Eleonora Citarrella is from Palermo on the island of Sicily.
After spending a summer holiday in Scotland’s beautiful capital city, Eleonora had fallen in love with Edinburgh and spent the next few years trying to hatch a plan that would see her return to the city to study. After spending some time working out what subject she might like progress a career in, she was accepted onto the BA (Hons) Public Relations and Marketing Communications at Queen Margaret University. She is now in her fourth year.
Eleonora quickly developed an affinity with Edinburgh. She felt comfortable in the city and she adored its rich history, fabulous views, wonderful architecture and its multi-cultural community. She also felt she had found her fit at Queen Margaret University - loving its green space, small size and its attention to the student experience.
Eleonora has taken full advantage of all of the opportunities that have been available to her through her undergraduate degree at Queen Margaret University, including a semester studying abroad at Central Connecticut State University, USA! She tells us more about her love of Scotland, the amazing experience she had studying and living in the USA, and how the BA (Hons) Public Relations and Marketing Communications at QMU is helping her shape her future career.
Why did you choose Queen Margaret University?
It is very typical for high school students in Italy to spend part of their summer holidays in an English-speaking country’s institution, where they can not only improve their knowledge of the language, but also understand more about a different culture.
I personally spent three of my high school years summer holidays abroad, and the first time was right here, in Edinburgh. If you don’t believe in love at first sight, I may assure you that you can now, because that’s exactly what happened to me. Since that very first visit, Edinburgh felt like a second home for me: with its rich history, charming views, breath taking architectures and multi-cultural communities, it stole my heart in less than two weeks.
I promised myself that I would eventually return to complete an undergraduate degree. In 2019, I was accepted to Queen Margaret University and, again, it was love at first sight. Its green spaces, small size and unique attention to an individual’s development and well-being convinced me that it was the right place for me to make my own career flourish.
What attracted you to your course at QMU?
In the fast-paced world we live in, understanding how modern media, marketing communications and professional PR strategies work is the key.
I was attracted by the variety of the modules offered, as we can find the perfect mix of theory and practice. Our competences now range from digital content creation to journalism, film, music and media theories, as well as the creation of professional PR campaigns.
The course also allows students to tailor their learning towards their own career aspirations, allowing us to choose modules that really interest us and that can help shape our future careers. There are also excellent ways to make connections with professionals working in industry - from visit days from external agencies and organisations, to working placement opportunities.
Tell us about your exchange trip to Central Connecticut State University, USA, in your 3rd year.
It was probably the most unique, wholesome and beautiful experience I’ve ever had the fortune to live in my life! Central Connecticut State University is the place where I met some of my now best friends, and where I came to understand the concept of the “American dream”. Despite the large scale of the University, I believe there are a lot of similarities with QMU. There is a strong focus on individual’s wellbeing and development, and the lecturers always make themselves available for a chat. I was left speechless by the number of different clubs, societies and other resources on offer which help students make the most of their university experience. I left a huge piece of my heart at Central Connecticut State University, and I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped me during that journey.
Since the beginning of my university career, I had always wanted to experience studying in America. During high school, we were offered the opportunity to spend an entire year abroad, but the competitive nature of the studies wouldn’t allow me to leave at that time.
So, when this occasion was presented by QMU, I applied without even thinking twice. When I choose the University, I was guided by my instinct. The name “Central” gave me the idea of an old, well-established institution full of traditions, connections and opportunities, from which I could “take flight”! Moreover, Connecticut has always been one of the American States I admired the most. New England hosts some of the Ivy League universities, as well as having beautiful scenery, history and art.
The experience wasn’t all plain sailing. There were moments of pure joy, as well as difficulties, and days in which I questioned, “Was it really worth it?” The challenges of the visa process, fear of the unknown, uncertainties regarding the pandemic and homesickness (I was “homesick” for QMU more than my actual home in Palermo). There’s ups and downs in everything, and I would do it again in a heartbeat!
I saw snowstorms for the first time and I did my very first snow angel!. I learned what an American brunch with friends is. I watched American football on TV and I had the nicest group of friends try to explain the rules to me. I saw the biggest sport facilities of my entire life and was taught how to play basketball. I discovered Hartford, the city where the University is located, together with Mystic (where the real Mystic Pizza is situated!) and New Haven (that hosts the wonderful, prestigious Yale University. Go Bulldogs!). I got up at 6am to spend an entire day in Boston with my friends. I had one of my funniest nights ever playing music bingo at the University Cafè, Devil’s Den. I spent an entire week on holiday in New York, browsing through the touristy places and also experiencing the lesser-known locations. I watched an NBA match (way funnier and more entertaining than other European sport matches!). I cheered for my building, in the student halls, during the games of the Dean’s Cup (we did not win, but it was still a lot of fun). After four long months, I happily started to embrace the “American college clothing style”, which I find cool and comfy. I walked through snowy and spring-blossoming parks and, on my very last day, I dressed up for a very emotional goodbye dinner with my best friends, at the end of which we reminisced about the highlights of the experience.
These are just the highlights of my time at Central Connecticut State University, but there was so much more!
"The practical aspects of our course prepare us well for future work in various fields. We already know how to create a professional website for a business, create digital content, build a PR strategy and organise events!"
