CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Jillian Sylvester
Meet Jill, study abroad enthusiast, CAPA London alumna and current intern with the Office of the President at CAPA's headquarters in Boston. Jill's a double major in Political Science and Spanish from UMass Amherst. Below, she talks about the places in London that stole her heart, what it was like to live in the neighborhood of Kilburn and her day-to-day life taking classes and interning with INTO City University London. Also, find out what she's up to behind the scenes at CAPA!
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
JILLIAN SYLVESTER: My name is Jill! I’m going to be a senior at UMass Amherst and I spent the spring of junior year in London with CAPA. I am double-majoring in Political Science and Spanish with a minor in Modern European Studies and a certificate in International Education. I am originally from Duxbury, Massachusetts, a small town about one hour south of Boston.
As a PoliSci major I naturally enjoy following current events and international affairs. I also love to travel: I visited 20 European countries during my year in England. Although I miss London, it’s nice to be back in the States. The best part of being home from study abroad is spending quality time with my dog, family, and friends.
Photo: Me in my favorite spot in London: Primrose Hill
CW: Why did you decide to study abroad in London? What was most important to you?
JS: At the time, I was spending the fall semester in Manchester, England on an exchange program, so I decided to apply to study in London for the spring in order to experience life in a different part of the country, and also because I had been to London before and it had captivated my heart.
London had been on my radar for many years, ever since early in high school. The Royal Wedding in 2011 and the 2012 Summer Olympics only fueled my aspirations go there, so much so to the point where I almost applied for undergraduate study in the UK without having ever visited.
I chose CAPA largely in part because of the internship component. Even though I only had limited international experience at the time of applying, I knew that I was interested in working abroad one day, so an international internship would be beneficial. I also had friends that studied with CAPA and said amazing things about the London program.
Photo: Savoring our last day in London at Portobello Road Market
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?
JS: I lived in Kilburn, which is in North West London in zone 2. Our side street was quiet and residential, but once you walked to the main road there were tons of shops. It took us only 20 minutes on the tube to reach the heart of the city, including places like Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street.
Our flat was townhouse style with eight girls living throughout four floors. It had modern amenities, including a dishwasher and washing machine. We had to hang our clothes to dry, which took some getting used to (but it’s part of the experience!).
I had never heard of Kilburn before and had no idea what to expect from living alongside seven other girls, but it was the best experience! My flatmates turned into some of my best friends and we had a great time exploring the city together. Also, the tube is so elaborate and interconnected, making it incredibly easy to travel around London while living in an area that is outside of the normal city chaos.
The apartments that students live in are in central locations, but you still have a commute to the CAPA center and your internship. You can’t wake up five minutes before class like you do at home, so it gives you a proper feel for what city living means and what true London living is like, which I loved!
Photo: My flatmates and I exploring London during our first weekend
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?
JS: I took three classes in London along with my internship: "European Government and Politics", "Post-War British Pop Culture", and "Learning Through Internships (LTI)". LTI is mandatory for all students completing an internship and it focuses on personal and professional development gained from your international work experience; it was a great supplement to the internship and I learned a lot of things that I will use in future job interviews and on resumes and cover letters.
"European Government and Politics" counted towards my major and was the best politics class that I’ve taken. We focused on Brexit (British-Exit from the European Union) because we were in the unique position of studying in the UK in the months leading up to the referendum.
If anyone is thinking about taking "Post-War British Pop Culture", DO IT! In this class we learned about British pop culture and the influences that it had on subcultures in the second half of the twentieth century, from Mods to Rave to Britpop. Every other week we went on field trips around London to see sites that we learned about in previous weeks. These field studies not only enriched the curriculum, but also brought me to parts of the city that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have explored; they helped me understand how and why certain parts of London came to be due to the social climate of just a few decades ago. It’s an experience that I never would’ve gotten had I not studied in London with CAPA, and Richard is the most entertaining professor I’ve taken a class with!
Photo: Field Trip to Brighton with Post-War British Pop Culture class
CW: Tell us a bit about your internship that you completed while studying abroad, your duties and accomplishments. Explain a day in the life of a CAPA intern.
JS: I interned with INTO City University London, an international education company with branches in the UK, US, and China. INTO runs foundation programs for students who want to attend university in the UK but don’t have the proper prerequisites. I also worked jointly with Newcastle University London, which is a satellite campus of Newcastle University in northern England. I worked mainly with the marketing departments and academic support services, contacting schools around the UK, emailing prospective students, organizing filming for new promotional videos, and doing attendance monitoring for students on visas. I also did some event planning and organization, and worked with the welfare advisor to develop activities that promote student well-being.
A typical day would begin by getting a cup of tea with my supervisor and chatting about our lives, and then I would bounce around the building between the different departments that I worked with. I never had a set schedule, which I enjoyed because it always kept work interesting!
As an intern, I took a "Learning Through Internships" class at the CAPA Centre. This supplemented my internship and was useful for “digesting” my international work experience. It helped me not only improve my resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile, but also taught me how to talk in a job interview about my internship and the skills that I developed and how this international work experience is beneficial.
Photo: My INTO and Newcastle University London coworkers
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?
