It’s over 40 degrees out and I’m sweating enough to absorb every street food, marketplace and animal smell in the vicinity.
The rumbling yellow rickshaw I’m sitting in is perilously close to a truck’s imposing back wheel. I’m stuck in between a tire and a hard place, namely the wall of people streaming by on the street. I’ve been assigned by my editor to find the “hot spots” in a new city I’ve never been to, immersed in a language I don’t speak, in a country I never thought I would visit.
“Why you here in India?” my driver asks suddenly, echoing countless others who have posed the same question over the past few months.
But it’s a valid one. I’ve left behind every creature comfort: a mattress to sleep on, dependable electricity, clean water and cheese. I put university on hold after completing only one year to fly halfway across the globe for a journalism internship. I could have hunted for opportunities in Toronto, or saved up money and traveled the old fashioned way – strictly for pleasure. Why did I have to combine work and play in the most distant land I could think of?
But the answer is simple: I traveled 10,000 km to Southern India in the heat of summer because it was practical.
I wanted to get a better understanding of a different culture by living it. I wanted to challenge my career-focused desire to be a journalist. I wanted to gain work experience by traveling solo to push my boundaries (which will no doubt be pushed again in the near future). But it wasn’t on a whim that I decided to spend six months abroad, interning at Chennai’s most popular liberal daily.
The traditional work world is changing – or flattening, according to Thomas Friedman – thanks to globalization. Distinct cultures, values, perspectives, livelihoods from all around the world interact, and more importantly, work together on a daily basis. Job openings pop up overseas and companies travel across borders. Recent graduates may find that a cozy job in Toronto pales in comparison to an even cozier paycheque in Tofino. I want to be ready for the possibility of traveling for my career.
Moving around on a global scale isn’t a new phenomenon in my life, though. When you’re born in Russia, raised in Moscow and Hungary, and find only temporary resting places in cities across Canada, travel becomes your bread and butter (or borscht and maple syrup). Fittingly, the journalists I have always admired are cultural tasters and avid explorers: Suketu Mehta, Stephanie Nolen, Peter C. Newman, Joe Sacco. It’s no surprise they sparked my exploration gene.
On a more personal level (and I suspect more ideological), I think journalists need to have some international flair. Reporters target the broadest possible audience – the world – which requires experience and knowledge. And there is only so much you can soak up from a book. As a burgeoning reporter, that international edge is vital for me. For every student, it can be akin to a resume printed on gold.
So the thick smog, perilous rickshaw rides, and daily challenges to my sanity in India were well worth it. Because along with them came the rewards: a riotous Bollywood wedding, a glimpse of the Taj Mahal at sunset and a concentrated, hands-on crash course in reporting 101.