By Gagandeep Singh
I have been thrilled to attend the Missouri School of Journalism as an Alfred Friendly Press Partners Fellow.
It was a dream-come-true moment when I landed at JFK Airport on April 24, and by the end of the day I had arrived in Columbia, Missouri. Along with my colleague, Somesh Jha from New Delhi, I was received warmly by the program director, David Reed.
The next day, along with other fellows mainly from South Asian countries, I arrived at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at 9 a.m. sharp. We had a photo session and a detailed introduction to the program and to America. I learned many things about American culture, especially “to always shake hands with full zest.”
Later, we toured the campus and saw “The Columns,” a row of six pillars left over from a 19th Century fire that is the most recognized landmark of the University of Missouri. It was a mesmerizing experience to see them along with another fellow, Tanka Dhakal from Nepal, as the sun set. Meanwhile, the locals took walks with their beautiful pets and new graduates had their photos taken till evening.
I learned about several cultures while staying with my colleagues. Every night we shared our thoughts on various topics, including the state of journalism in our respective countries and our newly learned skills, while comparing our experiences from back home. I found David Mona Danga, who came all the way from South Sudan, to be an especially interesting person. I was shocked to hear his story of being arrested by the Army for his stories.
We cooked food from different countries including Nepal and Bhutan on a regular basis, while my friend and fellow journalist, Parth Nikhil from Mumbai, cooked Indian food. We celebrated the birthday of our colleague from Bhutan, Chencho, with full zeal and danced to traditional songs. I went to my first jazz concert along with other fellows, hosted by Mr. Reed; we had a fabulous evening at the Blue Note Theatre in Columbia.
Every morning I took in the chilly breeze of Columbia, and Mr. Reed took us twice to the Missouri River to experience the sunset; it was a place where a person could feel the essence and beauty of nature. I really missed my Indian food but finally found a restaurant where the chef from my native state of Punjab greeted me and prepared a delicious meal.
A day before my departure from Columbia, I biked to the city and watched a college baseball game at the stadium. Later, I went shopping at a store where I chatted with the shopkeeper about the city. I purchased a Missouri School of Journalism t-shirt as a souvenir and the shopkeeper, as a goodwill gesture, gave me a discount.
I also enjoyed a drive to Kansas City, my first long drive in the U.S., amid rain showers. We visited a radio station to understand their work and spoke with their editors and reporters. Finally, we were hosted by a law firm, where I had an informative chat about the American justice system.
Back in Columbia, I learned many new skills such as data journalism and how to use Excel spreadsheets to build databases and charts. The lectures on data-strengthened investigative reporting were the most informative of the entire course, and will certainly make my work much easier and stronger. I also learned techniques of multimedia reporting, including video and audio recording and photography.
Overall, it was a tremendous learning experience for me. The experience has also brought several changes to my personal life, as I started being punctual for every task. Back home, I was a bit lazy, waking up in the late morning and continuing to chase the time throughout the day. I noticed how Americans tend to stick to their schedules and the importance of proper planning of work — otherwise it would be tough to survive here.
With a heavy heart and a bundle of memories, I said good-bye to the beautiful city of Columbia on May 2, leaving for Pittsburgh where I have joined the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for further training. While it has only been a few weeks, I still miss my fellow friends a lot and eagerly await catching up with them very soon.
(Originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 19)