How I Turned My Study Abroad Experience into a Career

Jul 3, 2017 8:30:00 AM / by Julie Ritz

A CAPA Alumna Interview: Sarah Morgan

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Meet Sarah Morgan, a History major and Journalist and Fine Art minor from the University of Delaware who studied abroad in London during fall 2010. Below, she talks about how she got out of her comfort zone through study abroad, how the locals of London left an impression on her, and how study abroad led her to work abroad in international education.

CAPAWORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
SARAH MORGAN: Hi!  My name is Sarah Morgan, and I'm an alumna of the 2010 Fall CAPA London program!  Originally from New Jersey, I attended the University of Delaware for my undergrad degree, where I majored in History, and minored in Journalism and Fine Art.  During my time at UD, I studied abroad three times- in Puerto Rico, Greece, and my final experience was with CAPA in London!  I’m a bit of a bookworm, and also love photography and yoga.

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CW: What made you originally want to choose to study in London, England? Why were you originally drawn to it opposed to other study abroad locations?
SM: I always knew that I wanted to study in London- I can’t even fully explain why, but I just always felt very drawn to the idea of visiting England and getting to spend as much time there as possible.  My parents have friends in London, and they would share stories with me growing up about what a great city it is, and how much they loved it; I guess I was hooked on the idea of London from a young age!  I also studied in Puerto Rico and Greece in college, so I had three very different experiences abroad.  However, from the very start I knew I would study in London, and for a full semester, compared to my two previous, shorter study abroads.  Another reason I wanted to visit London was because I’m a big history buff, and English history has always been a favorite subject of mine.  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit so many of the places and historical sites I had previously only read about in my textbooks!

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CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your City" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
SM: Oh gosh, there were so many!  I think my neighborhood of Belgravia, where my flat was located, became my favorite place in London- my city!  We lived a short walk from Sloane Square and Kings Road, a famous shopping street in London.  It’s just such a lovely neighborhood, I would just wander around on a nice day with a cup of coffee, taking in the sights of my new home. There were so many nice stores, lovely cafes and beautiful homes, I quickly explored the area until it felt like my own!  There is also a little place down the road from my old flat on Ebury Street called the Duke of Wellington, which is honestly my favorite place in all of London.  It’s very traditional with a beautiful large fireplace.  My flatmates and I would go there all the time for dinner, and just relax by the fire.  Some of my best memories from London are the nights that I spent in the Duke with my new friends from CAPA (and some locals!), enjoying fish and chips next to the fire!  I’ve visited London a few times since my study abroad trip, and each time I go back to the Duke and take up my old spot next to the fireplace.  I just can’t stay away!

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CW: Tell us the story of a favorite experience you’ve had in your free time in your host city. What did it teach you about the world around you?
SM: I actually think there are too many to pick just one!  However, I honestly think some of my favorite moments were when I would walk around and explore London, on my own.  There was one day a week when all of my friends were in class or at their internship when my schedule was free- every week when that day rolled around, I would force myself to go out exploring on my own.  I would go to a new museum I hadn’t visited yet, see a new attraction, visit one of London’s many markets, or even just go for an aimless walk in the park.  I loved it.  I felt like it allowed me to see something new in the city, without distraction.  I do remember on one particular such day when I went down to Borough Market (my favorite!) on my own for lunch.  I grabbed some food, and then walked over to the Globe and sat along the Thames to enjoy my lunch.  I remember looking around, and having that moment when it actually hits you, “Wow, I’m in London!” and looking around at all sights that were still so new to me- the Thames, the Globe, St. Pauls, and the Tower of London down the river, and just being awed by them.  I’ve always been a huge history buff, and it was just an amazing moment to look around and find myself surrounded by so much history.  I felt a bit overwhelemed, and grateful, that someone had cared enough to preserve these places with so much history, and such interesting stories.  I don’t know if I can say it taught me anything specific about the world around me, but in that moment I felt very thankful to the people who made sure those monuments and sites were preserved throughout the ages, so that a young college kid like me could visit them and learn from them.

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CW: Did you travel outside of your host city? Where did you go? How did your new environment compare with your host city environment? What new challenges did you encounter while outside of your host city and how did you overcome them?
SM: Yes- at every chance I got!  During my semester in London I visited a few other spots in England, such as Bath and Brighton, and also took advantage of the cheap airfair and travel around Europe. I visited France, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland and Ireland during my semester with CAPA.  Each place was very different, but for me the biggest challenges I encountered were the result of language barriers in these new countries.  As I didn’t have to worry about language barriers in London, I first came across this on my trip to France; I remember having a few awkward moments while in Paris, due to my lack of French! However, despite language barriers you still find ways to communicate- I think my friends and I surprised ourselves with how creative we would get trying to ask for directions, or ordering a meal in a restaurant!  At the end of the day though, a smile is universal, and goes a long way if you are fumballing your way through a converstaion! 

