Beyond the Nest: SJSC students study abroad

Journalism and strategic communications students to write, eat and hike their way through France and Italy

By Kate Elliott

Kate H. Elliott is a lecturer and coordinates the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication's Magazine Media concentration.

Twenty years ago, I studied abroad and worked for Reuters in London. During the week, I wrote articles about AIDS in India and small arms proliferation in Sri Lanka. On weekends and holidays, I visited relatives in Germany, journeyed through the Highlands of Scotland, and toured the Colosseum in Rome. The experience transformed me — my perceptions of the world, my resourcefulness and my fluency of global issues.

On May 5, I embarked on another study abroad, but this time as the instructor of “Travel Writing through Italy and France” — a project-based immersive learning course to capture the flavors, culture, history and natural beauty of France and Italy. 

Throughout the trip, students will read and analyze travel writing while learning the skills to produce evocative storytelling that contains concrete observations, strong action, thoughtful research and appropriate pacing. Journalism students will focus on narrative nonfiction while strategic communications students will produce public relations and advertising content for travel companies, cities and historic sites.

They will all gain invaluable lessons and lifelong memories as they navigate ambiguity, adapt to new cultures, and experience the rich history and interconnectedness of our world. Some of these journalism and strategic communication majors and minors had never traveled outside of the United States unit they stepped off the plane in Paris, Their excitement and angst is palpable, and we hope you join our journey on “Beyond the Nest” Facebook and Instagram. 

Our Destinations

In 35 days, we will travel to 11 cities in three countries, and we plan to connect with alumni and friends as we seek to create deep bonds and understanding. In Paris, we watched the lights of the Eiffel Tower twinkle after taking an evening cruise along the Seine River. We toured museums, including the Louvre, and dined on macrons and pain au chocolat.

We then journeyed into the heart of Burgundy. In Dijon, we sampled mustards and “coq au vin” or chicken braised in the region’s signature wine. We walked through medieval palaces, renowned food markets and parks jeweled with spring flowers. In nearby Lyon, we toured Roman ruins and the city’s “traboules” or hidden passageways before shopping exquisite fabrics in “the city of silk workers.”

On May 15, we will head to Nice, France, a coastal town on the French Riviera. A street food tour will introduce us to the region’s signature dishes, like “socca,” a traditional thin chickpea flour pancake, and “moules frites” or fresh mussels in a saffron cream sauce. Long walks on the palm-lined promenades will showcase the Art Deco architecture and bustling outdoor markets. 

We leave France for our first stop in Italy — Cinque Terre, which translates to “five lands” for a cluster of five charming seaside villages. We will hike cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea and walk through terraced vineyards before dining alfresco on the beach.

Our next stop is Florence to experience “the cradle of the Renaissance.” We will set our eyes on the to the statue of David before sampling some of the many art and cultural museums that house works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Raphael. We will look out on the capital of Tuscany from Florence Cathedral dome and walk across the Ponte Vecchio, which was the only bridge across the Arno River until 1218.

We will then take a week-long respite in Siena at a villa with a pool in the heart of Tuscany. We will tour the Piazza del Campo, which is considered one of the most stunning medieval squares in Italy. Some of us plan to take a day trip to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Then, to Rome, where we will order heaping cones of gelato and enjoy “pizza al taglio,” which means pizza by the cut, between tours of ancient ruins, including the Colosseum and the Pantheon. We will experience the Sistine Chapel and toss wishes into the Trevi Fountain, a Baroque masterpiece in the heart of Italy’s capital. 

Macerata in central Italy is our next stop. We will explore its elegant piazzas and delight in specialties like “vincisgrassi” or a rich lasagna-style dish, “ciauscolo” or a soft spreadable salami, and olive “ascolane” or stuffed fried olives. Day trips to the countryside will afford us opportunities to hike along olive groves and take in breathtaking views. 

We will wander the interconnected canals of Venice, where we may take in an opera or gondola ride. As a group, we will take a half-day boat tour to nearby islands, Murano and Burano. Murano is known for an exclusive glass blowing technique, and Burano is known for handmade lace and bright buildings (so fishermen could spot their homes from the bay). 

