. When I was not working on that project, I was hauling sand and support beams to certain areas all while learning a bit about the importance of animal preservation.

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

This trip transformed me in many ways due to the amazing words and actions of Kurt, the head of Forest Animal Rescue. I now have a newfound appreciation for individuals who dedicate their lives to a cause simply because they care deeply about that cause. Before this trip, I had always dreamed of being able to grow older with a career that would be able to support me and my future family. Now, although this is still important to me, I now have dreams of working with other nonprofit organizations and taking some time out of my career to invest in a cause that I am passionate about. Kurt and is wife lived an extremely humble lifestyle and I grew to deeply admire that and even crave the happiness they got from helping their animals. Before this trip, I always thought these types of organizations were about getting  money, but I now  know that it is truly to make a difference. During this trip, I endured a vast amount of physical labor in the smoldering weather. Every day I wanted to quit due to how difficult it really was. But after that week, the feelings that I had of pride and accomplishment overshadowed all of those feelings. This alone transformed the way that I view difficult work. Before, I always dreaded doing things that I knew were difficult for me or were not in any of the areas that I thrive in. After this trip, I am able to tackle different tasks that before I might have been to afraid to tackle. Although my physical abilities are lacking, I now have started working out regularly, something that I never did before. I realized that I liked being able to help in a physical way and seeing the 4 acre tiger cage that I had helped built at the end of the week was such a surreal feeling. This trip was truly transformative and I will be different because of it.

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?

Before my trip to Forest Animal Rescue, I had not really thought about animal rights in depth before. Although I had always believed in providing a good environment for animals, seeing it first hand was a bit different. I would say that I received the most transformation through my interactions with the couple who ran Forest Animal Rescue. When we first arrived on site, Kurt was extremely gruff and I thought I was going to dread the journey. He was stern about the clothes we were wearing and the way that we came to get to the site. What I didn’t realize then was that Forest Animal Rescue is Kurt’s entire life. Kurt and his wife have worked for over 15 years to build up their nonprofit so that they are able to help these animals have a better life. As the week went on, I realized that Kurt was only gruff because he was so passionate about what he was doing and he wanted to make sure that we were as well. When I first arrived at Forest Animal Rescue, I must admit that I did not know the caliber of the project and as week grew on, I became more and more passionate about the work that I was doing and the animals that I was helping. Kurt’s attitude towards helping the animals at the facility was what ultimately lead me to the conclusion that I wanted to be able to participate in a non-profit that touches me the way that it does kurt and his wife every day. As the days passed and Kurt saw the dedication of my group, he would get a little warmer every day. By the end of the trip I knew that I would miss Kurt and his wife, when just a few days earlier I would have loved to never see them again.

As the week went on, I worked harder than I had ever worked in my entire life. Every day starting at 8 in the morning, I would throw on my jeans and tennis shoes and emerge into the 100 degree heat. Lifting the cage walls was a feat that took every ounce of energy that I had and by the end of every day I was covered in sweat, dirt, and ticks due to being in the deep forest for the entirety of the day. When I was not building the cage, I was out in the direct sunlight filling in sand and building structures for the animals to lounge/play on. This was almost worse than the cage building due to the intense heat. After these days, I would come back to the camp with bubbling sunburn so painful that I used an entire bottle of Aloe. Despite these grueling conditions that I had never endured before, this is what caused my second transformation. As I mentioned, this trip made me value the reward of hard physical labor. All of the work that I accomplished while on this trip only made me stronger, not only mentally, but physically.

During this trip, I also realized the true intentions of non-profit organizations. Kurt and his wife live an extremely humble lifestyle, something that truly inspired me. During the course of the week, I witnessed many phone calls that ended in Kurt spending his own money in order to get various things for the animals, like more cage walls and special food that certain animals prefer. During the week, Kurt would always show up in his torn jeans and Forest Animal Rescue shirt, which I purchased and still adore. Kurt, who told me that he had had 35 surgeries so far, would come out every day and help as much as he could. Regardless of the pain that he was in, he never complained. Kurt’s actions were truly amazing and the amount of care that he had for what he was doing was amazing. Kurt’s intentions were never to make money or to be recognized for what he was doing, but they were to truly make a difference in the lives of the animals and while doing that, he made a difference in my life as well.

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

These transformations are extremely valuable for my life. Due to this trip, I have realized my desire to work with a non-profit organization. Although my career goals are still intact, this allows me to start looking for different non-profit organizations that I might be passionate about. By starting to search now, I can become invested and hopefully make some differences in certain organizations. As mentioned, I also gained a new appreciation for hard work, giving me an even stronger work ethic and preparing me for mental and physical labor. This is important for my future due to the fact that as a nurse, I will have to not only endure the mental wear down, but also physical wear down. Because this trip strengthened my understanding for this type of work, it will hopefully help me in my job as a nurse.

