Q&A with Professor Dennis Darling

Words of wisdom from a well-seasoned study abroad advisor, educator


I sat down with Professor Dennis Darling in his office to talk about his Photography Maymester in Prague and why he thinks it’s important for students to travel.

Q: How long have you been teaching this Maymester abroad? How did it get started?

A: It started almost nine years ago as a summer session. Maymester became possible and it’s actually about $2500 cheaper and only nine days shorter than a full semester abroad. It’s like a free class because it’s in the summer. You can take 15 hours in the spring and get an extra three hours without charge. You don’t have to pay fees or anything.

Q: What inspired you to choose Prague as the location and ‘Documentary Storytelling’ as the course topic?

A: It chose me–it spoke to me…the year before, I was in Brazil. And Brazil is not really conducive to picture making. The economy is not nearly as robust as Europe and it’s not nearly as safe. Prague–you can go out pretty much anytime day or night. Pizza costs about as much as it does here and that kind of thing. If you’ve never been to Europe before, that’s the perfect starter city. The subways are easy. People speak English. There are all kinds of pluses there.

Q: What are the top three benefits of experiencing a Maymester in Prague?

A: If you’re going to be a journalist, it really makes sense if you’re not [planning] to be in Austin. Most of journalism is done in foreign countries. Photojournalism, especially, is almost always in Europe or South America. The second thing is, just to learn how other cultures are. Probably a third of the people that go to Prague haven’t been to Europe before. Going back to journalism, you have to know how the rest of the world lives and studying abroad is good for that. The third thing: you become much more self-sufficient. You have to reach for things. “What does that food have in it, before I eat it?” You know? It challenges. Even stepping off the curb, the cars are coming in the different direction. You have to be right there in the moment thinking about what you’re doing. Not to mention, you learn to appreciate things like air-conditioning.

Q: What’s the most exciting or spontaneous experience you’ve had with students abroad?

A: That’s a really good question. I think going out to Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp. By chance, there was an extra seat with another college group going out there. The next year, I had our provider get a bus, but also a Holocaust survivor came along with the students and me.

Q: If you were going to give one reason why students should go on this Maymester, what would it be? What would be your selling point?

A: Prague gives you a really good sense of European history and architecture without the hassle and expense of some of the bigger cities like London and Paris. It’s probably a third to a half less expensive to do everything. It’s a perfect place to start and it’s centrally located. [During Maymester,] we get two to three weekends off to travel so you can be in Berlin, Venice and Salzburg in a few hours. In five hours you can be in some of the biggest cities in Europe.

Learn about different study abroad opportunities online at world.utexas.edu/abroad