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On Studying Abroad as an Interior Design Major

Jan 2, 2017 1:30:00 PM / by Julie Ritz

A CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Darien Ruschy

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Meet Darien Ruschy, an interior design major at the University of Minnesota who studied abroad in Sydney, Australia during the summer of 2014. Below, Darien talks about how she was able to study abroad with a unique major, why she recommends exploring with friends instead of alone, and why she feels that journaling and reflecting on one's time abroad is so important.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
DARIEN RUSCHY: I interned abroad in Sydney during the summer between my junior and senior year. I went to the University of Minnesota for interior design and graduated with my bachelor of science in May 2015. Traveling has always captured my interest and I actually went to Sydney directly after another study abroad program that I was blessed to partake in. Currently, I am working as in interior designer at a commercial architecture and interior design firm in Minneapolis, MN.

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CW: Why did you choose to study abroad with CAPA and why Sydney specifically? What was interesting about your program?
DR: It actually started out as a joke between my roommate/best-friend-since-age-three back in the fall semester of my junior year. My roommate, Shauna, was looking at the Sydney program and said, "Hey, you should come do this with me." She was half joking and half truthful in her presentation as we both knew that I already had plans to study abroad the semester leading up to the Australia program. As I said earlier, traveling has always caught my interest and, at the time, I went with my emotions. I looked into it and reasoned that this would be the best time to do such traveling and that an internship abroad would not only be a good personal experience, but could also be beneficial in securing a job upon my return home.

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CW: What, for you, were the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a summer program rather than a full semester?
DR: I saw the advantage in a summer program as it paired well with my semester abroad preceding the summer program. One disadvantage was that it was winter in Australia and the hours of daylight were diminished because of that. It was a little bittersweet interning full time during the week because I was inside during the only hours that the sun was out; however, the weekends were free for day exploring and we were more attuned to making the most of those hours.

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CW: Where do you see yourself taking your career over the next few years? Did your experience abroad in any way shape your career goals and aspirations?
DR: Over the next few years, I plan to continuing working in the commercial interior design industry in Minneapolis. I hope to take my NCIDQ; which is the certification for commercial interior designers. Sydney provided the platform for getting my foot in the door and getting a taste of the interior design industry. Up to this point during school, I had tried to gain an understanding of what it really would be like to work in the field of design. I did several informational interviews asking professionals, “What is it like to work in this field?”. Now, looking back, I can say that although gathering that information was helpful, having the experience of interning and working is far better when it comes to gaining an understanding of what it’s really like. You really can’t sum up the experience of working in a certain career field in a 20-minute conversation over coffee.

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CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your Sydney " - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
DR: Ha, this might sound silly, but the kitchen of our apartment in Sydney felt like home; it’s where my three roommates and I would gather after our days and share what happened while eating what turned into being waaaaay too many Tim Tams.

Outside of that, there was a great coffee shop within a block from our place; I actually got to chat to a few friendly strangers there, which is a great memory I hold. Manly Beach also captured my heart. It’s small, less touristy, and I shared my first surfing lessons with my roommates/friends there.

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CW: As an interior design major specifically, what would you recommend as must-see or do experiences for other students in Sydney who have similar professional interests?
DR: That’s a great question. If one would have peered into my brain, they probably would have thought, wow, you’re kind of wasting this opportunity to see all these cool interiors. I did take a tour of the Sydney Opera House and that was amazing; however, outside of that, I would recommend Googling the touristy sites and pick a few, take some time just to wander and check out neighborhoods, go to some local events, and utilize Groupon for ideas and saving some money. And I recommend doing these things with people because the memories last longer when you can turn to someone and say, “Hey, remember when...”.

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CW: When you think back on your time in Sydney, what memories make you happiest? Would you do anything differently if you studied abroad again?
DR: The memories that make me happiest were sharing this experience with a group of people. It’s such a unique setup to have an opportunity for interning abroad and living with people who are all in the same experience as you. It provides a platform to connect and, for me, that connection remained after returning to the US. The only thing I would have done differently is to journal. My recommendation is to set aside 10 minutes (or whatever is realistic for you) every day to write down a few things you did and reflect on them.

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CW: If you could offer a piece of advice to the new group of students studying abroad in Sydney, what would that be? Why is it important?
DR: I would recommend preparing by researching a bit about Sydney and having some things on your list of ‘must sees’. On the flip side, I would say to be open to doing things outside of this list and to be inquisitive, ask questions, and try something that scares you!

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CW: What did it feel like to go home again when you first returned to the US? And now, after some time has passed? Have there been any difficult moments?
DR: It was a bit shocking and humorously it took a little while to walk on the right side of the sidewalk and to look the correct ways when crossing the road. To expand on the shocking, I think I had been in the ‘intake all of this new information’ mode and was in need of time to process everything. Now that I’m past processing mode, I can say that studying abroad was another step in learning about myself and growing, which I’m starting to realize is a lifelong journey.

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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, the world around you and some of the larger global issues?
DR: It taught me how much I don’t know. It also provided me personal experiences with another culture/country that influenced how I now perceive myself and my surroundings. When I hear about news abroad, it doesn’t seem distant and foreign anymore. I think about the people I met and how similar people are everywhere. I think it’s easy to separate ourselves from another culture when we don’t have a personal connection with anyone of that culture. After making a personal connection, I realize there are differences, but there are far more similarities. And I feel appreciative to have that connection.

Thanks, Darien!

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Topics: Interviews, Sydney, Australia