Meet Louis Harris, a CAPA International Education alum who studied abroad in London during the Summer Olympics 2012. He talks about his experience in this global city below and the role it played not only in his future career, but also in teaching him that he can thrive in unfamiliar situations.
CAPA World: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Where did you grow up? Which university are you from and what is your major?
Louis Harris: My name is Louis Harris. I am currently a senior at Washington State University located in Pullman, WA. I am doing a double degree in psychology and sociology and plan to graduate in the fall of this year. I grew up on the west side of Washington State in a city named Marysville—just about 45 minutes north of Seattle.
I am very passionate about working with people, which is why I am pursuing the degrees that I am. I grew up in a household where my family didn't really travel. This is what ignited my pursuance in the CAPA study abroad program.
I also currently work in a political psychology lab at my school. I am conducting research on current and past legislators to show relationships and patterns of incivility and political discrimination. We are currently wrapping up the last round of surveys so that we can decipher the data and publish our findings. My long term goal is to become a politician and effect change in the government for the betterment of all people.
CW: Where and when did you study abroad with CAPA International Education?
LH: I studied abroad with CAPA London during the summer of 2012.
CW: Why did you decide to study abroad and why specifically London?
LH: I decided to study abroad because I've met many people who have done the same. All of these people exhibit a sense of depth and understanding that I wanted to have. There are so many benefits to studying abroad, and I knew a number of them would be a benefit to me in my field of study. I specifically chose London because I knew the Summer Olympics were going to be there during the time of the program. By going I was able to accomplish a number of goals for myself with one trip.
CW: Tell us about your first impressions of London and any that changed by the time you went home.
LH: If I could describe my first impression of London in one word I would say helpful. When I stepped off the plane and started my study abroad experience I was, of course, nervous. I was in an unfamiliar environment, I didn't know a thing about the culture, and all I had were my things and some written directions (thanks to CAPA) on how to get to my destination. Of course I didn't know exactly how to get to or where the train station was; let alone how to ride it. So I decided I would ask someone for help. Sure enough the first person I asked pointed me in the right direction. Every other uncertainty that I had after that point I simply asked someone for help and they helped me. This was my first impression of this new distant place, and it set the mark for how the rest of my trip would be. By the time I left London, I had fallen in love with London. Everything about London I had come to love, my whole experience was one that I never wanted to end, and for that I know I gained that depth that I had so been longing for.
CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
LH: There actually weren't many big challenges that I faced adapting to my host country. Everybody spoke English which made communication with people easy. The only real challenge I faced was going out and exploring the global city on my own. This though was easily overcome once I found what the city had to offer.
My most rewarding moment was when a friend from London and I went to Cardiff for a weekend to go to the Doctor Who Experience. We had so much fun during the experience and in Cardiff that we were relishing in every moment. Sure enough to make a great weekend even greater, the last day in Cardiff we went to a breakfast place near the Doctor Who Experience. We sit down at our table and guess Who (pun intended) was sitting across from us. It was Matt Smith, the 11th doctor of the series!! You could imagine how excited we were! We got to meet him and also took a picture with him. Definitely one of the best weekends ever!
CW: Did you have a chance to interact with the local community? If so, tell us about one interaction that stood out for you.
LH: Living in a community you naturally get a chance to interact with the locals of the community. So naturally you can suspect that I made friends with the local community. In the UK there is a chain of restaurants called Wetherspoons. I and my flat mates would regularly go. Naturally we got to know a few of the locals, as well as the staff at the restaurant.
One time in particular it was the birthday of one of my flat mates. We along with a whole group of students from CAPA got together at our local Wetherspoons for a good time. I had arrived late because I was just getting home from my internship—when on the way I bought a frozen cake from a small store. When I got to Wetherspoons, I had the group along with a few of the locals sing happy birthday while I brought out the cake. It was a total surprise and an absolute magic moment for my now friend on his birthday.
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?
LH: Honestly readjusting to coming back to the US wasn't as shocking as I was thinking it would be. I personally was only on my trip for 45 days in a country where English was the primary language. Reverse culture shock for me was more of just getting reacquainted with the things I took for granted before the trip.
My advice about reverse culture shock for any students is to make contrasts and comparisons about things that are similar between your home and host countries. For instance I compared one of the popular fast food chains with the ones back in the states, so that when I got home I could more easily readjust to what I remember and liked better about the one back home versus the one in my host country.
CW: What have you been up to since you returned to the US? Do you feel that your experience with CAPA Contributed / will contribute to your success in starting your career?
LH: Ever since two days after my trip I've been back in school and working harder than ever. I’m preparing for grad school so getting things in order for that to happen has been among my top priorities. Also though I am conducting research, and being an ambassador for CAPA programs at my school. I know that my experience with CAPA has, and will continue, to contribute to the success in my personal and professional life.
CW: What advice would you offer other students currently on a study abroad program or considering one?
LH: Some advice I will give you in embarking on such an adventure is to shed your skin—you are the only one who can make your time abroad the time you want it to be, so don’t be afraid to go get it. Also be smart in whatever you do and always have a backup plan. Also consider doing things that you might do at the end of your stay during the beginning, because goodbyes are never fun.
CW: What did your study abroad experience teach you about yourself and those around you?
LH: My study abroad experience taught me about myself that I can thrive in unfamiliar situations. Nine times out of 10 you can get what you want or need from life if you’re prepared to take the necessary steps, and are prepared to respond to the consequences of those steps taken.
What I learned about those around me is that most other people want the same things as I do; but have other means of reaching their goals. When two or more people can align their goals with one another, and fulfill them, then that is the stuff that magic is made of.