Words by Leonard Chew, a University of Buffalo alum who studied abroad in London with CAPA International Education in 2012.
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The CAPA-UB (University at Buffalo) semester in London program which I participated in three years ago is a memory which I look back upon fondly.
I would say that those three months played a key role in shaping the direction I have taken in life. Sometimes I pause and think, what a good decision I made to apply for the program!
I am grateful to have reaped so much more than I expected. Besides broadening my horizons (I had previously never been to Europe before), it occurred to me that perhaps I should consider studying and working abroad, which indeed turned out to be the case. How different things might have been without the London experience.
Photo: With (part of) my London tribe outside our apartment
Back then, even though I was a psychology major, I decided to apply for an internship related to automobiles – one of my key but non-academic interests. When I received CAPA’s email informing me that they worked out an arrangement with Automotive PR (now Torque Agency Group), a public relations firm specialising in the automotive sector, I was overjoyed.
Learning how to make a good cup of tea is a good way to start off in a British working environment, as I found out; my colleagues like it with differing amounts of sugar and milk. I gradually developed an understanding of public relations as I learned how to write press releases and handle media databases. In addition, I also contributed several blog posts on the company website. My supervisor and colleagues were always willing to help when I had questions, sharing their knowledge of business matters with me openly.
Photo: My colleagues at the internship site
What I did in a work day varied – it ranged from scheduling online publications to archiving articles which were relevant to our clients. Sometimes I worked on the media database to update press and business contacts for particular clients. I would also complete a series of writing exercises in a workbook designed by my supervisor. There were scheduled review points where I received feedback on the press releases I had written. Overall, I found this useful in getting me up to speed with business matters.
I believed it was beneficial that I brought a strong passion and a good grasp of the automotive industry with me (those years of reading automobile magazines have certainly been put to good use). It was just a pity that time had gone by so quickly, because I felt that I had fit into the team well and wished that the stint would be longer.
My greatest takeaway was improved communication skills and knowledge about PR, which was put to good use when I took up a temporary position as a writer for Oneshift.com, one of Singapore’s leading automotive portals, in 2013.
Through the internship and the study abroad program, I developed a soft spot for London. I was confident that I would be back (as a tourist at the very least), and an opportunity presented itself with graduate school. This time, my academic pursuit was primarily driven by my interest in transportation, though my social science and liberal arts background from the University at Buffalo enabled me to bring in a unique perspective. At the postgraduate level of study, academic qualifications will only help get one through the initial stages of consideration; it is personal and work experiences which are crucial to obtaining the final offer. My familiarity with London and the internship undoubtedly gave me an edge over other candidates.
Photo: Returning to London for academic pursuits
And so, I fulfilled my wish for returning to the city as a student again, this time to pursue my Master’s in Transport and City Planning at University College London. Luck has had it that Transport for London (TfL) decided to brand 2014 as the ‘Year of the Bus’ in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the original Routemaster buses. As a transport geek, I had also set aside time for my hobby, which translated into my pet project – a Facebook page full of photos of buses. Towards the latter part of the year, I also started writing a transport blog documenting my little adventures and observations.
Photo: With a British icon
The time came to embark on my job search as I neared the completion of my postgraduate studies, and I had a strong preference to begin my career in London. One day, the Executive Chairman at my internship site messaged me on LinkedIn to say that one of their clients had advertised for a vacancy which my supervisor felt I would be suited to. And that was how I got to meet my current employer.
I am now a business development intern with the automotive division of BYD, a leading name in the green energy sector. BYD has a presence of electric cars and buses in UK and Europe. It is very much a dream job for me – I would not have thought that I would actually be in the automotive industry when I did my degree in psychology, but I have now come full circle. I am excited to be able to promote sustainable mobility in cities with a wider use of zero-emission vehicles. At the time of writing, I am in Rotterdam working at BYD’s regional headquarters for a short stint, and am all set for a permanent position in London.
Photo: Build Your Dreams; that’s exactly what I am doing
If I can offer some advice to my juniors on study abroad programs, I will say: “Do not be afraid to pursue your interests or try something new. Have a positive attitude, work hard, and dream big. You never know when the opportunity will come knocking.”
I am glad how one thing developed into another and have the CAPA-UB program and my internship company to thank for paving the path to where I am today.