JS: I have a lot of wild dreams for after graduation that I hope to fulfill: teach abroad in Southeast Asia, take a road trip around the US and finally explore my own country, backpack around South America and hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (the top item on my bucket list), and ultimately return to London for graduate school to then pursue a career abroad.
I want to turn my study abroad experience into a career by working with international students, whether they are studying abroad for a semester or enrolled full time at a university. I see myself either working for a university in the international office or for a third party program provider on site in another country. Studying abroad, especially with CAPA, helped to clarify my ambitions and future career path: I discovered a love for traveling and meeting people from around the world, and my London internship helped me realize that I want to work abroad in the international education field with college-aged students. Had I not studied abroad, I wouldn’t have learned that I have the ability to spend a significant time abroad, immerse myself in another culture, and feel at home in another country.
Photo: Spring break trip in my favorite city, Budapest
CW: You're interning with CAPA's Office of the President this summer. Tell us a bit life behind the scenes.
JS: This summer I have the pleasure of interning with CAPA at their headquarters in Boston! We’re in the process of developing an alumni portal (be sure to check it out when we launch it!), so I am gathering most of the content to put onto it. I’m researching resources on resumes and cover letters, grad school, returning home from study abroad, and finding a job abroad. Since CAPA places a great emphasis on personal and professional development, I’m trying to generate a healthy balance of content that focuses on both of these.
CAPA and the University of Minnesota’s Learning Abroad Center organized a Career Integration Conference in mid-July for for international educators, career service and employer relations professionals, student service professionals, and recruiters, all of whom shared practices and innovations in the fields of education abroad and career services at the conference. I assisted the Executive Assistant to the Office of the President and the Marketing Director with the logistical planning of the conference, and I also was lucky enough to attend some of the sessions and learn about study abroad career integration practices.
Photo: Showing my sister around London
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!
JS: I felt at home from the second I arrived and stepped off the train. One of the beautiful things about London is that there is something and somewhere for everyone. Each neighborhood has a distinct feel, from posh Kensington, to punk Camden, to hipster Shoreditch.
For me, the key to making London feel like home was in finding my favorite places around the city, the places that always put a smile on my face. London is so dynamic that I always wanted to explore and find my new favorite neighborhood. I loved visiting Primrose Hill and the area between the Tower of London and the Thames that looks directly at Tower Bridge, but I also loved taking walks around the neighborhoods of Marylebone and Kensington. One moment that really made London feel like home was when I walked from the Earl’s Court tube station (I rarely got off here) to CAPA without Google Maps. This little 10 minute journey made me feel like I knew at least a small part of the city.
I also felt at home when my sister came to visit and I had the chance to bring her around the city to my favorite places. By this point in the semester, I didn’t need to look up which tube station to get off of for each place that I wanted to show her, or where to buy her an Oyster Card. I truly felt like I was showing her around my city.
Photo: Primrose Hill & Tower Bridge - Some of the best views in the city
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?
JS: Naturally I had my favorite tourist spot in the city that I claimed as my own: Primrose Hill. It’s not a common tourist attraction, but you’ll usually see some visitors there taking selfies - obviously I’m guilty of this. On a clear day with blue skies, you get a stunning view of the London skyline and it’s so peaceful up there. Going up here always put a smile on my face, making it my favorite spot in the city.
For the most part, it was the everyday places and activities that were the most meaningful to me. Going to Sainsbury’s and buying my favorite English snacks, eating at our local Nando’s (the best chain restaurant in the world) on Kilburn High Street for weekly flat bonding, and going for runs at a nearby park made me feel like a true Londoner. Getting into a routine and having my usual places to go to easily made the city feel like home.
The most important day-to-day place to me was Liverpool Street Station. It’s weird to say that a train station meant so much when all I did was walk through during rush hour and occasionally buy a snack there. But I passed through here 3-4 days a week, so this typical everyday place turned into part of my daily routine and quickly became a place that made up “My London”.
Photo: Czeching out beautiful Prague
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?
JS: I’ve learned that the world knows a lot about the US, but we Americans typically don’t know as much about these other countries, which I am certainly guilty of even as a PoliSci and Spanish major. When I arrived in England, I barely knew anything about current British politics compared to what my Manchester and London counterparts knew about the US. I learned that many people feel that what the US does influences the rest of the world, which is something that I didn’t fully grasp before. Our music, TV shows, and movies are shown around Europe and the world, in addition to our politics. American culture and affairs are constantly being shown to others, but we don’t receive nearly as much as we send out. How many British TV shows can you name? How many Welsh actors do you know of? What are the two major political parties in the UK? It was very humbling to be exposed to this, and I now try to put a constant effort into keeping up with all worldly affairs.
When it comes to changes that I’ve seen in myself, I am much more culturally sensitive and accepting. Spending time abroad showed me that just because different people and countries have different cultures, none are necessarily better or worse than the other. The word “different” can sometimes be synonymous with “bad”, but it’s not. To me, these differences between American and other cultures were beautiful and enriching.
The best change that I have seen in myself is that I am eager. I’ve always been ambitious and driven, but now that I have discovered my personal and professional passions and am planning ways to pursue them, eager is a better word to describe me: Eager to do and try new things, to meet new people, to see new places. No matter where you study abroad, your eyes and mind will be opened to a new world and you will want to continue to have new experiences; that part of the study abroad version of yourself will always be there.