Meghan studied abroad in London with CAPA International Education during Spring semester 2014. A traveler at heart, she recognized that "no matter how far I have literally moved, my mind has undoubtedly journeyed farther." Below, she tells us about a few of the unexpected challenges she faced while she was abroad, about an internship at King's College Hospital that was a highlight of her program and her thoughts on the plane - on the way to London and again on the way home.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
MEGAN MURPHY: My name is Meghan Elizabeth Murphy and I’ve just started my senior year at SUNY Oswego. I’m originally from Dix Hills on Long Island and this year I will be finishing up my major in health promotion and wellness management with minors in both health science and athletic coaching. When I’m not busy with schoolwork, most of my free time is spent sailing, cycling, swimming, reading and running. Of course my biggest passion is traveling and I’ve been so lucky to be able to fulfill my appetite for adventure. I just recently returned from an amazing semester studying abroad in London where I got the wonderful opportunity to live, learn and work in England’s bustling and vibrant capital.
CW: Describe your background for us. Had you traveled before? What made you want to study abroad? What was the reaction from your friends and family when you decided to study abroad?
MM: I’ve always had a little bit of wanderlust for as long as I can remember and I’m always looking for my next opportunity to travel. I have a very vivid memory of my older sister leaving for Madrid for the semester and even as a third grader I sat on the steps in envy wishing I was the one going. As the years passed, I waited patiently for my turn to see the world and in the meantime I took up any travel opportunities that came my way. I traveled to Australia for multiple volunteer projects, immersed myself in the Mexican culture, explored the wilderness of Canada and cruised the Caribbean Islands. But my dream has always been to see Europe and this semester exceeded my expectations, something I didn’t think was feasible. When I told my family and friends about my decision to study in London no one was very surprised but yet still very excited for this new chapter in my life!
CW: What were your thoughts when you were sitting on the plane to London? And what about the plane ride home?
MM: When I first stepped onto the plane headed for this global city I was a mess of emotions. I was scared of the unknown, sad to leave my friends and family, and beyond excited for what the semester had in store for me. As I waited for my plane to take off I scribbled down my first of many journal entries in my travel journal. I wrote about how I was terrified of not fitting in, of living with strangers and adjusting to life in one of the world’s busiest cities (not to mention that tricky tube!). On my way home I sat on the plane and re-read my entire travel journal starting with that very first entry. Needless to say, I spent the entire 6 hour flight home crying from homesickness, not for my home back here in the States but for my home in London and with those I shared it with. I look back now and regret ever having reservations because those four months were the greatest months of my life and I would give anything to go back and relive them.
CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
MM: Despite the amazing time I had in London there were definitely difficulties and challenges that I faced. Aside from the usual homesickness and cultural differences I lost my grandfather from dementia just three weeks after arriving in London. I was prepared for the usual missing of family and friends and the adjustment of a new city, but losing a loved one while being thousands of miles away from your family is something that you can never be prepared for. I responded by becoming more involved and made sure that I was making the most of my time because as I had realized life is way too short.
Another challenge I faced was living with international students. I lived with one girl from New York and two from Singapore which was a huge culture shock. We had very different ways of living and during our first few weeks living together we clashed a lot. But we learned to respect each other’s differences and to compromise when it was needed and the four of us soon became inseparable. I still consider them some of my very best friends.
One of my most rewarding moments in London was when I was finally able to give directions to others. I spent a great deal of my time getting lost the first few weeks so when I was finally able to help others, I felt like I had truly become a Londoner. It takes some time to really know a city inside out, but and before I knew it I had London in the palm of my hand.
CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your London"? What was special about them?
