Alumni Madis Kennedy, Audrey Irvine reflect on semesters abroad in Europe


Photo credit: Left: Audrey Irvine, Right: Madis Kennedy

Left: A view of colorful houses on a mountain in Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy. Right: A view of colorful buildings and grassland in Denmark. “Copenhagen is a really amazing city to learn and [be in] as a student, because there’s a lot of opportunities to get new perspectives on systems and ways of doing things,” Madis Kennedy said. “Then, being able to bring those those new, unique perspectives back to the U.S. felt like it would be really beneficial.”

By Nina Sperling, Senior Reporter

Brightly colored buildings of Vernazza and Nyhavn, cobblestone streets, Cacio e Pepe a la Roma and warm cinnamon rolls, ancient Spanish steps and century-old castles like Christianborg Palace. These elements were a part of Archer alumni Madis Kennedy’s (’21) and Audrey Irvine’s (’21) lives for the fall semester as they completed semesters abroad in Europe. Kennedy was drawn to Copenhagen and Denmark, while Irvine wanted to explore Rome and Italy.

Irvine and Kennedy both graduated in May 2021, two months after Archer returned to in-person hybrid learning. Kennedy is attending Kenyon College and majoring in Political Science with a minor in Environmental Studies and a focus in Law and Society. Irvine is attending the University of Southern California and majoring in Health and Human Sciences.

Kennedy went to Copenhagen through the Danish Institute of Study Abroad (DIS). She said that she and many other high school seniors felt as if they had a limited final year of high school because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kennedy felt like she did not have a real chance to grasp the idea that she was leaving high school and moving away from her family, so she decided to study abroad. She nearly decided to take a gap year, a decision that many recent high school graduates made, but she chose a semester abroad instead because she wanted to be with other students.

A view of Nyhavn, a canal and entertainment district, built in the 17th century, in Copenhagen. Nyhavn attracts many tourists and Danes for its bright, colorful and historic buildings. (Photo credit: Madis Kennedy)

“I moved to a new country on my own without knowing anybody, and that was something that allowed me to gain a lot of independence really fast. And I think that was independence that I needed to do really fast because I felt like I lost so much time sitting in my house during COVID. It’s actually been really amazing,” Kennedy said.

Irvine also enjoyed gaining independence while she was in Rome. She said that she spent a large amount of the pandemic often not being able to leave Los Angeles and she was excited to be able to go explore Europe and Italy when this school year started. Irvine chose to travel to Rome through John Cabot University for her semester abroad. She had taken Spanish throughout her time at Archer, and felt that the close connection between Spanish and Italian would make it easier to navigate through Italy. Irvine said she was excited to learn more about Italian and Italian culture.

“I think … it was different — not that COVID wasn’t different in Europe — just that I think things were a little bit more open, and then from there I could travel more freely to other places in Europe. That made it really exciting to start freshman year in a different part of the country, but then also knowing that I’m able to come back and I can enjoy the parts of L.A. that I missed during COVID,” Irvine said.

Denmark is a leading country in sustainability and environmentalism, an important factor that contributed to Kennedy’s decision to study abroad in Copenhagen and focus on her minor, Environmental Studies.

‘The amount of biking and the amount of public transportation use is just astonishing and amazing and really inspiring because Copenhagen is such a big city. We could totally implement much better systems in L.A.,” Kennedy said. “Raw sustainability and the amount of consumerism is a lot lower. People really just buy a lot less and there’s a lot less of a focus on having a huge house and having really nice cars and having an outfit every day. The focus is very much on simplicity and sustainability.”

Colorful houses surrounded by the ocean and mountains in Vernazza, one of many old villages in Cinque Terre, Italy. This was one of the historic and scenic places that Audrey Irvine (’21) visited in her spare time while spending a semester in Italy. (Photo credit: Audrey Irvine)

As sustainable practices and public transportation became more widespread across Europe, many schools and offices have  implemented a four-day work week, where students and employees get Fridays off to travel, spend time with friends and family or do activities that they enjoy. Irvine appreciated the four-day week, because it allowed her to do activities that she loved such as traveling and playing soccer.

