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Lauren McCarthy
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LAUREN MCCARTHY The recent UI grad returns home with a Cambridge degree and the drive to remain a global citizen.

At times, Lauren McCarthy felt like she was living a scene from a Harry Potter book. Over the past year, the 2006 UI grad attended the University of Cambridge in England, which retains a decidedly old school academic culture.

“There were so many charming aspects to living and studying in Cambridge,” McCarthy says. “We were sorted into colleges, ate three-course meals by candlelight in big dining halls, and wore black gowns. But we got around by bicycle instead of brooms.”

The experience was the latest journey in the Des Moines native’s adventures abroad. McCarthy earned a master’s of philosophy in Latin American studies from Cambridge in July, and now wants to pursue work that builds on her international experience.

McCarthy’s Iowa experience—namely her pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in international studies—cemented her interest in the larger world. It also gave her the confidence and leadership skills to follow her dreams.

A former UI Student Government vice president and an active member of the University’s honors program, McCarthy chose international studies for its flexible, interdisciplinary design and emphasis on study abroad. While pursuing the degree, she attended the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso in Chile.

“It was an ideal time to visit a totally different culture and use a language other than English,” McCarthy says. “College is a great time to experiment with what you want to get out of life.”

It’s also a great time to discover one’s passions and talents, and to set an ambitious course.

 “Having gone abroad as a student emboldened me to go abroad after graduation,” McCarthy says. And a good thing, too—Cambridge draws scholars from around the world, giving her the contacts and perspective to stay focused on international issues.

McCarthy’s mother, Kathy Koenig, says she isn’t the least bit surprised her daughter turned her attention abroad.

“I always had a sense that Lauren was going to try to do big things, not necessarily on a local scale,” she explains. “I think it’s such an important time for people to explore other cultures and other ways of life, so there’s a greater opportunity for understanding.”

Along with her international studies degree, McCarthy completed a political science major and a Spanish minor at Iowa. She also was one of two honors students to pursue a double emphasis on Latin American studies and development.

McCarthy is accustomed to finding her niche, or creating one if it doesn’t exist. At a large school like Iowa, the Honors Program let her cultivate the experience she sought.

“As an honors student, I was able to serve as a research assistant for three different professors, take honors courses, and complete both my majors with honors,” she says. “The challenge helped prepare me for the intensity of work at Cambridge, which is a more hands-off institution than The University of Iowa.”  

Today McCarthy hopes to continue working with the political and social issues that confront Latin American nations and people. Whether she ends up in Postville, Iowa, or Puerto Natales, Chile, she credits the University for sparking her desire to travel and deepening her cross-cultural knowledge.

“Iowa was always a warm community for me,” she says. “Through my time there, I kept gaining friends and acquaintances that made the campus feel much smaller and gave me many opportunities to become a global citizen.”

Story by Lois Gray; Photo by Tim Schoon

Oct. 22, 2007