MM: During the course of my time abroad I established little spots throughout the city that became “mine”. Places where when I went missing my friends always knew where to find me. One of my favorite places to spend time was under the London Bridge at sunset. I would go during low tide and take the hidden staircase down to the riverbank and collect sea glass and other treasures that I still cherish even today because it allowed me to take home some of my favorite memories. Another one of my favorite spots was the serenity garden in Holland Park. Holland Park is one of London’s most underrated parks but I loved it because it was one of the few places where you could completely forget you were living in one of the world’s busiest cities. I loved the feeling of being able to escape it all just by going a few block down the road and being able to disconnect from the world even for just a little bit.
Photo: King's College Hospital, Meghan's internship site by Stephanie Sadler
CW: Tell us a bit about your internship that you completed while studying abroad, your duties and accomplishments. Where was it? How will this experience help you in your future career?
MM: I was very fortunate to have the incredible experience of interning at King’s College Hospital with the Nutrition and Dietetics team. I would have to say that my internship was actually one the highlights of my time abroad. I was so lucky to be able to work with such intelligent and dedicated dieticians who willingly took time out of their busy schedules to help me learn and give me a good feeling for what it’s like to work in the health care system in London. I spent a lot of time shadowing dieticians as they did their clinics and on ward rounds and even got a few of my own projects. I presented healthy eating habits at various wellness conferences and even did my own research on nutrition and the care and prevention of dementia. I can honestly say that I learned more in that one semester that I have in three years of university and my passion for nutrition was only confirmed by my time at King’s.
Photo: King's College Hospital, Meghan's internship site by Stephanie Sadler
CW: Give an example of a valuable contribution you made to your internship site and how it has impacted the operation of the workplace.
MM: The most valuable contribution I made at my internship was at a staff wellbeing event. I presented a poster board I had made about healthy eating and good nutrition practices. I knew that people wouldn’t necessarily absorb all the information I had written down so I decided to do a more hands on presentation as well. I set out a clear bottle of coke and filled it with 30 sugar cubes to represent how much of a coke bottle was made up of sugar. I also set out a serving of pasta and compared it to the serving that a person would normally eat. As staff members walked by they were appalled by the display and stopped to ask questions. I got to explain to them portion control and the best ways to stick to a healthy diet and I really feel like I was able to make a difference in people’s lives.
CW: How did you fund your time abroad?
MM: London is one the most amazing but expensive places to live. I panicked when I saw how much this one semester would cost but I wanted to go so I knew I had to work for it. I applied for every scholarship under the sun and actually managed to get two of them which helped to pay for my airfare and some of my tuition. I also picked up a job over winter break just to earn some extra money. I am very fortunate to have such generous parents who helped to pay the rest of the program cost and I tried to spend my money sparingly once I arrived in London. Many people say they can’t study abroad because it’s too expensive but if you really want to make it happen you find ways. You borrow money or take out loans but you make it real because, as the saying goes, "Travel is the only thing you can buy that actually makes you richer."
CW: What surprised you about London? What did you discover that went beyond your expectations or stereotypes that exist of the city?
MM: What surprised me the most about London, and most places I traveled, was how receptive and accepting people were of different cultures. No one liked me or hated me because I was an American and no one was quick to make assumptions about my way of life. I was also surprised by the weather! Although we did have our fair share of rainy days I was actually pleasantly surprised by the amount of sunny and warm days we had as well. I had also heard stereotypes about Brits not being very friendly or social but that was not my experience at all. Almost everyone I encountered during my time in London was very amicable and loved a good chat.
CW: What changes did you see in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you?
MM: This is probably the question I get asked the most and definitely my favorite one to answer. Studying abroad has been life changing for me and not just because I got to see the world but because I was able to mature and grow as an individual. Living in another country was my chance to experience more new things in the past four months than in my entire 20 years combined. And for so long I wondered why it felt as if I were existing and going through the motions, rather than living. I’ve been so fortunate to see more places and journey more miles than I can count and I can without a doubt affirm that in moving beyond my comfort level, I’ve traveled even deeper within myself. But no matter how far I have literally moved, my mind has undoubtedly journeyed farther and I’ve been able to expand my comfort zone to include things I would have never even thought imaginable.