How Studying Abroad Can Foster a Sense of Independence

Aug 24, 2015 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

Interview: CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Jessica Davis

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Meet Jessica Davis, a CAPA study abroad alumna who spent Fall semester of 2012 in Sydney. She's now working as an Early Interventionist with children with disabilities and developmental delays. Below, Jessica talks about how her internship in Sydney with the Salvation Army played a role in where she is in her career today, how this experience is still making an impact on her life in some way and how studying abroad brought her a great sense of independence.

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CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
JESSICA DAVIS: I am from Orlando, Florida and moved to South Carolina for college. After graduating, I decided to call South Carolina my home. I studied abroad with CAPA my first semester of junior year. I really enjoy traveling, movie watching, reading and shopping!

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CW: Why did you decide to study abroad? 
JD: I decided to study abroad because I had always wanted to travel and this seemed like the perfect opportunity! My school advertised the program on campus. I saw it and immediately knew that was what I wanted to do! I think the better question is “Why would anyone decide NOT to study abroad if given the chance?”

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CW: How hard was it to decide where to go and what program to choose?  What helped you make your decision?
JD: Honestly, I didn’t even explore other options other than Sydney. I knew immediately that I wanted to go to Australia. Everything about the country catches my attention. I am absolutely in love with everything about it! My school offered the CAPA program and off I went!

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CW: Why did you decide to complete an internship? What did you hope to accomplish?
JD: Initially, I chose an internship because I felt like it would look great on a resume when it came time to find a job. I was hoping to accomplish a great reference, resume builder, and be more involved in Australian culture. I knew that I would be taking classes with Americans and I wanted to get to know more Australian natives. I thought it would be great way to really dive into the culture.

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CW: Tell us about your internship abroad, your daily tasks and most memorable accomplishments.
JD: I interned with The Salvation Army in Sydney. My daily tasks included working in the kitchen to cook and serve the homeless community lunch, working in the community center, building relationships with the community members, and working in the thrift store helping the community members get the items that they needed such as clothes, shoes and furniture. Interning with the community center was absolutely incredible. I built such amazing relationships with not only the staff but also the community members. So many of them touched my heart in a way I will never be able to explain. There is one in particular who still writes me letters and Facebook messages me often!

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CW: Share an example of one way in which you were able to make an impact on your internship company and one way the company and/or your colleagues made an impact on you.
JD: I like to think that I made an impact by being a friend to many of the community members. There were many times when someone would be upset, distraught or angry and I would just sit down and listen and talk to him or her. I felt like I could always be a friend if nothing else. And my “silly American girl” accent always seemed to cheer them up and provide them a good laugh!

The company impacted me in so many ways. Working with the homeless community helped me grow as a person. I quickly learned not to judge someone because of his or her life struggles. I learned so much about different cultures and different walks of life. Each and every person I came into contact with, whether it be staff or community members, touched my heart in a way I’ll never forget. I still think about everyone there every single day.

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CW: What skills did you learn while studying abroad and interning that are helping (or will help) you in your career? What is it about your study abroad experience or the skills gained through this experience that employers are most interested in?
JD: I think the biggest skill I took away from my study abroad was independence. When you live across the world from your family, you can’t just pick up a phone to call someone for help. I chose to not have a cell phone on my trip abroad, so I really had to learn to rely on myself. I am geographically challenged, and learning the bus routes was so difficult but by the end of the first month I had really mastered it. I had to learn how to be completely independent for so many things and it was the greatest thing to happen to me.

After coming back to the States, I was able to live on my own and not struggle to adjust. I really think studying abroad prepared me for the real world in more ways than one.

Employers always seem very interested that I was able to go so far away for so long. They always seem interested in how I was able to manage schoolwork, a full-time internship and sightseeing all at once. I think it shows dedication that study abroad students manage everything so well while they’re away. Lets be honest; working full-time and doing schoolwork when you live on the beach takes serious dedication!

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CW: Did your career plans change at all from what they were before you went abroad? If so, how so?
JD: When I was studying abroad I had plans to be a social worker. After graduating from college I went the route of an Early Interventionist, working with children with disabilities and developmental delays. It still allows me to help people, but I really enjoy working with the younger ages!

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CW: When you returned to the States, how did you use your internship to help you with your career plans? How has your career developed since you graduated?
JD: My internship helped me because I knew what to expect in the career field. It prepared me for working full-time in the career world.

My career has developed in the sense that I have chosen a career path, and I’ve been an Early Interventionist for almost seven months. While, I can’t promise I’ll be an Early Interventionist forever, I know that I’m on the right track in my career path.

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CW: Do you feel your study abroad and internship experience gave you an edge over people you competed with for your current job?
JD: I definitely do. In every interview I had while job searching, the interviewer always wanted to discuss my internship abroad. They always appeared amazed that I spent a semester in Australia. It not only demonstrates good work experience, but also gives a laid-back conversation to have with the interviewer to build a relationship. It builds an instant connection that employees will remember about you. It can also quickly demonstrate how passionate you can be.

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Thanks Jessica!

Find out about the CAPA Sydney program

Topics: Interviews, Sydney, Australia, Internships Abroad