Learning from a Challenging Internship Abroad

Dec 7, 2015 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Nicole Papazian


Meet Nicole Papazian who studied abroad in London during Spring semester 2015. A psychology major, Nicole took on an internship at the Royal Free Children's Hospital School in London where she worked with children who struggled with mental challenges and a variety of disabilities. Below, she talks about what she learned from this experience, tells us about how her favorite class abroad improved her writing skills and shares the story of a local in Barcelona who left an impression on her during her Spring break travels. 


CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
NICOLE PAPAZIAN: I studied abroad from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, during the spring semester of my junior year in college. I am a psychology major and sociology minor with a particular interest in education. I enjoy traveling, cooking different foods, exercising, and watching movies.

CW: Why did you decide to study abroad in London? What was important to you when choosing a program? 
NP: I decided to study abroad in London for many different reasons. One was that I was not proficient in any other language other than English; so studying in different countries where I would need a better grasp of the language would not necessarily be an optimal choice. Also, I was interested in living in a diverse and large city so London seemed to be a great option.

The fact that CAPA has the option of a semester long internship abroad was a big selling point for me. I was really excited about being able to put a global internship on my resume, and it was really important to me to have professional work experience abroad.


CW: Tell us a bit about your internship in London, your duties and accomplishments. What skills have you learned or developed? 
NP: I had the opportunity to intern at the Royal Free Children’s Hospital School. This is a special school that provides for students whose needs are not met at public schools and is a secure space for children on the ward of the hospital to be engaged during their stay. The goal of the school is to offer a safe, caring space that inspires students to learn in a normalized setting, building skills that will allow for their eventual reintegration back into the public school system.

As a teaching and office intern, I had a wide range of responsibilities including assistant teaching as needed in the classroom setting, online database coding, and secretarial work.

One of the key learning points that I will take away from this internship is successful communication with staff members. Through this position, I realized that I must be the one to advocate for myself and communicate what I do and do not feel comfortable with in a work environment. During my time at the hospital school, I was put in situations where I did not always feel comfortable, and realized that I had to speak up for myself and my needs in order to get what I wanted out of my internship. I now feel stronger and more confident in my ability to understand what I can handle and when to ask for help, which is extremely important in the fields of education and psychology.

There were days and moments, especially at my internship site, that were very difficult. Being exposed to students with mental challenges and a variety of disabilities was overwhelming at times, but I realized that I learned something very important from each and every student that I met and worked with. I have made lasting positive relationships with staff and students at my internship site at the Royal Free, and feel this to be a true accomplishment of my time in London.


CW: Explain a day in the life of a CAPA intern.
NP: My weekly schedule was very packed and hectic during my stay in London. Since my internship at the school started at about 8am, I had to get up at about 6:00 or 6:30am in order to have enough time to commute, which took about an hour. I really enjoyed using the tube, since there is not really great public transportation in Worcester, and being from a small town, I don’t usually have this option. A day in the life is a lot about time management - managing work, school, life, and making sure to have time for the magical moments of studying abroad.


CW: What classes did you take in London? How were your academics different there than in the States?
NP: In London, I took "Understanding Modern Britain", "Writing the City: London", and "Contemporary British Film". My favorite class was "Writing the City: London" because it combined some film, applicable field trips, and interesting readings. I feel that my creative writing really improved after taking the class and it also gave me an opportunity to reflect upon my experience studying abroad in the historic melting pot that is the city of London. The academics in London were a lot less demanding than at my home university, which was something that I did not really like at first and had to adjust to. I didn’t have any tests, just papers and presentations, which corresponded with the types of classes I was taking. I was lucky to be able to complete my sociology minor while abroad.


CW: Did you travel outside of London while abroad? What's your best advice for other students planning weekend adventures?
NP: During my spring break, I had the opportunity to travel to Barcelona, Spain and Rome, Italy with five girlfriends. Traveling on our own in foreign cities with different languages was an experience that has changed me, and how I think of the world. Experiencing the different foods, cultures, music, and landscapes of these two beautiful cities was an incredible privilege. I have had the reoccurring feeling of being in awe of the beauty in the world and all it has to offer me.

