Public relations major Allie Ellers (PR ’18) studied abroad with Professor Candice White in the Public Relations in Siena program for six weeks during the summer of 2017. A junior at the time, she has since graduated from UT, but reflects on her time in Italy as one of the best summers of her life.
We reached out to Ellers, who is now an assistant account executive at Bread & Butter in Nashville, to hear why her time in this program was so impactful on her career.
For current students, CCI’s public relations program will be hosted in Florence, Italy, in summer 2021.
What did you learn about yourself by studying abroad?
My biggest takeaway from study abroad stems from a Dr. White favorite, which I use all the time: “not everything that’s different is weird.” If you go into a situation, you must have an open mind and be willing to accept the fact that your own culture is so instilled, inculcated into the way that you live your life. So, by studying abroad, I learned to just be open minded and open to new opportunities, and that really helped me be more present as well. Studying abroad is a really good time for introspective and it helps you look at what you’re willing to do in order to get the most out of an experience.
You work for a communications agency now. How did studying abroad help contribute to being a successful communications professional?
I think when you study abroad you realize that everything you do affects the way that you come off, from the clothes that you wear to the volume at which you speak. You have to be able to understand that it doesn’t really matter what your intention is, it only matters how it’s being received.
As a communication professional, I give over the words that I write to about 17 sets of eyeballs before I even put it out as a press release on social media or wherever. It’s going to be looked at by so many different people and analyzed and combed over and each of those people will have a different reaction to it. So, my press release is going where it will be seen by whoever wants to see it.
We’re also moving toward a globalized society so quickly, where everything is so connected and so I must be not only thinking about that, like, how can this come across poorly in another culture, but I have to be thinking about it like, this must be accessible to everybody because so many people are going to read it.
Why is it important for students studying PR to study abroad?
Communication is tricky because it depends very little on what you do, and much more on how it’s received. So I think studying abroad just gives you the mindset and the perspective to go in and say like, I don’t think that’s going to sit very well with people who aren’t this demographic, or I don’t think we should use those words, because it might not translate into another language, that that kind of very grounding, very communication work kind of perspective. In that way, it’s very important.
I think personally, as a communication professional, when you’re able to operate within another culture in another country, then you can operate within whatever organization you’re then working for. As a PR professional, usually, you know, you have multiple clients all with different languages in different cultures. So you really have to be able to move back and forth between those different brands. And I think that that’s a really kind of interesting way to implement what you learn and study abroad and like, Okay, well, I could do it in a whole different country, so I can definitely do it in a different kind of workspace,
You could have taken the courses you took abroad on campus in Knoxville. Why didn’t you?
I took an international public relations cases course when I was in Siena. While there are PR cases taught on campus that are great, the course I took while in Italy had an international spin to it, and there’s really nothing like it to be able to walk outside and experience the things that you’re talking about in class. It really helps connect those dots a lot faster. Of course, you can do it in the classroom at UT, but it’s just a whole other thing, when you’re able to say like, oh, the way that I’m communicating right now needs to reflect not only my intentions, but it needs to take into account how it’s going to be received. And I think that that’s something that you can really grasp when you’re studying abroad.
Outside of course time and homework, how did you spend your time in Siena?
There is like a running joke between the years of people that go to Siena that every Monday night is karaoke night. There was karaoke at a certain bar there, so we would always go to Monday night karaoke as a group. Then it always ended up being funny because we would meet other study abroad groups there and by the end of our program, we were like, “Oh, those people are from Yale and from Oregon.”
We basically had every evening free, so we would try new restaurants and sometimes we would all cook together at our apartments. I also really enjoyed walking everywhere. Once I got comfortable enough, I would turn down a new street and see where I came out. It was a great way to explore the city, and Siena is very walkable and very safe.
Did you face any challenges in your decision to study abroad?
When I was deciding to study abroad, money was a big question mark like, “Can I afford it?” If you’re in state, then it’s your in-state tuition that you pay plus your plane ticket and a program fee, so it is doable. I was also able to get two study abroad scholarships, and you can apply any scholarships that you came into college with. Money is usually a big hurdle in regard to studying abroad, but once you get past that, and you decide to go for it, the only thing left is the initial culture shock. It can be a lot, but personally, by the time I was on my second plate of pasta and fourth piece of pizza, I got over it.
What would you say to students who have not studied abroad yet?
Do it! I don’t know anybody that has regretted studying abroad. There’s definitely an adjustment period and it’s okay to feel wary about your choice after you’ve made it, but once you get on the plane and get there and meet the wonderful people and really get to spend time in a new place, you won’t regret it.