Inside Look: Foreign Intrigue travels, apply for 2015

The Journalism Foreign Intrigue Scholarship can sound intimidating at first – students work as an intern reporter at a foreign media organization and then travel (often alone) to explore the surrounding culture. However, those that participate always come away with a profound experience of discovery, awareness, and identity. And the clips are an added bonus to enhance your portfolio while getting to know the ins and outs of a foreign newsroom.

Still not sure if you want to apply? An info session is coming up on Thursday, January 22 at 3 p.m. in CMU 322 before applications are due by 9 a.m. on Monday, February 2.

Read three students’ reflections from their Foreign Intrigue experience last summer:

Imana teaches a dance class

Imana teaches a contemporary dance class at a studio in Amman. After taking a hip hop workshop at the studio, she met the co-founders, who then invited her to teach a one-time dance workshop. (Photo by Ren Shallman)

Imana Gunawan > When I first arrived in Jordan in mid-June, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Syrian crisis is entering its fourth year, the Islamic State is taking over large parts of Iraq, Israel began its Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, and Egypt’s new president has just begun his first term.

I knew that these regional turmoils would affect Jordan in many ways. But beyond that, Jordan also has many internal issues not directly related to the surrounding unrest, from lack of resources to nepotism that saturates every part of its society.

Working for The Jordan Times in Amman, not only did I get to experience the routine of producing a daily newspaper, I also got to experience the independence and unpredictability of working as a journalist in the middle of a tumultuous region.

But being a reporter in a country surrounded by so many humanitarian crises also meant I was never far from encountering ethical problems. Whenever I’m at the office helping one of the editors put together the Middle East and World pages, one of the most-encountered decisions was to look for a middle ground in choosing photos from conflict areas around the world such as Ukraine, Iraq, Syria or Gaza. It needs to be powerful, but not so graphic to the point that it’s exploitative of its human subjects who are undergoing difficult times. Sometimes it’s hard to toe the line.

Oftentimes these pictures are very graphic and show violence, death or destruction. They’re not only daily reminders of the very real calamity that happens everywhere in the world, but also of the privilege of being a journalist on the sidelines, and being a student journalist with a guaranteed ticket out of a turbulent region, back to the more familiar Western lifestyle and a protected university environment.

Outside the newsroom, ethical choices also arise, especially when it comes to covering vulnerable communities like refugees or domestic workers. One of the recent ones has been hard to forget. Recently, I decided to do a series on the shelters that most embassies have specifically for migrant domestic workers, whether they’re escaping abusive employers, waiting for documentation or expecting to return to their home countries.

I was visiting The Philippines Embassy’s shelter and chatting with the workers there. One worker approached me and said she was very glad to hear that I was a journalist who had worked with the Indonesian Embassy. She started telling me about how she had been working with two other Indonesians and one Bangladeshi. All of them were beaten by their employer, got their passports taken away, and received no days off or timely salaries. I initially thought she was just telling me an anecdote, because her experience was sadly uncommon for a maid in the Middle East. I thought all of her fellow helpers had escaped with her, but then another worker interjected, “She’s asking for your help, ma’am.” It turns out she was the only one who managed to escape.

“Please, you have to help,” the first worker said.

She gave me the employer’s address and name, and added, “But please don’t tell them my name. I don’t want to be a witness, I just want to go home.”

That day I left the shelter a little puzzled. The woman had asked for my help, but the best I could do was gave the information to my contact at the Indonesian Embassy, who assured me they would investigate it right away. At first I wasn’t sure how adequate that response would be, but then again, at any labor office of any embassy, especially of countries that have historically sent migrant workers overseas, such reports are taken seriously. The Filipina worker who gave me the information said she was able to escape only because she had communicated in secret with her husband back in the Philippines, who filed a report to the embassy on her behalf. The embassy then approached the employer and picked her up from her employer’s residence. I was sure the Indonesian Embassy would provide a response just as effective. But since I don’t have any close contacts at the Bangladesh Embassy, reporting the information on behalf of the Bangladeshi woman has been challenging.

But even now, it’s still baffling to think that for one second, I had a minor stake in the impossibly complicated domestic worker issues, even when I first approached the subject only to be an observer and storyteller. If only I could do more for these workers.

