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Creativity Confronting the World: Global Learning and Study Abroad

By Ami Berger

By its very nature, mass communication is global, and students in the SJMC have always been encouraged to examine their subject from multiple perspectives. But as technology continues to shrink the world at ever-increasing speed and world economies and cultures become increasingly interdependent, it has become even more important for students to understand mass communication from an international perspective.

“I would encourage every SJMC student to make learning abroad a top priority," says SJMC director Albert Tims. “Nothing comes close to matching the adventure, intellectual growth and preparation to live and work in an increasingly interdependent global community."

Statistics show that increasing numbers of students agree. According to the University of Minnesota Learning Abroad Center, which offers more than 220 study abroad programs in 60 countries, about 800 U of M students studied abroad during the 1997-98 academic year. In 2004-05 (the last year for which numbers are available), that number more than doubled, to more than 1802 students going abroad. Al Balkcum, the Director of the Learning Abroad Center, isn’t surprised. “Studying abroad is often one of the most exciting and significant events of a student’s life," Balkcum says.

SJMC students who have studied abroad, including the ones profiled below, couldn’t agree more. They all agree that their time abroad was a life-altering experience, giving them a greater sense of who they were and how they see themselves in the world.

Lydia Droegmueller ‘08
Major in strategic communication,
minor in Spanish
Studying in Valparaiso, Chile, academic year 2006-07

I chose to study in Valparaiso, Chile on impulse. I really wanted to see another culture, have an opportunity to travel, and improve my Spanish. The language is still hard for me, though, even after living here for four months—yesterday I said that something was making me “pregnant" when I meant to say it was making me “dizzy." Just for the record, those two words in Spanish aren’t at all similar.

I attend classes with Chilean students and a Chilean teacher, and all my classes are conducted entirely in Spanish. In the evenings I usually eat dinner with my host family. Afterwards, I’ll sometimes go out to a bar, to a movie, or another hangout place with a mix of other exchange students and Chileans.

The most enjoyable thing about being abroad is the frequency of moments where I realize my previous ways of thinking have been challenged. My perception of what is “normal" or universal is constantly changing, and I think I’ve realized that traveling is the only way to truly feel the impact of that.

Katie Mae Kohlbeck ’07
Double-major in professional journalism
and cinema/media culture
Internship in Sydney, Australia, summer 2006

I grew up on a dairy farm in central Wisconsin and always dreamed of traveling to places far away. I decided to study abroad because I knew it was an excellent opportunity for academic, professional, and personal growth.

A typical day in Sydney would begin with the commute to my internship, which was writing feature articles for a local travel guide publication company called The Word Australia. They would send me out on all kinds of fun adventure getaways and then I’d write articles about them for the travel guides. I even got to go skydiving!

When I returned, I vowed to live each day like it was my last, because that is something I continually thought about when I was walking around Sydney. I remember sitting up in the City Centre—the needlepoint with a 360-degree view of Sydney—and looking at the city that had seemed so daunting when I first arrived, and thought about how much I had grown. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Ben Raley ’07
Major in strategic communications
(public relations), minor in business
Studied in Singapore, fall 2006

I have never talked to anyone who studied abroad who had a bad experience. It’s such a great opportunity to meet all kinds of new people.

Ben Raley
I took four classes during my semester in Singapore. Sports Marketing was my favorite: there were students from nine different countries in the class. We did projects on promoting sports in Singapore and all across Asia. In my Business, Government, and Society class we compared business ethics and laws of differing countries. We did case studies and then a firsthand study on the business practices of Asian nightclubs. Communications Theory was an advertising class that introduced us to copywriting and formal writing practices in an advertising setting, and Communications Tactics was a more creative class that allowed us to create ads for local companies. We did a series of ads for a local non-profit, Action for Singapore Dogs, a campaign to lessen the amount of abandoned dogs in Singapore. My classes focused much more on projects than tests, and I felt this was extremely valuable since we learned skills applicable to the real working world.

Alla Ilushka ‘07
Major in strategic communication
(public relations), minor in Russian
Studied in London, England, fall 2006

I was born and raised in Moldova, a former Soviet Union republic. I came to Minnesota 12 years ago, eager to learn English and become an American. But I always knew I would study abroad.

Alla Ilushka
I took four classes in London: journalism, theater, art, and “work experience." My internship placement was at the press office of Her Majesty’s Tower of London, where my responsibilities included writing press releases and articles, pitching stories to the media, handling media inquiries, and coordinating special events. It was quite a thrill to work there every day. My office was right next to the Queen’s jewels.