Would you encourage other students to undertake a study abroad opportunity?
I’d encourage anyone to do it. It can enrich your life in more ways that you can imagine.
Don’t be scared to move out of your comfort zone and make the most of everything you’re offered. And I’m saying that with tears of happiness on my face.
What were classes like?
I chose to take four modules and had four hours a week per class. Usually, the first part of the class began with a lecture, during which the instructor had some slides prepared and explained the topic of that day (readings were meant to be completed before each class, so that we were prepared and could ask any questions we had).
Some classes were more interactive, which means that we did group presentations or activities, or even watched movies that were related to that class’s specific topic. Others were more theoretical based, such as the “American Government and Politics” class, which I chose to undertake to understand more about the American political system and history. That was definitely the class I loved the most, together with Advertising and Promotion. However, every lecturer adopted a different method, which made everything even more challenging and interesting.
What were your favourite moments while in the USA?
The best ones were the trips.
None of us exchange students travelled back home for Easter day. The holidays were too short and the trips too long and expensive. So, our friend Maddie invited Marta (from Spain), Paolina (from Bulgaria) and me to spend the night celebrating Easter with her family in Southington. I cannot fully describe how kind, warm and welcoming her family members were, particularly her mum. We had dinner together with burgers, fries and ice cream and got to know Maddie’s little niece and siblings.
When we woke up the next day, we immediately found boxes full of gifts around the house: a Starbucks gift card, notepads, flip flops, candies, cuddly toys and so much more. We then got ready and ate a real, home-made American brunch: yogurt, granola, fruit, waffles with any topping you wished for; mac and cheese; roasted ham and sausages. We also made our own cocktails, and then helped the little girl colouring her eggs.
It was such a happy occasion and we wrapped up the day with a very American tradition - smashing the eggs in the garden for good luck! It all felt so wholesome, and my heart was full of gratitude. It was one of the best Easter days ever.
We heard you had great feedback from senior staff at Connecticut Uni
Yes, I did. They are to different awards, and the President’s List is directed towards those students who have a 4.00 GPA, the highest one, and involves any department. The Dean’s List is divided by all the different degree programmes.
It was not easy to achieve those results. I studied hard, but I also got a lot of help from both the instructors and my colleagues, who were always happy to share their knowledge and experience. If it wasn’t for their support, I could have never done it. However, when I received the news and received the President’s letter, at home in Italy, I was so proud of myself.
How do you feel your QMU course is preparing you for your career?
I love that our course offers us so many opportunities to help our career flourish, is that there are numerous opportunities to make industry contacts.
Placement interviews and programmes allow us to meet a range of professionals from different fields, particularly public relations agencies, charities and public administration officers. It is so helpful to have them share their experiences and knowledge with us.
The practical aspects of our course prepare us well for future work in various fields. We already know how to create a professional website for a business, create digital content, build a PR strategy and organise events!
Do you feel your international exchange experience has helped develop you personally and academically?
Absolutely. Even though Scotland is not my home country, and I was well aware of all the joys and sorrows of living abroad, the “American dream” is different and unique. Going to the United States allowed me to understand new perspectives and ideas, why people thought and acted in a certain way, as well as the beliefs they hold.
I think the most noticeable changes I experienced were the growth of my self-awareness, self-esteem and confidence; and the maturity and desire for even more personal challenges in the future.
Have you felt supported by academic and professional services staff at QMU?
Yes, certainly. I truly have the best experiences with QMU professionals. Our programme leader, Ann Turner, is the most supportive person ever and always offers great advice.
Paolo, my personal academic tutor, is always available for a chat and made the biggest contributions in my academic growth.
QMU offers a range of different services to support students, I have made a lot of use of the the Effective Learning Services (ELS). The competence of the ELS staff and the insights that they gave me helped boost my grades more than I could ever have imagined.
For the exchange programme, QMU’s international team was also very helping in supporting me through the exchange process, although we were encouraged to overcome obstacles on our own. Believe me, there’s a lot of preparation required for an exchange semester, and you’ll get the biggest satisfaction by doing most of it by yourself. But remember, at QMU, you’re never alone!
Can you focus your studies on areas that are of particular interest to you?
Yes. In third and fourth year, students take an optional module from a list of different subject areas. We can choose either the ones that most interest us, the ones that we think are the most challenging and can help us grow and learn, or the ones that will help us most in the future.
I took Communication, Arts and Activism in third year. This allowed me to learn more about the study of social movements, and the historical, political and social contexts behind them.
This year, since I have the hobby of photography, I’m taking Photography and Visual Culture, which I’m finding extremely interesting.
How would you like your career to develop following graduation?
I have three main ideas.
The first one would be to obtain a PhD bursary and continue my academic path, which would ultimately lead to a teaching role.
The second one would be to work in the public sector, particularly for a city’s public administration, and work for their PR and communication fields.
Finally, thanks to my exchange programme, I undertook a class in Organisational Communication and developed a passion for the field. Therefore, my other option is possibly to study a Master’s programme in Human Resource Management.
This course provides great opportunities and different options to work in a variety of fields, so I am excited about what will come next.
[Published October 2022]
Film, Media and Communications (inc. Public Relations)
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