This summer, a group of University of Redlands and Tuskegee University students spent three weeks documenting the sights of London for a study abroad course on storytelling. In addition to learning about the region’s history, politics and culture — and how these elements can come together in photos and narrative — the group shared personal experiences and perspectives, making for a meaningful international learning experience.
When she was designing the course, University of Redlands Art Professor Tommi Cahill asked her colleague, Allison Fraiberg, a communications professor and associate director of international programs for the School of Business whom she had collaborated with before, to embark on the project with her. Their two disciplines — art and writing — exemplified the course’s learning objectives.
“My Ph.D. is in English, so narrative studies were the foundation of my training,” Fraiberg said. “[Cahill] and I relied on our respective fields of expertise as we worked with students to build their own stories of London.”
Each morning, Cahill and Fraiberg delivered lectures on the streets of London, which, in Cahill’s words, “really brought the classroom to life.” After spending the day taking photos, each student posted five photos in a private Facebook group, where classmates could comment on them and engage in discussion.
In addition to taking photographs, the group spent time in Liverpool and Brighton learning about British history, from the country’s slave trade to the Beatles, Brexit, and immigration. “Having U of R and Tuskegee students on the trip together was magical,” Cahill said. “Each student brought something different to the experience, which allowed them to learn a lot from each other.”
Joshua Williams, a communications major from Huntsville, Alabama, was one of the four Tuskegee students in the class of 18. Williams was attracted to the course because he wanted to learn about photography from Cahill in an international context. He said he learned to examine art on a deeper level and to attach a story and purpose to each photo he takes.
Meeting University of Redlands students was a highlight for Williams: “Even though we were all from the United States, Tuskegee is somewhat foreign to Californians, so I enjoyed getting to know the other students.”
Tuskegee English major Marcella Whitehead, a senior and native of Forsyth, Georgia, said her motivation to participate in the study abroad experience had more to do with the location than the trip’s photography or artistic elements. Still, she credits the course with some benefits that will extend into her academic major.
“I learned skills not only useful to photography, but life skills that will be useful in my career,” Whitehead noted. “ I will use this experience to continue stepping outside my comfort zone. English is not a boxed-in major, and I can do so much more than I allow myself to realize. Though photography is not within my expertise, it along with this study abroad experience has shown me just one of many more things I could potentially do with my degree.”
Simone Amos, another Tuskegee communications major, agreed with Whitehead on the the ways study abroad opportunities can expand students’ academic horizons.
“I greatly appreciated the creative freedom we as students had on the trip to explore our individual interests. It was liberating to be able to gain my own perspective of London,” the senior from Meridian, Mississippi, recalled. “Also, I didn’t think I would get accustomed to traveling around the city, but by the end of the trip, I felt I had mastered London’s public transportation system.”
Similar to other art classes at the University of Redlands, students engaged in two critique sessions. Each student printed 20 photographs and received feedback from their classmates and professors. The final critique displayed the culmination of work, revealing the students’ unique perspectives through photography. After the trip, a book was created featuring the students’ photos.
In addition to the course’s academic worth, Cahill said that studying abroad is a valuable experience for students.
“It’s important to get to know other cultures so we can understand different perspectives and see where others are coming from,” she said. “Everyone on this trip learned something new, and many of them said it was a life-changing experience.”
Amos agreed with Cahill, noting that the experience broadened her academic, cultural and global perspectives.
“I was constantly surrounded by so many different cultures and ethnic groups,” Amos recalled. “That brought with it a greater appreciation for the opportunity to communicate with people who may not understand your background, and vice versa. I was able to experience a wide range of intercultural communication that has definitely influenced how I approach my day-to-day conversations and academic studies.”
© 2019, Tuskegee University
Editor’s note: Thanks to our colleague Katie Olson of the University of Redlands for her original reporting of this story, which can be found on the university’s website.