Living in the Jungle

Monica Sun


Service Learning Project.


My STEP Signature Project was a two week volunteer abroad program in Jalova, Costa Rica. The program was through GVI and the project was working with the research team in Tortuguero National Park in sea turtle conservation. Throughout the program, I learned about the three different turtle species that migrate through the area, the Green, Leatherback, and Hawksbill turtles, and different survey techniques and research methods used in data collection and in the conservation efforts of researchers.

My view of the world definitely changed from my experience in Costa Rica. One of the biggest changes is how I more clearly understand how interconnected the world is and how our actions not only affected ourselves and our immediate area, but can also impact people, animals, or the environment in multiple places. My view on conservation has also changed. Before, I only thought of conservation as a huge environmental project or something that only researchers, the government, or large organizations could do. After going on this trip, I see conservation as more of an individual’s responsibility and that everybody should try to reduce their consumption, think about how their actions are impacting the planet, and try to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

For example, there was an oil spill in Paraguay that occurred during the duration of my trip. Even though I was in Costa Rica, the oil spill still impacted me because it prevented a large population of the Leatherback sea turtles from being able to migrate to Costa Rica to lay their eggs. Also, we did multiple beach cleans because the beaches in the National Park had tons of plastic litter. Although we were in the National Park and people are generally more careful about not littering, a lot of the litter was from ocean pollution caused by people far away. From these two experiences, I clearly saw how an individual’s action can spread and be detrimental to others.

The program takes place in a remote location in the National Park. All the volunteers and staff live on a base. We all work together, take turns cleaning and cooking, and work together to maintain a sustainable lifestyle while on base. Some ways we lived a sustainable lifestyle was by eating mostly vegetarian meals, composting, having most of our electricity come from solar panels, and upcycling and repurposing old garbage into something useable on base. From living on base, I learned how to lead a more sustainable lifestyle and that it is simple and easy. It just takes effort and awareness.

Another example is that all the volunteers and staff worked together to make a garden on base. Since we are in a remote area, we do not have a lot of access to supplies. The garden was made out of repurposed plastics and wood we found from a beach clean we did previously. We cut down bamboo from the coconut plantations next to us, we used old palettes that we found littered on the beach, we cut plastic bottles that we found from the beach clean in half and used them as pots for the vegetables and herbs. Every part of the garden was either something we found near base or that was upcycled from trash. It was an awesome team building experience because we had to think of ways to put the garden together or find things that could be used as parts typically found in hardware stores. This experience also taught me about being more creative in my thinking and that almost everything can be upcycled and given a second life. It made me more aware about what is considered garbage and how to be less dependent on store bought things. From doing projects like these and living in a remote area where there is no access to stores, I became a lot more familiar with the concept of making do with what you have.

Since the program took place in the jungle, all the volunteers and staff were forced to live simply. There was no wifi, there was limited electricity, and we did not have access to a lot of materials. We had to be creative and make do with what we had. Living for two weeks like this emphasized to me that I do not need a lot to survive. It also taught me that with having less and having that basic lifestyle of no wifi that I felt more content because I made deeper connections with the people on base. I was less distracted by social media or worried about what my other friends were doing and could focus on my own experience in the jungle.

The changes I experienced from the two weeks I spent in Costa Rica are valuable for the rest of my life. I learned that conservation is not only a large scale project but also a responsibility in every individual. Being better to the planet is simple and easy and takes awareness and effort. I have definitely used what I learned from base and have applied it to my life at home. I am eating a vegetarian diet to reduce my carbon footprint, I have tried to reduce the amount of carbon I emit by biking to work instead of driving, and I am making an active effort to consume less disposable plastic products. I have also shared my experience with my family and my friends and have encouraged them to make more effort to live a more sustainable lifestyle as well. The concept of being aware of my actions on others and this planet is a value that I plan to carry on throughout my life and share with others. This development is important to my personal goal of being a more aware and better person because it has challenged me to re-evaluate every action I do. I think about my actions and how they impact the planet and if there is a way I can creatively reduce the impact.

The concept of “living simply” is also a concept that I have been applying to my life. From living in the jungle, I realized that I do not need much to feel fulfilled. If anything, the less I owned and bought made me feel more content. I felt more fulfilled building the garden and being creative with the material around base than buying supplies from a hardware store. I was more satisfied not having wifi all the time and instead talked, played board games, and learned the culture of the other volunteers on base. Living with and relying on less material objects has definitely made me happier. This development matters to my personal goals, because cutting out excess materials in my life has allowed me to be more appreciative of what I have and I have spent more time on stimulating or productive activities like reading, spending time with family and friends, and spending money on experiences rather than on things. Instead of watching TV or spending a lot of time on social media, I spend the time reading. If I spend money, I’ll buy a ticket to a museum where I can learn something instead of buying another unnecessary pair of shoes. I believe that this development is beneficial for my professional and academic goals because it has caused me to re-evaluate what I believe is necessary in my life and what I believe is excess which has allowed me to focus my time and money on what is beneficial for me.

