This July, thanks to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund, I was able to attend a Political Communication at the Complutense University of Madrid. The course focused on how communication departments work within international organizations like UN, FAO or UNHCR and NGOs like Greenpeace or Amnesty International, for example.
Now, weeks on, my mother jokes that I can no longer watch spokespeople on TV without criticising their body language. And she is not wrong, the lessons learnt in Madrid will stay with me well beyond this summer.
I chose to attend this course because it provided a balance between theoretical knowledge and practical experience, against the background of a vibrant city like Madrid. Political communication is an exciting but difficult sector to break into if you lack practical skills. In order to develop more experience, we were asked to pick a current political topic and an international institution and come up with a communications strategy that fitted the institution’s goals.
My partner and I chose the current refugee crisis and the European Union as a case study. Prior to our seminars, we researched the new European Agenda on Migration to get to grips with the current situation. In our practical sessions, we wrote several press releases and took part in the simulation of a press conference. My favourite session was rewatching all those conferences to get feedback from our classmates and professors. Again, I succumbed to the same criticism that I have received in all my public speech sessions – Maria, you just talk too fast.
This course has taught me skills that will carry on with me well after university. There was an unexpected emphasis on social media, as we spent 3 sessions learning about the latest online trends. Our lecturers transmitted us a valuable message – even smaller parties can make a bigger difference online. One of those sessions was the headquarters of Amnesty International Madrid, where their campaign manager talked us through their latest project on housing and affordability.
However, it was my classmates that made the experience absolutely terrific. Complutense University has important links to Latin America and many Latin American students cross the Atlantic to experience Spain over the summer. I became friends with a bunch of charismatic and witty Mexicans. Most of them were graduates and were already working in communications. One girl was working for the Mexican Army and she told hilarious stories about the tumultuous relationship between the media and some military generals. Their advice for graduate life was as important as the seminars themselves.
The long-term impact of the PGA Fund is already manifesting itself at university now. This term, ‘The Columnist’, a social affairs opinion magazine produced by University of Edinburgh students will be publishing an article of mine examining the European response to the recent refugee crisis. Without the Fund, I would not have been able to explore this crisis and learn about the ways institutions try to spread the work they do.
Looking back on it, a fantastic experience all-round!