A CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview with Courtney Evans
Meet Courtney, a CAPA study abroad alumna and ambassador from the University of Florida who studied abroad in Dublin during Spring semester 2016. Below, she talks about her internship at non-profit Wells for Zoë and the profound impact this experience and the people she met there had on her, how studying abroad has made her approach her hometown differently and the influence her time in Ireland has had on her goals for her future career.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
COURTNEY EVANS: Hi! My name is Courtney. I am a third year international studies major at the University of Florida with a focus in Europe. I enjoy participating in service projects with my Rotaract Club, and if I’m not doing that, I am probably either working at the public library or spending time with my much-loved cat.
CW: Why did you choose the CAPA program and why Dublin specifically? What was interesting about your program?
CE: I chose CAPA Dublin pretty much by process of elimination. I had wanted to study foreign language abroad, but my parents were not very keen on allowing me to do so. My university has a partnership with CAPA Dublin and the courses made sense for my major, so I went with it. One of the most interesting parts about the program was learning more about Irish history and culture. Many of us identify as having Irish roots, so it was wonderful to learn more about the country’s rich history while living there.
CW: Tell us a bit about your internship in Dublin, your expectations and what it was like in reality. Also, share one accomplishment or contribution you were proud of during your internship experience!
CE: I honestly had no expectations about my internship when I applied. I was a sophomore with a year’s worth of job experience and one other internship under my belt, so I was worried that I would be the one person to get a phone call that I could not be placed anywhere. Luckily, CAPA found Wells for Zoë, a 100% nonprofit that works in Malawi doing girls’ education, sustainable agriculture, and, most widely, wells among other projects.
I was absolutely in a tizzy over the interview with Jacquie who actually just wanted to learn more about me, and, later, when I got to speak over FaceTime with John and Mary. From our conversation, I expected my internship to be really fun. They are incredibly kind and warm people. I had no work experience in social media, but Jacquie helped coach me along, so we were able to double our following on Facebook by the end of my internship. I also worked once a week in our charity shop on Queen St. I helped organize books, sort and mark prices on clothes, and once or twice I was even allowed to work the front desk (much to my boss’s playful disdain).
One of my proudest accomplishments was our International Women’s Day Project project. Jacquie and I plotted that I would pretend as much as possible to be a schoolgirl in Malawi for the day. I got my water for my shower and food from the spout on campus (which is still much cleaner and closer than many of the places they get water), cooked basic foods, and went to class. It was fun and the day that we got the most social media engagement.
Overall, I am thankful for my internship for how it helped me grow as a person and the relationships I was able to form. The ladies in the shop showed me incredible kindness and understanding every week. I was able to meet John and Mary’s kids, grandkids, and have dinner multiple times at their home. Jacquie is also still a very dear friend of mine. We traveled together, and she somehow liked me enough to let me meet her friends and family as well. Wells for Zoë truly gave me some of the most cherished memories of my life; I am lucky to still work for them.
CW: What was a typical day in your life as an intern like? What were some of your responsibilities?
CE: A typical Wednesday for me:
9:00am: I would wake up and post what I had planned for our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook page. I would also look at other nonprofit’s pages to see if they were doing anything I could emulate.
10:00am: I get ready to walk to the shop from school. It takes about 40 minutes because I take the scenic route by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, and then along the River Liffey.
11:00am: I arrive at the shop to all the ladies and John laughing about something. Mary encourages me to have some tea every few hours. John and I start to sort the massive piles of donated items we have received. I get to chat with our patrons when I leave the back to help clean up.
4:00pm: I begin my stroll home. I stop at the Spar to grab food for dinner that night.
5:00pm: I arrive home to catch up on some school work.
6:30pm: School work ends because my roommate gets home, and we chat about that day while we make our own dinners. We will probably go out somewhere at night with the rest of the CAPA students that we have befriended.
CW: What was your living situation like? Who were your roommates? Any tips for getting along or building relationships with your roomies during the semester abroad?
CE: I lived in a 4-person dorm. There were two of us in each room and each room had a bathroom. The living room was very small but livable, as was the kitchen. All of my roommates were a few years older than me. One was from Germany, and the other two were also from UF. We got along really well by having a roommate meeting after spending a couple of weeks together where we could discuss our own habits and figure out how best to share space together. Additionally, we spent time together. Some of my best trips were with my roomies to London, Scotland, and various places around Ireland. We all agreed to value communication and that genuinely helped.
