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“The Sicily Class”

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Blog entry and photos by: Katherine Neubert

Journalism 391R: Travel Writing and Photojournalism (aka “the Sicily class”) is by far, hands down, no doubt about it the best class I’ve ever taken at UMass. For starters, it gets you out of the class room and into real life… Sicily, to be exact.

You can only take this class during the spring semesters because it takes you to Sicily over Spring Break. Yes, there is actual class before and after you travel to Sicily. The class meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 6p.m. to 8p.m., and there is an application and essay you need to complete and submit sometime in early Fall to get into the class.

So now you think you’re automatically turned off because its a late two hour class that prevents you from flying to Cancun and doing the exact same thing you do here every weekend, except on a beach for a week. Think again. I promise it’s worth it.

The first few weeks of the class prepare you for what you’re about to do in Sicily. They teach you how to write vignettes and how to work your super sexy Digital SLR that you need, if you’re a photographer. Oh, right – the class is split into two groups – half writers, half photographers. There are about 16 spots available in the class altogether. The photographers have to do a little writing as well. After all, this is still a journalism course.

img_1350Then, before you know it, Spring Break arrives and you’re on a four-hour bus ride to JFK International Airport in New York City, flying to Italy. Insane, right? Not really. This trip could not be anymore organized and thought out. It was almost seamless, in my eyes at least. Now for some introductions.

Meet Rick Newton and Karen Skolfield. As soon as you walk in to class, you can instantly tell they are BFFs (best friends forever), which is no surprise since they’ve been doing this together for almost 10 years.

Rick is the photo teacher, which is kind of hard to miss since he is always promoting Macs over PCs and will never stop whining about something called a Godzilla Pod, or a Guerilla Pod?

Then there is Karen. She is the writing teacher who really shakes your writing into shape (in a very good way), and also has a deep love for donkeys. You’ll figure that one out later.

We travel with another class from the University of Hartford as well. There are about the same amount of them as us, and they definitely bring some variety to the trip, among other things. Some are watercolor painters, and others photographers.

This class is amazing in an obscene amount of ways. You and your classmates are carefully hand chosen to be part of an eye-opening experience. Everyone is just as into it as you are, which is an environment I’m not familiar with. One of the things I enjoyed most was meeting people who have the same passions and interests as me. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to get to know them before you go, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone is so high on life and excited to be traveling, that on the bus ride to JFK everything just falls into place. Naturally.

img_1365Never before have I traveled overseas with people I hardly knew, for such a detailed and structured week. It was the perfect amount of time and one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. When you’re there, you never want to leave. And when you return, it’s like you never even left. Now the real work has begun; writing vignettes, photoshopping pictures, as well as creating a portfolio and a book. You are still living Sicily each and every class, and with all that you’ve come away with, it won’t be easy to forget.

Katherine Neubert can be reached at kneubert@student.umass.edu  

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