Posted May 13, 2010

Travel abroad expands horizons for Journalism grad

  • Credit: Joseph V. Labolito / Temple University Melanie Menkevich, who spent two semesters studying abroad and also participated in a service trip to Guatemala, considers international experience essential to undergraduate education.

Dreams of studying abroad started percolating for Melanie Menkevich during her summers at Wildwood on the Jersey Shore. As a teen, she worked on the boardwalk alongside students from around the world, making lifelong friends from Ireland, Egypt, Bulgaria and Russia.

“When I was with all of my friends, I thought this is where I belong and where I really feel most like myself,” said Menkevich. “I needed to go out and see the rest of the world firsthand.”

Cut to Temple, where the Journalism major began exploring study abroad opportunities and applied for back-to-back trips through the School of Communications and Theater. First stop: Dublin, Ireland for a month long summer program. It was her first passport and her first time leaving the country.

The students in the Dublin program took two courses: “Travel Writing” and “Irish Communal Identity.” The group of 13 lived together and explored the city together.

 “We saw every side of Dublin — the glitz and the glamour as well as the hardships,” said Menkevich.

She hated to leave but was buoyed by the fact that she’d be heading to London for the fall semester.

Each semester, approximately 40 students take part in the School of Communications and Theater’s London semester and study British cinema, theater and media. Most also conduct an internship with a British media outlet. For Menkevich, that meant writing daily blog entries for The Church of England Newspaper.

“Every day was different and new,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect, and that’s what I liked about it.”

Once again, it was hard to come back — the culture shock was intense. To cope, Menkevich and her fellow Temple Londoners took to reliving their experiences together. But soon Menkevich had re-immersed herself in classes and work. In her last few semesters at Temple, she stayed busy and won a coveted spot as an intern at the Philadelphia Daily News; served as arts and entertainment editor at The Temple News; and became publisher of Fourteenth Street, a magazine produced by Temple journalism students that comes out twice during the spring semester.

But traveling and working abroad had become a necessity for the Northeast Philadelphia native. For spring break, she applied for a week of service in Guatemala. During the day, she and fellow students built a house for a family in need in Alotenango. At night she had dinner and spent time with her host family, playing cards and bridging the language barrier with smiles and laughter. In one week, Menkevich became so close with her hosts it was again hard to leave. She promised to return for a visit.

The Guatemala trip sharpened Menkevich’s career sights. In addition to living and traveling abroad, she now hopes to help people and communities through a combination of service and journalism.

 “This is what I want to do: go to places, live and work with people and experience their culture and the way they live. It was just an amazing feeling to help people — both rewarding and fun,” she said.

More travel and work abroad awaits Menkevich after graduation. She has applied for a summer internship in Guatemala with the same group she worked with over spring break. In the fall, she’s secured a position with Teaching English to Foreign Learners (TEFL) in Barcelona, Spain. She also plans to continue her work as a journalist by freelancing.

She looks back at her college years with gratitude.

“I had never gone anywhere,” she said. “Temple just gave me so much — so many opportunities and experiences. I really learned a lot at Temple and became confident that I could make a career out of what I learned.”