Since I had been on the professional journalism track in the SJMC prior to going to London, I had very little knowledge of public relations—but I loved it! I was so happy with my internship experience that I changed my focus in the SJMC from journalism to public relations upon returning to the U.

My entire study abroad experience instilled in me the importance of learning about, understanding, and respecting different cultures. If I end up with a career in corporate PR, I will choose companies that have an international reach, and if I decide to pursue the life of a freelancer, I will relocate as often as I change my car oil. As long as I have my travel sack, my passport, and my curiosity, I’ll be happy.

Serving abroad:
Tennesha Wood ‘09

SJMC sophomore Tennesha Wood is currently living abroad, but under very different circumstances than most of her expat classmates: she’s a Private First Class in the U.S. Army, stationed in southern Iraq with a convoy-supply unit since March 2006.

Wood’s unit is responsible for transporting food, ammunition, equipment, and other supplies to the Army convoys that monitor Iraqi roads. “We drive all over southern Iraq in these huge trucks," she says. “Training on the trucks and trailers was pretty challenging—I drive a Honda Civic at home—but I like driving them now. People definitely get out of our way!" she laughs.

Tennesha Wood
Driving challenges aside, serving in Iraq is no laughing matter. “It’s heartbreaking to see the little kids on the side of the road just watching us," says Wood, who was initially shocked by the the level of poverty in the country. “It’s really sad to see people living in tents, not able to feed their families or provide for themselves," she says. “I know that there are people here who are our enemies, but there are also lots and lots of people who are just like us, just trying to get by."

Helping those people is one of Wood’s favorite parts of her job. Aside from supplying Army convoys, her unit delivers supplies to Iraqi villages and schools. “When you bring water to a village or give a kid a backpack of school supplies, they’re so grateful," Wood says. “A bottle of water makes a huge difference to people here."

Those are the kinds of lessons Wood will bring back home with her when her deployment ends. She’s on the strategic communication track in the SJMC and wants to focus on the creative side of advertising. For now, though, she’s focusing on doing her job in Iraq and looking forward to returning home in April 2007. “My time in Iraq has definitely changed me character-wise," she says. “It’s made me a lot more appreciative of what I have, both material things and opportunitities: to go to school, to vote, to be free and speak my mind."

Global teaching


“There is nothing like the visceral connection one gains by actually being in the place one is studying and talking to the people who know the most, and can teach us the most, about their world," says SJMC professor Mark Pedelty. Pedelty, a media ethnographer, has traveled extensively in Latin America and taught courses on Latin American media, music, and popular culture.

Those courses have included three “global seminars," in which he’s taken groups of University of Minnesota students to Mexico for seminars in Mexican cultural history and ecology. During May term 2007, he’ll take a fourth group of students to Mexico City to study Mexican mass media and popular culture.

“Students often refer to their study abroad experience as life changing," Pedelty says. “They gain a sense of how remarkable it is to live and study in a completely different context." Teaching and studying abroad is challenging, Pedelty acknowledges, but those challenges often provide essential learning moments for students. Often, the exhilaration of travel and first-hand experience outweigh any problems: “Frankly, it’s hard to go wrong when you’re atop a pyramid in Teotihuacan discussing Mesoamerican culture, or studying public ritual life on the streets of Mexico City," says Pedelty.

He also notes that experience with international cultures is as imporatant to a student’s resume as it is to their education. “Local employers are looking for applicants who could work effectively anywhere in the world but choose Minnesota," Pedelty says, “and study abroad is one way to gain the global outlook that employers want and need."

Teaching abroad is also a way for Pedelty to keep his own thinking and research on a global level. “Taking students abroad allows me to rediscover all that I love about Mexico," he says, “and it lets me explore issues that all of us, as global neighbors, need to confront more creatively."

Pedelty isn’t the only SJMC professor who will be going global this spring. Professor Jane Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law, will teach Jour 3990: Freedom of the Press in the United Kingdom in London during May term 2007. Jour 3990 covers the legal and social factors that influence freedom of the press and freedom of information in the United Kingdom and considers differences in style and approach to media and media law in the U.K. and the United States.

“Journalists must be prepared to work in a global communications environment, and that means being familiar with media law around the world," Kirtley says. “My aim in the London course is to help students appreciate the freedom they enjoy here in the United States, while raising their awareness of restrictions they may encounter elsewhere."