Jorge Herrera recently graduated from Arizona State University where he majored in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations in Communication and Film and Media. He studied abroad at the CAPA London center, a semester that he is happy to say pushed him out of his comfort zone. Below, he talks about what it means to live in a global city, his experience from a Latino point of view, a few of the challenges he faced while studying abroad in London and a memorable interaction with a local who had traveled around the world to make a living.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
JORGE HERRERA: My name is Jorge. I am a recent graduate from Arizona State University where I majored in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations in Communication and Film and Media. I studied abroad in London during the Fall semester of 2013. My interests include traveling and anything that revolves around the entertainment/media industry.
CW: A higher percentage of women study abroad than men. Was this true in your case? What are the benefits from a male point of view?
JH: I found this to be true as our program only had about 40 guys out of 200 students in London. The benefits of studying abroad from my point of view are that you get to experience a different culture and lifestyle while you’re still young. Instead of waiting for a mid life crises to happen at the age of 50, it is best to take these opportunities and experiences while we are still without major responsibilities. Meeting new people makes the experience even better and learning about the career goals and life plans can definitely help you shape what you want to do with your life.
CW: Did your Latino background in any way affect your experience abroad? Did you discover any Latino gems during your time in London?
JH: It affected me in the sense that I am accustomed to being surrounded by Latinos on a daily basis. I had never been away from home for such a long time. It really helped me appreciate my culture more but at the same time it helped me get out of my comfort zone and allowed me to build relationships with people from other backgrounds. I searched for Mexican restaurants but the food was just not the same. I did not miss the music so much, but I did search for an area of London that had the most Latinos. I never found an exact answer. I even joined a Spanish club at a local university down the street from CAPA, but I found that the people in that club did not come from Hispanic backgrounds.
CW: Did studying abroad in London change your definition or understanding of a global city? Share a moment when you truly felt like you were living in an incredibly diverse place.
JH: It changed the way I defined it because reading about a global city and actually living in one are completely different. One time, I was sitting on the tube with people speaking English, Spanish and another language I didn’t recognize near me and my friends who also spoke English but differently then the British. I remember thinking how, in my hometown I will just hear people speaking in English or Spanish. I understand both languages. In London, there are all these different cultures and people speaking other languages and it made me feel like I really didn’t know it all. I came to understand what it felt like for other people when I speak in Spanish or English in front of them and they do not speak that language.
CW: What were your biggest challenges during your time abroad? What was your most rewarding moment?
JH: My biggest challenges were being away from my family and the food. I had never been so far away from my family and the fact that I could not see them was difficult. Technology made it easier to communicate. The food was my biggest challenge. I am the pickiest eater out there! Food tasted different and was in smaller portions then in the US. I slowly started to get used to it and found places to eat that I now miss. Mexican food was something I craved the entire time I was in London. I researched so many restaurants that served Mexican food in London and went to a couple of them, but it was just not the same at all. I am used to real Mexican food made from home, not restaurant food with ingredients that do not give it a great taste. Wahaca was the closest to tacos and other real Mexican food that I found.
CW: Share a story of an interaction you had with a local of a different culture or background from your own. Why was it memorable?
JH: I remember speaking with someone from the Middle East. They were explaining to me how they left their home country and traveled around Europe looking for work. They had moved to France, Germany and finally England. Out of those three places, they said London was the city that gave them the best opportunity to establish a life. The moment stuck with me because I remember just how I had it way easier than they did to go to London. I really did not have to go through such difficult obstacles like they did, but it also gave me an even more positive outlook of how amazing London is and the opportunities it offers for almost anyone.
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?
JH: The whole city surprised me! I do not think there was one specific area that I found the most interesting because everything was just great. Each borough is different and unique in its own way and I loved that I could get off at a certain tube stop and see something different every time. If I had to choose just one area, it would be Greenwich just because it is so far out and it feels like you are out in another part of the country.
CW: Which MyEducation event was most memorable for you and why? How did your participation in this event change your understanding of the city?
JH: My favorite MyEducation event was in the beginning of the semester when we took a tour around Camden. Camden is the place I never thought I would see in London and everything in it is perfect. There are so many different kinds of people. The markets, pubs and food were all great.
CW: Give a few 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.
JH: In my pop culture class, we learned about the different places bombs were dropped during WWII. It was interesting to investigate the different parts of town that were affected by the war. With so many ads displayed in the tube stations and the TV ads shown in England, it was great to take a class in advertising and learn more about them. Music is also a big part of London and my pop culture class gave me great information on how many bands and artist established their roots in Camden, Soho and other parts of town.
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?
JH: I now value friendships and other types of relationships much more. Being away from home for a certain amount of time showed me who I really care about. It also helped me get out of my comfort zone in many situations, how amazing the world is and that anybody can go and study abroad. It is an experience that changes your life in a way that I cannot completely explain other than that it changes you for the better. I have many regrets in life, but studying abroad is not one of them.