“We only had classes Monday through Thursday. They gave us classes off on Friday, so we could use the long weekend to travel, which is great. I went to London, and I went to Corfu, in Greece, some weekends and then … different places around Italy,” Irvine said. “It was so fun to see different parts of Italy, and just trying all of the different foods and obviously, experiencing the different shifts in culture because in different parts of Italy are pretty different.”

Danes are often reliant on walking or public transportation, which is a practice that Kennedy favored in her commute from her housing to school. A highlight for Kennedy was that the DIS program helps the students in the program learn from exposures to different cultures, Danes, and use real-life examples from the world in their learning, so they took some field trips to unique places. She traveled with her classes to see ice core samples that are thousands of years old, and climbed wind turbines to see how they function.

Irvine has played soccer for 14 years, and one of her highlights in Italy was that she was able to play there, where it is a major sport. She was able to have a special and unique experience with the game as well.

“Soccer is a huge part of my life and so obviously I was able to do it there. So the school I went to had a small soccer team, it was five versus five instead of 11 versus 11. But then while I was there, I also got to play with an Italian professional team, they were in the C division — it was such a cool experience,” Irvine said.

Ribe Cathedral in Ribe, Jutland in Denmark. “[One of] my favorite thing[s] about the city [is] you can see like where you are based on the castle or church spire that you’re closest to. So, if you want to be in a different neighborhood, you can just look at the skyline and find the steeple of a church in that neighborhood and … navigate over there. You don’t even need a map, you can navigate the whole neighborhood or the whole city by the churches and in the castles,” Kennedy said.
Although Irvine and Kennedy spent their semesters abroad in big cities, they both highlighted the quaintness that they saw in Rome and Copenhagen. They said it was easy to connect with people in their cities, even though at times they had language barriers.

“I think being in a big city is part of the whole experience … the little conversations you’ve learned with people on the street, like where to ask for directions … With so many people in the city you kind of just pick things up on your own,” Irvine said. “Just the little encounters on the street, just a hello or like a goodbye, I think that was a big part.”

Both Archer graduates also said that going to Archer had a great influence on their decision to do study abroad, explore their interests and try new activities and food.

“I think all of the kids on this program have something in common and that’s just a desire to be constantly exploring and constantly learning,” Kennedy said. “There is that willingness to just jump into a completely unknown situation without hesitation, but what you learn from Archer … is jumping into a situation and expecting to be vulnerable and expecting to learn a lot but expecting … to face adversity and uncertainty — to know that you, within yourself, have the ability to get through those things.”

Irvine shared similar feelings about the impact that going to Archer had on her decision to study abroad, especially the exposure to other cultures she had in her classes.

“I think Archer even helped me do [a semester abroad], especially with our language requirement, and feeling so comfortable absorbing another culture and then just having the confidence to take things on,” Irvine said.

The Pantheon, formerly a Roman temple, and currently a Catholic church in Rome, Italy, with people walking by. (Photo credit: Audrey Irvine)

Kennedy and Irvine, who have both since returned to L.A., feel they have grown and learned a lot from these unique experiences and they are grateful to have been exposed to them, especially during the pandemic. They reflected on what they look back on now that they are back home.

“Definitely the people I met there. [The people that were] part of the school specifically — I went to the same cafe almost every day, and I had this mutual relationship between me and all the people there [who were] like, ‘You’re gonna get this and you’re going to sit there, so little relationships like that,'” Irvine said. “It’s crazy, because you’re such a part of their life for three months and then all of a sudden, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I’m gone and I don’t know when I’m coming back,’ so when I go back I’ll have all these people that I met there.”

Kennedy said she is also very thankful for her exposure to other cultures and the simplicity and sustainability that she found in her experience abroad.

“Jumping at every opportunity you get with your full heart is just really important in life,” Kennedy said. “COVID took away so much from us, but it also gave me this because this doesn’t happen for freshmen any other year. So, for everything bad that happens, there is good in it … and there’s always a silver lining in every situation.”