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Study Abroad Students Publish Culturally Insightful Magazine

Study Abroad Students Publish Culturally Insightful Magazine

Students showcase their photojournalistic work in the Brushaber Commons Atrium for the "Textura" magazine launch on April 18, 2017. (Photo Credit: Kurt Jarvi ’18)

When 15 Bethel students embarked on a January term (J-Term) trip with Assistant Professor of Journalism Scott Winter to Antigua, Guatemala, all held high expectations of the memories and skills they would gain through hands-on learning abroad. But none could have guessed the group would amass enough journalistic, photojournalistic, and design work to turn the three-week experience into a high-quality, 114-page magazine.

“Frankly, we weren’t going to do anything this nice,” Associate Professor of Graphic Design Jessica Henderson, who partnered with Winter to lead the trip, says. “But [the students] came back with such great stuff, so we had to. The amount of work that was done in one month was incredible.”

The concept for the trip materialized when Henderson approached Winter about opportunities for their students to collaborate with one another and learn cross-disciplinary skills. Winter jumped at the idea. He had been seeking ways to engage with other departments since coming to Bethel in 2014, having gained experience leading international media and journalism trips as an instructor at a previous university. “That experience, I think, helped me to get hired at Bethel, which has a long history of successful study abroad trips,” Winter says. From the start, Winter’s colleagues in the Department of English had hopes that he would put his experiences to use by organizing a similar trip at Bethel.

“I’m not sure we foresaw having such a successful trip in just three years,” Winter says. “I couldn’t be more proud of those students.” The success of the trip largely depended on students taking initiative, stepping out of their comfort zones, and learning from unfamiliar experiences. Luckily, they were up to the challenge. Students were divided into teams of three or four with varying skills. All teams were responsible for writing culturally-relevant journalistic stories, capturing high-quality images, and doing the design work of laying those stories out digitally.

“At the beginning, [my team] felt uncertain about being four girls going out into Guatemala wherever we wanted, making our own schedule, and trying to accomplish a story in an unfamiliar place,” Alayna Hoy ’18 says. Hoy, a journalism and marketing double major, and classmate Abby Petersen ’18 took on leadership roles as the most experienced journalists in the group, but that didn’t mean they had fewer hurdles to overcome. Each group wrote a “depth story” that delved into a difficult topic, revealing something about the Guatemalan people that was relatable—a truth that surpassed cultural boundaries. Understandably, students had difficultly finding stories that fit the bill—and even with her experience working as news editor of Bethel’s student-run Clarion newspaper, Petersen was no exception.

Searching for a story, Petersen scheduled an appointment to meet with a worker at a nearby community hospital. There, she found more stories than she had words. “They popped me into some scrubs, and threw me in the operating room!” she says. While there, she witnessed cleft palate surgeries, and ultimately connected with her story subject­—a woman who had been living with a hernia for 16 years. Petersen describes her experiences in the hospital as both uncomfortable and exhausting. But she adds, “I think if you want to be an agent of reconciliation and redemption, then you have to be willing to engage with the story of a person whose life is different than you.”

Designers Petra Lee ’18 and Kendall Soderstrom ’18 echo this sentiment, expressing how important it was for them to engage with Guatemalan culture in order to facilitate a meaningful and distinctive design for the magazine. “I was super excited to open my eyes, and ears, and heart to the stories of the people I met in Guatemala,” Soderstrom says. “Yes, I learned design skills, and leadership skills, and personal skills, but ultimately learning how to empathize with people of a different culture is a huge skill in itself.”

Lee adds that the trip provided a unique opportunity for design students to collaborate not only with their story subjects, but also each other. “In our design classes we have some group projects, but for the most part it’s very independent,” she says. “It was a really good experience realizing that you need input from other people.”

Collaboration was a major focus of the trip for all involved—including five Guatemalan “partners” who journeyed through Antigua with Bethel students and lived with them in haciendas as friends and classmates. “We went out dancing one night with them because they wanted us to experience what it was like to be youth in Guatemala, and they wanted us to experience [an important] part of their culture,” Soderstrom says. “They were so open to getting to know us and teaching us things, and we taught them things as well about our culture.”

The Guatemalan partners were all students at, or recent graduates from Michael Polyani College in Guatemala City. Winter and Henderson formed a partnership with these students through a mutual acquaintance when they traveled to Guatemala in the summer of 2016 to work out details of the trip. This connection ended up providing almost as much value as the trip itself. “It could have been just a thing where they were translating Spanish to English for us, and that would have been super helpful and totally fine, but they were just as invested in this project as we were,” Hoy says. “At their college, they have a lot of cross-functional majors and have had a lot of experience working on independent student projects like this. So all five of them were such big assets for us.”

Students shared about their Guatemalan partners, experiences, and the magazine they created during a presentation in the Bethel Library on April 18. Later that day they held a launch party for the magazine—titled Textura, “texture” in Spanish and Latin—in the Brushaber Commons (BC) Atrium, where they had the opportunity to showcase their work. They also shared—with excitement—that they would be sending digital and print copies of the magazine to their contacts in Guatemala, “So we can get them into the neighborhoods where they belong,” Winter says. Other design assets from the trip include a compilation video of students’ film footage, which is on the website seektextura.com. The group’s two computer science majors—Tim Heck ’17 and Josiah Tillman ’17—spearheaded the site’s creation.

Winter and Henderson hope to facilitate similar trips in the future and maintain Textura as an overarching brand for the project and website. But regardless of when and where the trip happens again, Winter and Henderson’s efforts will have a lasting impact. “We always think, in a sense, ‘There’s a story out there that needs me,’” Petersen says. “This trip taught me that, ‘I needed that story.’ I am more hungry for knowledge and wisdom now because of going on this trip and learning about my deficiencies. And I think that being hungry for knowledge and learning is one of the greatest callings of a student. I’m glad that I didn’t come back from this trip satisfied. I came back from this trip hungry. And I think that will make me a better journalist, I think it’ll make me a better student—I think it will make me a better human.”

Check out the full Textura magazine online. Then, learn more about study abroad opportunities at Bethel