Ever wonder what it would be like to work in another country? The Journalism Foreign Intrigue Scholarship can give you that chance. Students work as an intern reporter at a foreign media organization and then travel to explore the surrounding culture. 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.
An info session is coming up on Tuesday, January 26 at 2:30 p.m. in CMU 302 before applications are due by 5 p.m. on Monday, February 1.
Apply online: http://www.com.washington.edu/foreign-intrigue-application/
Read three students’ reflections from their Foreign Intrigue experience last summer:
Holly Thorpe >
I’ve never really liked the beach. Despite a family that dragged me unwillingly to dig clams in the summers of my childhood. Despite living on the Seattle coastline which, when touched by the sunset, puts every beach in the country to shame. I guess it never appealed to me: too many people, too much sun, too loud. People, sun, noise … it’s a bit ironic that I went to India, no?
But at some point I wound up on the back of a scooter on the coast of south India, speeding along a surprisingly empty road to a beach cradled between the Arabian Sea and Netravati River. Like absolutely every other experience I’ve had here, I never would have imagined myself there a year, a month, even a week before. But there I was, air that smelled like saltwater tangling my hair, grinning like a fool at the coconut trees I could see on the adjacent bank of the river. And there I was, feet submerged in pale sand and waves that lapped my shins, watching the sky try to decide between monsoon rains and streamers of sun. “Perhaps the beach isn’t so bad,” I would have thought to myself, were I not busy splashing about, rescuing starfish and collecting seashells.
Of course, originally I thought I didn’t like mangoes either. Wait until you’ve tried them in curry, though. Superb.
You see the pattern, I’m sure. Trivial little convictions of mine, overturned by unexpected trips, unfamiliar dishes. This is perhaps the best analogy for my time working in India.
Perhaps most shocking to me (or perhaps most shocking to my ego) was the difficulty in adjusting to the journalism here. When I left the U.S. I had assumed that, if anything, at least I sort of knew what I was doing as a journalist. Maybe I’d never travelled anywhere like India before, maybe I was naive and prone to illness, but, by god, I knew how to write a news story.
Adjusting to life here wasn’t actually terribly difficult. I had a lot of help from my coworkers. One in particular was staying in the same building as me, and was kind enough to help me get on my feet in any number of ways. Generally, I was too excited by all of the new and different things I encountered to be very deterred by them, and perhaps that was the perfect, albeit accidental, tactic to adjusting to my new life.
The journalism, however, needed to be relearned. At home, the AP Stylebook was the closest thing I had to a bible, and I was a devout follower. And if that book were my bible, then liberal West Coast newsrooms were my proverbial churches. For years I’d studied journalism, practiced it, talked about it with other aspiring journalists. I had firm convictions about the ways a story should look and feel and read.
You remember what happened to my firm convictions about mangoes though, don’t you?
The biggest obstacle was probably me wanting to believe I knew a thing or two about journalism. I wanted to feel like, despite all the totally new things happening to the rest of my life, I had a grip on this one thing at least. In hindsight, this was profoundly wrong and profoundly arrogant. The exact opposite was true. Life is life is life — showering, eating, buying groceries, being afraid of spiders, these things are universal. Sure, aspects might be tweaked here or there (e.g. the spiders are now the size of plates), but it’s the same idea, and it’s not terribly hard to adjust to. But doing important journalistic work is harder abroad. Especially when: a) you don’t know the local language, b) your accent is basically unintelligible over the phone, c) you have no background, no point of reference, and no idea who to call, and d) you can’t pronounce anything properly. Ever.
So as I’m desperately trying not botch the name ‘Naimunnisa,” my interviewee is sizing me up, trying to figure out which white, tourist-y country I’ve come from, and naming government entities and historical figures that I will inevitably have to Google later because I have no idea who or what they are. This is, of course, assuming I get the spelling correct enough to be able to Google them.
Frankly, it makes the whole bathing with a bucket thing seem pretty trivial.
However, just like the bucket bath and everything else abroad, you adapt. My mantra throughout my entire trip has been “Well, Holly, you’ll either figure it out or you won’t.” So far my fear of what happens if I don’t has always trumped my fear of trying to figure it out.
