One of the first things Journalism and Electronic Media major Nina Howard observed when she went out into Valencia, Spain, during her CCI Global Communications Scholars Semester was how laid back the culture there is.
“Just the way they interact with people in general is very different than in America. They’re very chill and slow-paced and they don’t stress out about being ‘on’ all the time; they take two-hour lunches and then a nap. They seem very much together in everything they do,” said the senior. “I have learned more in-depth about America’s culture by being there and getting a new perspective—there’s a lot of things we are advancing but some things we could work on in our country like copy and paste from here to there.”
That’s one of the major reasons why the College of Communication and Information creates and offers these trips to students, said JEM Assistant Professor Joy Jenkins, who is leading the program. This is the first time CCI has launched this program in Spain, and Jenkins said she’s been excited to take students on a life-changing experience such as this.
“A lot of the students have not been abroad before, so it’s really a big deal that they’re here, and we spend a lot of time in class talking about what they’re seeing, hearing, experiencing and thinking. Just getting adjusted to the European lifestyle and Spain in particular, that’s the best part,” she said.
A New CCI Global Program
CCI worked with their sponsor school, Catholic University of Valencia San Vicente Mártir, and WorldStrides International Studies Abroad (WorldStrides ISA) to create an immersive experience that would leave an indelible mark on the University of Tennessee students who participated in it. Not only were they provided with an education via a global communications course from Jenkins and a Spanish history and cinema course from a UCV professor, but their days are also packed with a variety of activities. Outings they have taken include sampling local cuisine at a paella restaurant and farm, picking oranges, attending a flamenco performance, and touring the city on foot and via bicycle.
Director of the UCV-US program, Professor David García-Ramos Gallego, said this experience with UT students has given him the opportunity to build out and enhance future programs to be even more beneficial to students who visit in coming years.
“I discovered that probably we can offer a more adapted academic program for the students—I can think of a lot of activities to make this a study abroad experience for these students that is even more challenging and transforming,” Gallego said.
In addition to classes, students also took on internships about half-way through the program. They were placed in a variety of organizations complementing their major and specific areas of interest, and they have had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in those settings.
“They’re definitely making the most of their time here and keeping everything in balance. After classes, they start their internships. They’re in all kinds of places: sports teams, travel firms, human rights organizations. It’s all based on their interests, and they’ll be doing everything from video editing, social media, SEO writing, and more,” Jenkins said.
The Benefits of Study Abroad
Both Jenkins and Gallego said their passion for study abroad programs stems from personal experiences from when they were students who had the opportunity to travel to other countries and broaden their worldview. They know how impactful such programs can be and can also sympathize with challenges students face while on such trips, such as homesickness and culture shock.
“We are the guinea pigs for this location, so a lot of things, while they have been very exciting, they have also been challenging. There’s a sense of pressure to make the most of the 90 days we’re here because it goes by so fast. I just want to put the message out there that, whatever you do, you’re doing it in another country,” Jenkins said.
Even though the days may feel like they’re flying by, it is a long time to be in a completely different place than home, Howard said. While she is soaking in every bit of the education and fun to be had, there were definitely moments she missed her connection to her family.
“I really wanted to see what it would be like and I wanted to see if I could do it. I’m very family-oriented, so being so far away for so long is out of my comfort zone, but I wanted to challenge myself personally and academically,” Howard said.
Jenkins said she sees the trip is influencing the students’ thinking and perspectives, something that will be valuable to them as they ready themselves to enter the workforce. Whether it is seeing the sights, experiencing the famous Falles celebration and interacting with people who live in Valencia, or the conversations they’ve had about foreign news, public diplomacy, interpersonal communication, or mass media, she can observe how the program is prying open different parts of their minds and inspiring their futures. It’s also provided a chance for the students to get to know one another better and create networks with other CCI majors.
“I can already tell that they’re really buzzing about wanting to travel more and make these connections,” she said.