COMC's First Study Abroad Program

By Becca Jacoby, Shane Jennings and Amber Krause
Sevilla, Spain photos courtesy of Amanda Robinson.

The College of Media & Communication completed its first study abroad program during the spring 2010 Maymester.

The program setting was Seville, Spain, and Kent Wilkinson, Ph.D. and Regents Professor in Hispanic and International Communication, was a big part of the program’s planning and launch.

Wilkinson said the short course provided students with many unique opportunities that are not possible at Texas Tech.

“Getting students out of their comfort zone and into a new language is a great experience for them,” Wilkinson said.

The study abroad group toured El Pais, a major daily newspaper in the Andalucia province of Spain, where Editor Santiago F. Fuertes hosted an interactive question-and-answer session. The session showed students how freedom of the press was not just an exercisable right under laws of a country, and how editors chose to exercise that right can be vastly different in other countries.

Fuertes showed an El Pais edition with graphic images of American casualties wrapped in white sheets being loaded into a truck as an example. Although United States papers have the right to show graphic images depicting the results of violence, many times that right is not exercised.

The excursion continued to Radio and Television of Andalucia, a highly influential station in the Andalucia province. During the RTVA visit, students visited sound stages, had refreshments, and ended the study excursion in a question-and-answer session with RTVA representatives. The session revealed the struggle of the post-Franco RTVA.

Francisco Franco was the dictator of Spain until 1975, when he passed away. The session explained how media in Andalucia is still in free media infancy. The Spanish media is trying to transition from state funding as a primary source of revenue to private funding through advertising. The mass communication students received a first-hand look at different media agencies struggling with freedom of press.

The success of the program means there will be more opportunities for mass communication students during the upcoming 2011 spring session. The ongoing opportunities will allow the College of Media & Communication to keep students competitive in a global media market that demands open press borders.

Possible future excursions beyond 2011 include Eastern European countries and Latin America.

Wilkinson said he has extensive experience in Latin America and would like to see the College of Media & Communication spend some time in that region if the opportunity arises. He said he spent two years in Latin America and travels there frequently. This allows him to maintain his fluency in Spanish.

Jerry Hudson, Ph.D. and founding dean of the College of Media & Communication, said he thinks the study abroad program benefits students as well as the university. He said the program will help students realize opportunities outside of Texas and get them out of their comfort zone.

“As great as we feel Texas is, there is more out there,” Hudson said.

Hudson expressed the importance for students to gain new perspectives. He said the program will allow students to understand cultural concepts influencing communication techniques. Since other countries have different languages, social customs, governments, and value systems, students can identify how these concepts differ from the U.S.

Hudson said exposing students to cultural differences might increase their abilities to communicate more effectively to a variety of groups. These abilities can help students relate individuals of different cultures to a common identity, which is essential in all fields of communications.

Hudson said he thinks this program will raise the benchmark for knowledge by making more programs available to students. Testing what students learned this last summer was very difficult, he said, because a test could not validate the knowledge gained from the experience.

Hudson said he looks forward to incorporating more programs; however, there are obstacles. Some countries are less developed than the U.S., he explained, so it is important to select a subject matter suitable for the location.

Some examples he listed for possible courses were photography, media diversity and journalism. Students could compare the role governments play in journalism, Hudson suggested. For example, Western governments typically allow freedom of the press. This is not the case in all nations; some have strict policies restricting what journalists can publish.

Another obstacle is the number of students involved. Hudson elaborated by saying the course offered needs to interest students. If only 10 students sign up, the college will suffer economically. Despite these obstacles, Hudson said he is a major advocate of the study abroad program and encourages students to get involved.

Amanda Robinson, a recent Texas Tech graduate, made the journey to Spain with Wilkinson, Hudson and fellow Texas Tech students this past spring. Robinson graduated in August with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a minor in financial planning. She said she needed to fulfill her foreign language credits, as well as a few other credits in order to graduate.

The college’s program in Seville offered her the opportunity to broaden her knowledge and gain the additional credits she needed to graduate.

“The study abroad program allows students to take what you have learned and apply it to real-life situations,” Robinson said.

Robinson said this is what made the program so inviting and intriguing to her when she was deciding how to fulfill her foreign language credit requirement. Not only does the program offer foreign language options, but also courses such as Travel Photography in Spain and special programs in mass communications like Spanish Media. These extra courses, which are not offered on the Texas Tech campus, allow students to experience a new culture.

Students participating in the study abroad program get the opportunity to not only study in a foreign place but also explore on their own time. The students stay with “host” families and travel all over Europe while not in the classroom. Robinson said she visited Germany, Italy, France, England, Portugal and the Netherlands, as well as multiple areas of Spain. She said getting to see different parts of Europe added to her experience.

Robinson said one of the greatest things about the program, aside from the knowledge she acquired, was being able to see a different culture and experience its way of life.

“I learned that Spaniards aren’t much different from us,” Robinson said. “They live the same lifestyle, but I thought they would be very different. It was easy to adapt to their culture.”

Becca Jacoby is a senior public relations major from Sugar Land, Texas. Shane Jennings is a junior public relations major from San Antonio, Texas. Amber Krause is a senior agriculture communications major and animal science minor from Florence, Texas.