At the end of the day, however, making ethical decisions is just one part of being a journalist. What has been even more rewarding than learning new things on the job is being able to witness a country’s dynamics beyond the headlines of AP, Reuters, CNN or Al Jazeera. To the eyes of the world, Jordan is the small, relatively stable country in the middle of the chaos. But Jordan is that and so much more. It has an emerging culture and arts scene, a fascinating history and most of all, a society filled to the brim with generosity: from a Kingdom that has hosted millions of displaced people to taxi drivers who will gladly offer to buy you tea and cigarettes to take as he drives you to your workplace, simply because you’re his guest.

Chris Lopaze

Chris poses with his bike before he started off on his guided bike tour with Art of Bicycle.

Chris Lopaze > Broadening my perspective by visiting a developing country

My sojourn in India has been life changing. It has helped me mature as a person and improve professionally as a journalist. I could not imagine a better finale to my undergraduate career than my experience in Bangalore. I have three main points I want to make about how the Foreign Intrigue program has influenced me positively; how it has given me new and important perspectives.

Privilege was a popular topic at the University of Washington; the need for every student to acknowledge their own personal privilege, and realize that not everyone was as privileged as they were, even fellow students. The point was to encourage empathy, gain an external perspective from our own experience. I have to acknowledge my privilege growing up in a developed country like the U.S.A. Even though Bangalore is a rapidly developing city and is a major I.T. hub, it still suffers from problems associated with third-world countries such as a lack of proper sewage disposal, water sourcing problems, poor infrastructure, etc. I never thought about where my water came from, or where the garbage was dumped. Why think about those things when they have never been a problem? But you can see the garbage piled near the road. You can smell the stench of solid waste. These problems are in the open. I don’t have the convenience of taking a shower with a pressured showerhead, wasting gallons of water. I use a simple bucket bath to bathe, a method that conserves more water. It’s not as pleasant, but water is a precious resource here, not to be wasted. I did not consider the everyday activity of taking a shower a luxury before.

A journalist always needs to know and understand his readers, the community, he or she is writing for. One of the most important skills I gained from this internship is the ability to adapt to addressing the needs of a community of readers in a foreign culture. I did not know much about the caste system before, something esoteric to Indian culture. But I had to learn about how it developed and how it’s used now for a story about inter-caste marriage. It was a foreign concept to me. I also had to adapt to a publication with a different style than I’m used to, and have different expectations about content. If I had to boil down the three main ingredients of every story, it would be: find the human angle, share whatever the important newsworthy information is, and find out how people can learn from this story. The first two are expected in every news story, but not always the third. Whatever topic I covered, I usually had to include some information that would help readers directly, especially if the issue affected them personally. Whether it was including cyber crime prevention tips when I reported about the rise of cyber crime rates for the third year in the row in Bangalore, or suggestions on how to care for a family member with dementia when I was writing about the dementia resources in Bangalore. I like following the approach of not just showing what is wrong, but what can be done to fix it.

I left America as a 22-year-old and I was 23-years-old when I landed in India. My birthday had arrived a half-day earlier than it usually did because of the time difference. Besides dealing with this important anniversary, it was also the first time I had ever travelled outside of the country. I had not even travelled to visit our Canadian friends in the North. People always expect travelers to get culture shock, but I had a departing-my-country-shock. Let me explain. As I sat in the plane, I was surrounded by various nationalities including people from Japan, Germany, and of course Indians, as well as people from other countries I could not place. I was the only American, at least that I could see. It was isolating but I also felt strengthened as I started to feel an intense attachment for my country; distance makes the heart grow fonder. I never felt more American than when I left America. That part of my identity solidified as I travelled farther and farther away from home. But I also started feeling something else as well, a growing awareness of global diversity. The only way I could describe it was almost as if a subconscious illusion that the world only revolved around what happened in American dissolved into a clear picture of America as only one country in a world with hundreds of countries. I know it’s silly to feel so self-absorbed with my nationality. It was as if I made a great scientific discovery that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth. The people here seem engaged in world politics, and not only because it affects their country directly. I realized that I, to some extent, only cared about how events in other countries affected America directly. I don’t have this narrow view of the world any longer. To fall back onto an old cliché, my horizons were broadened. I’ve also felt the responsibility to be an ambassador as not only a University of Washington student but also as a citizen of the U.S.A. My behavior is likely to determine what people think of Americans, and they will form certain stereotypes because of it. I hope I gave them reasons to think well of Americans.

Adiba KhanAdiba Khan > The road to Nairobi

I spent my summer in an unfamiliar land without the structure of a classroom or newsroom. Paul Nevin, a global health graduate student, and I investigated maternal and reproductive health in Kenya. Paul will be unpacking the country’s free maternity services, and I will be writing about adolescent pregnancy and family planning. Our stories will be published within a few weeks, through the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

I traveled alone to Busia, a town by the Ugandan border, to speak to providers at a hospital and an NGO that among other things, protects very young girls who have been raped and abused. At the hospital, I met the husband of a nurse. He was disabled and happened to be on his way back to Nairobi. On the way home, I ended up riding with the nurse’s husband in an ambulance. It was a strange but not entirely unusual misallocation of resources -there was no one in need of emergency care inside the ambulance during the entire twelve hour drive.

The ambulance itself was supposed to leave at 10 am. On the morning of departure, 10 a.m. turned into 11 a.m., and I spent more time visiting the hospital. Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. there was an often incomprehensible dialogue over the phone where it seemed uncertain whether I could ride on the ambulance. We have been working on Kenyan time, which is a lot like South Asian time. It is fascinating and frustrating to think of the amount of time we have spent just waiting – for people to call or e-mail us back, for a professional to show up for an interview, to get through horrendous Nairobi traffic.

At 1 p.m. I told the man I would bus to Kisumu so I could fly into Nairobi before night time. Finally, the ambulance pulled up to the hospital and we were on our way. Threatening to walk away works well in Kenya. We were moving, but we were not really on our way. The driver -a Kenyan military man – and I ate lunch together in silence in a dark little eatery in town. There was no exchange of money – just fish and ugali in our bellies. Perhaps someone paid using their cell phone.

There was another stop, and the man took care of some business while the driver and I stood awkwardly in a compound full of twenty giggling, little children. I greeted them and asked them how they were doing. They told me I look European, and I didn’t know the Kiswahili word for Asian. I wish I could have communicated with these kids -and others -in Kiswahili. How can you know the people of a country if you cannot speak their native language? You can’t.

The western side of Kenya is astonishingly green and beautiful – nothing like Nairobi. The food is great and people are incredibly friendly. I could not imagine that anyone who was living a decent life here would want to leave. Yet several people, including the disabled man on the ambulance, asked me to take them to America. No one wants to hear that life in America could possibly be worse than life in Kenya, or that the American health care system is in fact, quite flawed. No one believes how difficult it can be to obtain a visa. A chef at a restaurant once told me that it would not be difficult for him to get a visa if I married him (pro tip: always wear a wedding band and carry a photo of your fake husband).

We picked up a boy and the driver’s son, and both sat in the back of the ambulance. Traveling alone can be fantastic, but if you are a woman in an ambulance driving in the dark with four unknown men several hundred kilometers from home, feelings of insecurity are inevitable. Compassion is a really important human quality, but it shouldn’t be overshadowed by common sense.

I had been helping the disabled man with little things during our ride. He had pain medications and water sitting out of his reach, so I helped him reach them. I assisted him as he put on a gurney to stabilize his spine. The seats in the front of the ambulance were not spacious, and I have a rather big personal bubble. He started to make me feel uncomfortable – he asked to take a photo of me so it could be attached to my phone number in his phone. I said no, and he took a photo of the side of my face.

A skilled nurse/midwife knows to stabilize a woman giving birth and call the doctor as soon as there appears to be a complication. If the nurse/midwife waits too long, serious damage can be done. As soon as the ambulance made its next stop at a gas station, much to the disabled man’s dismay, I switched seats with one of the boys sitting in the back.

For the rest of the trip I sat next to the driver’s son, a very kind, young man. He spoke of his love of agricultural life and candidly recounted his experience with an initiation ceremony involving male circumcision. But he was looking for work in Nairobi, a city he hated, because that is where the money is. He, and other Kenyans I have met, wished that I would stay and work in the country because they needed foreigners. I explained that Kenya would rise higher on its own than it ever will with dependence on foreigners and foreign aid. No one wants to hear that.

We arrived in Nairobi past 1 a.m. I lied profusely in order to refuse the disabled man’s invitation to stay in his niece’s apartment, and took a cab back to my apartment. There is no place like quasi-home.