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Program offers international bridge for journalism

CHRIS CODUTO / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Isabel Sepulveda (left), a 2004 international studies graduate, and geography graduate student Jimmy Klepek look through a photo album from their three week trip to Chile. Sepulveda and Klepek were two of many students who traveled to Chile and wrote articles for the Tucson Citizen.
By Nathan Tafoya
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, August 9, 2004
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Students interested in international journalism may find a home in a fledgling program that merges culture and journalism to create a unique perspective on life in Latin America.

Last semester, nine students participated in the initial program, which included a three-unit class and a two-unit trip to Chile that lasted nearly three weeks.

The program is a product of efforts by the journalism and Near Eastern Studies departments and the centers for Latin American Studies and Middle Eastern Studies to produce journalists armed with knowledge of the historical, socio-political and socio-economic issues of the countries they write about.

The students spent the semester writing about various aspects of Chile's economics and environment. Their articles and stories ran in a series at the Tucson Citizen last week.

James Klepek, who received his master's degree in Latin American Studies this May, had no prior experience with journalism other than a brief internship in Guatemala City last summer.

Klepek said he was able to incorporate personal interests about sustainable development and development theory into the trip.

"It's pretty exciting to find things that have interested me about Chile, like current issues that are going on there, and be able to write a story about it," said Klepek.

Klepek chose to focus on the notion of tourism as an alternative to such practices as foresting for development.

Part of the trip's requirement was writing two or three articles for the Tucson Citizen, which sent an assistant editor to Chile with the students. To write the articles, the students were required to speak Spanish so they could conduct interviews with Chileans.

That was not a problem for Klepek, who is from Alaska.

"I speak Spanish pretty well," he said. "(Though) I was born pretty far away from anything that has to do with Latin America."

Taking Spanish courses in high school and studying abroad in Spain and Costa Rica gave Klepek a taste of the Latin world.

"That's how I got into Latin American Studies," Klepek explained. "I just thought it was a really interesting region."

Isabel Sepulveda, an international studies student who graduated in May, was one of the few undergraduates on the trip to Chile.

Sepulveda focused on Chile's copper and mining, which she said has traditionally been the country's largest industry.

"We learned a lot when it comes to real world experience, because it was the sort of thing that none of us had written for journalism before," said Sepulveda.

Sepulveda said she was able to adapt to new situations, like the time she found out she and another student were going to need steel-toed boots to be able to visit a copper mine.

Sepulveda had not packed steel-toed boots in her suitcase.

"We were in this small town and there's lots of places to buy security boots because everybody that lives there is a miner," Sepulveda said. "But finding them in women's sizes was a lot more difficult."

Sepulveda and the other student eventually found a cobbler who sold them black, "army-style" boots. The cobbler took their measurements, opened the boots, put in steel toes and then sewed the boots back up for the next day.

"My boots broke two days later, but it worked for when we needed (it)," Sepulveda said.

Sepulveda may not recommend a certain Chilean cobbler to anyone, but she had good things to say about her experience in the UA's new program.

"I think it was a wonderful opportunity because it was really a way for us to use what we know and what we love and what we study, which is Latin America and to let Tucsonans know about it in a way that that otherwise they would have never heard," she said.

According to UA News Services, funding for the first three years of the program has come primarily from grants garnered by the Center for Latin American Studies and the Middle Eastern Studies department.

Additional funding will come from the journalism department and the UA Institute for the Study of Planet Earth.

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