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From the Frontlines


 A college student’s blog about a winter break trip to Mexico is typically where you expect to find talk of Mazatlan and margarita recipes, not musings about globalization. That’s just the first of many indications that Hamline students Nancy Huynh ’12 and Paulina Yanez Navarro ’10 weren’t on the usual sun-soaked holiday last January. The postcards the duo sent back weren’t in the form of beachfront photos, but glimpses of life in Mexico City, as documented by two young reporters.

“No, I have not seen the sites that Mexico is known for,” blogged Huynh. “Journalists are not tourists. But I have interviewed influential people about fascinating issues.” Those issues were uncovered during a week-long reporting apprenticeship devised by Hamline’s Certificate in International Journalism (CIJ) program and Round Earth Media, a local nonprofit that seeks to mentor and train the next generation of global journalists. The goal? Get students on international soil to do hands-on reporting with a veteran journalist as their guide.

Proof of the apprenticeship’s success is apparent in Huynh’s declaration that she was (happily) worked to the bone. “I was so drained and exhausted at the end of the day all I could think about was sleep,” she explains. “But you can’t say you’re an international journalist until you’ve gone abroad and done the actual work. It’s one thing to sit in a classroom and study it, but it’s a completely different experience to be in the field doing the reporting.”

Experiencing International Journalism

Gaining international experience has been a hallmark of the CIJ since its inception in 1998. As the first undergraduate program in the United States to focus on international journalism, the CIJ seeks to meld communication studies, journalism, global studies, and language skills into a curriculum dedicated to intercultural understanding. According to Dr. Suda Ishida, the program’s director, that means passports must get stamped. “Our objective is to give students as much exposure to international media as possible by sending them overseas to work collaboratively with established journalists.”

The program partners with universities around the world to facilitate such experiences; Universität Trier in Germany and Université Gaston Berger in Senegal are just two of the institutions that have hosted Hamline’s CIJ students. In the case of Round Earth Media, the CIJ didn’t have to look abroad to find the perfect facilitator of international journalism experience. Round Earth cofounder Mary Stucky, a Hamline adjunct with the CIJ program, was directly in Ishida’s sight line.

Stucky, a long-time journalist and contributor to outlets like National Public Radio and the PBS program Frontline, created Round Earth Media six years ago to help veteran journalists mentor early career reporters in covering stories from locations that are often ignored by the major media outlets. Launched on the cusp of journalism’s recent meltdown, the nonprofit prepares reporters for a world where cushy international bureaus are a thing of the past and digital recorders are the new notepad. “We’re still pumping out journalists, but there are no jobs for these folks, and that’s one reason we think an organization like ours is needed,” Stucky explains. “It’s the people with strong entrepreneurial skills who know how to create a sustainable business model for themselves who will succeed. And without a huge expense you can equip yourself as an international journalist.”

Seeing the CIJ’s goals mirrored in Round Earth, the two partnered to offer a first-ever reporting apprenticeship to two Hamline students. The chosen duo would accompany Stucky on a trip to Mexico City to work on stories for NPR’s The World and The World Vision Report—the students’ airfare, lodging, and food funded by scholarship money from the CIJ. The CIJ put out a call for applicants in good academic standing with Spanish language skills, and Navarro and Huynh rose to the top.

Hitting the Ground

“When we got to Mexico we dove right in,” explains Huynh, a sophomore majoring in communications with minors in Spanish and education. “We were shadowing Mary right away conducting interviews that she set up.”

Throwing Huynh and Navarro into real-life reporting situations was Stucky’s goal from the start. “There’s no substitute for being in the field, trying to put stories together on the spot,” she says. Huynh and Navarro were treated like colleagues, with Stucky dividing up the work and assigning to each apprentice various roles: one morning Navarro would snap pictures while Huynh conducted interviews, and in the afternoon the pair would head to a local market to interview vendors.

Navarro, a native of Chile, proved an asset to the team thanks to her Spanish fluency—including the more tedious work of transcribing the team’s various interviews upon returning to Hamline. “Paulina and Nancy helped a lot by transcribing and going through tape, and that’s not glamorous work—which they learned. But those things have to be done,” says Stucky. For Huynh, the biggest lesson learned from the week in Mexico was the need for reporters to acclimate to situations that can change at a moment’s notice. “Be flexible, be able to adapt quickly,” says Huynh. “Our plans always changed at the last minute, like a cab wouldn’t show up, so we’d either run to the subway or call another city cab that was driving around on the street. It was nerve-racking.”

According to Ishida, who hopes to offer more Round Earth apprenticeships in the future, such international lessons translate well for students whether they choose to use their journalism skills abroad or stay in the Twin Cities to begin their careers. “The philosophy of the CIJ is that you have to meet with people who come from different parts of the world,” she explains. “If you don’t go out, they will come here. The Twin Cities has different cultural groups from Somalia, Vietnam, and Laos, and it’s important to understand those cultures in order to help better inform the general public about their lives and to help us better understand ourselves.”

Editor’s note: Navarro returned to Chile after the trip and was unavailable for this story.

By Monica Wright