Beauty in Ghana


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 Buck-i-Serv trip to Senya Beraku, Ghana. For two weeks alongside 9 other OSU students, I served in a childrens’ home and local school. At Becky’s Childrens’ Home, our group helped the kids get ready for school, served meals, did chores, and tutored/played with the kids in the evening. At the school, we taught alongside Ghanaian teachers, assisted with lessons, and taught the students a little bit about the United States.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

The trip at first was a culture shock for me. We were fully immersed in the Ghanaian culture complete with bucket showers, unpredictable electricity, and foreign food. Everywhere we went we stood out and it could be a little unsettling at times. However, I am so happy I pushed myself out of my comfort zone with this experience because I learned a lot. My first preconception that was challenged was that everyone wants to live like an American. I assumed that those living with minimal resources were discontent and always dreamed of having the opportunities we do in the United States. But what I saw was not discontent, it was pure happiness. Side note: the Ghanaian’s we met were some of the nicest, most helpful, hard-working people I have ever met. They were proud of the lives they built and it made me conscious of how little credit we give other cultures. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Additionally, I came to understand how skewed America’s view of African countries is. It was first apparent when friends and family would say “So Anna, I hear you’re going to Africa!” When else to individuals use the continent name to refer to a single country? There are great differences between the African nations and it is convenient but shallow to refer to them as one. But, I think the media is the major culprit in this. Africa is wholly portrayed as a starving, underprivileged, and needy nation. What I saw on the other hand were educated, employed, curious, empowered, and creative individuals who contributed to the success of their societies. Are there people in need? Absolutely. But the same goes for America too.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

Spending time with the kids at Becky’s Childrens’ Home was transforming in itself. They were full of energy and joy all day long and our arrival at the home was usually greeted with cheers and hugs. We weren’t seen as different, just as new friends ready for a game of soccer or a dance party. Mind you, I played soccer in high school and these players were running circles around me. It was impressive. One evening when I was helping Isaac with his homework, I was blown away by his eagerness to learn. We were in a crowded room with lots of noise and commotion, but he never took his attention away from me. I quizzed him on notes, made up practice problems, and explained concepts beyond the notes such as the chemical reaction of water. Isaac even stayed after homework time was over to complete a quiz and listen to me explain the correct answers. These kids have ambitions. When I asked what they wanted to be when they got older, I got answers like pilot, doctor, and professional soccer player. They are so strong, smart, and full of personality that I have no doubt they can grow up to be whatever they want to be.

Additionally, we visited three seamstress programs that were started through the Akumanyi Foundation. Seeing the pride the women took in their work was amazing. Some of the women in training shared that they didn’t know where they would be without the program, but the program has given them the skills necessary to eventually open their own seamstress shops. We had various clothing items made and I personally love my two rompers and dress. It stuck with me that these women, given the resources, time, and investment, were capable of learning valuable skills and running successful businesses. Once believed in, these women could flourish.

The first weekend of our trip we went on an excursion to Cape Cost. While there we toured a slave castle. The coast of West Africa was prominent in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and it was powerful to see this historical place in person. Our tour guide was great at conveying the cruelty and abuse the captives endured and I’m fortunate I had the opportunity to hear his recount. It’s important to be aware of and respect what other nations and cultures have endured and grown from. We have our stereotypes and preconceptions, but those in no way do justice to the depth of their history. Another preconception I had challenged through this experience was that slavery was a thing of the past. I’m aware of human trafficking issues, but the extent of which I was previously ignorant. We learned that Ghana has significant child trafficking in the fishing industry and through discussions back at the volunteer house I learned of the major human trafficking issues we have in Ohio alone.

4. 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.

I always strive to become a better global citizen. Transformational experiences are important because as you are exposed to different places and people, your ideas, opinions and possibly even values are altered. I believe that personal growth is greatest when you leave your comfort zone, and that’s exactly what I did by going on this trip. My future plans are to attend medical school and pursue a career in the medical field. In this field, I’ll serve a wide range of people all with varying backgrounds, so the more aware and conscious I am of their situations, the better I will be at my job. In addition, sharing this experience with friends and family is valuable in challenging the stereotypes and misconceptions people have concerning African countries. If I can convey the beauty, hospitality, and drive I witnessed in Ghanaian culture, I’ll be helping in a small but powerful way to educate others.