Sarah Ali (JEM ’20) participated in the Going on Assignment in Prague program during the summer of 2019 with Professor Mark Harmon. A senior at the time, she has since graduated from UT, but we caught up with her to talk about her first time out of the country.
Learn more about CCI’s Going on Assignment in Prague summer program.
Why did you choose to study abroad through the Going on Assignment in Prague program?
I knew I wanted to study abroad since my freshman year, but the semester long programs made me really anxious because I had never left the country before. Being so far from home for the first time ever was something that I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do, so I knew I wanted to do a summer course. The Going on Assignment in Prague course focused on international journalism, and how to be a foreign correspondent, which are things that I’m really interested in, so the program length and what was included in the program and what it’s focus was on are ultimately why I made the decision for that program.
It being your first time abroad, did you find comfort in studying abroad with other UT students and a UT professor?
I thought it was great to have a UT professor with us on the course and to have other UT students. And because the program is open to all CCI students, I got to meet students who weren’t in the Journalism department who I probably never would have interacted with because we just wouldn’t have had classes together, and I was able to form connections with them. Then with Dr. Harmon, he ultimately ended up helping me get into grad school and continued to look out for me professionally and academically. I think it was a really great experience to be able to build these connections abroad and then be able to bring them back home.
Can you speak more on the course you took abroad?
The course was really interesting because we were in class in the Thomson Reuters Office in Prague, and we heard from professionals in the industry every day as part of our class time. Then our assignments would be going out into the streets of Prague and taking what we learned in class and applying it to real life. We heard from lots of people from the BBC to the Associated Press and Reuters. So, it was really great having all this experience coming into us in the classroom and then having them really hands-on show us how to take these skills that we’re learning and apply them to our careers and to our work in the field.
Why would you recommend other students to take this course abroad rather than on campus in Knoxville?
At its core, the class is an international course. It’s focused on helping us become better foreign correspondents and so I feel like that abroad experience is absolutely necessary. It’s something that you can’t replicate being on campus. You can’t have that international experience of trying to connect with locals who have a different mother tongue than you do, while learning how to capture the essence of a city that you barely know from your home. You have to go abroad to learn how to be a foreign correspondent.
You talked about never previously having been out of the country. Did you overcome any other challenges in your decision to study abroad?
Absolutely. So, not only had I never left the country before, but I had never been on an airplane either. There were so many things I had never done, but I knew that studying abroad was a way for me to do all those things. So, I knew, like I said, when I was a freshman that this was something I wanted to do. I spend a long time just like figuring out what kind of program I wanted and what I wanted to get out of a study abroad experience and ultimately those big life things that I had never done – I was able to do through study abroad.
I hear you were a Gilman Scholar. Could you speak about your experience with the scholarship program, as well as other funding you were able to acquire to help pay for your expenses?
The Gilman Scholarship is a wonderful opportunity! With my experience, I went down to the Programs Abroad Office and was like, “Okay, I’ve been accepted to this study abroad program. I need funding.” And they were like, “Apply for the Gilman Scholarship!” The application process was not that difficult – you just have to write a couple of essays. It’s a really great scholarship for students who receive the Pell Grant and it’s available for summer, semester and year-long programs. In addition to the Gilman, I also used my HOPE and Promise Scholarships, so I was able to get most of my expenses paid for through funding opportunities.
Why do you think it’s important for students studying communications to study abroad?
At its core, communication is connecting with other people. I think studying abroad allows you to connect with people in a way that you don’t typically get. It’s not often you get to immerse yourself in a completely different culture, in a city that does not speak the same language as you. So, if you truly want to be a good communicator, and someone strong in this field, you have to be able to experience other types of people and gain that understanding, and empathy and study abroad is a wonderful vessel for that.