CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Lauren McElhaney

Apr 9, 2014 12:26:19 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

Coming from a small town in the States to study abroad in a global city like London can be a bit intimidating at first. Once Lauren adjusted to the basics of public transportation, she really enjoyed the hustle and bustle in which she'd spent four months with CAPA International Education during Fall semester 2013. Read on to find out about what she learned about her new environment during her marketing class, how she struck up a memorable conversation with a local at a bus stop and a fun British tradition she experienced during a CAPA MyEducation event that left a lasting impression.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
LAUREN MCELHANEY: My name is Lauren McElhaney and I’m a junior at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, which is in the middle of Amish country. I’m a public relations major and am working on a minor in environmental studies. I love watching movies, reading and hanging out with my friends. I’m also a huge crafter and love when I get to work on a new project!

CW: Which MyEducation event was most memorable for you and why? How did your participation in this event change your understanding of the city?
LM: The most memorable MyEducation event that I attended was the Panto performance of Puss-in-Boots. I had never heard of Panto theater before I studied in London, but I soon learned that these performances are a huge part of British culture. Panto performances take place during the Christmas season and are known for audience involvement. It was so awesome to be able to participate in something that so many British families do as a yearly tradition.

CW: Give three examples of ways in which you were able to tie the knowledge you've gained in your CAPA classes into the way you understand your host city.
LM: I took a marketing class and it was awesome in so many ways. First, we learned about differences between British and American advertising. I had never really thought of how culture influenced marketing and advertising. It was so neat to learn about the culture through the country’s marketing practices. Second, we would watch multiple adverts to see examples of key concepts. When I would return to my homestay and watch the news with my family, I was able to pick out these concepts and talk about them with my host family. Often it would open doors to their cultural practices and I learned so much! And finally, I learned about British products and companies that I would otherwise know nothing about. Several times there would be adverts in the tube station or on a bus that I would not have given a second thought but because we had discussed them in class, I knew what the ads were for and could give more thought to them.

CW: Tell us a story of a memorable interaction you had with a local and why it left an impression on you.
LM: One day I was at my neighborhood bus stop and was joined by an older gentleman that lived down the street. We started talking about how the late the bus was and our conversation gradually progressed. He talked about growing up in London; he told me stories about the neighborhood and recommended places to go and things to do. He asked me what I was studying at home and things like that. He actually ended up giving me a lot of advice about London and about growing up and figuring out a career. It was a conversation that was truly memorable.

CW: What were your first impressions of your host city? How did these change over the course of the semester?
LM: It was so big! I come from a small town and go to school in an even smaller town. Arriving in London was overwhelming and I was blown away by the number of people and how everyone just bustled along. I quickly adjusted to the size of the city and actually came to love it. There was a sense of anonymity that I had never experienced before and I found it to be very peaceful. I loved all the hustle and bustle and that I interacted with hundreds and hundreds of people every day without knowing who they were. I felt like I was a part of something great.

CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you?
LM: Being in London taught me to be more independent. Prior to studying abroad I never did anything by myself. I usually always had my parents, my sister or my friends with me. I didn't have to think about going to the grocery store or budgeting my money. I had never taken public transportation or had to think about bus routes and the Underground. When I had to be by myself and figure things out alone, it was a little disconcerting at first. I learned so much from time abroad but I really learned how to be by myself and be comfortable with that and know that I would be okay in the world.

CW: How do you imagine that your experience abroad will change the way you approach your environment now that you are back home? How do you think it will change the way you approach your studies?
LM: I learned so much from my time in London, but not just from my classes. Just by exploring London and other European cities I learned about different cultures, political issues and structures, public transportation, etc. The list is endless. I learned that while school and traditional education is important and worthwhile, there are important lessons that you can only learn by experience. Now that I’m back home, I still take my studies seriously, but I know that my grades aren't the only important part of education. My experience abroad is worth so much more than a 4.0 for the semester.

It’s really impossible to describe how I've changed since studying abroad. It’s also pretty impossible to describe how they experience changed how I look at my hometown environment. I have a more global perspective on issues and care about what is going on in my local area as well as what’s going on around the world. I can draw connections between my hometown and European cities. It’s really amazing.

CW: When you think of your host city, what first comes to mind when you hear the following:
Sight: Double-decker buses
Sound: The tube and activity in the tube stations
Smell: Roasting chestnuts
Taste: Tea
Texture: Fabric of the tube seats

CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
LM: Like I said before, I come from a small town. It’s a fairly rural community and prior to going to London, I had never really taken public transportation. I had to learn how to hail a bus, learn the bus routes and learn how to understand the tube map. I was completely out of my element and at first which was very challenging. London is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world and it was difficult to just adjust from my small town way of life to such a large city.

Once I got settled in London, I experienced a ton of rewarding moments, though I think the most rewarding was the first time someone asked me for directions and I was able to help them. It might seem kind of silly to say that was one of my most rewarding moments, but it’s the truth. It showed me how much I had adapted to my environment and how I truly had become a part of London. I actually knew where things were and how to direct people on the tube, on the buses, and just walking on the street. It was also nice to think that people thought I looked knowledgeable enough to answer their questions.

CW: Describe an area of the city that surprised you and tell us what it was about it that you didn't expect. How did this change your perceptions of the city as a whole?
LM: One day, my friend and I went to Stratford in East London to see the Olympic Park. I didn’t know much about the area before I went. It was not what I was expecting. It’s a town that is in the process of transitioning from a place of heavy industry to a commercial and cultural center. I guess I thought that Stratford would be this glamorous place because the Olympics had been held there when in reality it was just a small town that was very industrial. It was a side of London that I hadn’t seen yet, but I’m glad that I did. Stratford is a town that is in transition; a transition brought on by the Olympics, and it is revitalizing itself. It was so cool to see how the Olympics had changed the area and is helping it develop and modernize.

Thanks Lauren!

Topics: London, England, CAPA Alumni, Interviews