Two Students from Northwestern University in Evanston Pursue Journalism Residencies in Qatar

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Two Students from Northwestern University in Evanston Pursue Journalism Residencies in Qatar

Photo by Syed Owais Ali

Photo by Syed Owais Ali

Story by Meher Mehtab. 

This semester, Northwestern University in Qatar welcomed two students from the home campus in Evanston who are in Doha for their journalism residencies, a required part of the journalism program at NU-Q and Northwestern in Evanston which sends juniors and seniors off to work professionally in ten-week internships at various news, public relations, and communication organizations.

Both students, Brandon Wilson, 22, and Tal Axelrod, 21, are seniors and are currently interning at Al Jazeera English. They are both staying in Education City student housing.

Wilson, a senior journalism student, was nominated for a College Emmy in General Assignment Reporting by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and is under consideration for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence award, the Murrow Student Journalism award, as well as for an award from the Hearst Foundation’s Journalism Awards Program.

The award-nominated story, which Wilson worked on for a class and published on YouTube late last year, followed the journey of a high school soccer player, Liza Gabrek, who had an aneurysm in the middle of a soccer field in 2014. After several fruitless attempts at contacting Gabrek’s family, Wilson was on the cusp of giving up on the story before the family finally contacted him. He was then given unprecedented access, visiting Liza and her family regularly, sitting in on her physical therapy sessions, and even attending her graduation day.

After a rewarding time at Northwestern in Evanston, Wilson chose Doha as his residency site despite having plenty of great options in the United States. He said he wanted a change and to experience a foreign culture.

“The opportunity to work at a place like AJE—I wouldn’t want to pass that,” said Wilson, who hopes to broaden his horizons with this experience and get a more global perspective on how stories are told. “I don’t feel stories are told the same way cross culturally and those are important nuances to learn.”

Despite the pressure of a wide cultural gap here in Doha compared to what he is used to in the States, Wilson said he feels much more comfortable than he expected. He said he has found Doha to be an easy place to get used to, especially since Axelrod is interning at the same place. Wilson also works at AJE with a student who graduated from NU-Q. “It’s kind of been like a smooth landing,” he said. “The culture is obviously different than it is in the West, but I find that I am enjoying myself quite a bit in these circumstances.”

“All of the people I’ve met in Education City have been incredibly nice and welcoming, and what’s even more cool is that everyone is from all over the globe,” Wilson said. “I’ve never had an experience like that, and I think it’s making the experience all the more rich.”

Axelrod, a senior double-majoring in journalism Middle East and North African studies, has been to the Middle East once before. He said he is drawn to the region and found that residency was a good chance for him to return.

“It’s been great, the people here are really nice and that is different from the States where you have to put yourself out there,” Axelrod said.

A born and raised New Yorker, Axelrod’s first time visiting the Middle East was part of a study abroad trip to Jordan. The trip, which was facilitated by the Council on International Educational Exchange, typically lasts for two months, but Axelrod had to forego the first month of the trip since it conflicted with his spring quarter in Evanston. Even so, he said the shortened timeframe did not hamper his enjoyment.

“I was directly exposed to a language, a culture and a group of people I had only ever studied from Evanston,” he said. “I enjoyed every minute, just soaking up Jordan, the streets, the people, everything. I learned a lot about the culture just by walking around and speaking with people. It was incredibly fulfilling.”

Previously, Axelrod interned at various sites in the United States, including ABC News, but he said Al Jazeera is providing a new experience for him. Working in an international newsroom like Al Jazeera has been very exciting for him, he explained, since his experiences in the States involved covering more local stories, whereas the Al Jazeera newsroom has more of a global focus.

Axelrod said he would love to come back to the Middle East after his residency, and that he hopes to get a job at Al Jazeera when he does. Axelrod, who has studied Arabic before, also said he would like to pursue Arabic language studies at Qatar University in the future, if he doesn’t begin his professional career right away after graduation. He added that he wants to practice his Arabic more, particularly with NU-Q students or other Arabic speakers in Doha.

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