“Home, let me come home”

“Home, let me come home”

Living abroad for the past month and a half has made me think a lot about what it means to be home.

When I started college two and a half years ago I had to learn to live without my parents, the two most important people in the world to me. I had to learn to live somewhere besides a house with my brother and sister and our dog. As an 18-year-old that meant adjusting to sharing a room with a stranger and having to make all new friends for the first time in at least four years.

I think it’s easy to romanticize some of those times now, and I think everyone does it. All of the adults in my life who went to college told me that college would comprise the best years of my life.

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But at first, it was really, really hard. Nobody prepares you for the loneliness you feel the first week, lying in a twin bed for the first time since childhood, not being able to sleep because you just wish you could be home with your mom and dad. I remember vividly that on one of my first nights in the College Avenue residence hall, staring out the window from my bed, the fixture outside the window the only light in the dark room, wondering what I was doing there. Being so excited and terrified and hit for the first time by the realization that I was going to have to make my own decisions if I wanted to be happy with what I was studying—if I wanted a chance at being satisfied with my future career.

After several months and finding my niche at Mizzou, and later feeling at home in Columbia, I remember being happier than I’ve ever been. I felt like I’d grown into myself, knew what kind of person I wanted to be and was figuring out how to be her. Most importantly, I was happy so much more often than I wasn’t. And this feeling of home, of taking care of an apartment and being surrounded by friends and a community, only intensified a year ago after I met Husain.

And then, seven weeks ago, I left all that.

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I’d been planning big-picture aspects of this trip for over a year and I’d been preparing myself to leave for just as long. On our first date I remember telling Husain that I had both an internship lined up for the summer and that I’d be studying abroad this year, wanting to make it perfectly clear where my priorities lay. Hannah Haynes counted down the days for us, and even as it got closer, it didn’t seem real.

But, just like leaving for college, no one tells you the realities of studying abroad. In previous posts I wrote about how exhausting it was just to leave the apartment at first and interact with people who aren’t native English speakers and how exhausting it is to get lost a lot. I guess nobody wants to spoil the excitement students feel as they’re getting ready to leave the country, some for the very first time, for a whole semester.

Here’s the thing: I wish they’d told us. I wish they told us how exhausting and frustrating everything is, at least at first. I wish they’d also told us that, just like college, we’d adjust. It wouldn’t be easy, and for every high there would be some really sucky lows, but we’d adjust, and then we’d be pretty happy.

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Something I felt really guilty about at the beginning of the trip was wishing so badly to see Husain. The guilt was both for a perceived betrayal of my own priorities (a career) and also because I thought wishing to go home made me ungrateful.

I’ve talked to Hannah about both of these things. Not only is she my best friend, but she’s also the only other person on this trip in a serious relationship with someone back home. Turns out we both feel a little guilty sometimes. But I wonder, as Hannah does, if anyone who studies abroad, even without the challenge of having a significant other across the ocean and a seven-hour time difference, really ever feels truly at home, like something resembling a Columbia-shaped hole isn’t missing from them.

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I’ll be honest—when I daydream about where I’ll live after I graduate college, I’m always with Husain. I never thought the beginning of my post-grad life would include a guy until recently, but after a year of being together, I really can relate to that silly Edward Sharpe song he’s always whistling.

I don’t know where I’m going to end up a little over a year from now after I finish school. It’s quite possible I’ll end up following a job somewhere where Husain isn’t, where my friends aren’t, where my parents and extended family aren’t, and we’ll all just have to make the long distance work once again. But I know that if that’s the case it’s going to be very similar to now, when I wish I could just enjoy my lovely life in Brussels without missing everyone.

I don’t know how you strike that balance. I do know how grateful I am to get to have these adventures and then have so much to go home to. Maybe, more or less, that is the balance.

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Why I’m abandoning objectivity (in posts on social media)

Why I’m abandoning objectivity (in posts on social media)

My posts over the past month have been an admittedly half-baked analysis of what I wish I’d known before reporting for the Missourian and rosy accounts of what it’s been like studying abroad so far. This one is different.

Over the past year and a half’s rocky political and social climate, and especially since the election of our current president, I’ve felt angry, devastated, scared, defiant and, most of all, frustrated. Frustrated at my inability to speak out against blatant human rights violations, in both intention and policy — all because I’m a journalism student.