After Venice, we take a bus to Ljubljana, Slovenia, where we will whitewater raft “the Soča,” also known as “the Emerald River” due to its turquoise-green hue. We will hike the limestone mountains of the Julian Alps and take in the views of Lake Bled and the castle that sits on an island in its center. 

We fly from Ljubljana to Pairs for an overnight near the airport before returning back to Indianapolis. 

Meet our adventurers 

These students have applied for scholarships and worked multiple jobs to pay for this epic adventure. We are beyond grateful for gifts from donors, family and friends to help offset their costs of this transformative trip. 

Madelyn “Maddie” Bracken, 20, Fort Wayne, Indiana

  • Majoring in journalism, news writing and reporting, and public history 
  • Campus activities: Ball State Daily News, academic peer mentor

Maddie’s excitement for the trip is arresting: “I have never been out of the country and have always dreamed of Europe, especially all the beauty and history of Italy,” she said. “Not only do I get that experience, but I also get to flex my writing muscles in a new way.”

She can’t wait for a boat ride along the rocky coast of Cinque Terre, Italy, or the group’s four-hour cooking class in Siena, Italy. “I can’t wait to eat so much pasta in Italy and all the desserts in France and Italy,” said Maddie, who has more than 30 Spotify playlists. “These places pride themselves on food, and I can’t wait to savor it alongside friends.”

Jason Doudt, 22, Pendleton, Indiana 

  • Majoring in photojournalism, sociology and anthropology 
  • Campus activities: Studio photography, anthropology research at the library

Jason will walk across the commencement stage May 5 and onto a plane bound for Paris the next day. “This trip is the beginning of my post-graduate studies and gives me the chance to look for opportunities to work and live abroad."

He will put his years of French class to the test as he orders fine wines and coffee alongside fresh bread and “Pain au chocolat” in France and penne pasta and fresh salads in Italy. And he “can’t wait” to meet and photograph interesting people as he walks historic cities and dines al fresco in the warm evenings. 

“Oh, and I want to pet French cats,” he added.

Kate Farr, 19, Antwerp, OH 

  • Majoring in journalism, magazine media, with a minor in journalistic storytelling
  • Campus activities: Opinion Editor, visual designer, reporter, columnist and photographer, for the Ball State Daily News. Next year, she will serve as the editor-in-chief of the student-led newspaper.

Kate said she hopes to return with “five pounds in pasta weight and amazing memories” from her first trip abroad. 

She “cannot wait” to explore Italy and France and immerse herself in their cultures while capturing the flavors, history and customs of some of the world’s most iconic cities. 

Katherine “Kate” Hill, 19, Mishawaka, Indiana 

  • Majoring in journalism, news writing and reporting, with a minor in film and screenwriting 
  • Campus activities: Ball State Daily News

Kate Hill hopes to “fall in love with French and Italian people and their food like Julia Child.” Two years ago, Kate took a trip through Europe with high school classmates, and she’s been dreaming of returning ever since. 

“I am most excited about the chance to visit beautiful, architectural cities and meet locals — to observe them and take in the atmosphere,” she said. “Taking a French class this school year has made me want to be a French correspondent,” Kate said. “This trip will be a good litmus test for me to see if I can really make that work as a career.” 

Kaylin Kieft, 20, Granger, Indiana

  • Majoring in journalism, magazine media
  • Campus activities: Inform Muncie

Kaylin dreams of travel writing in her future, so she is excited to explore Europe while study and learning about the craft. “I love experiencing different cultures and learning people’s stories,” she said. “I can’t wait to document our non-stop activities in these beautiful places.”

She will slow down long enough to savor crepes and macaroons, and she is counting down the days until the cooking class in Siena. 

Grace Lichty, 20, Elkhart, Indiana

  • Majoring in journalism, magazine media, with a minor in marketing 
  • Campus activities: Ball Bearings magazine

Grace is eager to gain lasting relationships with her peers on this “once in a lifetime experience.” She fears culture shock will be the most challenging aspect of the trip, but she isn’t afraid of the discomfort that comes from navigating new cultures and experiences. 

