The RIT Graphic Design blog recently caught up with a couple of our majors who are studying abroad this semester. The first interview in our series is with Michael Burpoe, a junior in Graphic Design who is currently studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. We asked Mike to share some insights and anecdotes from his experiences in Europe this semester.

Pissingboy_WithTori StudyAbroad_Icons-03 Sunset_AirplaneFirst of all, please tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hello! My name is Michael Burpoe, I am finishing my 3rd year as a Graphic Design major and am focused on User Experience (also a Spanish minor, but more as an excuse to study in Spain). I applied to RIT because I needed to be rejected by at least one school when looking for colleges. Somebody in RIT’s mailing office accidentally sent me an acceptance letter I think by mistake and the rest is history.

What prompted you to study abroad?
I knew I wanted to study abroad since I was a Junior in High School. My parents always impressed upon me and my brothers how valuable travel and seeing the world is, so I decided to go out and look around. Every dollar I’ve earned since then has gone to my “See Europe” fund.

Why Spain? How did you choose your program?
I chose Barcelona, Spain for a slightly different reason than most: their airport. BCN has one of the most active airports, especially RyanAir, with flights all over the world. While studying abroad I was slightly more focused on the “ABROAD” part more than the “STUDY” part. I have been in school for so long, I just wanted to go out and just see everything. I also have taken about 7 years of Spanish classes, so that does help. I have fallen in love with Barcelona and the Catalan people while living here.

How is your learning experience different there?
Teachers here are way more relaxed in their teaching styles but expect students to know everything about a topic, regardless of whether it was taught in class. It is their impression that if it is part of a topic, it is your duty as a student to know it.

How has your experience impacted you as a designer?
I can honestly say that I have rediscovered my love for art, and I didn’t even know I was missing it. This past semester of classes, especially finals week, really wore on me. I felt like my “Creativity Storage” was incredibly depleted, and in desperate need of some inspiration. I remember a Mitch Goldstein Twitter post that said “Design Inspiration: Turn off Dribbble. Turn off Instagram. Turn off Behance. Go to a f-in’ museum.” Or something like that. It was COMPLETELY true. The sights, art, people, food, have all done more to inspire me than if I had spent time on any “inspiration” site.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done so far?
One of the coolest things I have done was visit my favorite Instagram artist @tortus_copenhagen, aka Eric Landon, when I traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark. He makes Time Lapse videos of himself throwing pottery on a wheel, and I have liked his work for several years. I had a bit of a fanboy moment when I showed up at his shop. I don’t think he understood how much his work inspired me, and how far I had traveled to meet him!

Are you keeping in touch with what’s happening on campus while you’re away?
I have been keeping in touch with some people and happenings occurring at RIT, and what classes are like, however I have been trying to just enjoy myself as much as possible, as I know it will be there when I get back. I feel like sometimes we spend so much time with other design people, we get caught up in the politics and “rules” that we seem to have created for ourselves. While here, I create because I like it and I want to push myself to get better.

Would you recommend the study abroad experience to other design students?
If it is at all possible for you to study abroad, the answer is obviously that I would recommend it! It is a load of work to apply and can sometimes feel like you are working a part time job, but of course you should! The whole study abroad process and what it gives to you is completely on your shoulders. If you approach it as just studying in a different school, it will be just that. But if you do as Tori [Bonagura, 2017] and I have, and really embrace your surroundings and allow them to embrace you, it can really take your design life to the next level.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I have had a tough time worrying that my “competition” is getting ahead of me while I am away. Applying to internships while 6 hours ahead has been a struggle. I worry that my credits won’t transfer. I worry I won’t get to graduate on time because I won’t get into the classes I need. I worry I will not be able to resume the intense work ethic that the School of Design at RIT requires of it’s students when I come back—but—it is all worth it a hundred times over. It took me a long time to wrap my head around it, but the experiences I have had here are life-changing and will last forever, long after school is over. I know I am blessed to be here, and know that my creation and ideation styles will never be the same!

Photos above from Michael Burpoe: 

  • I am standing in front of Nyhavn Harbor in Copenhagen, Denmark. This is their most iconic view. 
  • I was with Tori in Brussels and Amsterdam. The statue in the background is Manneken Pis, or the Pissing Boy, the national symbol for Belgium. 
  • I create an “album cover” for my Facebook photos every trip I go on. It is a way to force myself to keep creating. They are always sort of simple, but sum up the trip well. I put a lot of thought and emotion into them. This was for my trip to La Vella, Andorra. I went skiing and the views were awesome.
  • Sunset in Granada as I was about to fly back to Barcelona

Follow Michael Burpoe’s design adventures on Instagram: @burpski15


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