CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Brianna Cuthbert
Meet Brianna Cuthbert, a CAPA Dublin alum, current ambassador and student at D'Youville College in Buffalo, New York. Brianna spent Spring 2015 in Dublin and shares stories of exporing the city, talks about her classes and how they connect to the real experience of living abroad shares a few pieces of advice for future students who are considering a semester overseas.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
BRIANNA CUTHBERT: My name is Brianna Cuthbert. I am from Buffalo, New York. I am a senior in the Exercise Sports Studies/Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at D’Youville College in Buffalo. I am a CAPA ambassador this semester. I studied in CAPA Dublin, Ireland, at Griffith College for the 2015 spring semester.
CW: Why did you decide to study abroad in Dublin? Also, how did you choose a program?
BC: I decided to study abroad in Ireland mainly because of my Irish heritage. I have always wanted to travel to Ireland, but never considered living there until learning about the CAPA Dublin program. I live in a small Irish community in Buffalo where Irish American culture is everywhere.
Factors that were important to me when deciding on a program were English-speaking countries, countries closer to the US, countries that I would feel comfortable living in and where I could take classes that would count as core humanities for my D’Youville curriculum.
CW: Would you recommend Dublin as a study abroad destination to future students? Why or why not?
BC: I would definitely recommend Dublin as a study abroad location! Dublin is a great city filled with great diversity, but still rich in Irish history and culture. The people in Ireland are truly kind and willing to help. The Irish are very proud of their country and love to welcome people to experience the country they are so proud of. Dublin is an easy city to adapt to because it is so easy to get around. Within no time, I was able to feel comfortable in Dublin and call it home. There is so much to learn about Dublin and the country as a whole. There are always places to visit or see in Dublin, during free time. Dublin is a rich, lively city that took my heart very quickly.
CW: Had you travelled before this experience? What were some of the challenges and rewards of being abroad, the highs and lows of a semester away from home?
BC: I had never travelled outside of the United States before studying abroad, so this experience was a very big deal to me. I was very nervous to visit let alone live in another country to study there for four months, but the welcoming city of Dublin calmed all my nerves. Also, the amazing CAPA staff made the adjustment process so much easier, and along with the other CAPA students, they quickly became my away from home family.
I would consider myself as shy and reserved around new people in new environments, but this challenge became my largest gain in this country. Without realizing it, I learned how to communicate with people easily and to not be afraid to reach out to people. The reason I became outgoing is because I was forced to talk to people and ask questions and more importantly, because the Irish people were approachable and easy to talk to.
I was homesick at times, but it’s not a feeling that lasts forever because there is always something new and exciting to learn or see. Once I returned home, I wondered why I was ever homesick because the four months flew by and because now I am homesick for Dublin.
CW: Talk about your experience of Dublin as a global city and share a story of a memorable interaction with someone from a different background to yourself.
BC: Living in a global city like Dublin is a great way to interact with people from all over the world. Griffith College is known for its diverse student population. I not only interacted with people from other countries, but I also had the opportunity to live with two students from France. I was able to learn so much from them, about their cultural traditions and food and also about their life growing up in France. The best part of living together was being able to help them with their English. The language barrier was very strong when I first arrived, but by the end we were able to communicate in English so easily.
Once you learn to live in and navigate one global city, you can easily adapt in any other global city. While I was abroad, I visited Barcelona, Rome, Venice and Edinburgh; all global cities. You learn how to use public transportation, travel in large international airports, find places to stay and eat, and most importantly how to communicate with people in the countries, even those who speak a different language than you.
CW: Which classes did you take while you were abroad? How were academics in Dublin different from back home?
BC: During my semester abroad, I took three CAPA classes: "Analyzing Global Cities: Dublin", "Irish Cinema" and "Irish Language and Culture". I also took a Griffith College class, "Introduction to Photography".
My favorite class was the photography class because I learned so much from my professor Sally Timmons. Photography had always been an interest of mine, but now it is a passion. This class was neat because I took it with many Irish students and a few French and English students. We worked in groups very often so I was able to interact with these students and discuss their views on photography.
The CAPA Irish classes were different than US classes in the format of testing. The midterm and final exams were all written essay exams, which I was not used to. Being a student in a health career based school, I am accustomed to science classes that are tested through multiple-choice questions and other formats, not very often written essays. This was an interesting aspect of the Irish classes and I believe it made me a better writer.
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.
BC: The CAPA "Irish Cinema" class was very different from what I am used to because I have never taken a film class, but I loved it. We learned a lot of important Irish history through the movies that really enabled me to understand the Irish culture. When we took a CAPA My Global Education trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, the history and political and religious troubles learned in "Irish Cinema" were very apparent. We were able to see first hand the political murals and the Peace Wall.
A more obvious tie made from the classroom to the city is the connection of the Irish phrases learned in the "Irish Language" class to the city. Although the language is not widely spoken, there are parts of Dublin and other Irish cities where Irish is used on signs or restaurant menus. We often discussed the debate over the Irish language being mandatory for Irish students to learn and this lead to many interesting conversations with local Irish citizens. Understanding the arguments for both sides allowed an American student like myself to have educated conversations with the locals.
The "Global Cities" class really taught me how to get around the city and understand why the Dublin is set up the way it is. It is really a great class to learn how to study a city, in the classroom and walking around the city. This class ties in culture with history and shapes Dublin for students. I think every student in a CAPA program should take the global cities class offered at their institution!
CW: Where are the places you've carved out as "Your Dublin" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that are most meaningful for you? What is special about them?
BC: For me, “My Dublin” consists of the local pubs/restaurants, the hike at Howth, St. Stephens Green and the town of Rathmines located right behind Griffith College. I think it is hard to pick favorite pubs and restaurants in Dublin, because there are so many great ones, but some are more comfortable and welcoming than others. My favorite would have to be O’Connell’s, where the Beef and Guinness Stew Pie is absolutely phenomenal. The dark lighting and different seating along with the live music is My Dublin. When it started warming up, walking through St. Stephen’s green and hiking at Howth were so relaxing and became my favorite getaway spots. Both of these places became focuses for my photography assignments. Rathmines is the small residential neighborhood in which Griffith College is located. The canal right behind the college is absolutely beautiful and always filled with the nicest people. Rathmines is a little break from the busy City Centre. I LOVE DUBLIN! (I am missing Dublin sooooo much as I am writing this...).
CW: Share your best piece of advice for future study abroad students or those who are considering a program.
BC: To prospective study abroad students, your experience abroad is what you make of it. Although you may miss home or struggle getting used to a new culture, there is always something to discover and carve out as your favorite parts of the city you are living in. You will not notice it while you’re abroad, but you become a strong independent citizen that will feel like you can conquer the world. My journey has given me an insane amount of confidence and a genuine desire to travel the world. There is so much to learn from other cultures and countries, so why not start with a CAPA global city?
CW: What personal and professional changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? Why do you think these changes have occurred?
BC: Once you are abroad and not visiting, but living in another country, you realize how much this world has to offer. You learn a lot about yourself and what you want from life because you are in a new environment picking what you like or dislike about a city. I never pictured myself living anywhere other than Buffalo, but now I see how small Buffalo is let alone, New York and the US, in this huge world. There is a world of possibilities out there, but you cannot encounter these possibilities until to you expose yourself to them.