Twenty-two years ago, Professor Sam Swan established the very first study abroad program at the College of Communication and Information. That program grew and evolved into what is now Global Programs, which now consists of several trips every year that take students out of their comfort zones and into exciting new places.
Goal 1 of the CCI Strategic Plan is all about finding those unique opportunities to enhance student experiences and learning, and Global Programs is part of that. CCI faculty and staff will continue to build on the existing foundation that was first set more than two decades ago to “provide high-quality, innovative, equitable, and accessible academic opportunities”—as Goal 1 states.
Three study abroad opportunities were completed this summer, a welcome return of these trips after COVID-19 forced a two-year halt to the programs. These trip destinations and the schools that sponsored them are:
- School of Communication Studies: Dublin, Ireland
- School of Journalism and Electronic Media: Prague, Czech Republic
- Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations: Siena, Italy
All of the trips include classroom and hands-on components that result in students earning three to six credit hours. But it’s about so much more than earning credit, said Comm Studies Associate Professor Laura Miller, who oversees CCI’s Global Programs.
“One of the things I always tell our students is that it’s such a great learning experience to get out of your comfort zone and put yourself in a new environment where it might feel different,” she said. “Even if you took a global studies course here you’re going to learn more if you immerse yourself in the culture and talk to the people you are trying to learn about. It’s an experience like no other and it’s different than just going on a trip.”
Students who go to Dublin live there for a month and take two classes, intercultural communication and international organizational communication. A partner, Institute for International Education of Students, facilitates various aspects of the trips and also organizes outings outside of the classroom, including visiting the Cliffs of Moher, Galway, and an Irish Farm.
One of Miller’s favorite aspects of the trip is that students stay in a dorm in the middle of the bustling Irish city, and they have to walk or take public transportation to attend classes, explore the city, and basically live there as short-term residents.
“It’s a whole new environment, new culture. They get to learn and work in the midst of all that, which I think is really fruitful and rewarding, as opposed to going as a tourist. They notice that the lingo is different, some prominent words are different, the accent is different, and the Irish language, Gaelic, is also prominent,” Miller said.
Of course, as communication studies students, part of the work they do while in Ireland is constantly observing the various ways another culture communicates. Anna McClure, a CCI student who went on this summer’s trip, said the trip was a great opportunity to just soak in the way people in Dublin communicate and live.
“I think that being over there for as long as we were really gave us a good opportunity to learn about intercultural communication that I don’t think you’re able to learn if you’re there for a short period of time. Being there in the city and traveling in the city, and going to class, really makes you feel like you’re part of the culture and not just a visitor,” she said.
While McClure is no stranger to traveling outside of the United States, this was the first time she’s visited Europe. She hopes to one day become a professor and lead her own group of students on study abroad trips, so she took this opportunity to not only learn about her area of study, but also to observe how Miller and Comm Studies Associate Professor John Haas led the students in their courses and travels.
“I think for someone who hasn’t studied abroad before, one of these summer programs that is a month long is a perfect amount of time. It gives you enough time in another country to feel like you’ve experienced living there, but it’s not too daunting,” she said.
Prague, Czech Republic
This year, the Prague trip was two weeks long and was a whirlwind of classroom and hands-on experiential learning led by JEM Professor Mark Harmon. Dubbed “Going on Assignment,” this class literally sets students on the streets of Prague to find, pitch, write, shoot, and edit the stories they find there. It is organized in conjunction with a local nonprofit education and media organization, Transitions, led by Jeremy Druker.
Druker said Swan originally organized the first trips to Prague as the professor had many connections with media throughout Central Europe. Eventually Swan asked Druker to take over organizing the variety of lectures, trips, and guest speakers students experience throughout their time in the country.
“We help guide them through covering real stories while they’re there. It’s a real benefit of the course, it’s not just theory. A lot of them are intimidated at the beginning, and then we help guide them through the process and they produce a print story and multimedia piece,” Druker said.
Not only do they produce news pieces, many of the students are able to get published by outlets throughout Central Europe that have connections with Transitions. Two such students who achieved this rewarding result are Diana Dalton and Caroline Mueller, whose man-on-the-street piece about an art installation honoring Ukrainian mothers was published in Prague Morning—which touts itself as the country’s “#1 media outlet in English.”
Mueller said she hadn’t been outside of the United States since she was a baby, which prompted her to do a lot of research before flying to Prague to settle her nerves.
“Once I was there, it was a lot less nerve-wracking and the instructors were super helpful. It felt overall very professional when I was going over my stories and getting feedback and it felt like a real newsroom,” she said.
Dalton said she’d been looking for the right opportunity to study abroad, and was pleasantly surprised that she could attend the Prague trip as a journalism minor, and not major. Additionally, the school helped her secure funding to attend, which she said made the trip possible for her.
“We did a lot of reporting in the fields, we were thrown right into it so it was very scary but that made it rewarding,” she said, noting that she’s very grateful for the opportunity JEM gave her. “It was amazing. It was like no other class I’ve really taken.”
This four-week trip allows ADPR students to study international public relations as well as public relations cases while they also submerge themselves in the Italian culture. Recently retired Tombras Professor Candace White has headed up Italy trips for 17 years, and this summer was her last time to do so. Tombras Associate Professor Moonhee Cho will take the reins starting next summer, which she finds exciting for many reasons—including that she herself has not yet been to Italy.
“I’ve heard so many good things from my students that it is really an eye-opening opportunity and I’m looking forward to more students having a similar experience. I want to continue Dr. White’s legacy of the programs and once I learn more about the programs, I want to find other opportunities for it to grow,” she said.
One thing Cho hopes to focus on is how to take the cultural experience students have and bring it back to the classroom once they’re stateside again.
“How can we be more conscious, or more sensitive, about global issues? How can we think globally and act locally? We all have experienced global supply chain shortages due to the pandemic and climate change. With globalization, organizations across sectors need to build and cultivate quality relationships with publics from different backgrounds and different cultures,” she said.
For Curry Wilson, CCI doctoral student, the Siena trip was her second study abroad experience in Italy, with the first occurring in her undergraduate studies. That trip inspired her to continue finding study abroad opportunities that would benefit her work, and she said the Siena trip did not disappoint.
“I rarely say there are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, but there are a few out there and this is definitely one of them. You’re in a place where you can go before you enter a job and you can spend a month, a semester, a year in a new place and at the same time, and do it with your peers,” Wilson said.
She attended the same classes as undergraduate students on the trips, but also pursued an independent project. Wilson said the trip made her look at how she studies and reads research articles differently, and that from now on she plans to incorporate a more global lens to her perspective. While it’s still in its infancy, she is now formulating a new research project about how human interaction and technology co-create culture.
Outside of class, Wilson said one of the most unique experiences she had was joining a running club at the behest of an Italian student she met. It turned out to be one of the best things she could have done to gain a better understanding of the local people and culture.
“It was little things, like we’d pass a restaurant and one of the guys would gesture towards it, and I would know that it was a good place to eat. I really cherished those small interactions and that we could still communicate, even though we didn’t speak the same language,” she said.