Can I call myself a foreign correspondent? I think so!

About 10 years ago, back when I was a freshman in college, I decided it would be my goal to become a foreign correspondent. What could be better than getting paid to go to new places and meet interesting people and tell their stories? 

But in today’s world, it’s becoming increasingly hard to make it there no matter how hard you work, at least through the traditional avenues. News organizations around the world are cutting back on full-time staff, especially in far-off lands, as social media and the Internet continue to upend journalism. Sure, people can still get sent abroad after spending a few (or more) years learning the ropes back in the U.S., England, Australia or wherever they’re from. But those positions are few and far between now. I knew this coming to Cambodia. I moved here without the safety net of an organization, and yet, I feel like I’m doing some of the best work I think I have ever done. (Some of my favorite pieces that I’ve done in Camboodia have recently come out and can be read herehere and here.)

It’s been incredibly challenging (both the journalism work and the daily living), and some days I stop and wonder why I seem to always take the road less traveled. But then I remember the opportunities I have created for myself and the experiences and people I’ve met so far. I’m getting ready to head to Thailand for a week to report on a handful of stories for various outlets. Then I’ll head to northwest Cambodia for another story. And then in a month or two, I should be going to another country that has been on my bucket list for years. (I’m still confirming details on this trip/story so want to hold off saying where and what it is.) In between all this, I’m trying to squeeze in time for coffee, drinks, dinners and get-togethers with all the fascinating people I’ve met here. 

Thinking about this reminds me why I put up with all the challenges: low pay, instability and lack of organizational support (paid time off, benefits, translators, etc.) being the most nervewracking for me career-wise. Loneliness and cultural differences being the hardest in my personal life. 

I got a taste of living and working abroad while working at a daily newspaper on Saipan several years ago. That was a very exciting experience for a new college graduate that also afforded me a lot of opportunities, including traveling to Samoa and China for stories. That period of my life looked far different for some reason, though. I can’t really pinpoint why, but I remember struggling a lot more back then to find my footing. Maybe it’s a sign of how much I’ve grown over the past six years, but I feel like I trust myself and my abilities a lot more now and am enjoying the ride much more this time around. 

My foreign correspondency looks a lot different than how I envisioned it 10 years ago, but I’m doing it. I’m a foreign correspondent. I’m doing it on my terms and making it work! I feel so very lucky right now.  

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The Khmer Rouge anniversary

Friday marked the 40th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge seizing control of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital and largest city. Over the next nearly four years, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians would be brutally tortured and executed – one-fourth of the population. 

I was expecting some large-scale remembrance ceremonies on Friday. Maybe I just missed them, but as I walked around the city, I saw little activity marking the anniversary. Instead, people were just returning from the provinces following the three-day Khmer New Year celebration that ended on Thursday. 

In the evening I met a university student who chatted with me in a park. The anniversary and what it represented never came up. He instead told me about how he moved to Phnom Penh from a province in order to attend university and work at a hotel and how he so badly wanted to be able to afford a bigger motobike. 

One thing that struck me was that he knew – as most young Cambodians I speak to seem to – that there are many policies holding him and others back from achieving their full potential and a life they deserve. He talked about how he simply wanted to obtain a job that would allow him to be able to buy both gas for his moto and food to eat, not have to choose between one or the other on any given day. 

It’s an interesting time to be in Cambodia, and I’m excited to see how this new generation will shape the country’s future.