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CW: Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite subject- food! What did you try that you had never tried back home? Did you find a favorite place to shop for food? Did you try to make any local recipes?
SM: Ah, the food- my favorite part!  I went over to London with very low expectations for English cuisine; I had heard that it was quite bland, and nothing too fancy.  However, I am very happy to admit that I was completely wrong in this assumption- I loved the food in England!  Everything seemed like comfort food to me, and I think it made the transition to living in England a little less overwhelming.  I tried a lot of the English staples for the first time while there- bangers and mash, fish and chips, pasties, crumpets, the full English breakfast, etc.  I definitely had a few favorite spots for food while I was eating my way through London.  I remember there was this amazing little pasty shop right next to Victoria station that I would have to pop in to whenever I passed, Borough Market was my favorite for a delicious, cheap lunch, and there were some amazing pubs nearby (The Duke!) that had incredible pub grub.  Food shopping was also fun in London- I feel like you can learn a lot about a country and it’s people based on what snacks and favorites they have in their grocery store!  I took a liking to my local Sainsburys for my shopping, but I don’t think I tried preparing any local dishes- cooking isn’t really my forte, regardless of the cuisine!  But overall, I was really pleasantly surprised with the food in England.  While I really came to love the standard pub grub, London is still a massive, international city- any cuisine you want, you can find it there!  I remember having some of my best meals in London on Brick Lane- I think a curry is the adopted national dish of England, you can’t miss it!

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CW: Tell us a story of a memorable interaction you had with a local and why it left an impression on you.
SM: My most memorable interaction with a local initially gave me pause, but in hindsight I find funny and a bit eye-opening.  One night my flatmates and I were going out, and starting chatting with some locals.  As our accents immediately gave us away as foreigners, it sparked a conversation about where we were from, and what brought us to London.  After a few minutes of talking, I remember one of the lads saying he hated American accents, as he thought we all sounded nasal, as if we were constantly sick.  I’m pretty sure he also used the words “quite dreadful.”  At first, I think my friends and I all just stood there, a bit shocked- had this random man just told us all that we sound dreadful, right to our face?!  I think this was one of my first proper introductions to English humor- sarcastic, self-deprecating, and all delivered with a straight face!  After a moment though I think we collectively gathered ourselves and decided to laugh it off.  However, I remember it leaving quite an impression on me.  I think before this incident, I had always assumed that my American culture/ values were the norm or standard- my accent was the most neutral in the English language (obviously!), my clothes were the standard for my age group, as was the music I liked, food I ate, etc.  This interaction really brought that somewhat naive belief to a screeching halt- what if my American accent isn’t the neutral norm I’ve always thought it was?  This guy obviously thinks his accent is the standard- but he doesn’t talk like me!  Even though I had traveled a bit prior to my semester in London, this was the first time that another native English speaker had called me out for being “different,” and it really forced me to open my eyes and think about what the“norm” is- and I realized that there is none.  I’m sure at some point, everyone has thought that their accent, culture, or lifestyle is normal or standard, but all it takes is one quick conversation to open your eyes and realize that everyone has a different idea of what’s normal!

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CW: What does the term “global city” mean to you? How has your definition changed since you’ve been abroad? What did living in a global city teach you? What did you observe? What did you like and dislike about living in a global city?
SM: I think to me, a “global city” means a place that’s full of life with different languages, cultures, religions, customs, and histories.  Basically, an international melting pot of different people and places.  I think I still have similar ideas about “global cities” since my time abroad, but if anything I’ve just added to my definition.  While I definitely think London is a global city- and a complete mash up of different lifestyles and cultures, it’s more than that.  It’s also about the blending of cultures, and people learning and adopting traits from someone different from them.  It’s about the locals embracing the new cultures that join their city, and vice versa.  When I first arrived in London, I remember thinking it was so odd that a curry was one of England’s favorite meals- aren’t curry dishes from India?  But then as I learned more about England and it’s history and ties with India, I saw the Indian heritage and roots of those who live in London. The curry is a foreign dish that the English embraced as their own, because they loved it so much.  Even though it is completely different to typical English foods, the locals saw something they liked about another culture, and decided to incorporate it into their own lifestyle.  I think that’s what a “global city” really means to me.  As far as living in a global city- I loved it.  I grew up in NJ right outside of NYC, so I grew up with another global city on my doorstep.  I think it’s amazing that in a place like London, you can meet people from around the world, hear numerous languages while walking down the street, or try food from different corners of the world.  You get the best of everything in a global city!

