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Inside Global Programs: Austin Byerly

Austin Byerly (PR ’18) studied abroad with Professor Candice White on the Public Relations in Siena program for six weeks during the summer of 2017. A junior at the time, he has since graduated from UT, but he remembers his experience like it was yesterday. We reached out to Byerly to learn more about why his time in Italy was so meaningful. 

For current students, CCI’s Public Relations program will be hosted in Florence, Italy, in summer 2021.

Why did you choose to study abroad as part of the Public Relations in Siena program with Dr. White? 

I had two roommates who studied abroad for a semester – one in Florence and one in Spain. When they got back, they both talked about their experiences to no end and couldn’t recommend it enough. Their enthusiasm just got me excited and piqued my interest in study abroad. Having that seed in my brain, I started hearing from other PR students who previously studied abroad with Dr. White. As a PR major, I thought her program would be the best fit for me course-wise, but also because it was over the summer, which fit my schedule better. 

What was it like studying abroad with other UT students?  

It was great! This was the first time I flew by myself, so sitting in a plane across the ocean by yourself for eight hours is kind of unnerving, but then you get there and see a group of UT students. Even though I didn’t know anyone at the time, it was just comforting to see a bunch of UT students waiting on me at the airport. We quickly became friends because not only were we all UT students, but most of us were PR majors, too, so there was kind of an initial bond formed from the get-go. 

How did Dr. White contribute to your experience and education throughout your time in Italy? 

Dr. White was amazing! She’d been to Italy so many times – I mean, she knew everything. She was there to answer your questions before and while abroad – from ATMs to what should I bring? She was also very supportive of learning about Italy and learning in the classroom, and just having the ultimate experience and trying to understand the culture. Dr. White allowed us to think about our experiences in the classroom and how they relate to communications, across many cultures, and so she was just awesome to have!  

Run us through a “typical” week, would you? 

Normally, I’d wake up and go to a café to get some coffee and a pastry and maybe take a little walk around town. There were only three guys on the program, so we all lived together in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment within the walls of the city, which was great because we were maybe a ten-minute walk from the city center. I had class Monday and Wednesday afternoons, so I would do a bit of reading and homework to prepare. For lunch, I usually grabbed a pizza slice for a euro at this little pizza shop of the corner near my apartment. On Tuesday, the entire group would always do a group activity in Siena like visiting the cathedral, town hall, tower, etc. Thursdays was always our travel day and we would go to neighboring cities like Florence and Pisa. For dinner, sometimes I cooked at my apartment, other times I went out to dinner with other students on the program. We always got gelato (an Italian frozen dessert similar to ice cream) and then we’d usually sit in the square or wind up at a bar.  

What course credit did you receive as a part of this program?  

Students had the choice to take one or two courses – a PR course and/or intercultural communications. I had already taken the PR course offered, so I only enrolled in the intercultural communications course. We met twice a week for about an hour and a half. Dr. White would always have a small lecture, and we would discuss readings, the lecture and talk about our own experiences while living in Siena. We had concrete examples to what we were discussing in class, like the different dimensions of culture and what it means to be culturally sensitive and interculturally competent, and just being aware of our own biases. 

How did studying abroad in this program affect your understanding of public relations? 

It helped me understand more about the audience and the importance of the audience. Everything we do in PR, and communications as a whole, is about the audience. If we understand our audience then we can craft a better message to our targeted audience, and in order to do that, we must get to know them. So, knowing about all the intricacies and all the different parts of cultures, like in Italy, that we got to experience first-hand helped us understand who the people that we were interacting with were. Realizing that my experience isn’t the only experience in the world. East Tennessee isn’t the only experience in the world.  

Challenging questions alert: what was your favorite memory of your time in Italy? 

Oh, haha! It’s difficult to choose just one. By far, my favorite place I visited while in Italy was Cinque Terre. There’s a coastline hike there that has the most amazing views! But ultimately, I think my favorite memory from studying abroad was the Palio di Siena, a horse race that takes place in the town square. It puts the Kentucky Derby to shame! So, what happens is each of the neighborhoods of Siena is represented by a horse and its rider and they race around the town square to determine the winner. It’s a whole week of build-up, too. Neighborhoods are parading across town; they’re holding feasts; and we were lucky because we got to attend one and let me tell you it took tailgating to a whole other level. People are just so excited and when it came to the actual race, we were all packed in there. It was more intense than football games in Neyland stadium, which is hard for me to say. It was just an incredible experience. One that I will never forget. 

What would be your advice to someone who is thinking about studying abroad?  

I would say go for it! Even if you’ve never thought about studying abroad, if you have the opportunity to, you should seriously consider it. As someone who has graduated and moved on to life’s next step, I can say that you will never (or maybe rarely) have the opportunity to spend six weeks living abroad again. If you can study abroad for a semester do it, but if you can only squeeze in a mini-term or summer program, it’s still a great opportunity and one that you will not regret