A foreign experience

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Since freshman year ❤

I told myself I’d write about my Italy trip immediately upon my return. (I also promised that I’d update this blog more frequently. Total fail). I wanted to capture the memories before they disappeared. Every time I travel to another place, I come back feeling as if I’d fallen out of a dream—a wondrous sort of existence filled with freedom and possibilities. It’s been more than two weeks, but I think I needed the time to let the experience sink in.

Let me tell you, I am so jealous of people who’ve had the chance to study abroad. I had an opportunity in junior year, but due to concerns about security in my country choice, I couldn’t go. And though I made the best of that year, I have regrets. The opportunity to learn another language? Be immersed in a different culture? Have the freedom to explore? EAT THE FOOD?!? Again: so freaking jealous.

In Italy, I was with one of my best friends, Ali, (oh and Eric, too, I guess) and she was an amazing tour guide. I was able to get a taste of what she sees every day. We stayed in Florence for most of the time, touring the Boboli Gardens, hanging out by the Ponte Vecchio, and climbing the Duomo. I bargained my way through the San Lorenzo leather market. We took a day trip around the Chianti region where we learned about terracotta and the politics of growing grapes. I saw countless rolling hills and majestic castles. I tried eight different types of wine and didn’t fall asleep (right away! #asianwin). I ate prosciutto, salami, cheese, and other things that I’m trying to burn off now. We stayed overnight in Rome and saw the Colosseum and the Vatican (no pope). We even got to see Ali’s office in Florence.

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Santa Croce

Okay, that was a bit of an eh moment, compared to the other activities, but I still felt excited.

I really loved the churches. Ali joked that I’d return to the States as a Catholic. I couldn’t get enough of them! It’s funny, since I’m shuffling between agnosticism and atheism. What I mean by that is that I don’t usually step into churches (not that I devalue these places in any way). Churches are hallowed grounds. While I admired the artwork and statues, people prayed in the pews. Have you ever watched people pray? Their earnestness allured me: the wrinkles between their brows, their lips moving silently, their hands tightly intertwined. Occasionally I felt as if I had to look away, like I was intruding.

One of my favorite church experiences happened in Ognissanti. A flute player and a pianist were just hanging in the front with the Franciscan friar (who was surfing the web on his phone!), and they started playing. I felt as if I was transported to a different time.

What I also loved about Florence was the energy. New York is always bustling. It’s a constant stream of noise and grit — naturally, as an introvert,  I usually get tired of being in crowds. Although Florence was certainly crowded, the rush felt different. People walked along the cobblestone roads freely and leisurely, only to move aside when they realized a taxi was trailing behind them. I didn’t mind the tourists so much as I was too busy looking everywhere. All of the buildings seem to have a history. The scenery, untouched by sewage smog so common in New York, made my heart skip.

During our last hours in Italy we sat in the Piazzale Michelangelo among couples sharing a bottle of cheap wine, families winding down, and friends catching up after a long day. A very talented singer belted her heart out just below us. We watched the sun set slowly. I said my goodbyes to this beautiful city.

IMG_5160I can see why people like to travel, why people make a big deal out of it. I met many Americans who moved to Italy because they fell in love with the country and felt a sense of belonging. My time in Italy only lasted a week, but I felt moved by it. I needed this vacation to sort out concerns and anxiety, which have been with me since graduating college. This trip has given me a lot to re-consider. It’s given me, again, a slither of life away from what’s familiar (something I consciously wanted when I first moved to Brooklyn and started my job). Florence has renewed me.

Thanks, Ali, for hosting us! We had a great time. I’ll always remember this experience.

What a hell of a ride: Will Write for Food fun

This past Labor Day weekend, I returned to Hollywood, Fla. to participate in Will Write for Food. For this Society of Professional Journalists-sponsored event, 22 college journalists from across the nation gathered in the COSAC homeless shelter to report on the homeless community and produce a 24-page special edition of Homeless Voice, the second largest homeless newspaper in the United States. 

Instead of contributing as a writer, I came back as the Editor-in-Chief. Oh boy, did I put myself through hell.

