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Our Reflections

‘Travelling expands the mind’- Hans Christian Andersen

As I sit here awake, jetlagged with my laptop in hand, I struggle to write what this trip has meant to me. How do you describe an experience that has changed who you are?

The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour allowed me to progress not only in a professional sense but also personally. For 17 days, we were immersed in the industry, being real foreign correspondents for the UAE and Jordan. As corny as this sounds it truly was an experience unlike anything else.

Coming from a somewhat sheltered life, being the only child, and surrounded by many family and friends, I had an urge to push myself out of my comfort zone. Unlike most other students, I had never been overseas without my family, this was a big step for me, part of the reason I chose to go on this study tour. Sometimes the best thing is to be plunged into the unknown. I remember sitting in the Melbourne departures lounge, waiting to board our plane, questioning my decision, ‘was I ready for such a big step?’

The first day spent in Dubai roaming the backstreets I felt un-protected (I say that in the most positive way), witnessing a different lifestyle. Going into this experience I had preconceived idea of Dubai: big, bold, and gold. I found all of that to be true but with contradictory elements. The westernised new Dubai lived up to everything I thought it would, but wandering the backstreets I realised Dubai is not a country for all to prosper.

As Marilyn Vos Savant said: ‘To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe’. Through being an observer I have learnt that everything/everyone has a story to tell. Journalism seems simpler now. Before this trip, I struggled to find stories, interview people and ask the hard questions, I could have only dreamed of gathering a story and reporting on it within the same day.

There were loads of moments on this trip that taught me lessons about myself and journalism. Such a moment will stick with me for life, the day we went to the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism. We sat and listened to inspiring, confronting stories of journalists and filmmakers captured by The Assad Regime and ISIS. I think everyone in that room would agree that they couldn’t help but feel inspired by the motivation of these men. These humble men risked everything for their work.

For the first time I considered myself a journalist, not a student. Irbid made me realise that I am stronger than what I think I am. Walking the streets of Irbid at night, saw a change from daylight, the bright family filled town became a mysterious dark place, with mainly males lining the streets. Usually, I would be quite afraid of approaching a situation like this, but as this experience has taught me, go into things with an open mind.

The following day we went to the Irbid Palestinian Refugee Camp, something I had been looking forward to since the beginning. As we walked the streets, children began to follow us. Playing and talking to the kids, we all began to have fun and find light within the camp. I remember saying that I loved the fact that although we didn’t speak Arabic, we were able to communicate through other ways. Children are children no matter their circumstances.

Three weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been the same journalist or person I am today. A simple news story doesn’t show the full depiction of the region. This is a valuable experience for any future media makers or journalists. It is our role to educate, and give different perspectives. This can only be done through more study tours and educational travel like this. As I was boarding our flight from Dubai to Melbourne, I felt proud in the work that I had created.
— Caitlin McMullen
When I wrote my application letter for this trip, I was unsure about where I wanted to go as a journalist, and I wanted to use the experience as a stepping-stone into a broader path. After just over two weeks in the Middle East, my passion for journalism has grown incredibly, and it was overwhelming to see all the opportunities there are for journalists around the world.

Our group was lucky enough to experience some diverse life and career opportunities in such a short period of time, and something that really stood out for me were the industry visits we made, and getting to meet the journalists who work in the middle of the action.

Being thrown into a completely foreign place and not speaking the language made things challenging, but it didn’t take long for everything to sink in, and once you are immersed in the culture around you everything is a positive experience.

I know a lot of people have talked about what a life changing experience this trip was, but I just think it reinforced a lot of preconceived ideas I already had about the Middle East, and instead of shocking me about the place and the culture itself, it opened my eyes to how the media really can skew anything to such a grim extent.

If anything, I have learnt that the media tends to generalise people so much that sometimes they don’t seem like humans anymore, and the reality is that the people here who have been through so much in their lives have more humanity than a lot of us.

That being said, this trip was definitely a not to be missed opportunity, and I feel so privileged to be one of the twelve lucky journalists chosen for the journey. I hope that some point in the future, my career will take me to the Middle East.
— Christine Byllaardt
Working on The Foreign Correspondent was the most fun and rewarding thing I have done in my time at uni. Travelling to a region that I knew nothing about was daunting and took a little bit of getting used to, but the experience was so worth it. The highlight for me was spending two nights in Dana Village, a little cliff-side town in the middle of nowhere. Seeing how beautiful the Jordanian countryside was, before talking with Bedouins living off the land was amazing.

Another highlight was pushing through a mostly Palestinian refugee camp near Irbid and the Syrian border. It was an intense experience that required top effort and concentration from everyone. Interviewing people who didn’t necessarily like journalists was completely different from anything I had done before. The group of 12 were fantastic and we all worked really well together, so that made things easier.

It’s great to learn about a place that doesn’t often grab positive media attention. There’s so much more to see in the Middle East and I can’t wait to go back there and explore more.
— Stephen Jones
Returning home was a sad day, after 18 days of hard work and fun with new friends and future colleagues. I am so proud of what I have achieved in such a short amount of time, and having had the chance to utilise the journalistic skills I have learnt about for three years during my degree. Tough deadlines, late nights, early mornings, Turkish coffee, interesting interviews, juggling equipment, shawarma, writing beautiful stories and forgetting what day it is – all became a part of the daily routine, and I loved it.

I feel privileged to have had this opportunity to experience such a beautiful country like Jordan and have the opportunity to meet some incredible people doing excellent work in Journalism. Meeting people who have had their lives changed as a result of war is enough to make you count your lucky stars and motivate you further to find and report the truth, and always approach a story with two eyes. My confidence has significantly lifted because of this study tour, and now I feel like I can approach anything and anyone, and for that I am grateful.
Learning to work with what you’ve got in short time spans, and researching and writing stories with substance was all a part of the challenge that was the Foreign Correspondents study tour.

I loved my time in the Middle East, and I can’t wait to come back and work as a journalist again in the future. Question everything.
— Stefania Di Paola
The foreign correspondent study tour was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. Over the two weeks we managed to visit so many places, meet some incredible people and hear amazing stories. This tour really opened up my eyes to what parts of the Middle East are like away from the media’s negative portrayal of the region. It is mind blowing how different this region, particularly Jordan, is in comparison to what we actually see on television. And I know that I will be encouraging my family and friends to visit this amazing part of the world.

The study tour has been a massive opportunity not only for my journalistic skills to grow but also for me to grow. It has encouraged me to put myself out there and really look at what is in front of me. I have become more inquisitive through this experience and I hope that I will now be able to find a story wherever I look. I feel as though I now have a better understanding of what it means to be a journalist and what the job actually entails. It’s so different from just being at university and learning skills to become a journalist. Actually having deadlines and producing real content rather than just an assignment was something that I really enjoyed. My confidence with journalistic writing has definitely increased and I really think I now have a style.

There were some times when I did struggle throughout the tour particularly, when we met some Syrian refugees. I found it extremely difficult and the situation was completely overwhelming that I couldn’t ask any questions and Andrew had to take over. At the time I was annoyed with myself for not being able to ask questions but I am proud of myself for the story that I wrote about Salah Beshara.

I’m really proud of what all of the group has
achieved and amazed at all we have experienced. If anything, I would’ve liked the study tour to go on for longer so we could visit more places and learn more about the region and its cultures. I hope this study tour happens again next year so that other journalists can experience what we did.
— Edwina Toohey