Before her visit over the summer, senior political communication major Siobhan Robinson said she didn’t know much about South Africa. But she said she did know that she didn’t want to miss a thing — including the airport runway.
“The students [in South Africa] would tell us that, in the past, when students from America would arrive they would run off of the runway, thinking they were going to get chased by a lion," she said, “but really your time is spent working and bonding with the people around you.”
Robinson’s grasp of what her trip abroad was about was exactly what Dr. Gregory Payne, associate professor in the communication studies department, was after when he started taking students on self-funded trips in and outside the country in 1986.
“Students should not only have theoretical perspectives of the classroom but also have a sense of what’s happening in the world,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for them to put the skills they’ve acquired to use in projects that are related to marketing and public diplomacy in different cultures.”
In June, Payne brought nine students with him on a two-week trip to Barcelona, Spain, and brought eight students to Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Tami Lawless, a graduate communication studies major, and juniors Donovan Birch Jr., a political communication major, Taylor Smith, a journalism and political communication double major, and Patrick Reed, a political communication major, all went to Spain. All students except Reed also went to South Africa.
In Barcelona, students roamed the city and Ramon Llull University to learn more about public diplomacy, said Payne.
In Stellenbosch, South Africa Globe Communication Project, or GlobCom, had students work together on a project that aimed to boost tourism in the city, according Birch. Students from South Africa acted as hosts to the Emerson students as they worked together on marketing presentations and went on sightseeing excursions, he said.
“I found the people in South Africa to be the most welcoming people I’d ever met,” Robinson said.
Payne said he told his students about the annual trip and put the information on Emerson’s website as soon as the countries’ sponsors notified him. Interested students were then required to set up a meeting with Payne stating which program they wanted to be a part of and why. The trips cost between $1,000 and $2,000. Students paid their own way, they said.
Payne said the trips generally have a positive effect on the students.
“The world is the classroom today,” he said, “We can no longer just stay in classrooms.”
Robinson emphasized the importance of global civic engagement.
“You should just do it because these opportunities and connections don’t present themselves every day,” she said. “There’s no real reason not to do it.”
Though Birch said it was his biggest challenge, he advised future participants to examine what they previously took for granted, like the cost of food.
“It’s so easy to look at the price of something [in South Africa] and say, ‘That’s so cheap,’ whereas the person next to you might ask, ‘Why does it have to be so expensive?’ which is what happened to me when I went to buy food with a few people,” said Birch.
Between work and cultural adjustments, the students made time to have fun and explore the new surroundings, said Lawless.
“We went sightseeing, had meals together — where you eat around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. and stay for a few hours—went clubbing, and just got to know each other,” she said.
Getting to make connections away from presentations was important to Reed as well.
“The relationships I formed, as well as the knowledge I gained and the experiences I had, were all superb,” he said.
Birch said that for him, the trip was a learning experience that other students should take advantage of.
“It’s so important to study other cultures, learn from different people, and step outside of the United States,” he said. “You learn a lot and you grow as a result.”