Meet Kieran, CAPA International Education's only Institutional Relations Manager from the UK. Kieran recently transferred from his position at CAPA London to work in Boston with our team of road warriors. In our interview below he shares some stories of his travels, tells us about a man on a mission who rides a lawnmower across Kieran's region of the US and gives us his best tip for taking better photos while studying abroad.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
KIERAN KINAHAN: I graduated from the Surrey Institute of Art and Design (now known as the University for the Creative Arts) in 2004 with a degree in Graphic Design. I also attended Roehampton University (now known as the University of Roehampton) to complete a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from 2005-2006. Both institutions underwent significant branding/name changes shortly after I was out the door. Make of that what you will.
I didn’t study abroad as there were unfortunately no opportunities for me to do so.
I have been with CAPA for over six and a half years now; the first six years were spent working at our London program and for the last few months, I have been based in Boston, working as a member of CAPA’s Institutional Relations Team.
CW: What are the boundaries of your region and some of the universities you work with on a regular basis?
KK: I work mainly with NAFSA Regions IV and V. This large area consists of North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. Additionally, I also work with a portion of NAFSA Region III (Arkansas and Louisiana) and with the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. As two of our longest-standing partners, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Minnesota are perhaps the two schools that I work with most regularly.
CW: What has been your most memorable moment as a CAPA IRM so far?
KK: Driving along a two-lane highway through the northern Minnesota prairies on a beautiful winter’s day. It was one of those rare moments when you find yourself completely alone in the middle of nowhere, with no other cars on the road and no other human beings visible anywhere across the snow covered landscape. I’m glad my car didn't break down – I’d probably still be there now.
CW: What's your guilty pleasure while traveling?
KK: Hotel vending machines.
CW: As a CAPA representative, what is the organization's best selling point?
KK: I think we have a number of them, but for me the one that stands out the most is CAPA’s ongoing and unrelenting commitment towards excellence and being leaders in the field of education abroad. As an organization, we are not afraid to take a look at ourselves and question the way in which we do things, making changes and improvements where necessary. This ultimately translates to the best possible experiences for the students and faculty who participate on our programs. I’ve seen this in theory and practice time and again both here in Boston and during my tenure in London.
Additionally, and this may not be unique to CAPA but it’s certainly something that is true of our programs, is the opportunity that students have to learn from one another. We talk at great lengths about how students learn from the host culture and the diversity of our global cities, but another key ingredient of the CAPA experience is the diversity of our student bodies and how students can learn a great deal through the interactions and experiences they share with their peers. When I first started with CAPA, our London program consisted of students from four or five schools only. Over the years, the number of institutions that CAPA works with as well as the number of independently enrolled students has increased dramatically. As a result, the student community looks vastly different and the overall program is much richer.
CW: If you studied abroad, tell us a bit about your own experience.
KK: I didn’t. To put it bluntly, there were about as many study abroad opportunities available to me as there are pandas on Pluto. My undergraduate degree was highly specialized and there were no avenues that led towards overseas study. I was however fortunate enough to participate on a cultural exchange program which allowed me to spend seven enjoyable and memorable summers working in the United States at summer camps. I spent three summers in Michigan and four in New Hampshire. Two days into my first summer, I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life and was questioning why exactly I had left the pleasant confines of London suburbia for the bug-infested woods of Michigan. Thankfully, I got over this initial stumbling block quite quickly and the rest, as they say, is history. Seven summers later, as I finally faced up to the fact that I could no longer keep returning to camp every summer and had to start acting like a grown up, I began to think long and hard about how I could use my overseas experience to my advantage in terms of my career. Although my academic background was purely creative, and I was expecting and hoping to end up working at a design agency in London, working at camp and more specifically, working with people and having the chance to make a positive difference in their lives really muddied the waters for me and raised a lot of questions as to where I would get the most job satisfaction and fulfillment. After a lot of painstaking deliberation, it ultimately came down to choosing between people or pixels. I went for people. When I saw an opportunity to work for CAPA, it really seemed like a perfect fit and I haven’t looked back since. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I wouldn’t be doing the job that I do, and writing this blog post, had it not been for the time I spent living and working abroad.
CW: What's the funniest moment you've experienced during your time as a CAPA IRM?
KK: The weather on all of my spring semester trips to the Midwest was one long continuous joke.
CW: Tell us about a book or film that inspires you to travel.
KK: Probably ‘The Straight Story’ which was directed by David Lynch of ‘Twin Peaks’ fame. I’m not exactly a movie lover (I haven’t even seen 'Star Wars' and probably never will), but this is without a doubt one of my favorites.
It’s based on the true story of Alvin Straight’s journey across the Midwest on a lawnmower. Alvin is an elderly man who cannot get a driver’s license due to a visual impairment. One day, he hears that his estranged brother has had a stroke and decides to go visit him in the hope of making amends before it’s too late. Because he can’t drive a car, he is forced to ride a lawnmower from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin (a distance of around 240 miles). Everyone thinks he’s crazy, but he doesn’t care. The whole movie is based on Alvin’s journey, the people he meets, the setbacks he endures and his dogged determination to reach his brother. If you’re looking for action, adventure and emotional complexity, this won’t do it for you. But if you appreciate the simple, honest, profound, sincere and straightforward things in life, you might just enjoy it. It’s a beautiful story about one man’s love for his brother and nothing else.
There’s something about the overall theme (a man on a mission to accomplish a goal) that I find quite inspirational in a traveling context. It also resonates with me as it takes place entirely in my region and offers a beautiful portrayal of the Midwest. If on one of my trips, a car rental company ever tells me that they've got no cars left and all they can offer me is a lawnmower, I’ll take it.
CW: What song would you put on your study abroad playlist?
KK: Anything from ‘In A Silent Way’ by Miles Davis. The music on this album has a very exploratory feel to it, which lends itself perfectly to any study abroad experience. Listening to this album is not exactly a comfortable, easy, mindless experience, but then neither is studying abroad.
CW: Do you have any photography tips for students studying abroad?
KK: Composition is king (in my opinion). When it comes to photography, I’m not technically gifted, but I've always kind of had an eye for composition because of my design background. When photographing whatever it is that interests you, take the time to try and get the composition right. Take several shots, experimenting with zoom, angles, different lighting conditions and whatnot. The most interesting subjects can look positively dull if the overall composition doesn't do them justice.
CW: Where will you be traveling next?
KK: Illinois, Missouri, Illinois, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota (in that order).