Interview: CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Kate Barnekow

Apr 6, 2015 9:30:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

Kate studied abroad in London with CAPA International Education during Fall semester 2013. Below, among many other topics, she talks about a fulfilling internship she completed with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, an independent research project she pursued outside of her academic classes and what it was like to live in London as a vegan.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.

KATE BARNEKOW: As a seventh-generation Texan (born and raised) with limited travel experience, I decided to attend college somewhere where I knew no one. For me, that wound up being Winter Park, Florida, where I attend Rollins College. I’m a Philosophy major and a Sexuality, Women’s, and Gender Studies minor (a minor I picked up notably after my time abroad). In the Fall of my Junior year, I spent a semester in London with CAPA. This was, I can say with complete honesty, both the most enjoyable and the most transformative four months of my academic career. I’m now in my last semester of undergrad, and I see with further clarity every day just how much my time abroad has influenced my abilities, worldview, and aspirations.

CW: You found a few great ways to involve yourself in London life beyond a typical study abroad experience. Tell us briefly about a few of these opportunities and any advice you have for future students on building a well rounded semester abroad.

KB: Before I left for London, I was told countless times that the semester would fly by. I took this tidbit to heart, and I tried to get the most out of my time there (though it still didn’t feel like enough)!

In addition to my coursework, I held an internship with the legal department of an outstanding organization, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. I also undertook an independent research project, focusing on the effects of UK social policies on British women. These two experiences gave my study abroad experience an additional depth that I couldn’t have gained from mere tourism.

In addition to keeping in mind that your time abroad will fly by (it will, really, so much faster than you can imagine), I really encourage all students to keep an open mind about every opportunity that presents itself. You never know how it will turn out, and you’ll regret the chances you don’t take!
CW: Tell us a bit about your internship with Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, your duties and accomplishments. 
KB: My time at Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, or JCWI, is without a doubt one of my most treasured memories from my time abroad. JCWI works for justice in British immigration, nationality, and asylum law. I was fortunate enough to work in their casework division, directly underneath two barristers.  While there, I conducted research to assist in current cases, interviewed prospective clients, and attended hearings. I was even able to file a court with the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom!

CW: How will this internship experience help you in your future career?
KB: For me, this internship was a huge affirmation of the career path I have chosen for myself: a pursuit of nonprofit legal work. This internship highlighted for me the necessity of a working knowledge of and access to the law in order to help some of the Western world’s most disadvantaged populations. My time at JCWI was able to simultaneously affirm the path that I’m on and allow me access to a hands-on legal education in another country, all while exposing me to a group of inspiring and talented individuals, whom I still hold close to my heart.
CW: Which classes did you take in London? Give a few examples of ways in which you were able to tie the knowledge you gained in your CAPA classes into the way you understood your host city.
KB: In addition to my internship debrief course, Learning Through Internships, I enrolled in Gender and Modern Europe, The 20th Century British Novel, and a course on, of course, Shakespeare’s works.

One of my favorite things about the CAPA program in general, as well as my own personal experience, is the way that the coursework ties into the city in which you are residing. All of my courses took me out and through the city—both in groups and on my own—and allowed me to experience more of the city than I would have had I been enrolled in a different kind of program.

My courses took me everywhere from the National Portrait Gallery to the War Rooms to numerous productions of Shakespearean plays. These experiences, along with the knowledge I gained through my course readings and discussions, gave me a richer understanding of what I now consider my home-away-from-home city.

CW: One of your interests is feminism and women's rights. What were some of the differences you noticed in how these subjects were approached, highlighted, discussed, etc. in the UK versus back home in the US? 
KB: Overall, there were a lot of similarities between the feminist movements and discourses I encountered while in London and those I see and participate in back home in the States. If anything, the feminist movement was much more visible and outspoken publicly in London, an element I found empowering and inspiring.

Attending the 2013 Feminism in London convention was certainly one of the highlights of my time abroad; being surrounded by such a diverse group of women, all of whom were committed to the same ethics and cause as myself, was an inspiring experience.

