Photos provided by Jason Swanson.
When looking back at her college experience, one of the most unique opportunities University of Kentucky and KRNL alum Arizzona Albright had was being a part of a hospitality and tourism television series.
The series, “Transformative Travels,” was based on two separate hospitality management and tourism courses taught by University of Kentucky professor Dr. Jason Swanson.
Swanson came up with the idea of the tourism class while riding on one of the charter buses the UK basketball team uses to travel. He thought it would be interesting to hop on a bus and have a domestic travel experience, as opposed to flying elsewhere in the world.
Soon after, Swanson struck up a friendship with Douglas High, who at the time was working on a documentary for Kentucky Education Television (KET). Swanson pitched the idea to High of a travel series showcasing UK students and their real-world reactions to the experience. The two collaborated on the idea of “Transformative Travels” and put the production into play.
High served as the executive producer and director of the first season and consulting producer for the second. He has been producing documentaries for KET for about a decade and has 12 films in rotation with the educational television station.
Co-executive producer of the second season, Brian Volland is a communications specialist for UK. Volland has also worked with KET in the past, producing independent content for the television station.
After two TV seasons and an anticipated plan for a third, Swanson, High, Volland and Albright reminisced on the vision and production process.
Swanson’s vision behind “Transformative Travels” was to have students recognize how important travel is and how it opens one’s mind and new pathways in life.
This idea that travel has an impact on individuals beyond just memories developed into two separate courses offered at UK. In spring 2018, Swanson planned a domestic travel experience in Kentucky.
The first season, “Transformative Travels: Exploring Kentucky,” was filmed at the end of a semester-long course and was shot in small western Kentucky communities. Swanson, 10 UK students and the production crew of about 20 people spent a week traveling around the commonwealth, producing a six-episode series.
The first stop on the students' week-long exploration of western Kentucky was Horse Cave. Students had the opportunity to get GoPro footage rappelling and ziplining. Next, the travelers visited Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese in Austin, where they made cheese and milked cows.
Albright’s favorite stop on the road was next- the “Plate It Up Kentucky Proud” cooking challenge in Paducah.
“One of the highlights of the trip was on the day we did a cooking show and I got to be the host. It was goofy and fun to portray that side of my personality on the TV show,” Albright said.
Travelers also had the opportunity to go to a fish processing plant alongside the Mississippi River. Albright explains that the fishery removes an invasive species of fish, Asian carp, from the water, which in turn helps the environment and also feeds people. Some students had more of a hands-on experience and even gutted the fish.
On the production side of the first season, the filming process and content were easy to obtain because businesses were excited to receive the exposure that they may not normally receive.
Following the success of the first class and after the first season was produced, Swanson offered the second course. This included a trip to London in spring 2019.
Location and time frame weren’t the only drastic differences from the first season; season two saw fewer hands on deck in every aspect. This season included three UK students, Swanson and a production crew of one: Brian Volland.
The biggest challenge of the London series, Swanson said, was the one-person crew. London has permitting requirements when filming if there is more than one camera or excessive equipment. The only way to get around these requirements was to utilize Volland, the “one-man-band,” as he called himself.
This production issue was resolved by the students in London having homework assignments requiring them to film videos in unique places of the city and reflect on their reactions to the new locations. These videos filled the gaps where other footage would have been if there had been more cameramen. Volland utilized these clips to highlight the students’ progression throughout the semester abroad.
Albright, who was involved in the London program as well, found these homework assignments transformational.
“The course was structured around the TV show, so there was no surprise when we had small assignments to record ourselves outside of class,” she said. “I now get to look back on these videos and remember not only what I was doing, but how I felt during it.”
Swanson utilized the assignments to further push students to realize the impacts they were experiencing.
“Traveling with a purpose is important, not just going to see places but using travel as a way to reflect and think about yourself while you're traveling,” he said.
Students in London traveled around the city all semester, visiting both tourism hot spots and places off the beaten path. Albright contrasts two of the places she visited: the Dior exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum and a canal boat tour.
“The canal boat tour was more of a once in a lifetime experience- we spent the day traveling through canal locks in the outer city,” she said.
Albright notes how it was interesting to participate in activities like the boat ride, because it wasn’t something she’d plan as a tourist but indulged her in an experience outside of her comfortability. The Dior exhibit opened up Albright’s eyes to the history of designer fashion and inspired her career direction as a merchandising, apparel and textiles major.
As opposed to the first season, Swanson found most location managers where they shot in London were less enthusiastic.
"There is so much going on in London that it was never a big deal to people at locations where we shot, like it was in Kentucky," Swanson said. "This actually made some of the London shooting easier".
The second season, “Transformative Travels: Exploring London,” is currently in the approval process to be aired on KET.
The two seasons offer a new perspective from normal travel documentaries or what can be seen on KET, High said.
“The show is absolutely unique,” he said. “How often in college do you get the opportunity to front your own mini-series to a statewide PBS station that covers 4 million individuals across the Commonwealth of Kentucky?”
Volland said depending on who the viewer is — parent or student — they might have a different viewing experience when watching the show.
“As a parent, I hope it encourages parents to be willing to help their children go out and have these life-changing experiences,” Volland said.
Studying abroad opened Albright’s eyes to her potential both as a person and as a professional going into the working world. Albright says she owes her new thinking perspective to her experience abroad.
“When you think about it, we have a choice in what we are perceiving and the way it affects us. We can analyze our situation and understand what we are doing and why we are doing it,” she said.
Talk of season three of “Transformative Travels” has begun, and more UK students will have the chance to be a part of it. Swanson, Volland and High are all hoping for more cultural diversity amongst cast and crew in the coming seasons.