Associate Professor of Practice Alan Buck embraced the joys of travel later in life.
“Not that long ago, I had only been to one other country,” said Buck. “Now, ten years later, I’ve traveled to ten countries.”
Most recently, Buck, a faculty member of Meredith’s Communication Department, has returned from two stints in Eswatini, Africa, as a Fulbright Specialist. He went for two weeks in late June of 2022 and again in March 2023. Although the two-year schedule was not the original plan, Buck said it allowed him to have a meaningful impact on the Journalism and Mass Communication Department (JMC) at the University of Eswatini – and beyond.
Most people are familiar with the Fulbright Scholars program. But when Buck was researching his options, he came across the Fulbright Specialist program and knew it was a great fit.
“It sounded exactly like me,” he said. “You are required to have a set of hard skills. And the timeframe is different, too – you’re expected to go for a minimum of 14 days and a maximum of 42 days. By design, it’s a short-term commitment because they know people who apply are working professionals in their field.”
After being accepted as a Fulbright Specialist, he was entered into a database. His profile was populated with keywords to connect him with a country that needed his particular skills.
“Once you get on the database and see a match you like, you have to apply, and then they actually have to accept you,” he said. “So it’s a multi-step process. But luckily, they took me.”
Eswatini is a landlocked country in southern Africa and one of the smallest on the continent. With just over a million citizens, Eswatini is the last absolute monarchy in Africa.
Having previously traveled to Rwanda as a board member of a nonprofit organization, Buck was excited to explore another country in Africa.
Initially, Buck thought he would be lecturing and training students and faculty at the University of Eswatini. But it quickly became apparent that he would need to be flexible if he was to succeed. Protests took place while he was there. The internet was unstable and was occasionally turned off by the government. The campus was closed for safety reasons, making it difficult to meet with colleagues and students, let alone hold lectures.
“When I got home I said to my students ‘I don’t want to ever hear you complain about anything again,’” he said. “We take for granted the beautiful building we have, and all the stuff and I mean, it was a good lesson for me, too, because, you know, you get caught up in it.”
Buck said the media environment required a significant shift in mindset.
“They’re far behind us in terms of social media as we know it – more like the late ‘90s when the internet was out there but no one knew what to do with it,” he said. “I’m very easy to work with and laid back, but when I first got there it rattled me.”
With uncertain accommodations, no cell phone service, and unreliable transportation, Buck decided to spend his first trip meeting with people, getting the lay of the land, and developing a plan.
Right away he recognized a need to connect students and young graduates with business leaders.
“They had a good idea for me to go to all the national radio stations, all the national newspapers, the TV stations, basically the entire country’s media outlets. I would meet with them and make a bridge with hiring students because they graduate and have no chance of getting a job,” he said. “They have to go to South Africa. They don’t want to go to South Africa. They want to stay in their country.”
Buck said the business and media leaders he met with said they would love to help.
“All I did was just connect the dots and put a bug in their ear about implementing something like this,” he said. “I spent my time talking, networking, meeting people, and understanding how everything works.”
He returned less than a year later with a clear path to help the University, and the country, advance its media reach.
The University of Eswatini’s radio station had been installed by the U.S. Embassy but was rarely used. Buck determined that his most important task was to help get the radio station, one of only two in the country, up and running. He looked at their resources and found they were missing a piece of vital equipment that cost a few hundred dollars.
During his assessment, Buck also realized the JMC only had access to one older video camera they would borrow from the University marketing department.
In preparation for his second stint, he received permission from Meredith’s communication department head and the dean of the School of Arts and Humanities to bring with him some equipment Meredith planned to replace.
“It still has plenty of life left in it,” he said. “We brought four high-definition, handheld cameras, tripods, and mics. I taught them the basics of how to use it all and how to shoot b-roll.”
Working with an Eswatini engineer, Buck helped to install the equipment so the station came online. He also built a website to house the radio station.
According to a Facebook post by the U.S. Embassy of Eswatini, Buck went “ … above and beyond to help. Not only did he conduct digital media and media literacy classes and find a way to raise funds for necessary equipment to take the campus radio station, Uneswa FM, online, but he also donated much-needed studio equipment, set up the JMC Department website, and initiated a connection between his U.S. students and Eswatini students of journalism.”
Although Buck has submitted his final report and the Fulbright project is officially completed, his partnerships and work continue.
“It was absolutely meant to be. I’m still talking to these people almost every day. Not only students and faculty but there’s a national dialogue with the media people I met – radio, newspapers, TV.”
Among his final recommendations were to create a national database of b-roll footage, develop a media code of ethics, and create a media institute.
“Currently, if a media outlet wants to report on something they pull down clips from citizens that are usually of low quality,” he said. “They need to gather footage of their beautiful country. We’re hoping to have a national media institute where one could go for a weekend to learn how to shoot video, edit, and how to post content properly.”
The impact of his Fulbright has also been felt in North Carolina. Meredith students have participated in Zoom calls with Eswatini students, an experience that prompted lively discussions and one he plans to continue. He is also helping to establish an advisory board for Meredith’s Department of Communication and hopes the board members can serve as an occasional resource for Eswatini students.
When reflecting on his experience, Buck describes it as “ … absolutely amazing. I don’t use the phrase life-changing a lot. But that was definitely life-changing.”
Photo and video courtesy Alan Buck