This isn’t about me holding a liberal slant — I’m tired of hiding my perspective behind a thin veil of “objectivity.” It is exhausting to be told to keep quiet when the very identities of yourself and those you love are under attack — specifically female identities, LGBTQ+ identities and the identities of people of color.

I recently had a conversation with some fellow journalism students in which we lamented not being able to take any type of serious position on anything because we could be perceived as “biased.”

Unfortunately for those who hold journalists to this un-biased standard, it’s simply not possible. Implicit biases have just as much impact on those sitting at a computer filing a story as they do on someone in uniform deciding whether or not to shoot.

Implicit biases exist within everyone. This means that I will never be fully objective, and I’m not going to pretend to want to live up to this standard of objectivity, either.

Because when I am asked to be “objective” at the expense of not standing up for the basic human rights of refugees, for legal U.S. citizens stranded in their countries of origin, for those who would be powerless without the privileged standing up for them, I lose my passion for reporting, for journalism, for claiming to be a voice for others at all.

With strict objectivity, journalism loses its teeth. Even more, it loses its mouth and voice altogether. I’m encouraged by publications like The Guardian and The New York Times that have stopped pretending Donald Trump is a mere sheep in wolves’ clothing.

It just so happens that I’m in a different country as Trump has begun dismantling much of what I hold dear about the U.S., which makes me feel extra powerless. If I can’t intelligently condemn the latest human rights atrocity carried out by the Trump administration on Facebook or Twitter without my entire body of work being called into question, I’d rather not be in this industry at all.

The idea of objectivity is outdated. Let’s go for transparency instead.

(For anyone feeling I’m on the wrong track with this one, please express your views to me or to my international reporting professor Gareth Harding, who planted the seed for this post.)

Getting lost, getting very lost & finding coffee

Getting lost, getting very lost & finding coffee

No one tells you how exhausting it is living in a foreign country. Every time I step outside my door it’s an internal struggle: do I try and speak French today, or do I just drop the act and speak English in my obviously American accent to someone who may not speak very much English? If I don’t try today, will they think I’m rude for not speaking the language 80% of people in this country speak?

And I’m lucky, because I’ve been studying French for years and being immersed in it makes me feel like all the little forgotten parts are coming back. But for my friends, there’s not really a choice to try and pass as a French speaker in a simple interaction. Immersion is overwhelming. I understand this feeling any time I’m surrounded by people speaking Dutch or Turkish. Even French is often overwhelming.

For example, I was trying to buy a toaster for our flat last week and the cashier could tell I just really wasn’t getting that the toaster had a two-year warranty. The interaction ended with people in line behind me saying “warranty” over and over and me leaving the store frustrated and a little humiliated. C’est la vie.

Also, I got lost a lot this week. My trip to the grocery store ended with a 30-minute detour in some part of Brussels I’ve never been before, all because I was trying to find my bus stop and took a wrong turn. And then yesterday, on my way to Ghent, another major Belgian city, I took the tram going the wrong way while attempting to get to the city center. This resulted in me circling the correct tram station two or three times in the middle of a construction site across from an IKEA before Google Maps finally decided to end my misery and take me to the right place.

But Ghent rewarded me with its views, and I fell in love.

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Now, I’m not saying I’ve completely given up on the U.S. after this past week, but I’d definitely consider living in Ghent. (Unfortunately, it’s located in the mainly Dutch-speaking Northern region of Belgium, which is called Flanders.)

Oh, and not to leave out the coffee portion of this post — in order to fuel my tour of Ghent after getting lost for an hour, I needed my favorite source of caffeine, and lots of it. I visited two wonderful cafĂ©s that were very different from one another but served equally delicious coffee. The first was Mokabon, otherwise known as a test in patience. Already weary from my long trek from the train station, I had to wait another 20 minutes until the overworked waitress came to take my coffee order. But it was worth it.

(Side note: Mokabon is located directly around the corner from a Starbucks. Go to Mokabon.)

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My second cup of the day came later in the afternoon. I’d eaten some ahhh-mazing frites with sauce andalouse, maybe my favorite sauce so far, and was looking for somewhere to charge my phone when I happened upon the Sphinx, which is right next to a cinema of the same name.

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I needed more than one day with this city. But, alas, Brussels will have to do.

