International Storytelling Students Learn in a Global Classroom

From interviewing sources sitting at a kitchen table 6,538 miles away from home to having tea with the president of Estonia, Kent State University students in the special topics course International Storytelling have been learning in a global classroom sinceStudents and faculty from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication's International Storytelling course are pictured with former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves following an interview. 2011. 

In two-week trips, students break language barriers, cross international boarders and experience new cultures, all the while living like locals instead of tourists.

The course was first offered in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication in spring 2011. Since then, College of Communication and Information class members have travelled to Brazil, China, Cyprus, Estonia, India and South Korea.

In March 2017, a class of 22 students will depart for Accra, Ghana. For the first time in the course’s history, the class was opened to all students enrolled in the College of Communication and Information and will be chaperoned by professors from the schools of Journalism and Mass Communication and Communication Studies.

Kelsey Husnick, a graduate student studying global communication in the School of Communication Studies, will be taking her fourth trip abroad with International Storytelling in the spring.

She previously attended the trips to Brazil, Cyprus and Estonia as an undergraduate student. Husnick worked on stories ranging from women’s healthcare to public transit systems and is now returning to the course to participate in graduate research with Suzy D’Enbeau, an assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies. D’Enbeau, Husnick’s graduate advisor and a spring 2017 course professor and chaperone, will be advising a group of graduate students and one undergraduate student in research while in Ghana.

“Traveling abroad with International Storytelling really helps you dig in your heels and learn about the culture,” Husnick says. “When you’re traveling for leisure, you’re just kind of in a new country trying the food and seeing the sights. But when you take this class, you get involved with the local culture and find out what makes a country tick.”

For Nikos Frazier, a senior photojournalism major, traveling to Ghana will be his second time going abroad with International Storytelling.

Frazier focused on a local artist in Seoul, South Korea, creating a portfolio piece he called “Surviving in a Dying Trade.”

“It’s not often you are given the opportunity to study abroad, but the added benefit of being able to work as a journalist at the same time and produce a story is a whole different experience not many get to do,” Frazier says. “The trip taught me a lot about myself, especially about myself as a journalist. Some of the people I met and the stories I heard are unforgettable.”

During the semester, students meet once a week to prepare for their trip. That time includes researching potential story ideas and sources and learning more about the country’s culture.

Once overseas, Kent State students are paired with students from partnering universities, providing them with a local guide. 

Upon their return, students compile their projects in various forms, and the final result is a website that features everyone’s pieces.

Mitch McKenney, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Gary Hanson, a former associate professor who retired in 2016, created the course in 2010. The journalism faculty was called on by former College of Communication and Information Dean Stan Wearden to propose a course that would get students out of the classroom and into a new culture.

After a partnership was formed with Shanghai International Studies University, the course’s first trip was set for China.

In spring 2011, 16 Kent State students traveled to China and came back to Kent State with a collection of multimedia stories that were published online to share their experiences. The successful course gave students the opportunity to create international pieces for their portfolios.

“We thought to ourselves, what if we took the same course, did the same thing with a new group of students and started traveling to new countries, with the next being India,” McKenney says.

The following year, 19 students travelled to Delhi, India, and a pattern was born. With Dateline Shanghai and Dateline Delhi declared a success, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication was on board with the idea of making International Storytelling a permanent addition to the course offerings.

The course has now become a staple in the course catalog with students eager to see which country is selected next. This year, 28 students working toward majors in the College of Communication and Information applied to take the course, with 21 students from the public relations, journalism, photojournalism and communications studies sequences selected to attend.

“The deliverables from our students are going to look different this year,” McKenney says. “The website we create won’t be news stories alone; it will be work in all forms.”

D’Enbeau and Tiffany Alexander, part-time instructor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, will accompany McKenney on this year’s trip.

“What impresses me each time is how proud I am of our students,” McKenney says. “It’s not always easy to adapt to the living conditions; it often involves jetlag. It’s a lot of work and not a lot of time, and you’re in other classes, and there are grades tied to this work — all these different challenges. And yet, our students recognize this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they figure it all out.”

To learn more about the course and to view archived work created by students, visit the course website.

POSTED: Thursday, March 2, 2017 11:58 AM
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2022 09:05 PM
Erin Zaranec