Journalism students express their opinions as they reflect on the recent trip to Pennsylvania.
After they returned from Pennsylvania, Mr. Madin’s journalism students were required to write brief reflections about their trip experience. Here are some responses.
Traveling to Pennsylvania exposed me to a world outside of Westchester, outside of New York. I got to see and meet with people who look, think and function differently than me. I think being exposed to that as a high school student is really important because the bubble that is our hometown is not what the rest of the world looks like. All throughout our lives, as we work our way through college, into the workforce and as we settle down with families, we’re going to dive straight into the melting pot of America. We’ll meet new faces, people who maybe aren’t the type of people we’re used to. This experience in Pennsylvania gave us a head start on learning how to engage with, respect and appreciate those who are different from us.
In meeting with so many people across the counties we visited, these differences became apparent. America, in 2016, is a very divided country. People are unhappy and aren’t afraid to show it. But what comes with that are all types of stories, experiences and reasons. No two people that I met had the same story to tell. I found that to be profound, beautiful, exciting and valuable as both a journalist and as a person. On top of that, I really appreciated how many people were willing to talk to us and give legitimate answers to our questions. There were people here and there who blew us off once they heard we were “student-journalists,” or because they were “in a rush,” but overall the response from Pennsylvanians was great. Maybe I appreciated this more because I come from a place like New York, where in the city you’d have to go up to 100 different people just to get ten good responses. Either way, I was very pleased with how things on the streets went.
I think that these three days in Pennsylvania reinforced my interest in pursuing journalism. I’m a shy person; I’m not great at putting myself out there if I don’t need to and I’ll pretty much always try to avoid confrontation. You can’t really do that as a journalist. You have questions, people have answers. You need to get to those answers because they aren’t going to be hand delivered to you. Plus, people are either going to ignore you or walk all over you if you can’t put your shyness to the side. In Pennsylvania, I was pushed out of my comfort zone. I went up to complete strangers, not knowing how they’d react to me, and introduced myself and my questions. And it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. In fact, as soon as I got off the bus on the first day, a man who worked in a restaurant near where a group of us were standing came outside to inquire about our press passes and who we were. I took charge, stepped forward and introduced myself without even really thinking about it. Afterwards, I felt a sort of accomplishment for what I’d just done. It made it that much easier to talk to other people over the following days and I think it took a bit of my shyness away.
That first day also showed me how fun journalism can be. It’s a lot of hard work and I found that out as soon as I walked into the hall at Swarthmore and began piecing together my project. But I fully enjoyed myself since the first moment I stepped off the bus in Phoenixville. When my parents texted me asking if we had arrived at our first stop yet, I replied with, “Yeah, we’re out interviewing right now. It’s so fun.” And I meant it. I just had a good time talking to locals, walking around with my friends and realizing that we were actually good at this. The sense of accomplishment, like “this is what being a journalist is like, and I can do it”, made the time spent in Pennsylvania a thousand times more enjoyable. I don’t think I’ll ever get another opportunity like this one, and I’m beyond grateful for the chance I was given to do something great.
Going into this trip, I knew that I lived in a sort of bubble and that people think and live quite differently in places even as close as Pennsylvania. Growing up spending weekends in NYC I was taught, like many other kids, not to talk to strangers. I also learned that strangers didn’t want to talk to you. That people weren’t friendly. People don’t tend to smile or to wish others well.
As I got older and traveled more, I came to learn that is was not the case. In many small towns and cities, people partake in friendly banter with strangers regularly throughout the day. The Pennsylvania experience reinforced what I had recently been learning through travel, that people all around America are generally friendly. They want to have conversations on campuses, in coffee shops and even on the sidewalk. I was wished well by so many people, who were really interested in what I was doing and what I had to say. This, in turn, made me even more excited to hear what they had to say.
I found myself constantly wanting to talk to new people during this trip. At first, I was nervous to approach strangers for fear of rejection. However, once I learned that rejection was few and far between, I was even more enthusiastic. I appreciate interviewing much more after this experience. In my opinion, it is much more effective than reading articles or even discussing opinions in class. I also enjoyed putting the audio together into my own ‘mini podcasts’. I think in the future I will choose that medium for journalism when allowed, or at least try to incorporate it into my pieces consistently. It is very powerful to be able to hear someone’s opinions in their own voice.
I discovered through this trip that as a journalist, you can take any overarching topic and find a way to focus it so that it interests you. In our class prep we heard a short audio of a Trump supporter talking about the American Dream. That lesson really caught my attention, and I decided I wanted to focus my Street Soundz project on the American Dream. A lot of people thought deeply about my question and gave really insightful answers. It is very rewarding to see people respond to my questions positively. I also learned that a lot of times it takes a few interviews to perfect your questions. Your questions might make sense to you, but it’s important to figure out how to adjust your questions along the way.