Anne grew up traveling around America with her family and has also been to Peru, but her most recent long term experience abroad really left an impression. She spent a semester with CAPA International Education in London getting a real in depth taste of this global city. Below she talks about her internship experience at Westminster City Archives, the biggest challenges she faced while living in London and some great advice for other students studying abroad or considering it!
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?
ANNE BRANSFORD: Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, my childhood was filled with road trips around the nation. My family is a big fan of national parks and historic sites, which served as both my playground and my classroom. As a kid, I immersed myself in the magical world of books – primarily historical fiction. My imagination ran wild with rich accounts of female pirates like Anne Bonny; of charismatic leaders like Joan of Arc; and of the myths and folklore of cultures from Scandanavia to Mesoamerica. A great portion of my life has been spent seeking out experiences with cultures very different from my own. My interest in why people are the way they are has led me to study history, seeking out the processes by which we have all become so beautifully different. To understand the meanings of these differences and the way that they actually give us a common humanity, I am minoring in anthropology. Southwestern University, a small liberal arts school in the Texas hill country, has provided a fantastic setting in which I am blessed to be able to grow and explore the world around me.
CW: Where and when did you study abroad with CAPA International Education?
AB: I studied abroad in London with CAPA during the Fall of 2012. Southwestern has a unique partner program with CAPA that allows professors to accompany us to London and make use of the city as an extension of the classroom.
CW: Why did you decide to study abroad and why specifically London?
AB: That I wanted to study abroad was never a question; I merely had to decide where and when! The opportunity presented itself at Southwestern University when a history professor was selected to accompany SU students as part of our partner program with CAPA. I was absolutely thrilled at the chance to take classes that counted toward my major in a country with such a rich and vibrant historical record. Meeting King Henry VIII at Hampton Court was unforgettable, as was attending a performance of The Taming of the Shrew at the Globe Theatre.
CW: Tell us about your first impressions of London and any that changed by the time you went home. What surprised you most about your host country?
AB: My first impression of London was its size. The suburbs are in different counties! I was also surprised by how cosmopolitan and multiculturally diverse London is – in many ways, it makes the city less intimidating by eliminating the fear of being an “outsider”. London is extremely good at adapting to an amazing variety of cultures, and though you may feel, naturally enough, like a newbie at first, pretty you've lived there all your life! As a history major, I suppose I also expected London’s history to play a bigger part in its residents’ daily lives; however, this played out in subtle ways. Walking tours with one of CAPA’s fantastic professors helped show us some out of the way places that were very meaningful in this sense, though most who pass by the Victorian monument to self-sacrificing heroes probably don’t stop. The pace of life seems quick because the city is so large, but compared to big American cities London is somewhat more relaxed.
CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
AB: The biggest challenge was definitely teaching myself to use and rely on public transportation. Being from Texas, I am accustomed to driving myself anywhere and everywhere, any time I wish. In London, you either depend completely on the Tube or buses – or you walk. Though the Tube breaks down every now and then and you must plan ahead to avoid engineering works, these are frustrating experiences for the entire community and thus tie you to the people around you. CAPA gave us all the resources we needed to learn the Tube on our own, and it was as exciting as doing a puzzle to find my destination on a map and successfully get myself there. Most rewarding were the times when I could help other travelers new to the London Underground figure out the system.
CW: Did you have a chance to interact with the local community? If so, tell us about one interaction that stood out for you.
AB: I was fortunate enough to interact with the local community through my internship with Westminster City Archives. I researched Covent Garden, a famous part of central London with a colorful history; my research took me into the archives as well as into the lives of residents as I worked with and interviewed them. Jo Weir is a hard-working, passionate woman who tirelessly campaigns for the preservation of Covent Garden’s village atmosphere, and speaking with her was such an inspiring and educational experience that I could never forget. I also got to interact with some wonderful long-time residents of Covent Garden as well as schoolchildren as I assisted with some of the Archives’ educational programs. It is astounding and incomprehensible to me that these kids grow up with an understanding that their country is over one thousand years old.
CW: Talk a bit about CAPA academics. What were your favorite classes and why? Did you participate in any MyEducation events?
AB: My favorite CAPA class was Understanding Modern Britain. Our discussions about current events and various aspects of British culture were extremely engaging, and we often spent class time going on walking tours in unique parts of the city. We visited the Imperial War Museum as a class, and that was one of my most memorable experiences – I don’t think I would have understood the powerful exhibits of the museum without the extra dimension of class discussion. MyEducation was also a great way to find out about events going on in the city, like nights the museums were open late or Diwali celebrations in Trafalgar Square.
CW: What have you been up to since you returned to the US? Do you feel that your experience with CAPA contributed or will contribute to your success in starting your career?
AB: Since returning to the United States, I have gotten a job with the Study Abroad Office that allows me to share my passion for the immense power of this challenging journey. My London internship with Westminster City Archives has also opened many doors for my future, allowing me to consider new career fields, network with my international contacts, and even to apply for leadership and civic engagement scholarships.
CW: What advice would you offer other students currently on a study abroad program or considering one?
AB: To anyone going abroad or considering it: be prepared to change. Your experience will certainly be fun, exciting, and picturesque, but it will also be scary, difficult, and messy. This is not a bad thing! Throwing yourself out there and taking on seemingly insurmountable challenges is how you find out who you are and what you stand for.
Keep a journal of even the most mundane things: it will show you your transformation over time and also remind you years from now what your days were like.
Balance the time you spend thinking of home and communicating with friends and family with the time you spend exploring and meeting new people. Take one day at a time and live in the moment!
CW: What did your study abroad experience teach you about yourself and those around you?
AB: In myself I've noticed a much greater tolerance for chaos, an adaptation I am reluctantly grateful to my former flat mates for. Of course, any traveling experience forces you to realize the things that are truly necessary and meaningful in life; I have developed intuitively a sense that the things that happen to people are not good or bad - they are opportunities to open your mind and learn more about yourself, and in doing so, the world around you. Being abroad is not an experience that allows you to respond simply to people who ask "how was it?". So often it was amazing, great, beautiful, exciting - but it was also challenging, terrifying, frustrating. In the long run, every single moment was necessary and good because it has made me a better, more conscious, less anxious person. Survival is a huge confidence booster that prepares you for challenges ahead because it liberates you from the fear of failure.