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Professor, five students to spend spring break in Kazakhstan studying culture

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Five Emerson students led by Gregory Payne, associate professor of communication studies, will embark on a trip to Kazakhstan at the end of the month for a study in international communications and public diplomacy.

Armed with Flip Cams and a Twitter handle (which has yet to be created), the five travelers will work with other students from Kazakh universities on intercultural activities and diplomacy projects, breaking down barriers through dialogue about education systems, Kazakhstan’s view of the U.S., and cultural differences from food to leadership, according to Payne.

Payne said he had originally planned a trip to Almaty, Kazakhstan to give lectures on his own specializing in crisis communication and public diplomacy. Thinking it would be a significant opportunity for students, he said he consulted the U.S. Embassy to Kazakhstan, located in Astana, which he said was eager to assist in creating a program for Emerson and Kazakh students.

The American Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan could not be reached for immediate comment about the trip.

“You can read a lot about what people say about a country,” Payne said. “But if you can go and have that experience, it’s pretty exceptional.”

Mark Rizzo, a senior political communication and marketing communication double major going on the trip, said he is looking forward to visiting a country with a culture radically different from that of the West.

“Most of the places people end up getting to go are places like Western Europe, where they write in Latin script, they’re more likely to speak English as their second language, but Kazakhstan was a member of the USSR, [its] script is Cyrillic,” he said. “There’s a lot of diversity in ethnicity, in religion, in political viewpoints. I’m imagining pretty much everything is going to be different.”

Payne finalized much of the program over the last few weeks, making planning the trip a bit hectic. Rizzo said Payne had mentioned the possibility in the past, but the plan was not finalized until a few weeks ago.

“It was a Wednesday night, and we got an email saying if you want to go to Kazakhstan, let me know by Friday,” said Rizzo.

Payne said he was pleasantly surprised by the turnout, despite the difficulties of independently booking a 12,000 mile round-trip itinerary, while also receiving the necessary visas to travel, especially since the trip was not organized by the school. Airfare will be paid for out of pocket by each student, which, according to senior Catilin Collins, who will be attending the trip, said will cost $983. According to Payne, students will be staying at KIMEP University in Kazakhstan for free.

“I’ve found Emerson students to be very resourceful and very eager to take advantage of every opportunity,” Payne said.

According to Payne, a larger goal of the experience is to open communication with a country that Payne described as “not very open.”

Payne said that without large-scale international dialogue and relations, our education of a country like Kazakhstan is limited, leading to cultural misconceptions that are perpetuated by media and what Payne referred to as “infotainment.” Payne said he hopes the students on the trip will be able to see past those misconceptions.

Another goal of the trip is to open the eyes of students attending, and those back here at Emerson, according to Rizzo.

“For us, it’s about getting to know the people, getting to know what Kazakhstan is like, and seeing beyond Borat,” he said.

The students will be in Kazakhstan from Feb. 26 to March 5, and plan to share their experiences with the Emerson community on their return, according to Payne, through either presentations or forums.

February 21 2013, 12:49

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