Four Fresno State mass communication and journalism students said they were changed forever when they traveled abroad this year.
Yvette Mancilla, Mike Demmers, Michael Price and Jordan Nicholson went to Fiji for a service-learning trip in January 2015 and turned their experience into a documentary called “Fresno to Fiji,” which aired on Valley PBS in August.
Assistant professor Jes Therkelsen led the trip and organized the planning of the documentary, but the students created the film. They captured roughly 25 hours of footage during the 2 ½ week trip and turned it into a 20-minute film.
“The students were holding the camera, interviewing and adjusting microphones,” Therkelsen said. “They also did the editing, which took about eight months.”
The film shows students engaged in the village community in Fiji and participating in local events, experiencing food and a culture brand new to them.
“The coolest thing about the film is that there are two stories interwoven,” Therkelsen said. “We have the story of Fresno State students creating the film, but we also have the story of what village life is like in Fiji.”
Therkelsen organized a second trip in January 2016 and is working on a second part to the documentary with students from that trip. Therkelsen said the trip gave the students technical experience they could only get by traveling.
“They were able to learn the difficulty of working in a place that doesn’t have electricity all the time, a place with a different language and culture,” Therkelsen said.
But it wasn’t only work experience these students gained their service in Fiji changed them when they returned to campus, he said.
“It was very transformative. It changed the way they approached their own academics and the direction they want to take, not only with Fresno State, but also with life,” Therkelsen said. “I think it’s amazing that the documentary is able to remind them of that very special time.”
Therkelsen plans to use his extensive background in documentary film-making and his love for community service to create more opportunities for students to travel and create film.
“When you have an opportunity to travel somewhere far and meet someone new in a different community, my first reaction is, ‘Can we tell a story about it?’” Therkelsen said.
Fresno State provides many opportunities to travel. Therkelsen said If students want to go somewhere, he wants to be a part of it.
“Fresno State is a place where professors can really get involved in the community,” Therkelsen said. “Traveling is a great excuse to pay attention to a new culture, and if students want to go, I’d be more than happy to host another trip.”