Brussels highlights, week 1(.5)

Brussels highlights, week 1(.5)

It would be an understatement to say that a LOT happened this week. In U.S. and EU politics, sure, but I’ve also been trying to adjust to living on a different continent.

The jet lag was rough. Really rough. There were several times the first few days where I actually thought I regretted deciding to study abroad. But after a week and a half, I feel much more like myself and have genuinely enjoyed myself this past week & weekend.

I’ll do some more in-depth posts covering my internship & other various experiences as the semester goes on, but since I have a lot to cover, here are some highlights of my first week and a half living in Belgium:

First of all, Brussels has some great #views.

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Brussels, quite literally, has an uptown and a downtown. The uptown is where we live, in an area called Ixelles, and the downtown is down the hill. This area overlooks the more historic and touristy areas of the city. This is my favorite view so far.
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This is me taking the above photo.
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See that white spire in the first two photos? That’s the top of this cathedral, one of the many buildings in Grand-Place adorned with intricate facades. They surround the large square that is the heart of Brussels’ tourist district.

And some great eats.

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Take this Margherita pizza, for instance. It’s from a place run by Italians called Il Nobile, a short walk from my apartment. I’ve eaten it three times so far. (I’ve eaten Belgian food as well, I promise. Most notably, frites with a side of garlic mayonnaise sauce. And a waffle.)

And a slight spiritual reprieve from the constant excitement.

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Here’s the beautiful Église Notre-Dame du Sablon (Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon Church) near where Hannah Haynes and I explored yesterday. The inside of this cathedral felt like another world altogether. Stepping outside afterward into the noise of cars in the middle of a bustling city was disorienting for both of us.

And a healthy dose of dissent.

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This is just one of the photos I took when I attended the Lights for Rights rally at Brussels’ Place de la Monnaie on Friday evening. It was powerful to feel the energy of so many women (and men) expressing their discontent with political leadership across the world, particularly the newly sworn-in administration in the U.S. But, as I quickly learned this week, the EU is not without its problems.
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I know it’s overwhelming, fellow woms. It’s okay to feel like this sometimes when the world seems constantly out to get you. We shall overcome.

This week ended on a high, though. Some great sightseeing and adventuring this weekend, both alone and with pals, made me feel more confident in the city and with public transport. I’m feeling pretty good heading into the second week of my internship.

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Be well this week, my friends!

What I wish I’d known

What I wish I’d known

What I wish I’d known at the beginning of the semester that I understand now about reporting is that it requires courage.

I’m not talking about the big stuff reporters cover, like war—most people know that covering dangerous conflict requires immense courage. But it also takes courage to pick up the phone and call a stranger, especially someone you know may not like you right off the bat because of your job title.

I’m not comparing covering war with calling a source—I’m just saying that sometimes little things that come up as you move toward writing a story, things you can control, can really get in your way if you let them. For me, it’s picking up the phone to call a stranger.

I really love writing—I always have—and I love what I’m able to do with words as a journalist. But on some days I majorly dread the whole talking-to-people part of journalism. One part of this is that I sort of naturally lean toward people-pleasing. I’m not a suck-up, I just really like it when people like me. Unfortunately, I signed up for people not always liking me when I began journalism school. So it goes.

And so I found myself falling behind on stories at times this semester. It wasn’t laziness, I just…had other things to do. Or so I told myself.

How long does it really take to call the court administrator to ask some follow-up questions about a meeting? What is there to be afraid of when calling a source for an accuracy check?

I’m just so scared of messing up. Not to psychoanalyze myself here, but I put a lot of pressure on myself. My parents know this from living with me through high school (and, let’s be honest, elementary and middle school). My editor knows this. My boyfriend tells me not to be so hard on myself. I knowI’m hard on myself.

And I guess I also learned this semester that I am going to mess up. It’s an occupational hazard if you want to do anything ever. And with each mess up, I learn something. I get a little more courage to go into tomorrow’s interview, to pick up the phone and call someone back right away, to move forward with a story on a risky topic.

I may not yet be the ultra-spunky reporter running toward danger with an ironclad will to get the story. But I’m getting there, hopefully inching closer with each phone call.

Public health & women’s hoops

Public health & women’s hoops

Hey, coming at you all briefly this evening to tell you about two veeery different things I had published this past week.

