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For the fourth consecutive year, Point Park University School of Communication students traveled abroad for two weeks to complete a unique course that exposes students to the media and culture of other countries.

Ten students and four professors spent 11 days in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, and visited a combination of media sites, advertising and public relations agencies, public radio and television stations, and a number of cultural sites. The course goal, according to the professors, is to be able to compare and contrast media platforms and professions between the United States and foreign models, observe them first hand, and examine a foreign culture. Previous trips took students and faculty to London, Toronto, Dublin and Belfast.

A standout of the trip was a daylong tour and workshop of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, an independent international news and broadcast organization that broadcasts programs in 28 languages on the radio, Internet and television. It reaches 21 countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Russia and Central Asian countries. The students learned how dangerous the work is for RFE/RL journalists in its 20 local bureaus but they do it because they are committed to providing uncensored news and information in countries where a free press is either banned by the government or not fully established.

In a session with Akbar Ayazi, associate director of broadcasting to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, the Point Park contingent learned, for example, of a recent distribution of 20,000 free solar powered radio sets to reach that goal.

Students visited many cultural sites, including Cesky Krumlov, a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site, which included a castle and village on the Vltava River in Southern Bohemia.

The students wrote about their experiences in reflection papers at the end of the trip, in addition to their pre-trip coursework and daily blogs.

"I think that this trip, in many ways, has helped me grow as a person. For one, it has made me more independent in many ways. I traveled to another continent without my parents and was forced to be independent. I learned many things about how to act in a different country and what to expect," wrote Maggie O'Hara, a junior photography major.

Mary Eklund, a senior photography and digital media major, said she particularly enjoyed the RFE/RL visit.

"I was absolutely blown away by all the hard work done by the people working for Radio Free Europe. I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to spend an entire day in the presences of these astonishing individuals," she wrote.

Senior advertising and public relations major and photojournalism minor Kristen Thomas agreed, and she noted a lesson she learned from that visit.

"Before, when I would think of the Middle East, all I thought about were terrorists. And that nothing good could come from there and just didn't understand why the United States keeps sending troops over to help," she wrote. "Ayazi opened my eyes. He made me realize that there are millions of innocent people, whose lives are at risk every single day. He made me see that the people in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are not all bad people. Most of the citizens are just there, trying to live their lives without undergoing any harm. They are just caught in a bad situation. I couldn't believe how influential RFE/RL is in the Middle East."

Thomas and graduate student Pamela Walck created a website filled with student work from the trip to record all the students' experiences and work, including photography. It can be accessed at

Faculty are currently researching sites for the spring 2012 visit, including Rome, Montreal/Quebec, Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland, and London.