Archive for June, 2013


I can only think of all of the times I’ve blogged about journalism–my fears, my hopes, my dreams–and all the times I’ve held this distant admiration for the field.  But for the past week, I have been able to immerse myself into the one thing I love the most.  I spent five days in Washington D.C. at JCamp, the Asian American Journalist Association’s program for aspiring high school journalists.  Initially, I arrived in D.C. with reservations about the week–I was sure that it would never live up to my expectations, and why I thought that, I’m not so sure.  But luckily, I proved myself wrong, as I always seem to do.

The first night of JCamp, I went around introducing myself, trying to get a feel for the environment, and it didn’t take me long to realize that the group of students was exceptional.  Nearly every single person was editor-in-chief of their newspaper, devoted to journalism, and passionate about the world.  In fact, I was intimidated.  For the next few days, this feeling intensified.  I heard from, met, and talked to some of the best journalists in the industry–from Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer to Washington Week’s Gwen Ifill to NPR’s Michele Norris.  I poured my love for Steve McCurry to former Sports Illustrated photo editor, Jim Colton; marveled over Washington Post photographer Mark Gail’s photographs; and fell deeper in love with magazine writing through former People Magazine assistant editor Cynthia Wang’s presentation.  I was definitely intimidated, but I began to realize even more and more how much I want to become a journalist.

In addition to hearing from speakers, each student at JCamp worked on his/her own story under the instruction of a professional.  Luckily, I was assigned to the broadcast sector under MSNBC’s Richard Lui, whom I had researched thoroughly prior to JCamp and admired greatly.  Nonetheless, it was frightening to try to produce some sort of story under the watchful eye of such an acclaimed journalist (who’s Twitter-approved, as well!).  I took an angle on cheetah conservation efforts at the National Zoo, which didn’t make for a particularly good story.  Even more, I was  trying to balance storytelling with the basics of video.  Needless to say, it did not turn out well, and I was embarrassed.  However, as I watch the video again, I can see how much of this is really a learning process.  There are so many mistakes I made that I know I can fix in the future–after all, we learn from our mistakes.  But what’s important is that aside from the struggles, I genuinely enjoyed the process of storytelling, from talking to people for interviews to researching cheetahs to exploring the zoo.  And in retrospect, that’s what matters.

At JCamp, we were treated as professionals, not students.  When we forgot to introduce ourselves or didn’t shake hands quite right or overlooked a visitor in the room, we were immediately called out for it.  On one hand, our JCamp instructors put immense, and perhaps unnecessary, pressure on all of us; on the other hand, I have never learned as much as I have in the past week.  Throughout the week, I became more confident, humble, and practical.  The first thing they taught us was that journalism is about connections.  It’s a big industry with a small network.  I learned how to foster connections, master the art of small-talk, and  impress someone with the littlest of gestures.  The purpose of the entire week was to prepare us for a final reception, where numerous acclaimed journalists and editors attended just for us, from Washington Post’s editor-in-chief to University of Missouri’s Journalism Dean.  I spoke to endless journalists about my passion for traveling, my roots in India, my love for music—through these common factors, I connected on a deeper, more intimate, level with everyone I met.

But the most incredible aspect of JCamp was the people–the like-minded, bright individuals who brought their unique perspectives to the table.  Sometimes it takes a trip like this to realize how constricted Vermont is, which was the case with SJWP as well.  I spent endless hours talking about Vermont’s pastures and rolling hills and Ben & Jerry’s; listening to stories of large cities and small towns around the country; and sharing my passion for the world.  The last night, we all decided to pull all-nighters (my first ever) and, except for the times I slightly dozed off, I can remember the conversations progressing from French to music to Arne Duncan’s awful speech earlier in the day to Ethiopian food.  Soon enough, we found ourselves outside, watching the sun rise over the buildings of D.C.  And a few hours later, I found myself in the main lounge with my bags packed up, suppressing those once-in-a-blue-moon tears (unsuccessfully, I might add), and giving my last goodbye hugs.  It had taken me five days to fully realize how incredible the people at JCamp were.

I don’t know if I’m going to be a journalist.  I don’t know if I’m prepared for the struggles, the instability, and the cut-throat competition.  But what I do know is that I love talking to people–I love hearing their stories and learning about their backgrounds.  Something that really resonated with me was when Michele Norris told us that journalism is about constantly learning.  You take every experience and extract something new from it.  You learn something from every person you meet.  You never know quite enough.  The key to journalism is curiosity, and that’s something I know I have within me.  But what I’m just beginning to realize now is how my curiosity has led me to some of the best connections I’ve ever made.  I asked everyone I met question after question, and those questions resulted in connections, all of which eventually tied together to create our own little community.

