Journalism students travel to Hong Kong for nternational reporting experience

October 13, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In late 2014, protesters flooded the streets of Hong Kong in opposition to proposed reforms to the region's electoral system. Known as the Umbrella Revolution, the movement made international headlines. 

Penn State College of Communications Foster Professor of Writing and Editing Tony Barbieri, course leader of an international reporting class that takes an annual trip abroad, said this was one of the reasons he chose Hong Kong as the class' spring 2015 destination. 

He also considers what area of the world might be an important player internationally when his journalism students reach mid-career. 

In this way, students get real-world experience in international reporting, but they also learn about a culture and environment that will be relevant to them as their careers progress. 

"Students have to know before we go to a place a little bit about the history, the currency, the time difference. All that is crammed into half a semester," said Barbieri. 

As they research the region, they also begin to form a story idea and make contacts for interviews. When they land in their destination, the students are off and running to pursue their one great story — one that they can only tell in Hong Kong. 

"Just knowing I've been able to do something like this is going to give me confidence when I go to my first job."

-- Marielena Balouris, journalism student

Though the students certainly have some time for touring and relaxation, the trip is hard work — and it's meant to be. 

"When they get there, they've got to set everything up and execute the story themselves," Barbieri said. "They find out pretty quickly they've got to do this on their own." 

Despite the language barriers and cultural differences, however, many of the challenges students face are the same kinds of journalistic issues they would face at home.

"There's an extra layer of difficulty — a language barrier, a way-of-life barrier, like how to call a cab," said student Marielena Balouris. "But it's still the same fundamentals, working through those obstacles to tell your story." 

Amy Simpson, another student in the class, added, "I'm looking forward to seeing how I improve even when I go back because of this experience." 

Tall, colorful buildings are painted on the side of a building in Hong Kong

While in Hong Kong, Journalism student Marissa Stern investigated the story behind the street art found in Hong Kong. This street art display stretches along an alleyway in the central district of Hong Kong. 

IMAGE: Marissa Stern

Simpson and her fellow students know that, whether they go on to take international positions in journalism or not, they'll take the skills and lessons they learned in Hong Kong with them into their future careers.

And when the students return, many of them have a new view of their craft — and of themselves. 

"I used to do this for a living. I tell them, 'What you're doing is not easy. So when you've done it, it's something to be proud of.'"

-- Tony Barbieri, Foster Professor of Writing and Editing

"Just knowing I've been able to do something like this is going to give me confidence when I go to my first job," said Balouris. "Like, 'I can handle this story. I did a story in Hong Kong.'" 

Barbieri said that he sees his students grow before his eyes on the trips, both in their journalism skills and in their confidence.

"I used to do this for a living," he said. "I tell them, 'What you're doing is not easy. So when you've done it, it's something to be proud of.'"

Last Updated December 10, 2015