Margot Austin: Not Your Everyday Abroad Student

Margot Austin, an upcoming senior at Denison, has spent the last year abroad—in America.

The past summer Margot worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign, and become so devoted in her work, that she stayed on the crew for the following fall. Then, when spring semester rolled around, Margot found herself again attached to her new job at the Peace Corps, and postponed the Denison hill for another semester.

Unlike most Denison students, Margot spent an entire year in the American work field, instead of a single semester in a foreign school.

Why did she decide to do this and should others perhaps follow suit? We’re about to find out.

So Margot, what did you learn from your first “abroad” experience this past fall?

I learned how to organize campaigns, how to connect with people on the issues that matter, and how to make 400 phone calls in a single day while watching Netflix. My time on the Clinton campaign may have been the most inspiring and educational experience of my life. I am so thankful that I got to be a part of this historic campaign. We didn’t win, but I’d like to think I made an impact.

Do you feel like you had an abroad experience, or a work experience? Or neither?

Well, I was working in the campaign office in my hometown of Arlington, VA so I was living at home with my parents. In that respect, it was not an abroad experience. But it was most certainly a work experience.

I worked my butt off for six months weekdays and weekends, and I learned so much. How to function in a fast past work environment where goals and priorities could change minute to minute, how to be a leader and direct people older than myself, and how to be an integral team member.

I also got to meet people who have had incredible lives, and was able to learn about their lives in a way I never thought possible. In these ways, my time on the campaign was also an abroad experience, because it felt like I was in another world. Every day I got to come into work and be surrounded by people who cared just as much as I did.

Now moving ahead, what skills did you gain from your second semester abroad at the Peace Corps?

I have gotten to sit in on meetings and watch women who have spent their entire adult lives in Government leading and moderating with expert skill. It has been truly amazing to establish role models and mentors— women who have paved the way for me to work hard and share in their amazing experiences. I have also learned that editing is the most important thing, the more eyes on something the better, and that, surprisingly enough, a lot of adults don’t know how to write.

How did you decide to take another semester off of school?

It was a hard and weird decision, I doubted myself many times, and was told by a lot of people that I was being stupid. After the campaign ended, I just felt that I wanted more, to experience more, to be more, and to try and help a few more people before going back to school.

The truth is I think I needed the time to readjust my life and my worldview. But also, when opportunity knocks, I tend to answer.

I have done things I’m passionate about and want to pursue further. But I think these reactions stem from the fact that taking detours in life can be scary and intimidating for some. Over the past year I have learned that a messy and circuitous journey is never a bad thing, and as long as you know and are passionate about the path you’re following, no one else’s opinion matters.

What are the benefits of taking a whole year off of school?

I definitely feel more prepared for post-collegiate life. I really got to know my parents better as adults and put in the time on our relationship. I am not as scared of life after college, and I trust my instincts more.

What advice do you have for anyone considering taking a gap year or semester abroad?

School is great and life beyond school can be equally great. There is nothing wrong with taking a few detours, or doing things unconventionally. Do things that can change your life, not just your resume.