“I am going on this trip to expand my global and cultural knowledge, and to gain unique writing experience,” she said. “Italy and France are beautiful, and this is an amazing opportunity to go there. I love sightseeing and trying new things.”

Grace is most excited for boat rides and pizza in Italy — delizioso!

Taylor Martin, 21, Indianapolis

  • Majoring in photojournalism with a minor in French

Taylor says she’s a French minor who doesn’t speak French (but she will need try because many of the students do not speak French). Close with her family and friends, she is nervous about being away from home, but she plans to overcome any homesickness with extra helpings of beautiful sites and gelato.

“This was just a huge opportunity, and I couldn’t pass it up,” she said. “I hope to better understand French culture and the language as we spend so much time in the vibrant country.”

Rosalita “Rosie” Mitchell, 20, Greenwood, Indiana 

  • Majoring in journalism and mass communications with minors in anthropology, communication studies and history
  • Campus activities: Byte Magazine, Martial Arts Club at, Judo Club, Housing and a resident assistant for Residence Life

As an aspiring travel writer — or “at least a writer who travels” — Rosie plans to immerse herself in documenting the journey. “I want to make at least one new friend, who is a local, in every city we visit,” she said. “And I’m not going to let the language barrier stop me.” 

Rosie said she is especially excited to visit Italy because her family emigrated to the United States from Italia. While she is there, she will eat “all the carbs” — bread, pasta and potatoes — and soak up the summer sun.

Mesgana Waiss, 22, Indianapolis

  • Majoring in journalism and political science
  • Campus activities: Byte, Ball Bearings

Mesgana has wanted to study abroad for the last few years, and she has wanted to visit Pairs since middle school. With the trip’s journalism focus, it’s perfect for me.

“I hope this trip contributes to my growing confidence as I move into true adulthood,” she said. “I am an extremely anxious person, so I see myself going on this trip as a step in the right direction to becoming a risk-taker.”

The aspiring writer is excited to see the iconic structures and captivating landscapes of these romantic countries. Mesgana can’t wait to fuel up on rich butter and bread before exploring the world’s largest and most famous art museums and historic sites.

Gracie Worrick, 19, Marion, Indiana

  • Majoring in advertising with concentrations in event planning and management, leadership and emerging media. 
  • Campus activities: Her Campus, American Advertising Federation and Delight

Gracie is going on this trip “to see the world and make memories to last a lifetime.” She plans to celebrate her 20th birthday in Italy with pasta, pasta and more pasta. Gracie is open to all the excursions and writing challenges to come, and she is certain the trip with equip her with perspective, problem-solving and more that she will apply to her future life and work. 

Our leaders

Kate H. Elliott, program lead , Columbia, Missouri 

Kate’s focus is on the student experience. “It’s a gift,” she said, “to watch others open up to the world and be changed by it.”

“I’ve traveled in these countries, and it will be a joy to go back. But I am most looking forward to seeing the students come alive through this journey. They are all so bright, curious and hard working. It excites me to see and hear their excitement,” Kate said. “I have been working hard to build an experience that will hopefully be a highlight of their lives. I can’t wait to embark on this adventure with them.”

Rachelle Spencer, program assistant, Puyallup, Washington

  • Working toward a master’s degree in student affairs administration in higher education 
  • Campus activities: Chi Sigma Alpha, Student Voluntary Service, Cardinal Kitchen 

After Rachelle graduates in July, she hopes to work as a study abroad advisor. This trip gives her hands-on experience with planning the logistics for faculty-led programs. When she studied abroad, it was organized by an external provider, so she is curious about the student experience for faculty-led programs.

She is most excited about their travels outside of large cities, and she is most nervous about packing for such a long trip with so many destinations. But Rachelle doesn’t shy away from a challenge or vacuum seal bags.

“I hope to gain a better understanding of how these programs work, so that I can better advise students on their study abroad options in the future,” she said. “I also hope to make a great experience for the students and fun memories while on the trip.”

Class Act articles are written by students in a classroom environment with a faculty adviser.