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From global immersion, students find their stories

Katie Kriz

With a deadline rapidly approaching, Northeastern University journalism student Emily Rudisill was still scrambling to find sources for a story on a new construction site near historic ruins. A trip a few days earlier had yielded few useful results, so Rudisill got creative.

“I went to the construction site alone to see what information I could find. I found a hole in the fencing and decided to walk into the construction site,” Rudisill said. “It was the end of the day, but there were still a few workers left finishing up.”

That risky move paid off: Rudisill was soon meeting with the project’s head architect, a key interview for her story. But what made Rudisill’s doggedness even bolder was the fact that her reporting wasn’t happening in Boston but halfway across the world, in Amman, Jordan, where she, along with other Northeastern journalism students and faculty, were documenting life in the Middle East.

The five-week trip to the Middle East is an annual part of the Dialogue of Civilizations program. Planned with a focus on Egypt, this year’s political and social upheavals prompted a move to Jordan and Turkey. Also traveling with the journalism and photography students were 13 Arabic language students from Northeastern.

Student journalists and photographers, working closely with professors Carlene Hempel, Denis Sullivan and Robert Sansone, were responsible for finding original stories about life and culture in Jordan and Turkey, many of which were published on The Boston Globe’s Passport blog that documents world events. Students blogged about their experiences finding their own stories, sources and translators — the same work expected of any professional foreign correspondent.

“I’m sure there are journalists here, but I’m telling you, we didn’t bump into any,” said Hempel, whose husband, Globe reporter Geoff Edgers, accompanied students on the trip and reported his own stories from the Middle East. “We didn’t find any competition here — it’s like we were the only show in town.”

Students were working outside their comfort zones, unable to rely on the familiarity of Boston but instead forced to locate their own expert sources and navigate unknown cities.

Over the course of five weeks, the students filed stories on a diverse range of topics including street art, the lives of people with disabilities, and the upcoming election of a new Turkish prime minister.

“I teach J1 and J2 (introductory journalism courses) and students have to go out to find pieces to report, but so often they pitch things they already know about — stories that come from their own universe,” Hempel said. “They cannot do that here — it’s impossible. They have to get out, they have to talk to people, they have to figure it out from scratch. And it is the best possible experience for journalists to get out there and figure out.”

Katie Kriz, who participated in the photojournalism component of the program, said her experience was “different in every way you could imagine” from what she had previously experienced as a reporter and photographer.

“Everyone is going to have a different shot,” Kriz said. “It’s the perfect place to learn photography because you’re not shooting things you’ve already seen.”

A class blog includes stories, photographs and video from the reporting trip, plus links to individual student blogs.

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