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First Person

Allison Murphy

Junior, School of Engineering (Environmental Engineering)

Allison Murphy in front of the Real Palacio in MadridHello — my name is Allison Murphy. I'm originally from South Royalton, Vermont, but you could say that my current residence is Votey Hall. You see, I'm an engineering student at UVM's College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS). But before I "moved in" to Votey, I had the opportunity to live and study in three other countries (so far!).

This is my second year studying at UVM but my third year in college. The fall of my sophomore year I studied at the Budapest University of Economics and Technology, an internationally known English and Hungarian speaking engineering university in Budapest, Hungary.

Budapest is a beautiful city. Gothic, Renaissance, and Turkish architecture converge in an intimate city bursting with history. With the residents having enjoyed only a couple decades of freedom after being under the thumb of Russia and the throes of Communism, it is very, very different from the United States. With an incredibly difficult language and very skewed views of Americans, it was a difficult time in many ways, but worth it. It was an amazing experience and I still say it is one of my favorite cities of all time. It was hard to take many engineering classes — even though there were classes in English, the accent made it very hard. So I took mostly history, culture, and the humanities classes that I would never have had the time for here. I had the opportunity to travel to Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic while there, not to mention having a crazy parasailing experience.

The spring of my sophomore year I studied at Alfonso X el Sabio in Villanueva de la Canada which is just outside of Madrid, Spain. I could live in Spain now if all the people I loved would just move with me or if I had enough resources to fly back and forth all the time. Spain is beautiful. I loved my roomies in my casita near school. I met people from all over the world and learned about the hysterical differences in Castellano Spanish versus the Spanish from Latin America. Again, taking engineering classes proved difficult since all of my classes were in Spanish. So I contented myself with taking Italian, Arabic, and some community development and business type classes (and of course Spanish). I also had the opportunity to fly over to Ireland and travel the coast with my father and one of my brothers for Easter. It was sunny, gorgeously green, full of the cutest lambs, and some of the most hospitable people I have ever met.

Backing up a bit, my travels actually started when I was in high school. When I was sixteen I went on a school trip around the Yucatan for 8 days and that is where I caught the travel bug. How could anyone be the same after seeing the amazing things accomplished by the Mayans and the Aztecs? Or after learning that most people in that area speak three languages: Mayan, Spanish and English?

After graduating from high school, my present to myself was a trip to Nicaragua for 19 days. There, I studied Spanish at the Casa de Cultura in Leon while staying with a local family. I took Spanish all four years in high school but that trip made it possible for me to go right into minor-level Spanish at UVM.

Backing up again, I chose UVM not only because they presented me with a large scholarship (the Green and Gold) but because they would allow me to take that scholarship abroad for two semesters (which I took full advantage of my sophomore year.) I didn't really know what I wanted to do, so I needed a school that gave me many options in case I changed my mind. UVM offered Spanish, which was a requirement, among many other languages that I was very interested in, while offering a broad scope of majors involving math and science.

Allison and Budapest roomiesAs a junior and senior in high school I did research with UVM's Helix EPSCoR program, where I met Dr. Donna Rizzo. I loved Professor Rizzo. I loved the research we did on watersheds and artificial neural networks. That program is what led me to engineering. As of now, I am a dual degree student. While attempting a BS in Environmental Engineering, I am also attempting a BA in Spanish. To many that sounds crazy, including myself, but I love it. I am absolutely unwilling to give up Spanish or engineering!

I've learned that it really is a small world; my UVM sweatshirt recognized while on a train in Slovakia by a girl from Northern Vermont; coming up on a group from Saint Michael's while hiking in Spain. I didn't realize how much I had learned abroad until I was speaking to a couple that I was waiting on at a fancy resort I worked at this past summer. One guest couldn't remember the name of one of the men that handed over the Hungarians to Hitler and without thinking it popped out of my mouth, "Horthy." Before I went there I couldn't even point out on a map where Hungary was, let alone answer something about its tumultuous history.

It just hit me the other day again when a few of us were waiting for the manager at work and he was talking about how nervous he was for his European history exam the next morning so I began to quiz him. I can barely scratch the surface when it comes to history and the fine arts but at least going abroad has gotten me to that. It's difficult to go abroad as an engineer but there is no substitute for it, so DO IT!

Here's a couple examples of some of the funny and embarrassing things that happened in my travels abroad (sorry for missing accents!).

In Hungary:

Me: Egysegidre!
Hungarian: Do you know what you just said?
Me: Yea... I just said "cheers."
Hungarian: No, you said "with your whole butt."
(So that's why I thought I kept hearing "cheers" in aerobics class...)

And in my Public Relations class in Spain:

Profe: Las Redes son muy importante en las empresas.
Me: What?! Leotards are really important in firms?
Profe: No, intranets and the internet are very important in firms!

I plan to finish my degree in Environmental Engineering, along with my degree in Spanish here at UVM. Then I plan to move, maybe to Australia or somewhere, to get my masters in International development and sustainable design.