Three accounts of Eagle alumni who have lived around the world
Many Godwin students have lived in Virginia their whole lives and attended elementary, middle, and high school with the same group of students. But some students, after graduating high school or college, decide it’s time for a change and move abroad.
There are dozens of Godwin alumni living abroad – from Israel to London to India to Australia and everywhere in between.
Rachel McRady graduated from Godwin in 2008 and majored in the School of Media Arts and Design with a concentration in journalism and minors in British Communication and Film Studies at James Madison University.
After college, she moved to New York City and began a career in online entertainment journalism. She wanted experience interviewing celebrities since she was passionate about film and television. She worked for an entertainment startup called Wetpaint Entertainment before being offered a job as a Staff Editor for Us Weekly.
Two years later, she moved to London, England and started working as an Assignment Editor for Entertainment Tonight.
McRady studied abroad in London for a semester in college and could not pass up the opportunity to move there with her husband Caleb McRady, who also graduated from Godwin in 2008. He was able to transfer his office working for L’Oreal in Operations from New York to London.
McRady was able to move to London with him on a spousal visa and had a contact with Entertainment Tonight, who was able to create a job for her.
“Our main goal with moving abroad was to travel and see as much as we could. We don’t have children or anything major tying us down at the moment, so we wanted to take advantage of that and of London’s close proximity to the rest of Europe,” said McRady.
At first, McRady was homesick for New York, which she hadn’t felt ready to leave. She became frustrated with London when everyday tasks such as scheduling a doctor’s appointment or dealing with a bank card became difficult, and not knowing anyone was also a challenge.
However, McRady has grown to love London and now becomes sad at the thought of leaving.
“I love the British as a people and the United Kingdom has become my favorite country. There’s so much it offers you both in culture and travel,” said McRady.
McRady lives in West London near a place named Richmond which Richmond, Va. was based off of.
Despite the similar names, McRady has become accustomed to many differences between life in London and life in Richmond.
“I think the public transit and train travel are some of the biggest differences and also my favorite things about living here. You can get on a train and be in Paris in two hours,” said McRady.
She also loves the pub culture in England which she believes brings a sense of community.
“The pubs are so cozy and friendly. We have a few favorites, and some days we will go there for hours, ordering lunch and drinks and planning trips. We can also bring our French bulldog, Murphy, with us to any pub,” said McRady.
McRady also loves the scenery in England. In the spring, Wisteria covers the buildings in her neighborhood and there are fields of bluebell flowers all around.
“We’re also not far from the Thames Path, which is a trail on both sides of the Thames River through London. It makes you feel like you’re not in a city, but rather walking through the countryside,” said McRady.
Additionally, McRady said that the holiday season is her favorite time to be in London because of the Christmas markets and decorations.
“I’m almost sad to go back to the States for Christmas (just kidding, Mom and Dad),” she said.
McRady’s career in journalism started at Godwin with her experience with the Eagles’ Eyrie.
“I fell in love with journalism and telling stories, and all of that started with Godwin and only intensified in my time at JMU,” said McRady.
Although McRady plans on returning to America when she has kids, she is enjoying her time in London receiving a global understanding of current events and opening her eyes to new culture and perspectives.
For example, she was in London during the 2016 American presidential election, and she said that seeing it through the perspective of the British was an interesting experience.
“It takes you out of that traditional American mindset and shows you another way of life, which I think is incredibly healthy and has made me a more well-rounded person,” said McRady.
Katherine Spruill graduated from Godwin in 2003 and attended the University of Virginia and became a Certified Public Accountant. Upon graduation, she worked at the audit practice of Ernst & Young, LLP in Richmond before transferring to their office in Amsterdam in 2011.
“I chose a profession in accounting because during college, I found myself enjoying accounting classes while my classmates complained about them – I figure I must have just found my match! I chose the auditing profession because audits are done in teams, and I enjoy the team dynamic,” said Spruill.
