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“Being nosy and telling stories…that was the dream”

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In case you haven’t heard, Columbia Journalism is kind of a big deal.

It is the center an incredible network; it’s a globally recognized brand name; it has prolific professors, and it is in what is arguably the greatest city in the world. So when I applied—with no background in journalism but not lacking buckets of journalistic interest—it was a long shot.

I had dabbled in media and communications during my undergraduate degree at NYU. But I soon moved on to what I thought were nobler pursuits doing my master’s (also at Columbia) in Human Rights, and working at Amnesty International and the UN. I’d loved the theory side of academia. But I always came back to journalism: Being nosy and telling stories…that was the dream.

I’d written master’s thesis on political activism through social media, and I knew digital was where I wanted to be. Researching important moments in the history of journalism, such as the Arab Spring, made me realize how importance of the role of communications in sociopolitical change; having the resources to do this had been incredible during my time at Columbia. And it occurred to me that an institution like the Journalism School would have the niche connections and know-how that I would need to further this research and put it into real life.

I had travelled quite a bit, and always chronicled my experiences online. When I went to Paris as a fresh-faced college student, my mother insisted that I keep a journal, a travel diary, to chronicle my trip and improve my writing, and my father encouraged it to have me somehow follow in the footsteps of generations of novelists who had had roamed the same streets for inspiration. 

In Morocco, I photographed the colors that would have, in any other scenario, clashed horribly, but in that world that represented centuries old traditions. Jordan’s cosmopolitanism had me second guessing the underexposed Western perception of the Middle East, while Australia had me writing about insidious racial inequalities in immigrant communities. I’d thought the common thread in these travels was a thirst for knowledge and diversity of culture.  But, it turns out, it was chronicling this diversity—not just living it. I wanted others to experience what I had experienced through my retelling of it. I wanted to be a journalist.

When I entered the hallowed halls of Pulitzer Hall, I knew I’d made the right decision. Allow me to disobey my reporting professor for an instant and use this cliché: The energy is palpable. Everyone around you has the same hunger. The staff is so welcoming and willing to help in any way they can. There are endless opportunities, and you are encouraged to take advantage of every one of them.

I have found my people. Columbia Journalism is kind of a big deal, so when they accepted me, it felt like they had said that I can be a big deal too.