The first was an examination of the state of public health funding and spending in Boone County and Missouri as a whole. I began researching and reporting on this during the second week of the semester, back in August. In the process I learned just how complicated a topic this is and I wish I could’ve had a whole research team working on it with me so that I could’ve dived in deeper. But I’m really happy with how it turned out and am definitely happy to have it finally published.

For the second, I was definitely a bit out of my depth, but it was an awesome blur of an experience: I had the opportunity to cover a Missouri women’s basketball game on Tuesday night. Yep. My dad was excited. It was a nice, light change of pace after covering a sexual assault trial last week and finishing up the public health story over the weekend.

Please give them both a read!

(Header image credit: Adam Vogler/Columbia Missourian)

Good morning world and all who inhabit it

Good morning world and all who inhabit it

Yeah, yeah, yeah—I know I haven’t posted anything in a couple of weeks, which will probably knock a couple points off the ‘ole 4450 rubric, but I’m back to tell you about an experience I had this past week. I’ll take you through it, but I won’t tell you the end result — you’ll have to read the Missourian story I wrote about it. Here goes.

I practically lived at the Boone County Courthouse for three days.

Yeah, really. Being on the public safety & health beat this semester, I’ve covered several court proceedings, but never any trials before Wednesday afternoon. I was plucked from the newsroom to replace another reporter on my beat who was covering this trial and had other obligations.

So, starting at 2 p.m. this past Wednesday, I planted myself in the ceremonial courtroom, a cavernous room with turquoise walls, wooden benches and terrible acoustics. This was the middle of the first day of a trial where the charges against the defendant were first-degree rape and second-degree robbery.

That afternoon, I watched the victim testify. I will never forget what she looked like. I watched as she steeled herself to tell her version of events, then as she completely broke down during cross-examination when the public defender repeatedly accused her of lying in a pre-trial hearing. Her cries of “I must have been confused, that’s not what I meant to say,” over and over again, pleading for understanding, tore through me. I just kept thinking how this young woman could easily have been me or any of my friends.

The trial continued until 8 p.m. that night. I returned to the courtroom around 11 a.m. Thursday morning when DNA evidence that seemed to all but condemn the defendant was presented. Then I watched as the defendant, who spoke through two Arabic interpreters, spun a yarn that seemed, to me and to the assistant prosecutor, like a tale crafted specifically to explain away each of the many wounds the victim accumulated that night: she was so drunk that she fell down at least three times and scraped her knees and face repeatedly. He couldn’t explain the bruises on her neck.

At the end of his testimony came the part I knew I’d hear. I gritted my teeth and narrowed my eyes as one of his interpreters said the intoxicated 5’5″ woman forced the defendant, 6’5″, to have sex with her. He didn’t even want it, he said. It was against his morals and his culture to have sex with strange women. Also, he didn’t steal her phone, he said (this was the source of the second-degree robbery charge).

The jury, made up of eight women and four men, all white and middle-aged, began deliberations a little before 4 p.m. They continued for six hours that day, during which I sat on a wooden bench outside of the courtroom and pre-wrote the story I anticipated I could top with a verdict that evening.

But 10 p.m. came around and the jury was still unable to come to a unanimous decision on the rape charge. The judge sent them home for the night. Deliberations were to resume at 9:30 a.m. the next day, Friday.

*          *          *

Thursday night, as I tried to fall asleep, I couldn’t get the defendant’s face out of my head. I couldn’t shake the feeling that what seemed to me like such an easy conviction could end without a conviction at all.

There had been several times during the previous two days where I’d looked across the courtroom to where the defendant sat and I’d see he was staring at me. At first I’d hold steady and stare blankly into his dark eyes. I couldn’t decipher his emotions. I’d eventually break the stare, feeling uneasy. Later on in the trial I’d avoid looking in his direction at all.

But, Thursday night, I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. Lying there in the darkness, anxiety welled in the pit of my stomach. Either this man, a transient Sudanese refugee in his early forties, was innocent and had become caught up in the events of a terrible night, or he was a liar and a predator. Both terrified me.

*          *          *

I went back to the courthouse Friday morning, a bitterly cold November day that followed several days of 70+ degree weather. Jury deliberations continued until 1 p.m. Then, it was over. The victim returned to the courtroom with her many supporters, many of which had been there every day of the trial. They gathered around her as the jury was called in… (Read my story for more.)