It’s hard to think about my time here retrospectively so soon. Looking back is what you’re supposed to do once you’ve left, once you’re done, and I’m still here. It’s only just beginning to sink in that in a little over two weeks, I’ll board a plane for home and leave behind the intricate and wonderful life I’ve created here. The cafes I frequent, the park I walk to after work, the people I’ve befriended and enjoy spending my time with. It’s difficult to think I’ll walk away from all of that, and it will go on after I leave just as it did before I arrived.
Until then, I’ll be gritting my teeth through my difficult reporting and watching the monsoon rains pour down outside my window while I sip ginger and cumin seed tea. As my colleague put it when I complained about all the things making my job hard: “But that’s how you learn about these things, right?” She’s absolutely correct. There’s still more to learn.
Janelle Retka >
Riding in the backseat to the University of Washington campus from an offsite journalism lecture at The Seattle P.I. last winter, a fellow journalism student turned around and asked, “Janelle, are you going to apply for Foreign Intrigue?” Without a second thought, I answered: no. I was working in the [retail] job of my dreams finishing a minimum year-long contract at my childhood bookstore, hand-selling my favorite titles and answering the question, “can you recommend any lighthearted, happy-ending fiction with a female protagonist” with inclination towards just as quick of a “no.” I’m not a huge fan of lighthearted. It’s too easy. Kind of like bailing on a commitment for another opportunity seemed to me.
But my mind began spinning and I thought about all of the opportunities I had passed up on to work full-time alongside my school load. As soon as I got back to the communications building, I met with Jessica Partnow, the coordinator of the program, and asked for more details: how to apply, how to make ends meet to get to Southeast Asia or Africa and when I would leave if selected. By the time we’d finished talking, I decided I would be selling myself short by not applying. I spoke with my manager and explained with mild regret that if I were selected, I would break my yearlong contract and head overseas to report internationally—my dream job. Period.
A few months later, I stepped off of a plane in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Before arriving, I’d become a confident copy editor, began to get my feet on the ground in Seattle-based freelancing, and had interned at a hyper-local in the sweet-spirited city of Edmonds. I had studied up on Cambodian history and culture and read a few biographies about survivors of the Khmer Rouge. I was especially intrigued by the small insights into Cambodian health and education that I had read about in the news. A bunch of story ideas were looming in my head.
Week one at the daily, I realized how foreign those ideas were. What interested someone like myself, who was so removed from the setting and culture, was stale news to The Cambodia Daily’s readership. There was little I could contribute to the daily editorial meetings, and rewrites of Cambodian journalists’ work were the most prominent way that I could make myself useful.
It took two weeks to publish my first story, and another two before my second. So far, I’ve had the opportunity to write about national food health standards being constructed, the prominence of domestic violence and rape, the government passing a controversial law regulating NGOs nationwide, two local art exhibits and the national high school completion exam in which corruption is being replaced with higher education standards. I’ve assisted in business stories about extravagant hikes in electricity bills and reforms in the highly acclaimed Cambodian silk industry (The Cambodia Daily often pairs a Khmer—Cambodian—journalist with a Westerner to split the reporting and construct a story). Currently, I’m developing a travel story based on a four-day cycling tour I took through the provinces of Cambodia. These two months thus far have been eventful, to say the least.
Beyond that, I’ve learned a great deal from witnessing the reporting processes and stories of veteran journalists at the Daily—both Khmer and Western. The Daily’s tagline, “All the News Without Fear or Favor,” comes into full effect in this newsroom, as reporters write about the Khmer Rouge trials, Vietnam/Cambodia border debates, court corruption, strikes and protests, etc.
Over lunch on my first day at the office, the Daily’s social media director began talking to two of my colleagues about views and readership. The final tone of the conversation settled with one reporter’s emphasis that their job is about sharing the news through any avenue, not spreading their own byline. After years of education and student journalists simultaneously pushing to become noticed, this was a refreshing thing to hear and an important lesson to digest.
Reporting is not easy. It’s not always as immediately rewarding as one might hope. Your story may not go to print. You may not get paid a high salary when you finally step into the professional realm. But journalism is important—crucial. It’s something that we take for granted in Seattle and the U.S. Complete freedom of press is a privilege that Cambodia doesn’t have, but Daily reporters write as if it is, regardless of that. Journalism is a crucial part of any society, and some are luckier than others when it comes without a fight. Contributing to this process, even in terms of topics like local art, in a setting like Cambodia and the Daily has been an enormous learning experience and an opportunity that will set me up for whatever comes next in my journalistic pursuits.
Needless to say, it took a good amount of time to settle in, learn how to write a rewrite according to the Daily’s style and standards, find leads on fresh stories and feel comfortable reporting in tandem with other journalists. This is still a work in progress, but I’m making strides. After completing two months of interning at the Daily, I still have a lot to learn. Regardless of the strong education I felt I had reaped from the UW journalism program, the Daily has drastically stretched me and challenged my journalistic standards and pursuits, making me a better reporter in the end. I couldn’t be happier that I repealed my initial “no.” It would have made for a pretty easy mistake.
P.S. The people/sights/food/etc. here are UNBELIEVABLE.
Shirley Qiu >
Jakarta is a funny place. I arrived expecting my excitement to translate into wonder and intrigue at first sight. But as I stepped into a city of smog, heavy traffic, skyscrapers, and glitzy malls, I began to find Jakarta remarkably unremarkable. Shouldn’t I be falling in love with this city? I thought. But nothing was notable or quirky or endearing enough to tug at my heartstrings.
Luckily, over the past couple months, that has slowly changed. It turns out Jakarta is one of those cities that gives an unfortunate first impression—bland and often frustratingly dysfunctional, according to Western standards. It’s an acquired taste, one could say. After all, this city is nicknamed “The Big Durian,” referencing a controversial fruit whose pungency is strangely enticing to some and repulsive to others.
My friends and I have joked (with an underlying seriousness) that there’s nothing especially attractive about this city. But despite our various gripes about its severe littering habits, poor infrastructure, questionable safety criteria, and random cases of illogic in everyday life, the people and the experiences in Jakarta have made me extremely happy to be here.
My internship experience, for one, has been exciting and challenging in ways that I didn’t expect. Sure, I knew it would be difficult starting from scratch as a reporter here, with no sources, little background knowledge about the city, and a language barrier to boot. I did not imagine it would take nearly a month just to get my first story completed and published, though.
But because I really cared about doing that story justice and had lots of time to work on it, completing it was all the more rewarding. In the process, I got to explore different corners of Jakarta, meeting locals and discussing real issues in their lives—exactly what I had hoped to get out of this internship.
For another story, what started out as a quick interview in the city turned into a pleasant half-day affair with my interviewees. They invited me to check out their work nearby, which turned out to be a half-hour motorcycle ride away to a wooded area. We walked down a steep pathway into a forest of bamboo and banana trees and other tropical flora, and ended up having a picnic lunch there, using freshly picked banana leaves as plates and our fingers as utensils. The kindness of my hosts was extremely touching, and that quaint little picnic was the most authentic and memorable local experience I’ve had here to date.
What’s more, my coworkers have made going to work loads of fun. Everyone I’ve met at the office has been extremely friendly and down-to-earth. No one is too busy or important to answer my questions or just chat. Laughter permeates the newsroom regularly, and even singing can sometimes be heard. Working here has shown me the kind of work environment I aspire to have once I launch into a full-time career.
And of course, life outside of work has created some of the best memories. It’s not every day that one gets to hop on a stranger’s motorcycle, take a weekend trip to Singapore, or spend Ramadan among the largest Muslim population in the world. I’ve also been fortunate enough to meet some of the coolest, funniest, most adventurous people along the way to share those memories with.
The truth is, I still can’t say I’m in love with Jakarta. It may be the capital of Indonesia, but it doesn’t quite possess the same Indonesian spirit that characterizes other parts of the island nation. But what Jakarta lacks in personality, it makes up in personal warmth, friendships, and everlasting memories. And for that, I’m eternally grateful to the Foreign Intrigue program and this city, which has earned a special spot in my heart.