Making Study Abroad Work for You

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

A CAPA Alumna Interview: Isabelle Zoeckler

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Meet Isabelle Zoeckler, a communications major at Clark University who studied abroad in Dublin in summer 2016. Below, Isabelle talks about what it's like to go on a program without knowing anyone beforehand, what it's like to study abroad with a pre-existing medical condition, and how traveling outside of the United States for the first time can change your life.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
ISABELLE ZOECKLER: My name is Isabelle Zoeckler. I am currently a senior at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. I am pursuing a major in communications with a minor in sociology. I was lucky enough to study abroad with CAPA during the summer 2016 program. I am formerly from Madison, a small shoreline town in Connecticut, about a half an hour outside of New Haven.

On campus I teach a weekly yoga class with the Clark Yoga Club. I am also a writer for Clark’s Her Campus chapter. When I am not at the library, I can be found cheering on our sports teams as I am the former manager of the varsity field hockey team.

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CW: Describe your background for us. Had you traveled before? What made you want to study abroad? What was the reaction from your friends and family when you decided to study abroad?
IZ: Before my summer abroad I had never traveled outside of the country for more than a day trip to Canada when I was a kid. When I was a sophomore and started to think about study abroad, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to travel on my own. When I discussed it with my family and friends, they were all very supportive of my wish to go abroad. A lot of my friends went abroad during the spring semester, but that timing didn’t feel right for me. I took a leap of faith when I decided to go abroad in the summer, as I wouldn’t know anyone in the program. However, this really allowed me to see how much I was capable of doing on my own. Of course, it did help that the CAPA administration and students were all really wonderful.

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CW: Did you feel prepared for the cultural differences that you found in Dublin? What were some of these that stood out for you? What can future students do in advance to help minimize culture shock?
IZ: I don’t know if I was entirely sure what to expect as far as cultural differences when I arrived in Dublin, but I found the transition to be pretty seamless. The biggest difference that I noticed was that although there was certain pace to life since it is a global city, there was also a very laid back vibe among the locals I encountered. Because of this relaxed atmosphere, I felt myself adapt to the lifestyle very quickly and really settle into my own routines and leisurely activities. In general life is pretty similar to the States, but it is important to accept that things are a bit slowed down in Ireland. Interactions in Ireland can also be a bit different, as locals are generally very welcoming of people. However, it is still important to remember that you are a visitor, and should be mindful of being respectful!

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CW: Explain a week in the life of a CAPA intern.
IZ: While in Dublin, I interned with Little Bird, a yoga studio and coffee shop. A typical week for me involved coordinating my work schedule around classes, although I found that my internship was very understanding of this dual obligation. As an intern, I would go into work and help with whatever was going on that day, then go to my internship class in the evening. The "Learning Through Internships" class helped with adjusting to the internship setting and was a helpful tool in learning from my peers and their experiences. Although I was only there for two months, I felt that I really got a feel for the community around Little Bird. Overall, my internship helped me see all that Dublin has to offer, and allowed me to interact with a great group of people!

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CW: Talk about your favorite class at CAPA. What did you learn? What activities did you enjoy? How were you able to apply your new knowledge to the way you explored the city around you?
IZ: In the summer program, I was only taking the LTI class and "Exploring the Global City: Dublin". In both classes, it was really amazing to learn about the topics and then have direct hands-on experience around what we were learning. It was really empowering to put into practice what we picked up in the classroom. Between these two classes, global cities was by far my favorite. I loved learning about the history of Dublin, and then going out with the class and on my own to experience remnants of historical Dublin. This class definitely pushed me to experience more of the city than I would have been able to just on my own. During class time we would take walks, and teach one another about the city.

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CW: Talk about the people you met on your program. Were they from places or schools similar to yours? Will you continue to keep in touch?
IZ: As I mentioned before, I took the risk of going abroad while knowing no one on my program, but that was also really exciting. It allowed me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in getting to know my peers in the program. Throughout my two months in Ireland, I was able to bond with all the people living in my apartment and with some of the students in my classes. The students in the CAPA program were from schools all over the US, and that allowed us to all bring interesting and individual experiences to the table. Despite our different locations I found I had a lot in common with the other students. I still do keep in touch with the friends I made abroad, and I hope to have a reunion with them all some day!

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CW: You had a preexisting health condition that you managed while studying abroad - what was that like for you?
IZ: Part of the reason why I was hesitant to go abroad was that I wasn’t sure if I would be able to manage my health and doctors’ appointments while abroad. Although I am not physically limited in my activity, I do have to be aware of my lifestyle choices with the medicine I am taking. I have certain dietary restrictions, and have to go to monthly doctors’ appointments. When I decided on CAPA Dublin, I made it clear that this was something that I was concerned about and my CAPA advisor as well as Susanne, the Resident Director, helped accommodate me. They contacted a local doctor’s office and set up an appointment for me before I even arrived. I am glad that I didn’t let my concerns over health hold me back, as I was able to stay healthy during my time abroad!

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CW: In what ways are you balancing the academic side of studying abroad versus exploring your host city and wanting to make opportunities to travel?
IZ: It was definitely a balance between keeping up with academics, the internship, and exploring. However, I found that the academic work was generally pretty manageable. For the global cities class, a lot of the work allowed us opportunities to explore the city. It definitely makes a difference to get the academic stuff done during the beginning of the week so that I could make the most of weekends. When bigger assignments came up, it was also helpful to get an early start so that I could break up the work and not have to sit down to write an entire essay at once. The times that I did have a bigger assignment I would also try to find a new coffee shop to work in each time, so that I was getting out into the city but in a productive way.

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CW: How did you prepare yourself financially for your travels, both before you left and while you were abroad on a budget? What tips can you share with future students?
IZ: Although the expenses of studying abroad were an initial concern, I was able to find some scholarship funding to cut down on some of the costs of tuition. While I was abroad, I was mindful of my spending and kept track of my expenses to stay on budget. A way that I was able to explore while on a budget was to take smaller day trips in Ireland which is pretty low cost. I also just chose two bigger weekend trips to cut back on travel expenses. As far as essential expenses like food, I mostly cooked for myself to cut costs.

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CW: How did your experience abroad change the way you approach your environment now that you are back home? Did it change the way you approached your studies?
IZ: My experience abroad definitely changed the way that I approach my environment. Being abroad allowed me learn how to navigate spaces by myself, and be more open to interacting with people I don’t know. I definitely got bit by the travel bug and I can’t wait for my next big adventure. Now I also seek out more adventure in my everyday life. As far as my studies, I am definitely more aware of global perspectives. I am also really interested in how history has shaped spaces, as we were able to learn about in the Global Cities class.

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Thanks, Isabelle!

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Topics: Dublin, Ireland, Interviews