During my freshman year of high school, I abandoned my lifelong dream of becoming a professional journalist and instead began to consider careers that would help me fulfill the much loftier goal of “helping people.” This goal eventually brought me to the School of Foreign Service and landed me in Arabic class. It has pushed me to explore careers in international affairs, while I continue to pursue journalism as a hobby.
It wasn’t until I studied in Amman, Jordan, this summer — some 5,917 miles away from The Hoya’s newsroom — that I realized that journalism and humanitarianism are not mutually exclusive pursuits.
To say that the time I spent in Jordan was a tumultuous period in the region would be an understatement. Just five days after I arrived, Daesh (ISIS) took Mosul, making headlines worldwide as it began its campaign in Iraq. A few weeks later, international attention shifted to Gaza, where Israel launched Operation Protective Edge following the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers.
While Jordan remained an island of political stability amid a sea of war and destruction, its people were not unaffected. It seemed as if everyone I met had a story that was shaped by the violence and terror in the region, and in a country that serves as a refuge for Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians, perhaps everyone did.
A cab driver spoke with gusto about returning to his country to fight alongside his brother. A young woman found that her plans for celebrating Eid al-Fitr (the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan) with her extended family were interrupted when their home in the Gaza Strip was turned into a war zone. A friendly shopkeeper’s voice lowered and face fell serious when he recounted coming to Amman to escape civil war in Syria — a war in which all of his siblings and friends were still living.
What shocked me was how few of those stories were shared. When I spoke with my friends in Europe and the United States, they seemed to miss a dimension of the summer’s conflicts. Many of them formed passionate opinions based on long-held political beliefs about certain issues, while being all but apathetic to others. None could grasp the utter horror of the destruction that was ongoing in the Middle East.
My friends did not know the stories of the conflicts, because most of the stories were not being told. It was this summer that I realized the power that journalists have in spurring humanitarian empathy and impassioned calls for action, not just in the way they tell stories, but in the stories that they choose to tell.
That is the lesson that I have tried to bring back with me to the newsroom this semester. As a student journalist, I have the capability and the responsibility to tell the stories that need to be told — stories about a dozen Syrian refugees who couldn’t perform a show at Georgetown due to U.S. visa-granting policies that seemed to work against them; stories about students who feel that the Student Health Center, which is supposed to be the primary campus resource for sick students, has underserved them; stories about an ambitious young woman with contagious enthusiasm whose life was cut far too short.
I’m still not sure about what career path I want to follow, but I know what I want to do for now. I want to keep telling stories that matter. I want to keep telling stories that can help people.
Molly Simio is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. She is The Hoya’s campus news editor. Leavey 421 appears every Sunday at thehoya.com.