Caitlín McDowell '18

Name: Caitlín McDowell

Class Year: 2018 (although I’m a sophomore back home!)

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Hometown: South London, UK

Home University: University of York

Major/Minor: English Literature

 

What made you decide to study abroad? Are you enjoying it so far?

When I first began researching universities in the United Kingdom, I always had a sense I wanted to take part in a study abroad program: it’s a really supported way to experience a different country or culture, plus you get to try out different styles of learning and new subjects that really enrich your studies. I’ve always had a fascination with America that I could never really put my finger on, and I really wanted to be able to experience the environment on a deeper level than travelling here as a tourist. I was very nervous about applying, to the extent I left starting my application until three hours before my home university’s deadline!

Studying abroad has been the best decision I’ve ever made. Going to university in the first place really helps you to grow as a person, but stepping off a plane by yourself into a country you’ve never seen before? It’s the scariest and the most exhilarating thing (especially when I confused Bradley and Boston airports and had to navigate from Logan to South Hadley!). I’ve become a lot more independent and confident since coming here, and I’ve had so many amazing experiences with so many wonderful new friends – sitting in an underground comedy show on Broadway, touring the House of Seven Gables in Boston, learning to ride Western style – that a year ago I would never have dreamed of!

 

What do you miss about your home university and hometown? What do you not miss?

Back home, I study up in Yorkshire at the University of York. A lot of the campus was built in the 60s, and although the retro vibe (and near 17,000 students!) took a bit of getting used to, I miss the hustle and bustle walking across the two campuses, and certain England-specific organisations: ranging from Pantomime Society to Swing Dance to a real life Quidditch team! The university was also only a ten minute bus ride from town, which made grabbing last minute necessities a lot easier – plus having the buses run regularly through to 6am meant you always had a safe (and inexpensive) way back! (The 4am clubbers bus even provided lollipops.) I miss my friends most of all. Choosing to leave them last year was a quite a painful decision after seeing them nearly every single day to walk together to our lectures, or cook and chat our shared kitchen in our flat. We’ve managed to keep in touch and I Skype them often for catch ups, but I really miss being able to grab a coffee in our favourite cafés in York, or being able to go out together on a Friday night! One thing I definitely don’t miss are my assignments! Whilst the workload feels a lot heavier here at MHC, especially taking four English courses a semester, I really enjoy sitting around a table with the professor to discuss a text in great detail and to get regular feedback across several essays that are each worth less overall. Back at home, I took a module last year where 100% of the grade was based on one final essay – it was a steep learning curve for my natural inner procrastinator!

 

What are your favourite things about Mount Holyoke?

There are lots of reasons I love Mount Holyoke. The professors here that are so committed to helping students learn and achieve their best, the huge breadth of subjects here (even the huge breadth in literature – I’d never thought I would be able to study Chinese or Russian literature), and the outstandingly beautiful campus. However, I love Mount Holyoke’s traditions and community most of all. Although I’m only here for a year, I feel really welcomed into the community here at Mohome – I’ve loved being a part of Disorientation a few weeks ago, and eating ice-cream on top of Mount Holyoke on Mountain Day! While the idea of leaving at the end of the semester breaks my heart a little bit, I’m excited to take part in the senior traditions leading up to Commencement, including releasing lanterns out on the lake!

 

Where is your favourite place on campus?

I’d probably have to say the barn is my favourite place, however, I have a real soft spot for the views around lower lake (I inundate the Her Campus Instagram with them!) When Prospect’s dining hall was open last semester (and when it was sunnier), I really loved eating brunch in the gazebo and staring out over lower lake. It sounds pretty strange, but I actually really like the fire escape in Prospect – I walk out there every morning on the way to class and love taking photos of campus from up there.

 

What do you hope to do when you grow up and why?

I don’t really know! When I was younger, I was passionate about Genetics research after doing some work experience at Great Ormond’s Street (UK) and growing up with a Cancer Specialist Nurse (shout out to you Mum!). However, towards the end of my Sixth Form (the last two years of high school in the UK, where you must specialise in only three subjects) I realised I actually preferred words and essays over chemical bonds and alkenes, and so chose to study English at university. Currently, I’m thinking I’d really like to work somewhere in publishing, although I’ve also thought about medical journalism a little bit.

 

What are your favourite parts of being on Her Campus?

Too many things! I’m on the PR team, so I really love reading the variety of different articles posted by the writers, and sharing them on the Instagram. Meetings are always so much fun with the team and I love being up to date with what’s happening around campus!

 

What do you love about your hometown? About your family?

I’ve lived in the same house my whole life, so I love all the memories that are etched on the walls – including, literally, where my parents marked me growing on the kitchen door frame! I live in a small village on the outskirts of a borough in South London, which is the last stop in outer zone of London’s transport system. I love living here – I’m a ten minute walk from a long series of downs and golf courses where I can go with my dogs, but at the same time, I’m able to hop on a train at my local station and be on the platform of London Victoria in under half an hour. I feel very lucky to be able to experience London so easily – I went to watch the New Year’s Fireworks on the banks of the Thames this year – but also be able to come home to a quiet rural lane. I love (and miss!) the little things about my family. I love the way that my Dad laughs until he cries whenever we watch ‘Meet the Fockers’ together, his big bear hugs and his constant support wherever I am. Coming to the US, while amazing, was incredibly daunting, but he and my mum encouraged me every step of the way – even though it upset them a lot to wave me off at the airport for a year. I love my Mum for her constant optimism and kindness throughout any situation – and for completing the other half of our duets in the car! I hope that one day, if I’m lucky, I’ll turn out to be half the woman she is. I also really miss my dogs! I love being able to see two wagging tails on Skype, but like not being able to hug my parents, nothing quite compares to snuggling with the two of them on the sofa – or being woken up by the weight of them jumping on my bed (and onto me!)

 

What are your favourite family traditions?

Every year my Mum and I put up and decorate our Christmas tree together while listening to Christmas tunes! It’s a day filled with dancing, off-key singing and endless amounts of tinsel. Sadly, I missed it this year because I was in the US, but she still called me on the day, and I had our favourite Christmas songs playing in my dorm room while I was studying.

 

When did you begin riding? What are your favourite things about riding?

Originally, I started riding when I was 8 (back in 2006), at a local yard with some of my friends. It was nothing too advanced – just trail rides and a little bit of posting trot. Sadly, I broke my right arm about four or five months in (I fell on a trampoline – a whole other story!) and so I stopped riding altogether. Joining Mount Holyoke Western Riding team, and taking PE classes here in riding, have been the first opportunities I’ve had to start riding again, after a whole ten years away from the saddle! The best part about riding has to be working with the horses. Each one has their own personality and quirks, and each one has a different lesson to teach you. Riding so relaxing and fulfilling, and watching a horse’s ears swivel back and forth as they listen to you is very heartwarming! There’s no feeling better than accomplishing something that seemed previously impossible during a lesson. In terms of Western, it has to be the team. Even though when you ride there’s a sense you are just alone with the horse, riding is such a team sport: you’ve got a whole family to smother you in hugs when you are down, and a load of whoops and grins to meet you at your best.

 

Anything else you would like to share?

On the day I arrived at Mount Holyoke – my first day ever in the US – was a bit strange! The taxi I hailed at Springfield couldn’t find Blanchard Campus Centre, so the taxi driver’s solution was to near-kidnap a professor strolling through South Hadley in the taxi with us and have him direct us. I never learnt that professor’s name, but thank you for helping me on my first day! Also: Everyone should study abroad!! (Especially at the University of York!)