Maybe one day I’ll reconnect with some of the other JCampers, as we report on the same stories or end up interviewing each other for some feat or another.  Maybe I won’t become a journalist, but a publisher or an environmentalist or a stock broker.  The possibilities are endless, and that’s what I’ve really taken out from JCamp.  There will always be a world full of interesting, inquisitive, and insightful people, open to new connections and friendships.  There will always be opportunities for learning.  And there will always be another story to tell.

Thank you to everyone there for an amazing experience.  I have fallen in love with telling stories all over again (the cure to nearly-permanent writers’ block) and it’s all because of the community at JCamp.  Good luck to everyone–I have no doubt I will only hear stories of success from each and every one of you.



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I’ve sort of been experimenting with the idea of nostalgia for a while, so this is just one of the directions I took!

I wake up every morning to a cup of tea
with my dad at the charcoal-granite island–
1.5 tbsp of sugar, caffeinated;
1 tbsp and decaf if I’m feeling particularly
Every night,
I scribble thoughts in my notebook–
sometimes rambles, sometimes
coherent words that translate into
blog posts,
often pictures that temporarily
alleviate my symptoms.
In between,
I live a varied, yet ordinary life.

I was recently diagnosed with a case of
terminal nostalgia,
and I’m often told I was born in the wrong generation
at the wrong
because in between my mornings and nights,
and amidst these days,
I am bound to the past
and longing for some sort of hope;
one of the side effects of nostalgia, they said,
would be

I do everything I am supposed to
in this generation–
I study, I rebel, I pretend that I can change the world
when it’s really the world changing me–
but within me is a soul
beating at the cages of my heart,
a soul who once used to feel infinite
and searches for this sensation
in every living
The feeling of being infinite
has often been attributed to engendering nostalgia.

There are few of us
with this condition,
few of us who find ourselves borne back
ceaselessly into the past;
searching for our own green lights
at the end of our own docks;
searching for reassurance that one day,
the past will be restored.
But nobody in this generation
will ever tell us that the past is both unforgettable
and unrepeatable.

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For two years in a row, I have been inspired by the best minds of my generation at the Stockholm Junior Water Prize fair.  I have met people who’ve created drinking water filters, tackled ongoing research in wastewater, addressed local water issues, and changed the face of the water industry.  And each time, I have felt like maybe I can do something to change the world too.  When I first went to SJWP last year in Boston last year, I fell in love with everything about the fair—the brilliant people, the amicable organizers, and the tight-knit community that we had created in only a few days.  In fact, SJWP was what inspired me to continue doing research.  Although I swore I wouldn’t conduct my research next year, SJWP has once again led me to reconsider my decision.

I started my trip on Friday morning as my dad dropped me off at the airport for my first solo flying experience ever.  It all felt a little sentimental, as if this was the transition into adulthood.  I often imagine taking business trips in the future, maybe as a journalist, maybe as an executive, maybe as a writer.  But there is nothing more lonely than traveling alone.  For the next 10 hours, I managed to entertain myself on long flights and layovers and eventually ended up in Portland, Oregon.  The minute I stepped out of the airport, the familiar homeliness of SJWP came back to me when one of the volunteers meeting me at the airport welcomed me with a huge smile and took a hold of my bags.  Once we got to the hotel, I was intimidated of the other students and projects, as I always am, yet excited for what I knew would be an incredible experience.  It’s always interesting for me to see myself in a new group of people—I am often quiet, yet this one time, I was willing to step out of my boundaries and be outgoing, which seems to fit me well.  That night, some of us assembled in a remote area of the hotel and shared endless laughs, all while attempting to play “Never Have I Ever” and “Truth or Dare”….the classic ice breaking games.  The next day, we started off by driving to Washington to a wastewater plant (why we went, I can’t tell you), and the rest of the day presenting our research for interviews/judging.  In the evening, at the Awards Ceremony, I felt as I had last year: it didn’t matter who won, because I would be happy anyways to see one of my new friends win.  Oregon ended up winning, which was incredible, since he had been so humble about his research during the judging period; I always love it when humble people are successful.  Later that night, we all convened in various places around the hotel, talking about our lives, learning Puerto Rican dances, and taking the last pictures of the weekend.

