Trip abroad cut short, Bellisario College student keeps moving forward

Jonathan F. McVerry
June 17, 2020

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories about students from the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications completing summer internships.)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On March 17, Emma Riglin stepped off the plane and felt like crying. She was supposed to be in Argentina until July, but the coronavirus pandemic sent her home after just three weeks abroad. While walking through the Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport, head hung low, she saw a familiar sight that cheered her up.

It was a Penn State backpack.

She looked at the man wearing the backpack and could think of only one thing to say: “We are!”

“He said, ‘Penn State,’ and started talking to me,” Riglin said. After a whirlwind, last-minute trip from a foreign country through three airports, customs and facing a five-hour drive home, “it really calmed me down,” she said.

Riglin, a senior advertising/public relations major, had wanted to visit Argentina ever since she was in sixth grade. Also majoring in Spanish and minoring in global and international studies, she was ready for a five-month immersive experience in the South American country. Disappointed with the abbreviated visit, Riglin made the best of it.

“Even in the short time I was there, I got to explore Buenos Aires,” she said. “I got to experience a tango class and a drum show, which was amazing. And I made some really good friends, but I was sad because I didn’t get to do trips to Patagonia and Uruguay. The day I got on the plane home was the day we were going to take a ferry to Uruguay.”

"The day I got on the plane home was the day we were going to take a ferry to Uruguay."

— Emma Riglin

It all happened very quickly. While Penn State was wrapping up its spring break, many in Riglin’s cohort were first realizing that the pandemic might affect their semester abroad.

“It was March 10, and coronavirus wasn’t a thought in anyone’s mind,” she said. That changed by March 12 when many universities quickly started bringing their students home. Riglin said her cohort of students started at 40. It fell to 25 “in a matter of hours.”

“It was nuts,” she said. “I was worried about my safety and worried about staying or getting stuck in a foreign country. So, I called my parents, and asked them to book me a flight.”

The day after she made her decision, the Embassy of Argentina announced that it would close its borders. No one was going to be allowed in or out of the country. Riglin had three days to get out. Luckily, she was able to bump up her plane ticket to the next day.

“So, all of the people studying abroad, we all got together in our little neighborhood park and had a little wine and cheese that night,” Riglin said. “We were toasting the end of the semester.”

Four months early.

Emma Riglin

Advertising/public relations major Emma Riglin relaxes under a palm tree on her last night in Argentina.

IMAGE: Provided

Riglin continues the program remotely from her home in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, until its original end date in July. Unfortunately, an immersive cultural experience is not quite the same on Zoom, but, as always, Riglin is making the best of the situation.

While many internship and job openings were cancelled this summer, Riglin considers herself lucky to have secured two internships. She is working with Penn State’s Office of Strategic Communications, specifically working with the College of Information Sciences and Technology. She also has a summer internship with Short & Sweet Communications, a boutique agency in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“I worked directly with IST last summer and my boss informed me about this strategic communications internship,” Riglin said. “She reached out and asked if I’d be interested. I really connected with the people in IST. I know what they expect, and I know the system. I think it was a perfect combination of everything.”

A similar connection got Riglin the job at Short & Sweet. Its owner, Elizabeth Greenaway, is an adviser for Penn State’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. Riglin is the current director of public relations for the student organization.

“We had a virtual meeting with her, and she asked if there was interest in an internship with her agency,” Riglin said. “I reached out. And basically, she wanted to do something that helped the community deal with the effects of coronavirus. We help businesses with their messaging, their marketing, finding out what their customers want and being able to help them to execute those needs.”

Needless to say, this summer is a busy one for Riglin. It may not be the summer she dreamt of, but it will be full of professional experiences that prepare her for a public relations career.

In the meantime, she has been working on another dream. Since Riglin was 6 years old, she’s been involved in musical theater. And while she didn’t major in performing arts — mostly to keep her passion from becoming a job — she found a way to stay involved through the public relations major.

In the fall of 2019, Riglin interned with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The position was a part of the Bellisario College’s Stanely E. Degler Washington Program, which offers students academic, professional and cultural opportunities in the nation’s capital.

“When I came to visit the college (as a prospective student), I met with an adviser who told me about the Washington Program and the public relations major,” Riglin said. “Right then, I said ‘yep.’ That’s what I’m going to do. That was my junior year of high school and it hasn’t changed.”

“Performing arts is my passion. PR is my skill. And it doesn’t get much bigger than the Kennedy Center. I loved it. I loved the Washington Program."

— Emma Riglin

At the Kennedy Center, Riglin was involved in performing arts at the highest level. With events every day of the year for thousands of guests and rubbing elbows with actors, musicians and other celebrities, she was living the dream.

“Someone once told me that your career should be at the intersection of your passion and your skill,” she said. “Performing arts is my passion. PR is my skill. And it doesn’t get much bigger than the Kennedy Center. I loved it. I loved the Washington Program.”

Riglin had a variety of responsibilities. Every day, she tracked Kennedy Center mentions in different types of news media. She copyedited playbills for many performances and events. She also wrote press releases for shows and events.

“Anytime I went to a performance, I saw people reading the playbill that I wrote,” Riglin said. “I’d think, ‘These 2,000 people are consuming something that I contributed to.’ That’s pretty cool.”

Other highlights include wearing Anderson Cooper’s glasses during a screentest before sitting in on his interview with Linda Ronstadt; sharing the red carpet with Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson; and doing yoga with Usher.

“My boss came in and said, ‘Hey, go out to the lawn at 1 o’clock, Usher is teaching a yoga and meditation session,’” Riglin said. “I thought she was joking, I couldn't believe that it was real and that this was part of my internship. That's the kind of experience I had every day at the Kennedy Center."

Riglin said working for a place like the Kennedy Center after she graduates next year would be a dream job, but she would like to hone her public relations skills with an agency first. Unsurprisingly, she is keeping her eyes open for opportunities. And of course, when things are safer, she hopes to make it back to Argentina; and stay longer this time.

  • Emma Riglin

    Advertising/public relations student Emma Riglin enjoys the La Boca neighborhood in Buenos Aires. The tour of the neighborhood was a part of Riglin's study abroad experience to Argentina, which was cut short due to COVID-19.

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    IMAGE: Provided

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 26, 2020