OHIO students in Spain

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Students reflect on life changing trip to Spain


Twelve Ohio University students, including 11 from the Scripps College of Communication, spent their winter break in Spain studying Screenwriting and Documentary Storytelling.

For journalism student Emily Barbus, the program had a more profound effect on her than she had anticipated.

“I went into the program expecting to learn a little, enjoy the culture, and come back to Athens pretty similar to how I left. But this program, without sounding too cliché, changed my life. In just four weeks, I constantly pushed myself out of my comfort zone, made lifetime friends and learned so much,” Barbus said. “I not only learned how to make and produce a documentary, but I also learned about the incredible culture of Spain, especially the architecture.”

The students began their course of study in the Catalonian capital of Barcelona in northeast Spain, where they were introduced to the distinctive style of “God’s Architect,” Antoni Gaudi, with a visit to Parc Guell, a public park composed of gardens and architectonic elements that was originally part of Gaudi’s unsuccessful attempt to create a unique urban community. The students also toured the eccentric architect’s magnum opus, La Familia Sagrada, a Roman Catholic basilica whose breathtaking facades and spires have been under construction since 1882.

 “Our tour guide there was phenomenal,” journalism student Sarah Abrams said. “She was interactive and lively and so sweet, which made the experience extra educational. Plus, the actual architecture itself was just stunning.”

From Barcelona the group flew south to Seville, the capital city of the region of Andalusia, and the home base for the program. Working in teams of two, the students were required to write a 15-30 page documentary script about a subject they’d begun researching prior to departure. Media Arts student Caelin Parsons chose Spain’s fashion industry.

“I really liked this project because it was so tailored to what my partner and I wanted to do. I loved having the opportunity to reach out to designers, meet them, and see how they worked. I also thought it was interesting to see the script come together. We had a lot of creative freedom, which can sometimes be hard in a classroom setting,” Parsons said.

Abrams and journalism student Morris Wein teamed up to explore their Jewish heritage, which involved a trip to nearby Cordoba to visit a 14th century synagogue, one of the three best preserved Medieval synagogues in all of Spain.

“From this project I learned a lot about my religious history in Spain as well as how to properly format a two-column script, said Abrams. Wein agreed.

“Not only did I learn about making a documentary, but the four required interviews allowed me to become more immersed in the culture, and get to meet people I never would have otherwise,” Wein said.

The ability to speak Spanish is not required to take part in the four-week program. While some interviews were recorded in English, most were conducted in Spanish with the help of student translators from the University of Seville. But for Erick Meza, a business major and first generation Mexican American, the program afforded him the opportunity to use his Spanish language speaking skills.

“Although I am fluent in Spanish, there are differences from country to country,” Meza explained. “I still faced challenges with language barriers--pronunciations and different meanings, but I managed to quickly adapt to this new variation of Spanish and communicate efficiently, often translating for fellow classmates.”

Each student was also required to adapt a short story from Washington Irving’s “Tales of the Alhambra” into a short film screenplay. A two-day trip to Granada to tour the Alhambra, a palace fortress where Irving lived and wrote for a time during the 1820s, helped bring Irving’s stories to life. 

“It helped me a lot in the script adaptation to actually see where it took place,” media arts major Stazy Mazo said. “The Alhambra was beautiful and it made it much easier to write the script having been there.” Parsons agreed.

“ I loved the story I chose and that gave me more motivation to do a good job on it. When we visited the Alhambra, I was picturing where my story took place and it helped get a better image of the story in my mind,” Parsons said.

In addition to the workshops, field assignments and field trips, the students met weekly with Spanish filmmakers who screened and discussed their work.

“The screenings may have been the coolest part,” communication studies major Charlie Fessler-Krebs said. “Getting an inside look at producers and directors and their opinions of their own pieces really helped with the development of our own scripts.”

In addition to spending Christmas and Three Kings Day (Spain’s official end to the holiday festivities) in the ancient city of Seville, the students had the option of traveling to southern Portugal to celebrate New Year’s in the Mediterranean beach town of Albufeira.

 “It was nice to be with all the people in the group on our own. We had a lot of freedom and could spend the time there however we wanted. That trip brought everyone that went super close. The New Year’s celebration was the best one I’ve ever had. The fireworks were amazing. It was the best way to ring in the New Year by far,” Parsons reflected.

“This program was a great experience,” Parsons continued. “Spending four weeks in Spain gave me a new perspective and outlook on the world and the different cultures out there. I not only loved experiencing new things but now I want to experience as much as I can. The trip has made me a more adventurous person.”

Applications are now being accepted for the 2019-2020 winter break’s “Screenwriting and Storytelling in Spain” program which will be held December 15, 2019 through January 11, 2020. The program is open to all OHIO students. No screenwriting experience or Spanish language skills are necessary. Acceptances are rolling, so students may apply now at this Office of Global Opportunities webpage.

For more information, contact Program Director Frederick Lewis at lewisf@ohio.edu.

For additional information on the wide range of study away programs offered around the world to Ohio University students, please visit the Office of Global Opportunities website.