Transferred to the Netherlands through Ernst & Young’s Global Rotation Program, Spruill helped with audits for Dutch banks and private equity firms. Her Amsterdam office had a large group of expatriate Americans to help Spruill experience all Amsterdam has to offer.
“I found the Netherlands to be a beautiful and fascinating country. The canals of Amsterdam, the old bridges, the houseboats, and 17th century homes that line them, are truly beautiful. I believe any bad day can be made better by riding your bike through the picturesque canal streets,” Spruill said.
She said that living abroad helped her refine what is important to her and reassess what she valued in Virginia. From living in the Netherlands, Spruill has learned to be less afraid to try new experiences.
“One thing that I loved about Amsterdam compared to Richmond is how international the city is and how easy it was to travel to other countries. It was not unusual to take a 20 minute train ride from the office to the airport and catch a flight to another country for the weekend,” said Spruill.
Spruill met her husband while abroad before moving back to Richmond in 2014. They are expecting their first child and plan to teach her Dutch and enroll her in an extracurricular Dutch school in Washington, D.C.
She currently works for The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in a Professional Accounting Fellowship in McLean.
“Living abroad was a truly wondering experience that changed my life in many positive ways. The decision to move abroad away from my family, friends, and my comfort zone was a difficult one but proved to be very rewarding. Living abroad exposed me to new cultures, people, and professional experiences,” said Spruill.
After graduating Godwin in 2012, Jessica Kocen attended the University of Virginia. In college, Kocen did not have specific career plans but knew she wanted to work in a fast-paced environment surrounded by energetic people.
She moved to San Francisco two days after graduating college and joined a business and growth team called Tilt, a company that runs an app allowing groups to pool money together.
She was introduced to the company during her third year in college and became “Tilt Ambassador” during her third and fourth years in college and was responsible for hiring a UVa ambassador team of 30 students. She was given the opportunity to move to San Francisco and intern for Tilt with seven other individuals.
“I became obsessed with the San Francisco weather and the many outdoor activities, but more importantly living in a new city across the country, meeting new friends, and starting a new adventure for myself,” said Kocen.
Later, she found herself working for a travel technology company called HotelTonight where she continues to work.
Although living in San Francisco has taught Kocen to live on her own and overcome obstacles, the experiences at Godwin have also proven to be valuable for her.
“Through my involvement in various leadership positions in the classroom, on the tennis courts, within the school community, and with the Henrico School Board, I gained confidence to lead teams and projects, work alongside a diverse group of individuals, and be held accountable to follow through with tasks and responsibilities,” said Kocen.
She also values the community at Godwin and the relationships she made with students, teachers, and coaches.
Kocen said that although she misses being close to her family in Richmond but is glad to have the experience of living in a big city while being young.
“I live in the middle of the city, I walk to work, and can see the ocean every single day. I wanted to be in a city constantly surrounded by grit, innovation, and energy and San Francisco has proven to be the perfect place,” said Kocen.
Corbin Wagner Tilson
Upon graduating from Godwin in 2007, Corbin Wagner Tilson attended James Madison University undergraduate and Gallaudet University for a masters degree. Looking for an adventure and cold weather, she sought out a job in Anchorage, Alaska.
From her time at Godwin, Tilson feels she established a solid foundation in writing and time management, the skills needed to be successful in any field. Tilson works in speech language pathology, a career that combines a passion for family and communication.
Living in Alaska with her husband has given them a new appreciation for nature, activities, and family time. She said, in Alaska, people do not focus on what they wear, drive, or own, but on family and nature. Tilson said she gets to watch the sunrise every day in the winter and see the mountains on the way to work.
Tilson said, “Living in Alaska has taught me to love nature, identify my own values and priorities, and live life with more intention.”
She notes a major difference between her new life in Alaska and her home in Virginia as the change in architecture, from the beautiful buildings in Richmond to the utilitarian style in Anchorage.