I will remember a particular event that occurred on our trip for many days to come. One of my favorite places we visited in Barcelona was La Boqueria. After getting food from this vibrant market, we sat down next to an older Spanish man in the outside seating area behind a Dunkin Donuts in order to have a table where we could eat our meals. We began to have a conversation, he knowing little English and my two friends and I knowing little Spanish. However, we were able to have a very fulfilling and interesting exchange. He has a daughter studying in New York at Columbia and worries about her, as I’m sure our parents have worried about us traveling to Spain. He told us of how he loved Barcelona, not only because it has been his home for so many years, but because of the immense beauty that he finds there. As we were getting ready to leave to meet other friends, he welcomed us to his beautiful city and told us that his home is our home. This moment was very special to my friends and I because we were able to meet and converse with a local man in a foreign place, and he was able to welcome us into his city.

It has been the beautiful moments like this one in every city we have travelled to which have been the most inspiring and treasured of my memories. Make time for simple things while traveling.


CW: Tell us about the food in London! Where did you shop and enjoy eating out? What tastes do you miss now that you're back home?
NP: What I loved about London is that, because it is a place with so many different cultures, there are cuisines in this city from all around the world. It was very exciting to have Indian food at a restaurant near Brick Lane and have traditional Turkish and Italian cuisines as well. I will miss the accessibility to all of these authentic dishes. For grocery store, I mostly shopped at Sainsbury’s and Tesco. When I wanted to splurge on something familiar, I went to Whole Foods!


CW: Talk about culture in London, what you learned from living in such a global city and a few of the traditions you were able to experience. What sort of lasting impact has living in England left on you?
NP: This is something that I loved about being in London. I loved being in such a diverse space where I was able to experience so many different cultures, languages, and peoples. Through my "Understanding Modern Britain" class, we were able to go to a mosque as a way to understand many of the different religions and ethnic groups in London. The members of the mosque were able to give us a guided tour as well as provide a traditional Indian meal for us after our discussion about the religion. This was a great way to get first hand information about a culture and religion that I did not know that much about.


CW: Where are the places you've carved out as "Your London" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that are most meaningful for you? What is special about them?
NP: I found a lot of different cafes and bookstores that I considered to be “My London.” Since I am used to studying in a library at my home university, I needed to find an alternative space that I could use to study. While CAPA does give suggestions and directions to different library facilities, I ended up feeling more comfortable doing work in cafes. I found one bookstore/café in Soho called Lloyds, a bookstore chain, that I was able to walk to and felt really comfortable doing work in the big open café with large windows that let lots of light in. Sitting in these cafes doing work for classes and drinking my coffee, I felt like a Londoner. I felt I was more than a tourist in these moments. I felt that for a time, this was my city too.


CW: What personal and professional changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? Why do you think these changes have occurred?
NP: Overall I feel that I have grown in many ways through the CAPA program. I have a new pride and confidence in myself for being able to leave my comfort zone and immerse myself in an entirely new city.

From as far back as early high school I have always known that I wanted to study abroad. I never knew the exact location, but I am so glad that it ended up being London. I have learned so much about myself from being here and traveling to other European countries from this central location and hub of the world.

The most important thing about this experience is that I will return to the United States a little different. I am the only one in my immediate family to have lived abroad and this experience has given me new appreciation and perspective on my world. This trip has broadened my sense of what the world means. To have the opportunity to travel to all of the countries that I have dreamed about, saw pictures of, and heard stories about over the last twenty years has been an incredible experience of a lifetime that I will never forget. I plan to take all that I have learned with me as I move forward on my life’s journey and forever cherish my incredible experience in London.

Thanks Nicole!

Find out about the CAPA London program


Topics: London, England, CAPA Alumni, Interviews