Communication students transcend textbooks during Switzerland study abroad trip
Monte Generoso offers breathtaking panoramic views of Lake Lugano, the Swiss Alps, and even Milan, Italy. It also serves as a powerful reminder that life transcends textbooks and learning encompasses more than the walls of a classroom.
“You get a sense of not only your own smallness when you’re looking at mountain after mountain after mountain, but I got a sense of an international perspective,” said Buddy Howell, advanced instructor in the School of Communication. “When you stand on this mountain, you realize you’ve lived a very small life until you travel abroad.”
This sentiment reverberated throughout the transformative two weeks that 13 students from the School of Communication spent in Switzerland. Accompanied by Howell and Instructor Jared Woolly, they traveled to Lugano from June 4-16 as part of the summer 2023 International Perspectives on Communication study abroad program.
During their time abroad, the students were not only captivated by the awe-inspiring scenery, but also made profound and lasting memories, all while pursuing a purpose. The program allowed them to earn six credits through Woolly's travel reporting class and Howell's course on perception, persuasion, and propaganda.
Travel reporting provided students with an opportunity to gather content over the course of the two weeks abroad to complete writing, podcast, and video assignments. As students put these reporting techniques to use on-the-go by interviewing locals and practicing new camera shots, they were able to embrace cultural differences.
“We don’t need to go to Switzerland to learn what the inverted pyramid means or how to shoot a visual sequence,” Woolly said. “You’re going there and using this useful skill in an unfamiliar environment where you’re forced to look at the world not through the familiar perspective you see when you’re in Blacksburg. It’s the same camera you had in Blacksburg and it works the same, but you’re looking at things differently not just from a creative perspective, but from a cultural one.”
The hands-on approach deeply resonated with the students.
“It made everything a lot more engaging, especially travel reporting,” said Nate Kelly, a rising junior studying communication. “We had our cameras out all the time. To the point where Jared had to say, ‘You can’t always be looking around through your viewfinder. You have to look around a little bit.’ That was really fun. Everyone had fun with it.”
Video of Switzerland courtesy of Mimi Davis.
Howell’s class complemented the lessons from Woolly’s class. For example, the class discussed how perception is shaped through the photos taken during travel reporting and how it can contribute to propaganda.
“When they’re capturing photos or doing whatever they’re doing that they’ll be able to share with others, they’re creating a perception of Riva San Vitale or Como, Italy, or Bellinzona, wherever they go,” Howell said. “You’re not showing anything about crime in Milan. You’re showing the best of Milan. People get that perception. They go and it can live up to the hype or it can disappoint. Hopefully, they’ll be great photographers the rest of their lives and they’ll be great critical thinkers about the media that they consume.”
This approach helped create an engaging environment in each place the group traveled. The students were vigilantly searching for examples of persuasion in their surroundings.
“It was always on our minds,” said Gracyn Redding, a rising junior studying communication. “When we saw different types of media and advertisements on the streets, we were like, ‘Is this shaping our perception of that product? Is that propaganda in some way?’ We were trying to find what’s written in between the lines.”
During one of the initial days, the group visited Radiotelevissione svizzera, a radio station in Lugano that caters to Italian-speaking listeners. Davide Gagliardia, a movie actor and radio personality in the country, led the tour and gave students insight into the industry.
Three students were placed in a radio studio and conducted a mock podcast radio show. The group reconvened in the control room to edit the recording, using software similar to the Adobe Creative Cloud programs that students use in the School of Communication.
“It’s always nice to have that reinforcement,” Woolly said. “It’s not just a teacher saying this is important, but it’s nice to see a professional, whether it’s in Virginia or Switzerland, doing that thing that we say, ‘This is something you should know how to do.’”
This visit was particularly insightful for Kelly, who works as a production assistant intern with the ACC Network and HokieVision.
“Our tour guide Davide gave us a really good look at what it’s like to do a radio show,” Kelly said. “Working with the ACC Network, I was able to compare and contrast what they did versus what we did with live broadcasting. That was really cool for me.”
At the end of each day, the students returned home to the Steger Center in Riva San Vitale — a home away from home — where pubs and cafes adorned with Virginia Tech banners and memorabilia sparked some familiarity. It was here where they would reflect on the day’s adventures.
“It was all about taking no moment for granted and making the most out of an experience,” Redding said. “It was only two weeks, but it felt like a month with how much we crammed into those two weeks.
“We made the most of it,” Kelly said. “From sunrise to sundown, we were doing really cool things.”
Written by Cory Van Dyke
Video courtesy of Mimi Davis.