Communications students travel to South Africa for spring break

March 02, 2011

Spring break fun might be on the minds of some college students at this time of year, but 16 communications students in an international reporting class will be traveling to South Africa during spring break -- and they plan on working.

This marks the third consecutive year that COMM 498B International Reporting taught by Tony Barbieri, the Foster professor of writing and editing, has led a class on an international trip during spring break. Last year the class went to China and in 2009 the destination was Mexico.

"There are several reasons for choosing South Africa," said Barbieri, the former Baltimore Sun managing editor who also worked as a foreign correspondent in Moscow and Tokyo. "First and foremost there are great stories there. It is the most important country in sub-Saharan Africa and it is now nearly 15 years since it began its transformation from an apartheid regime to full democracy.

"Its economy is the strongest in Africa. It just hosted the World Cup. Some of the problems there are quite similar to those we face in the United States, immigration for example, while others are not, such as widespread HIV infection."

No matter the destination, Barbieri invariably practices a professional approach that leads to a working spring break experience. He wants students to enjoy themselves, but never at the expense of getting the story.

"That's pretty much how I'm looking at it," said Lexi Belculfine, a junior from Aliquippa, Pa. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would not have been available to me if I were not at Penn State, but it's clearly a business trip."

Senior Andy Colwell is taking that approach, as well. The visual journalism student will be working with Belculfine on a story that combines adventure with their journalistic reporting duties. "Our work is going to investigate the relationship between the surfing scene and the cage diving industry, which means that we have to get into the water to gain the proper perspective," said Colwell, who purchased an underwater housing for one of his cameras to enable him to get the best photos to illustrate the story. "It's the kind of experience that could define my week, which is cool because the whole Cape Town trip itself really is an amazing opportunity."

Among the 16 students making the trip, several work at The Daily Collegian, and one works with Penn State's Public Information office. Eight have a primarily print journalism background. Five are broadcast journalism majors and two are focusing on photojournalism or visual communications. One student brings multimedia expertise to the group.

In the weeks leading up to the trip, students conducted general research on potential story ideas. While there, they will complete interviews and research for generally long-form stories that will be published once they return.

At the same time, they will file regular online blogs, shorter stories and updates -- available at online -- while on location. Their trip also will be documented as a Dispatch series on Penn State Live at online.

While scheduling a class at Penn State can be as easy as an online search and a few clicks of a mouse, students selected for the international reporting class were required to do a bit more. So, after an submitting some work samples and surviving an interview, Belculfine was justifiably pleased when she learned that she was one of the students selected.

"The first person I called was my mom," Belculfine, a journalism major with an English minor, said. "She was happy -- she has to be because she's my mom -- but she was also a little worried, and she has to be that way, too."

Fellow faculty members Russ Eshleman, a senior lecturer and associate head of the Department of Journalism, and Thor Wasbotten, assistant dean for student media and onine operations, a senior lecturer in the department, will accompany Barbieri and the students on the trip.

In addition, Barbara Bird, an associate professor in the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies, and two film-video students will follow the other faculty members and students to document their trip.

The contingent has received extensive planning and preparation support from Gabeba Baderoon, a native of South Africa and professor of women’s studies; Rob Crane, a professor of geography who regularly takes students to South Africa; Johannes Fedderke, a professor of international affairs who focuses on the South African economy; and Linda Caldwell and Edward Smith, faculty members who lead the HeathWise program in South Africa.

Preparation for the class actually started late in the fall semester, when Baderoon met with students and talked about what to expect in South Africa.

"It's going to be great to combine what we've learned in classes and at the Collegian and put those skills to work in another country, an unfamiliar setting," Belculfine said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 04, 2011