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CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you? Has it highlighted any particular global issues in a different way?
SM: I was already bit by the travel bug before I studied abroad- I was always looking up the next place, planning my next trip, and was focused on seeing as many places as possible.  Since I’ve studied abroad, I can confirm that I have a fully fledged travel problem.  I’m a travel junkie, and I feel like I can’t sit still for more than a few months without having to book a plane, train, or bus somewhere- anywhere, really!  However, I’ve found my study abroad experiences have been very different than trips or traveling I have done on my own.  At the time, my study abroad in London had been the longest stretch of time I had ever been away from home, or had gone without seeing my family, which was definitely a new experience.  It made the lines of my “comfort zone” very clear to me, but at the same time, forced me to move beyond them.  If I missed my parents, I couldn’t just hop in my car and drive home for a weekend visit, like I could while at my home university.  Studying abroad will force you to face a lot of uncomfortable firsts- maybe living with strangers, traveling completely solo, being out of touch with your life at home, or something as simple as successfully riding the metro in a new city where you don’t know the language.  Despite dealing with these scary “firsts,” one thing I can proudly say is that I did it.  And more than that, I enjoyed it- I loved every minute of my time in London.  I can even look back now on my more personally challenging moments, and appreciate that I was able to effectively deal with whatever came my way.  I think it was during my semester abroad that I truly came into my own, in terms of independence.  I don’t think my time abroad has highlighted any specific global issues for me in particular, but it has made me more aware, overall.  Now, I try to stay up to date with the news, and make sure I stay informed.  Before I started traveling, it was very easy for me to live in my own little bubble, and not pay attention to what was going on around me.  Now, after having experience living abroad, I find that I can no longer just exist in my “bubble” and need to actively stay aware about global issues.

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CW: You now live in Dublin and work in International Education, which of course, we think is pretty cool. How big of a role did your time abroad with CAPA have in that? What advice can you give to others looking to get into the field or live abroad after college?
SM: Yep- the travel bug, back at it again!  After I graduated from UD, I moved to Dublin, Ireland in 2013 on a one year Working Holiday Visa.  My first year in Ireland was so amazing, that I just had to come back!  In 2015 I returned to Dublin, this time to complete my Master’s Degree.  Now that I’ve completed my studies, I’m working in Dublin and actively pursuing a career in International Education, and CAPA definitely played a huge part in that!  During my undergraduate career I studied abroad three times, and I think a huge reason why I loved each experience so much was because of the amazing staff working with the students.  While at CAPA, there were so many people I could talk to, if needed- whether it was just looking for restaurant recommendations, asking about local attractions, or if I was having trouble with classes or feeling homesick.  Knowing that there were reliable, friendly staff that I could approach if I ever needed anything was huge, and really helped put my mind at ease while settling into my daily routine in London.  I had such a positive experience with CAPA, that I now want to pay it forward to current college students studying abroad, and help them have the same safe, exciting experiences that I had! 

I’m still trying to get into this field myself, but am getting closer every day!  For anyone else interested in pursuing a career in international education, I’ve found that being outgoing and networking have been crucial.  When I arrived in Dublin, I sent a lot of emails to study abroad organizations in Ireland, just saying hello, introducing myself and leaving my CV with them in case any opportunities arose.  While I had no prior connection to many of these places, a few of those emails have turned out to be very fruitful, and have led to me developing connections with other people in the industry who can offer advice on my job search, and keep me in the loop if they know of any jobs available!  And for the students who want to live abroad after college, my advice is- go for it.  If you want to continue your studies, look in to Master’s Degree programmes abroad- some countries, like Ireland, will allow students to live and work full-time in the country for an allotted time following completion of their degree.  Or if you want to dive straight into the workforce, research working holiday visas!  A network of countries have the working holiday agreement, which allows you to live and work full-time in a specific country, for maybe a year or two.  Different countries have different time frames or job restrictions, but it’s still an amazing way to live abroad and fund your travels simultaneously.  When I decided to go for the Working Holiday Visa in Ireland, it all came down to one thing- time.  For Ireland, you can only apply for the visa within 12 months of graduating, so for me, it was a now or never moment. It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, and it was.  To any other students considering the big move abroad, I would recommend that you don’t let the opportunity pass you by, even if it seems intimidating- it may never come again!

Thanks, Sarah!

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Topics: London, England, International Education, Interviews, London Interview