VOICE editor travels to Spain cover the world


By Ashlyn Denson


VOICE editor Ashlyn Denson spent part of her summer abroad in a summer program under the auspices of the Institute for Education in International Media. More than 1,200 students from more than 80 public and private universities in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Turkey and Singapore have participated in ieiMedia programs since 2002, according to its website.

Posing for a picture on a balconey where the classroom was located. All photos by Ashlyn Denson.

Here is Ashlyn's story.

In November 2018 I applied and was subsequently accepted into a mass communication study abroad summer program in Bologna, Italy for summer 2019 sponsored by The Institute for Education in International Media or ieiMedia. The agency has seven study abroad summer programs that cover multimedia journalism, broadcast, public relations and more. The programs focus on media production and have taken students abroad since 2002.

I chose to apply for the internship in Italy because, in addition to the mass communication aspect, it also explored Hip-Hop and performing arts. As a mass communication major with a minor in theatre arts, I had a great interest in Hip-Hop, performing arts (theatre) and multimedia journalism, of course. Therefore, it was only right that I chose the program in Bologna, Italy.

Valencia is known for its impressive sandcastles such as the one pictured here.

The Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia or Saint Mary's Cathedral of Valencia located near the Plaze de la Reina (Queen's Plaza).

Shortly after starting the application, I asked two of my professors to complete a reference letter needed to complete the application. I asked Professor Valerie Whitney, who has worked with me as one of the co-advisers for the campus newspaper since my freshman year. Additionally, I asked Dr. Elsie Wanjohi, the chair of the mass communications department.

Once those reference letters were submitted, I received a letter shortly afterward from ieiMedia welcoming me to the study abroad program in Bologna, Italy.

I was overwhelmed with joy and numb to the news at the same time. I never thought I would earn an opportunity to participate in a mass communication internship that studied Hip-Hop and some theater. Everything was just about perfect. The only thing that I knew would be a challenge for me was garnering the funds needed to study abroad.

I did not lose hope.

Mike Dorsher, one of the executive directors at ieiMedia, helped me with applying for scholarships. The first scholarship I applied for was the Fund for Education Abroad (FEA) Scholarship. I received a scholarship through FEA called the NAFSA Tamara H. Bryant Memorial Scholarship, a scholarship for African American students wanting to study abroad. Bryant immigrated to the United States from Rangoon, Burma, in the 1960s. She set up the scholarship to foster intercultural exchange.

A few months after receiving this great news, I applied for the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship and received a Gilman scholarship, too.

The City Hall building in Valencia, Spain.

Not long after all the good news I received an email from Dorsher informing me that the program in Bologna, Italy, was canceled due to low enrollment. He then offered three other multimedia journalism study abroad program that also took place in the summer. My options were Urbino, Italy; Jerusalem, Israel; and Valencia, Spain. After some research and consideration, I chose Spain.

The program started on May 31 and ended June 28. I arrived in Valencia on May 29, which was awesome because I had a chance to explore some of the city. The program in Valencia was multimedia journalism, broadcast, and photography. I found myself focusing on journalism, social media reporting and broadcast. There were about 20 people in the program including students from colleges in Nebraska, California and the East Coast. I was the only student from an HBCU.

I learned a lot about journalism and how to tell a story using the five senses (see, smell, hear, feel and touch). Additionally, I learned more about AP style writing and using other multimedia outlets to tell a story (i.e., photography, videography, and social media captions).

I had several challenges. I did not know that much Spanish and everyone in Valencia spoke Spanish. Additionally, not only did they speak Spanish, but they also have their dialect called

"Valencian." This made everything even harder at times because even the basic Spanish words I knew may not have the same meaning in Valencian. For example, the Spanish word for "street" is "calle." However, in Valencia, they might have a street they say, "carre," which means "street" in Valencian. This could be confusing to tourists who are trying to get around the city.

A plate of seafood Paella, one of the most popular in Valencia. 

During my time in Valencia, I learned what it really means to be an investigative journalist. I could not allow my lack of Spanish hinder me from getting a great story. Google translator became my best friend when going out to report on a story.

I usually sought people who were able to speak English and Spanish so that I could have enough information on the story I was covering. Going out to interview people may sound like a job, however, it was quite the contrary.

Completing my stories allowed me to meet to mingle with my peers that also were enrolled in the program and talk to people from Valencia. I did one of my stories on the perception of black music in Valencia that required that I visited the beach. There was a black music festival going on and I covered the music festival. They were very welcoming and inviting to whatever party, event or feast they held.

The nature of the Valencian people exudes patience, easy-going and spontaneity. Ironically, they also have a structured way of doing their daily routines. For instance, they would be up early in the morning for school and work. Then, by the afternoon and evening (2 p.m. - 5 p.m.), some stores would close temporarily. Afterward, they would reopen the businesses or rest to prepare for a long night of partying that lasted until 6 a.m. the next day.

I lived near the heart of the city, not far from a business called Marcado de Ruzafa or Russafa Market. The vendor sold every kind of animal you can imagine.

We stayed in a busy part of the town and that allowed us to experience the authentic Valencian community. When people went out partying Saturday night, their drunken screams and laughter became my alarm clock on Sunday morning.

Every morning my host mom would toast bread and make our favorite drink. She made me chocolate caliente (hot cocoa) and coffee for my peers. Then at 2 p.m. we were expected to be back home after class, (which started at 11a.m. and ended at 1p.m.), for lunch. After lunch, I would either indulge in some homework I knew would be due soon or go out shopping.

I would spend hours shopping because they had some of the best fashion and even better prices! Sometimes I would shop until about 8:45 p.m. and then rush home before dinner which started at 9 p.m. My host mom would be a little annoyed if we did not inform her that we would not make it to dinner. It is a tradition to be home for dinner at 9 p.m. and eat the food served. Speaking of food, I tried rabbit for the first time!

One of Valencia's most famous dishes is "Paella," which consist of yellow rice, rabbit, chicken and snail. There also i a seafood Paella dish that consists of snails, shrimp, crab meat and chickens. A vegetarian Paella dish also is available for those who do not eat meat. I also loved their gelato, which is an Italian-style ice-cream. I tasted a bit of Italy.

Overall, the trip was one that I will alwaysremember. I picked up several tips that we hope to use at the Voice of the Wildcats, including the growing importance of social media sites such as Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to report on stories.

The people I met on this journey will forever be in my heart. My host mom, whose name is Charo, spoke very little English. Still, we managed to understand one another by body language or one of my peers translating for us. She was a feisty woman, but still a sweetheart who never let us sleep on an empty stomach.

Finally, I learned to work at my own pace. As a young journalist, I sometimes try to rush to get the story completed and I leave out good information. However, I learned the real meaning of quality over quantity. Good things take time and if you strategize correctly, everything will go better than planned.

"I attended one of the Valencia’s famous Flamenco shows along with my classmates and teachers."

For more information about the Institute for Education in International Media and its study abroad program, visit the website ieimedia.com.

Ashlyn Denson is a senior majoring in mass communication and minoring in theater arts.