Published on Nov. 10, 2022, at 12:17 a.m.
by Jamie Zimmerman.
According to the Institute of International Education, “The overall number of [U.S.] students studying abroad for credit … more than doubled” from 2001 to 2016.
Remarkably, this number continues to grow despite the travel disruption caused by the the COVID-19 pandemic. Now students can even find a study abroad program for any of the seven continents of the world.
But how does this relate to public relations?
At its core, “public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with key stakeholders to contribute to the way an organization is perceived,” according to the Public Relations Student Society of America.
By making the choice to study abroad, PR students can continue to sharpen the industry-based skills learned at their home universities in an international environment.
Why should PR students go abroad?
The most noticeable takeaways from studying abroad for students are traveling the world, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people. When they dig deeper, students will find that studying abroad can allow them to “develop highly-valued skills such as intercultural communication, foreign languages, adaptability, and problem-solving” according to the study abroad office at NC State.
Public relations students can take these study abroad outcomes one step further.
When asked how she thinks studying abroad helped her in relation to PR practice, Kostuke
said, “When studying abroad, you are constantly being put in new, and sometimes challenging, situations. I think the biggest thing I learned was how to adapt to new circumstances on the fly — especially with COVID-19 hitting when we were hundreds of miles off the coast of Vietnam with limited Wi-Fi.”
Kostuke also emphasized how one’s communication skills are challenged and developed in various situations, such as making friends in an unfamiliar social setting or engaging with locals in different countries.
Dr. Jameson Hayes, associate professor at The University of Alabama and faculty director of the study abroad program “UA in the Caribbean,” provided another example of how PR students can fine-tune their skills while abroad in ways that extend beyond that of their home university.
The UA in the Caribbean program operates in Sint Maarten. Hayes explained how traditional word-of-mouth and radio are of much greater importance there than in the U.S. because of a less developed media landscape. Sint Maarten is also 60% French and 40% Dutch, meaning that brands must operate under two different governments on a 34-square-mile island. Along with gaining an understanding of the island’s tourism-driven economy, students also learn to target and serve multiple audiences.
“These challenges are fundamentally different than those found in our classrooms in Tuscaloosa,” said Dr. Hayes.
How will studying abroad help PR graduates?
Dr. Hayes remarked that now more than ever public relations is operating in a global marketplace.
“This means that students need to understand the nuances of practicing advertising and PR in different parts of the world in terms of cultural differences, media landscapes and regulatory environments,” said Hayes.
Kostuke also noted that she applies almost everything she learned abroad to her work in her current role as the partner account manager for Dollar Flight Club, a travel media company that shares travel-based newsletters and reduced-price flight deals with its subscribers. “From the way I interact with new people, to the way in which I work in a team, so much of this can be attributed to the lessons I learned while studying abroad,” added Kostuke.
Studying abroad during college can even give graduates an advantage on the job hunt. Statistics from International Education of Students (IES) show that 97% of study abroad students found employment within 12 months of graduation, when only 49% of college graduates found employment in the same period.
According to IES Abroad President and CEO Gregory D. Hess, as quoted on the IES website, “Employers understand the extraordinary benefits of study abroad, and many seek out graduates who made their study abroad dreams a reality. After all, the skills you learn when you’re abroad — adaptability, global understanding, leadership, and independence, to name a few — are directly applicable to finding success in any professional environment.”
PR courses in study abroad programs
In study abroad programs such as “UA in the Caribbean,” courses are intentionally advertising and PR centered to give such students the chance to directly gain experience that correlates with their majors or minors, Hayes said.
Three of the courses being offered in the UA in the Caribbean program this year are Content Marketing, International PR and Social Media Analytics for Tourism Marketing.
Though with any study abroad program, PR students can find a course offered that relates in some capacity back to the basics of public relations.
For example, in her time abroad, one of the courses Kostuke took was International Journalism. Kostuke explained how this course focused on studying the types of advertisements and the different messaging used around the world prior to visiting each country. This course allowed her to strengthen her PR knowledge while being able to partake in a study abroad program that was not directly tied to public relations.
There are numerous programs that PR students can research and choose from with regard to studying abroad. Nevertheless, no matter the city or continent, students can benefit from international experiences in a variety of ways that can set them apart from their peers in both their personal and professional lives.