This convention, along with my everyday experiences and my furthered research, opened my eyes specifically to the institutionalization of sexism (and racism and classism, etc.)—a transnational ill I am now committed to combating.
CW: What were some of the benefits of studying abroad as a philosophy major specifically? 
KB: One of the reasons I selected my major, philosophy, is that it, unlike many other majors, attempts to teach individuals how to think, not what to think. In this way, philosophy is universally applicable. Bringing a background in philosophy to an international city, in my experience, allows for a unique kind of exchange of information. While philosophical understanding and thought informs how one sees and understands a foreign city, experience in a foreign city also affects one’s philosophical grounding and framework (including one’s worldview, assumptions, privilege, etc.). I felt that I was able to bring my philosophical background to all of my coursework, as well as to my individual experiences around the city. Since I’m particularly interested in issues and theories of gender and sexuality, I found The Women’s Library at LSE to be especially engaging to my academic side. 

CW: How did you cope in London as a vegan? Share some of your best discoveries for other vegan students studying in London.
KB: Maintaining my veganism while abroad was certainly something I was concerned about before I left for home, but knowing that I would have access to a kitchen set my mind at ease a bit. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about! London (and really the United Kingdom in general) is remarkably vegan-friendly. I found some of my favorite places there (check out Cakes ‘n’ Treats in Camden Town and Hummus Bros off of Oxford Street)—so much so that I sometimes catch myself longing for that level of veg-friendly restaurants back in Florida. I also cooked a great deal (my favorite recipe sources are Pinterest and The Vegan Stoner Cookbook).
CW: As a literature connoisseur, share your favorite London bookshops with us. Did you discover any British authors who inspired you while you were overseas?
One of my biggest regrets from my time abroad is not writing down more of what I’d done (there’s another piece of advice for you future travelers!). That said, it’s hard for me to recall most of the bookshops I visited; my general rule of thumb was if I saw one, and I didn’t have somewhere to be in the next hour, I went in. I wound up having to donate a fair number of books at the end of the semester because there was no way they would fit within the weight limit on my suitcases heading back home! I do recall wandering lovingly through Foyles one rainy afternoon and hunting in Daunt Books for some texts for my research.

Besides the range of British authors I’ve read before, during, and after my time abroad, I spent a good amount of my time rediscovering Arthur Conan Doyle. One of my courses assigned a short Sherlock story, but we didn’t go in-depth. This was the nudge I needed, though, to curl up on a number of afternoons (sometimes in the Sherlock Holmes pub—check it out if you get the chance) with an old copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. There’s something much more exciting about reading the stories out in the city of London than there is in a dorm room in the States.

CW: Where are the places you've carved out as “Your London” – the London you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that are most meaningful for you? What is special about them?
KB: In the last few years I’ve found myself to be something of a loner and a wanderer. I like being on my own and discovering new places independently. This means that while I did find a few particularly special places across the city to me, a lot of what I consider “my London” were places I only found myself once (maybe twice), usually by accident, usually on my own, and usually because I needed to find a specific book or forgot my lunch at my flat or got off of the tube a few stops too early. Being open to the discovery of new places—ducking into that small dark storefront, seeking out the local coffee shops instead of returning to Costa every morning—is part of what makes time in a foreign city so magical.

That said, there are certainly a few places that I will always identify with my semester in London. I lived in Camden Town, and the Camden Markets became a regular stop for me on the weekends. A little touristy? Sure. But if you go beyond the keychain and shot glass shops, really find the unique vendors and start a chat with them, you’ll find much more than a blurb in a tour guide book will give you. The Regent’s Park was another favorite spot of mine, with friends or alone. Bring some snacks and a bottle of wine and you have a great picnic spot, or a journal and you might find some great people watching.
CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? 
KB: My answer to this might be just what you expect to read (and the type of response I called cheesy or obnoxious before I went abroad), so forgive me in advance for that. But. Studying abroad intensely impacted who I am as an individual. I am undoubtedly more confident, independent, open to new experiences, and outspoken than I was before my time abroad. I’m happier with who I am and where I’m going. My time abroad widened my viewpoint as well, something I feel is important for all individuals, especially those of our generation. As I said before, my time abroad wholly strengthened and re-affirmed the career track I’m holding on to; it also inspired me to find a way back to Europe. I’m hoping to get my Master’s abroad before returning to the States and attending law school.

Thanks Kate!
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Topics: London, England, CAPA Alumni, Interviews