On Reaching a Dream: My Love for Another Culture

Jan 16, 2017 1:30:00 PM / by Julie Ritz

A CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Abby Crain

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Meet Abby Crain, an English major and psychology minor at Missouri Baptist University who studied abroad in Dublin during spring semester 2016. Below, Abby talks about how her love of Irish culture led her to study abroad, how CAPA classes allowed her to learn beyond the classroom, and how her love of coffee transcended borders.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
ABBY CRAIN: I am originally from Troy, Missouri. It’s a smaller town in the northeast of the state and I’ve lived there since I was one year old. I’ve always loved being in the countryside, whether it is near my hometown or while traveling. I am now a senior at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis and I studied abroad in Dublin during the spring of 2016.

Being from a small town and going to a smaller Christian university has helped me to really grow as a person because I have been able to learn more about myself and become who I am in environments that help me thrive and grow in my relationship with Christ. This foundation was what kept me grounded while studying abroad in a foreign culture, and helped me to learn how to better interact with others from different backgrounds.

My major is English and I have a minor in psychology, so my interests include anything literary or psychology-related. I also enjoy photography, baking, traveling (obviously), and I am also a barista so I love coffee.

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CW: Why did you choose the CAPA program and why Dublin specifically?
AC: Since I was 12-years-old, I have wanted to visit Ireland, mainly because that was the year I discovered a certain band that happened to be Irish and had one especially cute member. I decided that I would get to visit the country one way or another by almost any means necessary. My family and friends would call me obsessed with Ireland and Irish culture, but I prefer to call it highly interested. When I chose MBU, I made sure there was a way I could study abroad, and knowing they partnered with CAPA Dublin was the icing on the cake. I knew that studying abroad would not only grant me a more independent and culturally open mindset, but also help me to learn the true Irish culture and ways of life.

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CW: Talk about academics abroad: Which classes did you take in Dublin? How were you able to connect your experience of the city itself and your academics?
AC: I took the CAPA internship class, Creative Writing, History of Art and Photography, and Irish History and Culture. I honestly enjoyed most aspects of all my classes, but my absolute favorite was Irish History and Culture. I doubt anything will ever beat the experiences I gained from all of the field trips and in-depth lectures included in that class. We were able to visit a different part of Dublin every week and the instructor taught in a chronological fashion, so we literally walked through the history of the city. It is still surreal to me how much information I learned simply by walking and listening to Tommy Graham (the instructor). Being able to have such tangible experiences while learning about Dublin’s history truly helped me to appreciate the city with a deeper, more meaningful perspective.

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CW: Tell us a bit about your internship that you completed while studying abroad. Why was this an important experience for you to have as part of your study abroad program?
AC: I interned at Ballyroan Library in the South Dublin Library system. Not only was it helpful to have actual experience working in the field of a potential career path, but it also helped me to see how a global internship opens a person’s eyes to the various cultures with which one comes into contact. I interacted with Irish people on a daily basis, chatting about everything from the weather (a favored topic in Ireland) to American politics. I cannot stress enough the importance of a study abroad internship because of all the little details I learned about relating to people and simply listening to how they view aspects of life.

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CW: What were some of your responsibilities and accomplishments at your internship? Explain a day (or week) in the life of a CAPA intern.
AC: At Ballyroan, I did everything from shelving to checking books out for patrons to helping plan events. I attended a few craft classes and learned how to crochet, and I was even given the task of calling some patrons to remind them about the class. One day could hold as many as four different tasks, simply depending on prioritization. I learned that any task can be tolerated or even enjoyed if coworkers are also in the same boat; as for the Irish people I worked with, they love their job and would not trade it for anything. They “slag” each other off (give each other trouble) and know about each other’s personal lives—and even some regular patrons’ lives; it is more than just a job to them, and that was obvious to me.

The Learning through Internships CAPA class was invaluable in its discussion of cultural competence and how a person can gain more of it, either by trial and error or intentionally. I will always be able to take the information I learned about being competent when it comes to other cultures (or admitting when I am ignorant in this aspect), and share it in various conversations I have often. Cultural competence has now become something permanently relevant to discuss.