CW: Living in another culture can really open your eyes to what life in that country is like. What were some of your discoveries about Irish culture, both from living in Dublin and further travels in the country?
CE: In Darren’s internship seminar, we talked about cultural competence. There are a couple parts to the scale, but I stayed for much of study abroad trip in the comparison section. I was genuinely happy to discover that the Irish were every bit as friendly as I had been told. There is also this long-running joke around the country that they complain a lot (something I had not known). Everyone says “Thank you” or “Cheers” when they get off the city bus. Tea is a staple. Most of this was also true of places outside of Dublin. Much of Ireland is very rural with just as many sheep as one would expect, but I was grateful that so much of it was not developed because I grew up in a part of Florida that is agriculture-based as well. Ultimately, I left Ireland as a less stressed human being. The Irish taught me a kind of faith in that life will go on, with or without my stress, that I am indescribably thankful for.
CW: What was it like to return home again after Dublin? Did you experience any reverse culture shock?
CE: Returning home was very difficult. I was not prepared for the amount of sadness I would feel at leaving the family that I had had while abroad. I most miss the atmosphere of Dublin. Gainesville is a much smaller city with not as much opportunity. Dublin was international and busy, but also had beautiful mountains and coastal walks to explore on the weekends. Coming home, I was most excited to see my, at the time, 2-year-old niece and my cat. I could talk to my family every day abroad, but it would have been hard to attempt to communicate with either one of those two.
I would say I did get some reverse culture shock, especially that night. Wait staff in Ireland aren’t tipped, so they spend a lot less time trying to chat with you. My family took me to this barbeque restaurant right after the flight, and I was consciously irritated at the number of times the waitress came by to ask if we wanted anything. I also had some trouble going back to work because the American office is much stricter than I experienced as an intern in Ireland. However, talking with my friends from abroad really helped. We had an overwhelming sense that our time abroad almost didn’t feel real, and I was so happy when school started and I was able to see some of my friends again. It cemented to me that it was real. It did happen. I learned to try to look at my hometown from the same lens that I did Dublin. Now, I take more pictures of the places I love, complain a little less, and am more likely to try new things here, too.
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?
CE: My absolute favorite part of being abroad was sharing parts of my culture and learning about others, so much so that I hope to make that a part of my career. Along those lines, a little bit ago, I was actually offered an internship abroad with the U.S. State Department that will allow me to keep doing so this summer. While I am a junior with a little more time to decide what I want to do, my current plan is to apply to work for the Peace Corps after graduation. After that, I am hoping to work in foreign affairs in some capacity and eventually found my own non-profit.
CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your Dublin" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
CE: I would say there are three, if that’s allowed.
The charity shop I volunteered in is definitely a part of my Dublin. We hadall kinds of items donated, and I could usually get a good culture lesson if I asked questions about them. I have very good memories there, and I learned a lot from our group in the shop.
My second would be a place that I guess is technically a tourist site, but that is still popular with locals: St. Stephen’s Green. It is littered with gorgeous flowers, green space, and benches to sit on. I loved eating lunch there, going for jogs around the park, people watching, and sometimes studying. I observed a lot of Irish culture from watching their dogs run around in the park and the way that parents did not always hover over their children running around. It was a very big green space that also had sculptures relating to Irish history scattered about (which is probably what attracts the tourists). I just know that in the future, I could sit on those benches and go right back to being twenty-years old in Dublin.
Similarly, I would add South Circular Road. It is not particularly beautiful, but much of my friendships were made just walking down those roads with other CAPA students.
CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself, the world around you and some of the larger global issues we face today?
CE: Personally, I am a lot more confident than I was when I first arrived in Dublin. I saw every part of being abroad as a learning experience. My roommates taught me how to handle conflict instead of avoiding it, and my wanting to get the most out of my experience made me crawl out of my introverted shell much, much more than I ever would have otherwise. I am more outgoing, more sure of my decision-making skills, and definitely more aware of my strengths and weaknesses after being abroad.
Overall, study abroad was a lesson in perspective. Through my internship, I was able to meet people from Brazil, Somalia, Malawi, Mauritius, and Ireland. Among the Irish, I knew people who were on the older end, middle-aged, and my age. Every one from those peeople representing different nations spoke to me about their history, the happenings in America, and their opinions on both of those. I take a lot of care to remember each of their stories when making my decisions.
In regards to global issues, my experience with the Irish taught me to think more deeply about these topics than what I see on my news channel or read in the paper, especially on issues that I am passionate about.