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.