“If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you really never know what might happen. My current lifestyle is the last thing I expected when I graduated high school,” said Tilson.
Deepa Iyer graduated from Godin in 2005 and went on to attend Princeton University in the class of 2009. Iyer was an immigrant and minority at Godwin, having a dual citizenship between India and the United States.
Iyer said, “Today, I assimilate easily wherever I go and spend a lot of time listening, probing, and reading to contextualize people and situations.”
After graduating from Princeton, she received a scholarship to Oxford University in the United Kingdom to study development economics, specifically the emerging markets in Africa and South Asia. Then, her first job was working with the governments of several different countries on large public infrastructure projects, including Brazil, Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Ghana, and Rwanda.
Then Iyer lived and worked in San Francisco, California as a management consultant to technology companies before attending Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. There, she studied impact impact investment and venture capital space.
Currently, Iyer works in San Francisco at a foundation helping advance international investments. However, she also works in India to help source and manage investments there.
“I recall high school and life there was interesting from the perspective of being a minority. A major difference of life in India is that I do not visibly feel life a minority in the country, although there are other specific layers of identity here,” Iyer said.
She said she misses the convenience of life in Richmond but notes that the daily inefficiencies in India is indicative people inspiring change in emerging markets.
“I feel that I am implicitly more empathetic and recognize the infinite layers of identity and innate similarities despite enormous disparities that define the human condition, whether one lives in a town that was once the capital of the confederacy, or whether one lives in a rural village in India,” said Iyer.
Iyer anticipates that she will always work and spend time in India and Africa.
She remembers her experiences at Godwin and time in the math and science center as having broadened her horizons and aided in developing a method for processing information.
After graduation from Godwin in 2006, Britney Fitzgerald attended Christopher Newport University for a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and then attended Pace University for a Master’s degree in Publishing.
She moved to New York City to pursue a career in journalism. Then she became a Web Editor, interning for Martha Stewart Living magazine, worked a freelance job at Parents magazine, and freelanced for the Huffington Post.
She then became a Community Manager for Backstage magazine, creating social media content and building digital ads. She was recruited to run social media at Martin Agency’s New York office last year, and currently, she is the Social Media Manager for the American Museum of Natural History.
She is appreciative of her public education at Godwin because it allowed her to identify her strengths and weaknesses. She believes in the importance of these free resources in setting up future trajectory by exploring interests from soccer to science.
Life in New York is very different than life in Richmond. She said, “New York is an expensive, bustling town, made of hundreds of unique cultures situated on a tiny island with 8 million other people—and we all have to get along.”
She misses some aspects of living in Richmond, however. “I miss driving around Richmond, with its relatively minimal traffic. I miss swimming in the James (you cannot swim in the Hudson) and the South’s lazy summer days. I miss having an incredible amount of living space. And I miss having a washer and dryer, though I’ve always been terrible at doing my laundry,” said Fitzgerald.
She also said that living in New York is different than visiting. She has learned where to find a cheap meal at 3:00 am, how to get Broadway tickets for $20, and how to navigate the subways maps.
Living in New York has impacted her character as well. She said, “It has made me very aware of the cultural bubbles we sometimes live in, New Yorkers included. Living independently in the city has also made me more confident in my decisions: to survive here you have to be more direct and not let yourself get stepped on—both literally and figuratively!”
Although New York better suits her career goals and lifestyle, she also said that life in the city is not always pleasant.
“I’ve been mugged, laid off, and watched groups of friend’s leave NYC’s small, overpriced apartments for more realistic lifestyles. And yet, from day one till now, this city has always made me feel like I’m living in movie. The highs are high, and the lows are low—but there’s nothing like it,” said Fitzgerald.
Overall, Fitzgerald loves living in New York. “When I moved to NYC, I had stars in my eyes and knew within about three months that I wouldn’t be returning home anytime soon. There is a constant, roaring buzz here that is unbelievably addicting,” she said.