On Building Relationships When You Study Abroad

Aug 10, 2015 8:30:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Denise Peters

Meet Denise, a CAPA study abroad alumna from Spring 2010. Below, Denise tells us what she's been up to since she finished her CAPA program, how she talks about her study abroad experience in job interviews and about her recent trip back to London where she was able to reconnect with a Professor Mike Fosdal who has left an impact on her when she was a student in 2010.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
DENISE PETERS: My name is Denise (Lancey) Peters. I studied abroad in London in Spring 2010. My home institution was Northwest Missouri State University where I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in December 2010. I enjoy reading, painting, traveling (of course!), and being with friends and family.
CW: How has your career developed since you returned to the States? What are you up to now that you've graduated?
DP: Upon returning home, I graduated the following semester and worked full time in a busy emergency room. After a couple of years, I returned to college and obtained a degree in elementary education and will begin teaching first grade this Fall. I am so excited for a new adventure!
CW: Why did you decide to study abroad and how did you choose the location and program? 
DP: I had always wanted to study abroad but couldn’t quite decide when or where. I chose the program because my school had a program set up where I could pay my home institution’s tuition which made going to London more affordable than I thought it would be! I also thought that London would be a fantastic place to explore as well as a great hub to allow me to travel to other nearby places in Western Europe – and I was right!
CW: Do you feel your study abroad experience played a role in the decisions you made that have taken you to where you are in life today? If so, how so?
DP: Yes, I absolutely do. It sounds so cliché, but studying abroad gave me the confidence to make the decisions I needed to in order to really chase my dreams. Both personally and professionally, my life is so much richer because of what I learned while in London.
CW: How do you talk about your study abroad experience in interviews and which transferrable skills that you learned abroad are employers most interested in? Any tips for new graduates? 
DP: I am very passionate about my experience in London and love talking about it in interviews! I find most employers are most interested in the skills of relationship building, teamwork and cultural sensitivity that I strongly developed while in studying in London. If you can make it in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone or any of their customs, an ocean away from your friends and family, I really think you can do anything!
CW: What are your thoughts on the importance of international education for American students generally?
DP: I believe it is incredibly important for American students to experience international education in some respect if possible. I understand many issues (social, political, economic, etc.) from a global standpoint now where before I didn’t have the experiences to allow me to do this. The amount of independence I gained while studying abroad was incredible. I thought I was independent before, but this put me in a position where I had to start at square one in regards to forming bonds and daily routines. It was challenging at times but I learned so much by stepping outside my comfort zone!
CW: Tell us about some of the relationships you built while you were abroad, how they helped you along on your experience in London and how they still play a role in your life today.
DP: Relationships were probably the biggest takeaway from my time abroad. I moved into a flat with four girls I had never met (it would’ve made for an excellent reality show, I’m sure!) and they truly became my London family. Not only did we live together but we went to school together, grocery shopped together, and sometimes even travelled with one another. I am still in contact with all my flatmates, but am still especially close with my direct roommate. I am so thankful that London allowed us to meet as I am certain we’ll be friends until we are old.

I also formed great bonds with my professors. Michael Fosdal, who taught my British Life and Culture class, is amazing at staying in contact with past students. During my recent trip back to London in May 2015, I even got to meet him for lunch and introduce him to my husband. These professors truly care about the students’ personal and professional success, both when abroad and when we have returned home. CAPA somehow seems to bring together the most amazing people.
CW: What changes did you see in yourself during the course of your study abroad program? What did your experience teach you about yourself and the world around you?
DP: I became so much more confident and self-reliant during my semester in London. I learned that I could do anything if I put my mind to it and made a plan. My experience abroad also taught me that people are generally good. No matter where I was or if people spoke the same language as me, I was amazed how much kindness I experienced from complete strangers! I will never forget how kind an Italian pharmacist was to me when I seriously hurt my feet while on Spring break in Rome. She didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Italia,n but we somehow communicated enough that she was able to help me, all while being extremely respectful and cheerful. While working in the ER the past several years, I’ve made sure to always remember that experience when encountering a language barrier!
CW: What did it feel like to return home and adjust to life in the US again? How did your friends and family react to your stories? Did you experience any reverse culture shock?
DP: It surprised me just how hard returning home and adjusting to life in the US again was and I definitely experienced reverse culture shock. I was absolutely excited to see my friends and family but none of them seemed to quite understand the transformative experience I had. I also started noticing things about America I never had before – and those things weren’t always good. Now that I’ve been home longer, I try hard to not compare things, to just accept that the American and English cultures are different but not one is necessarily better than the other.
CW: What advice would you offer students currently studying abroad or considering a program?
DP: My advice to students considering a program is to just take the jump. It can be scary to decide to study abroad because it’s stepping into the unfamiliar. You will learn so much about yourself and will only regret not deciding to study abroad sooner!

To students currently abroad – enjoy every minute! Explore everything you can and travel as much as possible. Don’t take a second for granted. If you get homesick, turn to the other students on your program or your professors. They all want you to succeed and have the best experience possible and they will help you however they can!
Thanks Denise!
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Topics: London, England, Interviews