Twenty-one-year-old Maria Jones is in her junior year of information communication technology at the University of Kentucky and has spent most of her life in Lexington, where the university is located. But last year everything changed. 'I recently gained an interest in world travel,' she says, laughing. 'First of all I did a four-week summer programme in Paris on photography and cultural tourism. It was short but it gave me enough time to be out of the country. And while I was in France I was already planning my semester in Hamburg.'
Maria had heard about the new exchange programme between the University of Kentucky's School of Information Science and the HAW Hamburg. She was intrigued by the opportunity of being able to study in English in Germany and ambitious to be one of the first students to participate. 'I saw that the classes would give me hands-on experience in information technology and that it would be a very different experience to my classes at UK,' she says. Maria signed up for six classes*, which transfer back for credit to her ICT programme at the University of Kentucky. 'I was glad I could do a study-abroad programme that didn’t delay graduation. For me the classes are a great way of grounding myself in my major and finalising my Bachelor’s degree.'
Digital information and media culture
Maria’s favourite module was International Communication Systems with Professor Swoboda. 'I really enjoyed this class. We looked at the concept of free media in Germany and in our home countries. There were lots of international students, so we had some great discussions. Coming from the US I began to see differences I didn’t know we had,' she reflects. Professor Swoboda introduced them not only to the theory of communication systems, but also took them to media companies and on an excursion to Berlin to see inside Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public international broadcaster. They visited the different anchor rooms and saw how news was produced in different languages around the world. 'It was really exciting to see how they produce reliable news for everyone; not just from the perspective of the US or Europe.'
Her excursion to Deutsche Welle also introduced her to an international three-day conference on global inequalities, which she joined on her own initiative. Attended by professional journalists and photographers, the conference looked at topics such as Generation Z, the evolution of technology and unbiased reporting. 'It was amazing. All these professionals and me, just a student! The discussions really benefited me and it was a great opportunity to network,' she says, beaming.
In Social Media and Innovation Maria looked at the world of influencers and how it has become a new form of marketing. Her class looked at trends and was asked to put together a presentation for an influencer company. 'It was really nerve-racking to be talking about our ideas to experts, but it was great to get their input and they were impressed with what we had come up with.' She adds: 'We don’t visit companies at UK, so we don’t get this kind of exposure at home. Now I have a better idea of what work will be like when I graduate.'