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CW: While you were abroad, you lived in a homestay. Tell us a bit about the people you were living with in Dublin. What was this experience like? Would you recommend it to future students? 
AC: I definitely recommend living in a homestay, with a few pieces of advice. If you are a social butterfly and enjoy going out late at night every single night, I do not suggest a homestay because of the bus schedule (it stops running at 11:30 pm) and because a homestay will make you slightly isolated from other study abroad students. I loved being in a homestay, but I am also an introvert and need alone time to recharge. I definitely felt more independent from other CAPA students, but I had to make more of an effort to connect with them and I was not in on the day-to-day events in their lives. My host family was great and I felt included in their daily lives, but not too much. I felt very welcome, and my host mom gave me every meal. She packed my lunch to go when she packed her high-school-aged kids’ lunches, and it was a sweet gesture each day. My host family was also interested in my actual family, and wanted to know about my life at home. My host mom checked up on me often to make sure I was comfortable, not homesick, and she genuinely cared about how my studies were going. I had my own room and only shared a (very nice) bathroom with a couple of people. They respected my privacy but also wanted me to join them in watching movies and TV if I wanted to. I also learned a ton about how Irish family life goes. A host home is definitely a safe, enjoyable option, especially if you want a more culturally-immersed experience.

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CW: Did you know anyone on your program before you traveled to Dublin? Was there a sense of community while you were abroad? What advice would you give to others traveling abroad without friends from home? 
AC: I did not know anyone in the CAPA Dublin program before I went to Ireland. I definitely learned how to be intentional about making friends and hanging out with people who I did not know. It helped that many of us were in the same boat, with no friends from home. We all knew that we would be experiencing many things together that no one else at home would understand, so we tried to hang out and do things together often. Being the only person in a homestay last semester, I was able to hang out with a few different groups of my CAPA friends. Some I would travel with; others, I would meet up to get coffee and do homework with; and others I would just chill with in their on-campus apartment. A couple of friends were from more than one of those categories. I would suggest to future CAPA students to not be afraid to hang out with a random person or group of people, and maybe do what I did and mix it up. If you only hang out with a couple people the entire semester, there will not be a sense of community when you do not have the option to be with them (e.g. if they travel somewhere). I also found that I enjoyed doing a lot of things on my own without waiting for someone else to commit to doing it with me; I even went to a Pentatonix concert alone, and I still had a blast. I highly recommend trusting yourself to do something like that alone, within reason.

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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?
AC: I am still not 100% sure of what I am doing after I graduate, but I am in the process of applying to masters programs for counseling. I believe my study abroad experience helped me to not only begin to view myself as a professional but as an independent person with goals and hopes that cannot be determined by anyone except myself. Studying abroad gave me a boost of confidence in my abilities to interact with people on a different level, and to hold responsibilities that were no person’s except my own. Although I interned in a library and had a wonderful experience, my time there showed me that I could work in a library in the future, but it is not my true passion. The main thing I found out about my career goals was that I should allow myself to dream bigger and reach further than I believed I could before.

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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?
AC: I found a few different places in Dublin that became my specials areas. Every time I went to Griffith College, my bus stop was along the Grand Canal. I learned to love that walk, even in the fickle weather, because of how beautiful it was most of the time. At night there were swans swimming along, getting ready to sleep. The street lights reflected off the water and I never got over how idyllic the scene was. I had plenty of time to think on my walks along that canal, and I think it is meaningful to me because that is part of the time I gave myself to process my experiences along with my thoughts about studying alone in a foreign country. Sometimes I would walk up and down Grafton Street to hear the street musicians and revel in the moment, and I would also try to take various routes back to my bus stops so I could find my way around different areas.

I also made a point to search out all the coffee shops possible, and I found some pretty great ones. My favorites were Avalon Coffee House, Accents Coffee Lounge, and the chain Caffé Nero. I spent a ton of time doing homework in the two Caffé Nero locations Dublin had (there was a third being built on O’Connell Street when we left), and they were the most home-like cafes I found, because in Ireland people do not really go to coffee shops to do homework. I love the calming atmosphere of a coffee shop, and I quickly became accustomed to spending hours a week in one or more of them.

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CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you?
AC: I have seen changes that I did not expect, and did not experience some changes I thought I would. Studying abroad will change different personalities in different ways, but unless a person does not completely know who he/she is before going, the experience will only reveal more of who the person is. I definitely became more independent, as stated above, and I became more comfortable being assertive and discussing my opinions (even if they differed from the people with whom I was talking). I had very little knowledge of what cultural competence is, but now I can have an entire conversation about what it is, how I gained it from my experience, and how necessary it is in today’s world. I thought I would come back and be so changed that my friends and family would not recognize me, but honestly I was just a more grown version of myself. I truly learned how small I am and how big the world is, but I also learned how small the world is in some ways. People are inherently very similar, and the cultural aspects are just layers on top of that. Once a person is able to view the world and specific people in that respect, it is easy to make connections and relate to anyone.

Thanks, Abby!

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Topics: Dublin, Ireland, Interviews