It’s always hard for me to become close to new people because I have such a difficult time moving on.  Yet at the same time, it’s reassuring to meet like-minded teenagers—people who get excited about the largest bookstore in the country (located in Portland) and spend hours devoting their time to science research and strive to change the world in some way, shape, or form (often with success).  I continue to be inspired by people like the ones I have spent time with this weekend.

And so, here I am once again, at the airport, about to embark on another long trip.  To pass time, I decided to buy some trashy novels, which is justified by the fact that I spent the trip here reading some quality literature.  It took me a few hours to finish Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, which, much to my surprise, starkly contrasted with his two other novels.  In fact, I was stunned by how Hosseini was able to set scenes in Paris, California, Greece, and Afghanistan, and simultaneously build ties between the places.  Although most people avoid Hosseini for his tragic stories, And the Mountains Echoed is definitely worth reading.  I like his writing, and I like his practicality.  Everything Hosseini writes is sincere, and perhaps this is why his stories are so heart-wrenching.  I often envy his honesty as a writer.

I’m just beginning to realize that summer vacation is here, though I’m leaving for D.C. on Friday for the first journalism program.  Here’s to new connections and new experiences!  Hope everyone is having a wonderful, wonderful start to the vacation!


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Happy vacation, all!

Although I do have a French exam left, my mind is in complete-summer mode.  Nonetheless, it’s not like my summer will be free—I have trillions of programs with just a few weeks in between for breaks.  I love this life.  I love being busy and meeting new people and though it’s upsetting right now to not be able to spend time with my friends who are leaving, I know this’ll be a good summer.  I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and start a summer bucket list, most of which consists of finishing my summer homework and filling out college apps (what a life).  Some of my other goals are to spend a day in Stowe taking pictures, go on a hike, eat a Vermonster (not by myself, of course), and write a short story.  With all of that plus my traveling, I have no doubt I’ll be busy as a bee.  My first summer adventure starts this Friday, as I travel to Oregon (for the first time) to compete in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize Fair!  I then spend the rest of my summer going to J-Camp in DC for journalism, the Al Neuharth Free Spirit Journalism Scholarship program in DC (yet again), Boston for senior portraits, Yale for the Global Scholars’ program, and Richmond for the SLAM retreat for future SLAM leaders!  In between, I’m finding time to have some downtime.  Living the usual life.

The other night at my tennis team dinner, we went around telling our life stories, and I was absolutely blown away.  It’s fascinating that you can think you know someone–who they are, what they’ve been through, where they come from–but you never really can.  I learned about people who I’ve known for maybe 11 years.  Everyone had something incredible they had experienced or known—from their grandparents’ heart-wrenching love stories to stories of fleeing war to how many languages they spoke. And it makes me think of how everyone has a story, regardless of how dull or exciting it is.  Everyone comes from some background that has faced its own history.  When it was my turn, I spoke of how I grew up in Saudi Arabia, and used to be fluent in Arabic.  It made me remember all of the things that Saudi meant to me, all of the memories that somehow still stick with me.  Some of them come from extensive stories that my parents have told, but others, I know I can remember.  Saudi, at that time, wasn’t as troubled.  Yes, there was always oppression of women, which my mom faced quite a bit, but it was a safer place than it is now.  Nonetheless, my parents still talk about how once in a while, you could see remnants of bombs from Iraq in the square of Riyadh (Saudi’s capital) or how they could never freely embrace their religion.  I grew up hearing these stories.  Immediately after moving here, 9/11 occurred, and Saudi came to encompass something completely different.  And now, I am conflicted by the two sides of a country I once knew.

Although it’s dangerous, I want to return to Saudi someday, just to see it.  I have so many memories there, and a part of who I am–my love for traveling and culture and journalism–comes from Saudi Arabia.  Interestingly enough, I am most fascinated by that area of the world (which is why I love Khaled Hosseini’s literature)—perhaps for its rich culture, regardless of strife, or for the way the people fight through it.  Khaled Hosseini just released his new book, And the Mountains Echoed, which is yet another novel about Afghanistan, and I am in love with everything he writes—the way he shows the family values that exist underneath the rubble of the society, and the empowerment of women in spite of present dangers.  My favorite theme of all his books is that every society has a universal language: love.

Other than this, I’m reverting back to my old life of loitering in book stores and reading more and more, which is a relief.  Books make me excited about the world and about people I’ll meet.  I haven’t gotten around to writing much, except for angsty journaling, but I know it’ll come back to me, like it always does.

I should probably learn some français since I don’t really know any.  Enjoy the weather!


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