CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Rachel Akmakjian
Meet Rachel Akmakjian, a CAPA London alumna and international business and classics major from Augustana College who studied abroad during summer 2015. Below, Rachel talks about her focus on career while she was in the UK and how her internship was an important part of her experience. She tells us about living in Camden Town, what she loves most about the city and a few of her favorite places to escape for a quiet moment.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
RACHEL AKMAKJIAN: My name is Rachel Akmakjian. I am a Colorado native but I chose to come to Illinois for my degree. I am a senior at Augustana College, which is three hours west of Chicago. I am currently a double major in international business and the classics. I am captain of the track team and a senator on our student government association. In 2015, I had the opportunity to study abroad in London, and it changed my life.
CW: Why did you decide to study abroad in London? Also, how did you choose a program? What was most important to you?
RA: I eventually would like to have a career in the diamond industry. London is one of the world hubs for diamonds so I was hopeful that I could find an internship that was diamond-related, but if a diamond internship was not available, I was confident that I could make good networking connections in that industry. I have always wanted to go to London so the opportunity was perfect. I also liked the idea of London since it was a study abroad without a language barrier.
CW: Where did you live in London? Talk a bit about your housing situation and the local neighborhood that was home for the semester. What was it like to live there generally, day to day?
RA: When I was in London, I lived in Camden Town. I would definitely say that our apartment landed in the “luxury apartment” category. I shared a room with two girls, which actually ended up being pretty fun; you sort of become a family unit with your roommates. Our apartment was a couple blocks away from the tube station, which made commuting and exploring the rest of London a breeze. We were also located across the street from the grocery store so meals were never an issue either. Camden itself is such an amazing area; it's famous for its markets and nightlife, all of which we had at our fingertips. I would give anything to go back and live in Camden, but rent there is way too high. I would never have been able to live there had CAPA not helped.
CW: How was your experience with academics abroad? How were you able to connect the way you came to understand the city itself and your academics?
RA: I took the international marketing class and the learning through internships class. The international marketing class was definitely challenging however I learned more in that class than I have in some of the classes I have taken at my college. Our instructor was able to incorporate a ton of London culture in our class, which made adapting to our surroundings easier, especially when it came to the business world. The international marketing class I think had more work due then some of the others but as long as you kept on top of things it was definitely doable.
CW: Tell us a bit about your internship that you completed while studying abroad, your duties and accomplishments.
RA: I had the most amazing internship. While in London I interned at Facets PR, Facets is a Marketing and PR firm that is solely focused on the jewelry industry. I could not have asked for a better internship. On an average day, I would check our inventories; making sure the jewelry we had in our safe matched what we had on our computer. I would also run errands for jewelry designers or magazine publications, which mostly involved picking up jewelry from different places. I had the opportunity to attend a press day and I even got to speak to members of the press myself. At one point I even attended a photo shoot for a fashion magazine since our client’s jewelry had to be supervised. My internship was definitely one of the reasons leaving London was so hard.
CW: What do you see yourself doing when you graduate? Did your experience abroad in any way shape your career goals and aspirations? If so, how so?
RA: After I graduate I am planning on going to the Gemological Institute of America, in New York City. I would like to one day be a diamond broker and then eventually open up a jewelry store. Being in London gave me confidence that the diamond industry is the field I want to be in. Since London is such a diamond hub I might try to move back for a little while and build more connections across the pond.
CW: Talk about the idea of a "comfort zone". How often and for what reasons did you leave yours behind? Did you feel that was important for your personal/professional development? If so, how so?
RA: No one likes leaving their comfort zone, but I have found that when I leave mine I have the best experiences and learn the most about myself and my surroundings. Going to London was definitely an example of me stepping away from my comfort zone, but I loved the sense of adventure it gave me. I would say that I stepped out of my comfort zone every single day, but it’s a weird thing, because each time I did, for whatever reason I felt more confident to step out again. Whether it was with my internship or just going on some adventure, I learned so much, which would not have happened had I not left my comfort zone.
CW: Did you ever feel at home in London? Why or why not? Share a few of the reasons why the city stole your heart!
RA: London seriously stole my heart; it did not take long for me to feel at home. The nice thing about London is that everyone there is so different and there is such a mix of people there to begin with that you automatically feel like you fit in. I came across so many genuine people who were just enjoying life and that was inspiring. Everyone was so helpful and would go out of their way to assist you. At one point, I lost my wallet. When I went to find it the next day, it was exactly where I had left it and everything was still in it. There was never a moment when I didn’t feel safe. I could go on for days as to why I loved London, but one of the biggest reasons was that everywhere I looked there was something beautiful to see. It’s funny how many thing in my life now remind me of London, whether it is a flight leaving for London next to my gate, or the English couple sitting in front of me as I write this.
CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your London" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
RA: One place that stands out to me the most is Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, in Regent’s Park. The rose garden was so beautiful and serene. In my spare time I would go there and read a book or just sit on a bench and enjoy the view. It was just a short walk from Camden High Street and you got to walk through the park a bit too. I also loved the Camden Coffee House, which was just a little coffee shop with a garden that I would often go to do homework. Lastly, although this is a tourist spot, I fell in love with Primrose Hill. It has beautiful views of the city and if you went on a random weeknight, it was pretty empty. I have good memories there. No amount of time is ever enough if you are in the places you love.
CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? If so, how so? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you?
RA: I have been changed forever. London will always be calling my name, whether is a vacation there or miraculously finding a way to live there. My experience has taught me that there is so much out there in the world. Whatever I do, wherever I end up, I understand that an adventure is always waiting to happen.