When I first talked to Gideon Grudo, the EIC for Will Write for Food 2011, I felt as if I was in over my head. Yet, I also thought, “This is my time. I can do it.” So, I said to Gideon Grudo that I would not cry during my time as Editor-in-Chief. He said he wanted me to cry.

I’m still not sure if he was serious or not.

Luckily, people, I did not cry. Yes, there were multiple times when I wanted to rip out my hair because writers weren’t turning in their stories on time. Yes, there were times when I wanted to sink into the floor because of the questions that I didn’t know the answers to. However, I somehow made it through.

It’s surprising how much you can get from just 36 hours of journalism.

Here’s what I learned:

Passion matters.

Photo by Loan Le.

Journalists who apply to this program need to be crazy about what they are doing.

Why else would Andrew Sheeler (WWFF 2011) choose to sit in a mental ward for hours and hours after flying from Alaska on a 14-hour ride, just to write a story?

Why else would Christopher Witten, a senior at The University of Memphis, sleep on the streets of Florida, risking the possibility of getting arrested?

Why else would Jane McInnis, University of South Florida St. Petersburg senior, follow a vendor selling Homeless Voice in the hot and humid afternoon heat in Hollywood, Fla.? She only got nine dollars from all of this.

I occasionally think that my peers are losing faith in journalism, just because of how much it is changing and how stark some of the job opportunities are. Yet, I strongly believe that the journalists who participated this year have experienced either a revival or a boost in their enthusiasm for journalism, and it was wonderful watching how much they enjoyed this time.

The advisers of this program should also be recognized because they took the time out of their busy lives to help college journalists produce this paper. Their advice was invaluable.

This was one of the scariest things that I have done.

(Besides spending a night at the Broward County homeless shelter for a night)

Photo by Mike Rice/WWFF Photo Adviser

Michael Koretzky, director of this odd program, said that my role as editor would be the least powerful out of all the roles. I had thought: “Good. I’m not ready for that much power, anyways.”

Even though Koretzky said otherwise, I still felt like I had a lot of power, and I wanted to use it wisely. I wanted to act fairly and efficiently.

At one point, we had to decide what we would do for the cover story. The art director had taken a cool and impressive photo using double exposure. It looked like something out of a Time magazine. The only problem I had with that photo was that the story attached to it wasn’t very well written. Yet, when the time came to decide, I agreed with the other staffers that we should run that story and the photo. I let my decision be made by the art.

Immediately, I realized my mistake. I couldn’t let that happen, not when I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied with the end product. Gathering all the gut that I had, I shut the door to our meeting room and turned around. All eyes were on me. I hoped that they wouldn’t notice I was shaking (They did.) I told the staff about my reservations, and they all listened intently.

Koretzky sent me any email after all of this was done:

“You got overwhelmed at distinct moments and showed no fear — even though you felt it. During the photo confrontation, your hands actually started shaking. But you plowed ahead.”

I have a backbone.

I don’t care if people see that I am scared; what matters is that they know that I can get past it no matter what. My mom didn’t raise a coward.

What I can give.

Surprisingly enough, in the past two years of being part of The Mirror, we have never used a budget line.Yeah, some journalists might think, “Are you serious?” Well, yes. We used to keep simple story lists on Google Docs and somehow managed to keep track of everything without needing a budget line. I didn’t know when The Mirror stopped using budget lines; I’m sad that this happened.

I’m bringing back budget lines at my newspaper. It’s in progress now. I don’t know how we survived without them in the last few year. I’ve talked to my staff, gave them a rundown, and everything is going smoothly so far.

More people should take part in this program.

The experience of working on this special edition of Homeless Voice created a bond for the journalists, who before Saturday, never even met each other. It’s the fact that college journalists would voluntarily chose to give up their Labor Day weekend to work at a shelter that makes our group special. It’s good to know that these journalists still exist.

Check out more of the participants’ hard work.

  • Dori Zinn, Society of Professional Journalists blogger (S. Florida chapter), made an awesome Storify of the behind-the-scenes action.

[View the story “Will Write For Food” on Storify]

  • Will Write for Food Tumblr with more photos
  • PDF of the final product: