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Journalism Majors Gain Professional Skills through FSD Internships


FSD interns set their sights on a wide range of careers. While international development, economics, and public policy are among the most expected professional paths, the rigor and breadth of the FSD experience has helped to pave the way for many other pursuits as well. Our partners can put to good use a wide range of skill sets and academic backgrounds. In fact, some less traditional majors such as journalism and communications are among the most sought after.

Recently, two Northwestern journalism students, one from its flagship Evanston campus and the other from its campus in Qatar, interned as a means of broadening their personal horizons while advancing their journalism skills.

As a student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Qatar, Dylan Finol aspires to a career as a multimedia journalist. Given today’s dynamic media landscape, Dylan saw the value of familiarizing himself with the various aspects of journalism through an FSD internship. He wanted especially to gain experience in communications outreach for international social justice, an area of longtime personal interest.

Having spent the first 12 years of his life in Venezuela and Guatemala, Dylan grew up speaking Spanish but lost proficiency after his family relocated to Saudi Arabia. Bolivia provided an opportunity to not only do sustainable development work but to also improve his Spanish at the same time. Although he was not sure what project he wanted to participate in beforehand, he was pleased to have been paired with Gaia Pacha, an NGO that works to improve the environment in Cochabamba and surrounding areas.

During his internship, Dylan worked with a team to write an educational booklet about environmental issues in Cochabamba; these included air pollution, water availability, and animal husbandry. He and his team of two other Northwestern students then distributed the booklets to six local universities. The students there have been able to use these booklets to alert community members of environmental issues and hazards.

Dylan says his work was definitely aided by FSD Program Director, Mauricio Ramirez Parra, and other FSD staff. “Overall, the level of support was very high, as the FSD staff were always very helpful, responsive, and attentive.” Dylan, who will graduate from Northwestern in 2020, plans on staying in the Middle East and hopes to work for a media organization such as Al Jazeera. His experience helped Dylan expand his knowledge and abilities to communicate effectively in a multi-cultural environment. “My FSD internship was an amazing experience,and I recommend it to all students.”

Ying Dai, a native of China’s Henan province, learned of FSD through Northwestern’s Buffett Institute for Global Studies. As a first-generation international student, she says that “effective cross-cultural communication and transnational collaboration have always been the core pursue of my academic and personal life.”  Ying tells us that “FSD promotes and educates around ethical storytelling that pays attention to existing power structures. My experience further allows me to question who gets to tell the story, what kinds of stories get to be told and how, as journalists, can we contribute in dismantling and challenging existing dominate narratives.”

Visiting Uganda had always been Ying’s dream. Not only did she have high school friends in that country but she had been influenced by Ugandan literature, notably the book Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana. Growing up in the most HIV-affected province of China, she hoped for the opportunity to witness and learn from medical professionals, community workers and educators working together, and was able to realize this dream at Jinja’s St. Francis Health Care Services. There, Ying and her team worked with the youth population. With them, she set up a handicraft and design/printing/stencil business for income-generation and supported the group through relationship building and empowerment. To advance the business, Ying and her colleagues purchased a printer, invited trainers to do workshops on stenciling and design, and held workshops on accounting and other business practices. She was also especially glad to have had the chance to work with the youth population in Mbiko on storytelling projects to reveal and share their personal truths.

Her work produced effects that were immediate and far-reaching. A functioning business was up and running, youth who dropped out of school now have a chance to manage a business and find employment while working together with childhood friends (a fact that Ying believes helped contribute to the project’s viability.)  The handicraft and print shop she inaugurated is still operating and generating adequate profits for present sustainability‒and, it is hoped, longer-term growth.

Ying found her journalism training came into play at every turn. “During the assessment stage, she says,”I found my interview skills were very useful. I also caught myself reflecting on experiences of my cross-cultural reporting classes relatively often. My supervisor also asked me to document their existing village outreach programs all across the range, from Jinja to Kampala, and my journalistic photography skills allowed me to be the only intern who had the opportunity of participating in almost all of their fieldwork and outreach programs.”

New skills and learning opportunities presented themselves as well. “I learned a great deal from visiting HIV mobile test stations in villages, financial literacy education groups at local churches, and independent businesses such as hair salons, welding, and sewing businesses started by young moms with St. Francis assistance.” Another journalism skill base proved valuable as Ying and her team made short video clips of “living positive” to tell individual stories to the community at large.

Other, unexpected opportunities for learning presented themselves. For instance, Ying says that her supervisor at St. Francis introduced her to the world of NGO storytelling and documentation for indigenous activism. This summer, Ying will join the FSD cohort in Kakamega, Kenya to conduct community-based research through another Buffett Institute initiative. Upon completing her studies, Ying plans to pursue graduate work in anthropology or gender and sexuality studies because, “I don’t think we will ever be able to write about development without addressing colonial legacy, oppression, gendered violence and imperialistic structure. I also intend to center my stories more on women of color, indigenous populations, and really pass the camera or pen to youth who crave to tell their own stories.”

Ying’s FSD time abroad ultimately delivered gifts of insight she could not have anticipated before leaving Evanston for Uganda. “My internship provided me with an extraordinary space to evaluate my identities, positionality, and assumptions,” she shares. “I also got to build and foster incredible relationships that are proven to be more and more significant to me every day. Professionally interning with FSD has given me a clearer direction of my future and the experience also serves as a reminder for critical, cross-cultural reflection when I approach every project/reporting assignment.”

Working abroad in a cross-cultural setting and learning to communicate clearly and effectively is not outcomes limited to communication and journalism majors. This is one of the real, tangible skills all FSD interns have the opportunity to develop as they immerse themselves in a new community. To find out where your skills might be most useful, check out the opportunities available across our seven international sites.


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