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Video bloggers offer new look at Study Abroad trips

Graydon in Spain

Illinois State Study Abroad video blogger Graydon in Spain.

Study Abroad student Sara McBride teared up a little when she stepped off the plane in Hong Kong in January, already missing home and exhausted from her 16-hour flight.

But she quickly met up with her assigned mentor, then another student from Illinois State. Even the comfort of spotting a McDonald’s restaurant helped. McBride started to adapt—even quicker than she expected—and she’s sharing that journey as part of a new Study Abroad video blogging project on YouTube.

“I was excited, nervous, overwhelmed, tired, homesick, but overall very excited,” McBride says in her second video, posted to Study Abroad’s YouTube channel after she landed.

That full range of experiences is exactly what the Study Abroad social media team had in mind when it conceived the first-time video correspondents project. Four students were chosen from a pool of volunteers, including McBride, who were spending spring 2014 in four locations around the world.

Research is an important part of the process for a prospective Study Abroad participant, and the raw, unscripted nature of the video blogs can show “all the ups and downs” of the experience, said Haley Daignault, an advisor in the Office of International Studies and Programs who helped launch the project.

The video correspondents are part of a broader effort to beef up Study Abroad’s social media footprint, which includes the launch of an Instagram account and Pinterest page, said Daignault. Nearly 200 students participated in the Study Abroad program during the fall 2013 and spring 2014 semesters.

Kaitlin at Leaning Tower of Pisa

Study Abroad student Kaitlin Collins at the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.

“If a student was considering studying abroad, maybe they’ll see one of these videos and think, ‘Look, that’s a student I know, or a student I’ve seen in class. If they can do it, maybe I can do it too,’” she said.

The four students were given some general guidelines—they were asked to post videos before departure, after arrival, midway through, and the return home—but it’s up to the students what to say and show. A Redbird studying in Granada, Spain, took to the streets for a selfie walk-and-talk, for example.

“My videos are honest, and I think other students will see that when they watch them,” McBride told STATEside. “I wished this was available to me when I first began thinking about studying abroad.”

The video bloggers were chosen strategically based on their location, Daignault said. Italy and Granada are popular destinations, and Canterbury, England, is drawing more and more Redbirds too. McBride was chosen to represent a non-traditional Study Abroad destination: Hong Kong.

“I hope my videos and insight into my experience in Hong Kong will help other students open their horizon when thinking upon where to travel,” said McBride, a junior organizational and leadership communication major.

Video correspondent Kaitlin Collins wanted to study abroad to “find a better sense of myself and the world as a whole.” The sophomore Spanish education major and Italian studies minor is spending her spring in Italy, where she’s already traveled to Verona for Valentine’s Day and Milan for Fashion Week.

Collins planned to blog and shoot video in Italy anyway, so the correspondents project was a perfect fit. In her second video, which was shared on YouTube in early February, she was joined by her roommates as they talked about events they went to, their class schedules, and more.

“These videos are a great way to ease students’ apprehensions about applying to Study Abroad,” Collins said. “This way students can know a little bit more of what they have to look forward to.”

Illinois State plans to highlight new students and new locations for the fall 2014 semester.

Ryan Denham can be reached at