Victoria studied abroad on the CAPA Sydney program during Spring semester, 2010. She is now an Assistant Account Executive for Optimum Sports in New York City. It's a position she feels was achieved partly because of her participation in an internship with the Sydney Rabbitohs Rugby Club during her time abroad. Below she talks about some of the unforgettable moments on the CAPA Sydney program and gives her advice for other students considering a study abroad program.
CAPA World:Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Where did you grow up? Which university are you from and what was your major?
Victoria Koutris: I grew up in the suburbs of Boston in Westwood, Massachusetts. I attended the University of Massachusetts – Amherst from 2008-2012 and was a double major in Sport Management and Marketing.
CW: Where and when did you study abroad with CAPA International Education?
VK: I studied abroad in Spring 2010 in Sydney, Australia. My internship was with the South Sydney Rabbitohs of the National Rugby League. The Rabbitohs, also referred to as The Souths or Bunnies, are one of the founding members of the NRL and are an iconic club in Australia. Interestingly, Russell Crowe is a co-owner of the Rabbitohs (yes, I did meet him).
CW: Why did you decide to study abroad and why specifically Sydney?
VK: Before I began my studies at UMass, I knew I wanted to spend a semester abroad. Once I heard about the CAPA Program, I was certain this was the ideal opportunity to enhance my experience at UMass. Additionally, the CAPA Program provided the unique opportunity to intern overseas for several months. Very few students are able to gain work experience abroad during college and this differentiated me from many of my peers.
Australia always intrigued me as a mysterious country that people often spoke of visiting, yet few actually did. I had been to Europe several times and wanted to explore somewhere very different. I never seriously considered studying abroad in another country. As a Sport Management major, I wanted to intern in a country where sports are an integral aspect of their culture and Australia provided that as well. Also, I knew I would need a fair amount of time to travel around Australia and knew this would be more difficult to do so as I got older and began a career.
CW:Tell us about your first impressions of Sydney and any that changed by the time you went home.
VK: As the plane descended onto Sydney, I remember seeing the Opera House for the first time and being taken aback by the magnificence of the Harbour. Sydney is naturally beautiful and filled with a plethora of beaches, wildlife and parks. One of my favorite things I did in Sydney was the coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach. The views along the walk were incredible and it was great to stop at several beaches along the way to cool off from the scorching Sydney heat. As time progressed, my first thoughts were continuously reinforced as I traveled to places such as Cairns, the Gold Coast and Melbourne.
CW: Did you have a chance to interact with the local community? If so, tell us about one interaction that stood out for you.
VK: One of my favorite memories from my time abroad is Australia Day. Australia Day is comparable to the 4th of July in the U.S. My friends and I spent our Australia Day walking around the Harbour and acclimating ourselves with the area. While we walked around the Harbour, local Aborigines were playing some of their traditional instruments, such as a didgeridoo, clap sticks, and a skin drum. While my friends and I stopped to listen to their music, they invited us to join them. Somehow I ended up playing one of the instruments and received a lesson in Aboriginal music as well!
CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
VK: Besides the jet lag from the long flight (which actually wasn't so bad), the biggest challenge I faced in adapting to Australia was the laid back culture. It’s a much slower paced culture, whether it was at work or at a restaurant, than I was accustomed to in the States. As a result, my patience definitely improved. After hearing “No worries, mate” thousands of times, this has made me relax more and enjoy the moment.
I clearly recall standing in the tunnel of ANZ Stadium (formerly the Olympic Stadium) during my last Rabbitohs match and thinking how lucky I was for my tremendous experience with the club. This was the most rewarding experience for me. At every home match, I would be in the tunnel and in the midst of all the action. Rabbitohs fans take extraordinary pride in the club and this often reminded me of our sports fans in Boston. To have been able to walk through the stadium and onto the field where so much history has been made was a surreal experience and one I undoubtedly will never forget.
CW: Now that you are back in the States, have you felt any sort of reverse culture shock? What does it feel like? Any advice for other students experiencing the same thing?
VK: When I first returned to the States, I missed Sydney tremendously. As Australia is 16 hours ahead, I vividly remember staying up until 4 am one night so I could follow a Rabbitohs match online! I would also check the Sydney Morning Herald to stay updated on their news. Although I was back home, I think I wanted to pretend that my phenomenal experience wasn't completely over.
Once I returned from my semester abroad, I was incessantly asked, “How was Australia?” I quickly realized that no words could ever fully describe what I experienced in Australia. No pictures could ever do it justice either. The only people who knew what you were going through were those on your program. I highly recommend keeping in touch with colleagues from your internship or friends you met while abroad. Also, I was fortunate to be a CAPA Ambassador when I returned to campus for my junior year and was able to share my experience with hundreds of students. While my time abroad had come and gone, I was so excited (and a bit jealous) for students who were preparing to head off to Australia. To this day, my friends and I frequently reminisce of our carefree and unforgettable days in Sydney.
CW: What have you been up to since you returned to the US? Do you feel that your experience with CAPA contributed to your success in starting your career?
VK: When I returned to the US, I interned for the Boston Bruins during the summer of 2010 and for IMG the following summer. I was a CAPA Ambassador during my junior year and was thrilled to share my experiences with UMass students who were interested in studying abroad. Currently, I am an Assistant Account Executive at the sports marketing and media agency, Optimum Sports, in New York City. I unquestionably believe that my experience with CAPA contributed to my success in starting my career. As I’ve mentioned, if one wants to differentiate themselves from their peers as they pursue potential work opportunities, interning abroad is a terrific opportunity to do so.
CW: What advice would you offer other students currently on a study abroad program or considering one?
VK: If you are considering studying abroad, I would plan ahead and do plenty of research. As a double major, I wanted to focus on my core classes during my junior and senior year. Therefore, I studied abroad during the second semester of my sophomore year and there were several other students in Sydney who did the same.
My advice for students currently on a study abroad program would be to make the most of every day. The months fly by, so immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible. Visit a museum; attend a sporting event, concert, etc.… Also, ask your colleagues at your internship for tips on adjusting to life in your city or when you go on trips. If you choose Sydney, they will also help you adjust to the Aussie slang. Who knew ‘fairy floss’ means ‘cotton candy’ in Australia?
CW: What did your study abroad experience teach you about yourself and those around you?
VK: My study abroad experience taught me that I’m more independent and adventurous than I thought I was. If my friends were in class, I would explore Sydney on my own. I wasn't going to spend my time indoors when there was so much to be seen. As I now live in New York City, I realize I’m very independent and take advantage of all the city has to offer. I truly believe this is due to my lifestyle in Sydney. Studying in Australia was quite an adventure - I went scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, skydived 14,000 feet, climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, went on the world’s fastest bungee swing and went hot air ballooning!