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Making a mark in Missouri

Not only did he survive an encounter with lions and tigers - Tom Maclean also learnt how to shoot TV news stories and even met the German Chancellor while completing his degree as at the Missouri School of Journalism as a La Trobe exchange student.

The executive producer is bleating “make it sexy” across the newsroom; the police scanner crackles with reports of a gunfight, and I’m covered in sweat, claw marks and tiger hair, because I’ve just got back from meeting some big cats in a private zoo right in the middle of the USA. In other words it’s turning into a pretty standard scene at 4:55pm at KOMU-TV8 News in Columbia, Missouri.

KOMU is the local NBC affiliate TV station. It’s the real deal.  It’s just one of the professional news organisations you can find yourself working for while studying at the Missouri School of Journalism as I did for all of 2009 after completing the first two years of my Bachelor of Journalism at La Trobe University.

I flew to Missouri in January, 2009. I hopped off the plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan, only to find I had another eight hours of flights and bus rides through minus 20 degree weather to get to Columbia, Missouri. Traveling is not always easy, but don’t let that snow on your American dream.

To get into one of the award-winning news or advertising organisations around Missouri, you sign up for a practical subject, skill yourself up, and then gain class credit for working for free. For broadcast, this involves training with Greeley Kyle in a subject called Broadcast News 2. Initially you worry these professors might pull your arms off if you make a grammatical error. But you begin to realise they are actually some of the smartest, funniest and most caring teachers you’ll ever meet.

I had managed to avoid the need to attend a fat camp, so for the American summer break I flew to Europe for an internship with Reuters. Big name companies like Reuters , the Associated Press or European Voice say ‘oh you’re from Missouri, you’ll know what you’re doing’. When people tell you are going to achieve, you just do.

Like for most 20 year-olds, I wasn’t ‘totally fine’ with shooting video on a camera worth half a million dollars or with going to NATO and shoving a microphone in the face of the German Chancellor and barking questions about security policy in Somalia. Initially you might want to crawl into a ball and cry like a terrified five year-old. But you get over the stress.

After my time at Reuters and then a bit more travel around Turkey and Greece I headed back to Missouri. Experience, connections and learning aside, Columbia is College Town U.S.A. It’s filled with 50,000 baseball hitting, Bud Light-chugging American college students – all of whom think you’re totally awesome for eating Vegemite and having touched a kangaroo.

You can make some lifelong friends. A special kind of bond is formed between two people when they have to huddle together in a live truck at 5am while stranded in the snow. Dorms, fraternities, sororities, sports teams, study groups, clubs and associations – there are plenty of ways to meet people.

I managed to travel a lot too – Las Vegas, Chicago, Nashville, Kentucky, North Carolina and Iowa. As with any travel, you learn any prejudices you even considered having are mostly wrong. There’s a lot more to the U.S. and everyone in it than you might assume.

In Missouri you can find yourself overwhelmed by terrifying tigers, tough professors, and light beer. But America is not a country that simply lays it all on the table before you. Like an American you have to “grab life by the balls, kick ass and take names”. I found if you embrace this with confidence you’ll have some great opportunities, great friends and great times.

La Trobe University has an exchange relationship with the Missouri School of Journalism. For more information, see the student exchange section of the La Trobe International site. (

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