Room to Breathe, Learn, and Grow
Cait Spera, Class of 2013
from the summer/fall 2012 issue of the Bridge
Usually, when someone tells you about their world travels, the account ends up as a long list of activities combined with vague adjectives such as beautiful, breathtaking, life changing, et cetera. I could tell you about how visiting Charles Dickens' favorite pub is the best way to time travel or how gliding across Abbey Road made me feel more connected than ever to Paul McCartney. Instead, I'll tell you how studying in London helped me get to know myself and my own home better, as well as perfectly rounding out my education.
For those who do not know me, which is probably most of you since I am a semianti- social art student, my name is Caitlin Spera and I grew up in Iron Mountain, Mich. I will finish my bachelor of fine arts degree (concentrating in graphic design) this year at Finlandia University. When I'm not working, I can be found singing along to "The Sound of Music" score or honing my culinary skills while watching the television program "Frasier."
This past winter, I lived a life-long dream of mine by studying at the American InterContinental University of London. Being alone in a foreign country was empowering (and sometimes frightening). There I was, little Cait, thousands and thousands of miles away from home and the people I know. The anonymity was freeing. I loved walking into a new place where no one knew me, by reputation or otherwise. There were a couple of moments when panic set in as I remembered I was completely alone across the world, but my adventurous heart soon comforted me.
After studying abroad, some of the mystery is taken out of the world. Don't get me wrong, I know there is still much to see and learn, but traveling made me feel less restless. I discovered that the French countryside looks a lot like Wisconsin and that, as glamorous as living in London is, it is exhausting. I loved running around seeing symphonies and hanging out with famous artworks, but I realized (much to my surprise) that I enjoy leading a quieter life. While growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I idolized cities and urban areas, but nothing made me appreciate our quiet little home as much as living in London.
Travel also helped me discover what I really want out of life. I learned that I love having the cleanest bathroom in the world and that hanging out with birds in the park can be more relaxing than hanging out with people. (I spent many an hour with the swans on the Thames River.) Being away from my "real" life gave me room to breathe, learn, and grow in ways that are not always possible when surrounded by friends, family, and obligations.
Finlandia has presented me with many opportunities, such as curating a fantastic gallery, participating in traveling exhibitions, and getting to know my wonderful professors, who all truly love what they do. But my education would not have been nearly as full had I not studied abroad. By attending the American InterContinental University and living in London, even more opportunities were laid in my lap. In a Creative Writing class there, I wrote a short play, delving into the psyche of a fictional character. In my Aesthetics class, I learned what great minds of the past had to say about beauty and art. In Photography for Fashion, I shot professional models and learned to use studio lighting.
Getting to know my classmates was a learning experience in itself. I overheard conversations in Farsi, Greek, and Turkish. I learned that no matter what country you're from, youth looks the same. We are all looking for love, fun, and direction in the midst of growing up.
I know now that no matter what one's culture or upbringing, we all have so much in common. Perhaps the most profound thing I learned in London is that, as people, our similarities run deeper than our differences. It was fascinating to me that a girl sitting next to me-with a different native tongue, religion, and culture-could have the same wants, feelings, and even sense of humor, as me.
By the end of my months in London, I was more than ready to eat some Kraft Mac & Cheese, hug my boyfriend, and return to a quieter life. I am moving back to the U.P. this fall with a full heart, a better idea of who I am and where I want to go, and a new appreciation for this quiet land.
I know now that home is a nest you make in your heart and that wherever one goes, the silence, the noise, and the images go along, too. Leaving my life behind for a few months was the best life decision I have made thus far. I encourage anyone with a wandering heart to take a leap and visit places they've never been.
As for the future, I would love to work for a non-profit organization like The Cupcake Girls in Portland, Oregon (thecupcakegirls.org), for which I volunteered my time, money, and design skills this summer. It was another eye-opening experience working for an organization with a goal of loving and supporting people in need. Somehow, I want to make a decent living devoting myself to a worthy cause. It seems implausible, but if a poor girl from the Upper Peninsula can make it to London, anything is possible!
If you would like to read more about my experiences abroad, please visit caitleaveshome.tumblr.com.