How did you get your first job after graduating?
I worked at the student newspaper, the Ubyssey, as an undergraduate student. That helped land me an internship and then a job at CTV Vancouver as an online reporter, where I worked for a year before going to journalism school as a graduate student.
How has an Asian Studies degree helped you in your endeavors?
Knowing Japanese and having a solid foundation on the histories and languages of Asia has given me a definite advantage in my field. In journalism, specialization is key. My Asian Studies background gave me an expertise on an area that is often neglected by Canadian media. This gave me a unique chance to write stories that matter to me.
This past summer I was able to use my knowledge of China to get a research grant to produce a documentary on air pollution. I spent two months around Shanghai gathering footage, interviews and doing research. Without my studies of the region, this kind of endeavor would never be possible. My documentary comes out this April and is called “Dying to Breathe.” I’d say that makes my undergraduate degree in Asian Studies pretty worthwhile.
Are there any opportunities in your field?
There are a ton of opportunities if you know where to look and are passionate. I’ve been fortunate enough to freelance for the Vancouver Courier newspaper, work for CTV Vancouver, the Canadian University Press and CBC Toronto. These opportunities came from simply loving what I do and pursuing it ardently.
What can students/recent graduates do to get a foot in your industry?
If you want to start working as a journalist right away, it’s best to start freelancing for publications or do internships at local media organizations. That way you will be able to show off your skills and make sure the people who do the hiring know who you are.
The other alternative is to go to journalism school, which I did. UBC, Ryerson and Carleton University all have fantastic Master of Journalism degree programs. I am just graduating from Carleton in Ottawa and already have my dream job lined up for the summer. I’ll be working at CBC News in Toronto as an editorial assistant through the Joan Donaldson scholarship program. For me, journalism school was an amazing way to get access to those prestigious positions.
In your field what does a typical entry level position entail?
It varies a lot depending on your specialization (print, online, TV or radio). Whatever you choose, you’ll be expected to come up with story ideas, actively follow the news and be a strong writer. If you don’t know how to write, visit the Ubyssey on campus. They teach you (for free!) how to write in newspaper style.
Do you have any other advice that you would like to impart to students/recent graduates?
Follow your heart. You’ll never be happy unless you enjoy what you do. If you are interested in journalism, start volunteering and writing now. Gaining experience is the only way to become a good journalist.
Can you recommend your favourite location in your region?
I focused on Japan and can definitely say I love Shibuya in Tokyo. I’ve never seen a neighbourhood that is so alive with fantastic foods (try Ichiran Ramen) and a wonderful nightlife. If you’re a fan of coffee and in the neighbourhood, try Omotesando Coffee. It’s delightfully small with a beautiful Japanese garden out front. The shop beautifully marries the Japanese ideals of simplicity and dedication to produce an amazing iced coffee. Plus, it’s tucked away in a residential neighbourhood, so finding it is like discovering buried treasure.
What is one of your funniest or memorable moments abroad?
I was travelling in Shanghai this past summer and took a break from my research to do a tour. My tour group was visiting the Bund, which is the city’s famous waterfront. I’ve never been anywhere so crowded. Suddenly, a grandmother taps me on the shoulder. “Jiao pian?” she said, holding up her camera. I agreed to the picture and flashed my finest smile. That prompted an immediate reaction from the crowd who all grabbed their cameras and flooded over to my tour group. We spent the next thirty minutes striking poses and enjoying the spotlight. I’ll always remember my moment of fame, and the smile on that grandmother’s face.
Follow me on Twitter @mickicowan