For almost three months, journalism senior Nola Valente took on a reporting internship in one of the most contentious countries in the world this summer.
Based in Jerusalem, Valente worked closely with a small team at a non-profit American news agency called The Media Line.
“Six minutes after I walked in the office for the first time, I had a cup of coffee in my hand and a seat in the conference room for the morning meeting,” Valente said. “By the second day, I was writing my first story, which was over Qatar and NATO.”She voiced that she felt intimidated by the extensive knowledge her colleagues had over the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and would have to spend time researching outside of office hours to catch up.
“I had a general understanding about the Middle East— primarily the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian Civil War,” Valente said. “Of course, I didn’t know the half of it until I stepped out of the office and conversed with locals— a few Israeli Defense Force soldiers, Bedouins, Arab-Israelis, Muslims, Jews and Latin American migrants. That level of understanding is not found in a classroom or sitting at a desk.”However, reporting in the Middle East was not easy, especially from Israel — a country surrounded by its “enemies.” She explained that her main challenge was to reach sources in Arab countries such as Libya, Lebanon and Egypt.
“On the rare occasion that a phone call went through, one of three things could happen,” Valente said. “After I mentioned that I was an American journalist, either I heard a click and beep, ‘I’m so sorry I cannot say anything without permission from the government,’ or they would agree to speak to me off the record.”To successfully report news in the region, persistence and adaptability became second nature to her. “You have to send out at least 20 emails while simultaneously trying different phone numbers until you find someone who is willing to comment,” she said. “Critical thinking and time management are two things that The Media Line helped me improve on.”
The linguistic barrier in the region was an opportunity to exercise creativity, according to Valente. “I needed Arabic if I wanted to realize 40 percent of the ideas I had. Luckily, altogether with some eight people reporting, Arabic, Italian, Korean, French, Spanish and Hebrew were covered, so our sources were diverse.”She found an ally in WhatsApp, however, a platform where she could personalize the interaction with voice messages and simplified questions in English for sources who were not comfortable having a continuous phone conversation. Either way, she intends to add Arabic as her fourth language next year.
“An investment to expose students to a place where the language, religion, attire, and national issues are entirely different from the reality they grew up in, is an investment in a generation of global leaders,” Valente said. “A foreign country is the greatest teacher of adaptability, patience, compassion and broad thinking and my dream is to see a shift in U.S. education to focus on teaching a global mindset.”