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International Storytellers Take on China

Posted May. 17, 2011

Students in China

By Brianne Kimmel
Sixteen Kent State students and their two journalism professors, Gary Hanson and Mitch McKenney, spent 10 days in Shanghai in March 2011 to produce a multimedia collection of news and feature stories. They traveled at the invitation of Shanghai International Studies University, which hosted the 10-day visit and provided student-partners to serve as guides.

Students enrolled in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s international storytelling course produced stories in Shanghai on various subject matters such as World of Work, Family & Traditions, Journalism, Arts & Culture, Emerging Economy and Sports & Recreation for Dateline Shanghai before visiting iconic Beijing landmarks such as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China.

“We wanted to give our students an opportunity to practice journalism, while broadening their view of the world,” McKenney said.

A Chinese student uses the “microblog” to keep readers updated. Photo-illustration by Kelly Byer.

In the weeks before they left for Shanghai, the students and professors met weekly to go over logistics, do initial reporting on their stories, study Chinese history and learn about the culture from experts, including SISU students already at Kent State.

“It’s really important for journalism students – well, all students – to have an international experience,” Hanson said. “Our students went to China with a purpose. They went there to work. They worked as journalists in China.”

The course brought together students interested in international travel, journalism, photography and public relations.

“What was unique about this course was that the multimedia reporting lessons really tied into what the students want to do in their careers,” Hanson said. “Because the work was relative to their futures, the students jumped right in.”

Michael Moses, a junior applied communications major, was responsible for organizing the site content for Dateline Shanghai.

“After studying abroad at Kent State Florence and now China, I cannot say enough good things about traveling,” Moses said. “China is full of opportunities; it’s incredible to hear success stories when you get to talking. You never know what you’ll find.”

To assist students with the language barrier, each Kent State student was paired with a SISU student liaison. “They were truly partners,” Hanson said. “In fact, at times, our students served as teachers, sharing their knowledge of reporting for Western news organizations.”

Moses said, “my liaison will be a lifelong friend; it’s amazing having a friend on the other side of the world.” 

Kent State students were surprised by the number of Americans living and working in Shanghai. “If you can master the language, the opportunities are limitless,” Moses said.

Helen Yan uses her skill of finger painting, which she learned from her uncle eight years ago, as her primary source of income. She owns a shop in the Tianzefang shopping district of Shanghai. Photo by Emily Horne.

The trip included a great deal of cultural experiences, too.

“We hope students came home with a better understanding of the country’s 1.3 billion people,” McKenney said.

Students especially enjoyed getting a feel for Chinese culture.

I think Gary and I were both impressed by how eager the students were to get started,” McKenney said. “I love telling the story of the morning when our still-jetlagged group was walking through Lu Xun Park en route to the nearest Starbucks. It was a nice day and we found people flying kites, performing music, playing with their kids – even men in their skivvies swimming across the lake (despite the signs saying not to). The students immediately started proposing feature stories on Shanghai residents at play.”

LuEtt Hanson, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Communication and Information, traveled with the group to help the student-travelers but also to make connections and plan future collaborations in China.

“In one of the debriefing sessions, one student said, ‘I lived in China,’” LuEtt Hanson said. “I think this shows how much the students felt they learned on this trip. They experienced actually living and working in another country.”

After the success of this course, what’s next?

“In the future, I’d love to see a continued partnership with SISU and develop trips to other countries,” McKenney said. “As it turned out, they and we were enthusiastic about continuing this partnership in Shanghai because we all learned from it. I would like to see versions of International Storytelling that explore other countries, too.”

A television crew conducts an interview in Shanghai. Photo by Danielle Manfredi.