Lisle, Illinois ~ Benedictine University students aren't learning about distant lands from their textbooks or Google – they're hitting the streets in China as part of a new course designed to deepen their understanding of media and its influence on an international scale.
The course, called "Global Journalism," gives students the opportunity to observe how one of the world's fastest-growing industrialized nations informs its citizenry, and in turn, witness the extent American media saturates other cultures, said Christopher Birks, assistant professor of Communication Arts at Benedictine University.
"The idea for the class was born straight out of my own experience as a journalist," Birks said. "Covering stories in a foreign country changes a journalist's perspective, and I wanted to bring not only that, but an understanding of global media to our students. We are no longer just one country. We have to understand media from different cultures and understand how the rest of the world views us and views itself."
The 17-week course prepares students for a trip where they break away from traditional cookie-cutter bus tours and immerse themselves in the populace of Dalian and Beijing, China. At the end of the trip, students complete a journalism project, reporting on their experiences and observations.
Students also learn the skills they need to work as a journalist in a foreign country, visit with news editors and television producers, practice their calligraphy and Chinese, and exercise their skills in a collaborative project with other student journalists through a partnership with the journalism department at Dalian Nationalities University.
Aida Blaszak, a Bilingual Journalism major from Naperville; Elizabeth Dunn, a Writing and Publishing major from Omaha, Neb.; Saul Laureano, an International Business and Economics major from Naperville; and Shelby Workman, an English Language and Literature major from Hanover Park – were the first students to take the course and visit China.
To help finance the spring break trip in March, each student was awarded a $500 scholarship through the Dr. Kenneth Nordin Award and other funds approved by the University.
While journalists in America are free to openly criticize their government under the First Amendment, students got to hear briefly from members of the Chinese media how some of their stories must be approved by national regulatory agencies, which set limits on topics considered sensitive by the government.
Dunn said the trip helped open her eyes and gave her the self-confidence she needed to navigate successfully through a strange and unfamiliar country.
"It was a confidence boost for me," Dunn said. "I've never gone it alone, and I found myself going up to strangers and asking where this or that is and tried to find my way. For me, it affirmed that I can do this. I've always wanted to live abroad, and this solidified my hope that I can and I'm able to do it."
The trip also challenged some students' knowledge of the Chinese language, Laureano said.
"We didn't have the itinerary of your typical tourists," Laureano said. "There were times we would just venture into the city and investigate whatever came our way."
The students wrote stories about their tours of Chinese media enterprises, first-hand accounts of how to get around Beijing, how to explore the hutongs (narrow streets or alleyways in Beijing), and an article featuring a volunteer organization that provides health, education, housing and a range of other social services for severely indigent Chinese families.
Their stories were published online and in Benedictine University's student newspaper, the Candor on April 25.
Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 56 undergraduate majors, 16 graduate and four doctorate programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ranked Benedictine University as the seventh fastest-growing campus among private nonprofit master’s universities, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among the top 20 percent of America’s colleges for 2011. Benedictine University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business as the fourth largest in the Chicago area in 2011.