By: Paris Alston
For Morocco journalism program alumna, Samantha Harrington, it was an experience with her Moroccan journalism student partner that she says helped bridged the cultural divide.
“One day I was at a café with one of my American friends and both of our journalism partners,” she delightfully recalled. “We were supposed to be working on our independent study projects but all of a sudden, one of the Moroccan students decided we needed to open Photo Booth on our computers and start taking selfies together.”
For Harrington, it was an important moment of cross-cultural interaction.
“We were from completely different places, upbringings and families, but we’d become so tight-knit because we’d been doing so many interviews and working on our stories together. It kind of just shows how similar people are across borders. “
Harrington will graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2015, just two years after she completed the program. During her time, she researched and reported a story on the mourchidat, a religious women’s group in Morocco, which was published by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Morocco was her first overseas travel experience.
Harrington said that initially, she was a little disappointed about the program’s location.
“I thought, ‘that’s not where the center of news is. I need to be in Baghdad or Cairo or somewhere,” she said. “But being in Morocco helped me realize that I was more so interested in stories about education, the economy, art, things like that. These are such real places in the world with such real people that it’s so much bigger than conflict. It’s not just the war stories that should be happening.”
After completing the program, Harrington traveled to Jordan during the summer of 2014 to research ways to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in the United States. This March, she spent her Spring Break in Malawi with her documentary multimedia storytelling class completing a project for Care USA.
Harrington said that her experience in Morocco was good preparation for Jordan and Malawi. While her work in Jordan was more academic than journalistic, she was comfortable conducting interviews in the field because she’d already done it in Morocco. She added that the Arabic concept of time could be applied there, too.
“You’re going to set up an appointment for 3 p.m. but you’re probably going to wait a few hours before someone shows up,” she laughed. “And you’re going to except the tea and all of that and enjoy the waiting just as much as the rest of it.”
Malawi was more of a challenge for Harrington because she didn’t know much about the culture and couldn’t speak the language. She was also working for a client instead of on a story. However, she could still apply things she had learned in the past.
“I went back to those moments in Morocco and in Jordan where I understood things that I wouldn’t have had I not studied the culture,” Harrington said. “I tried to think about [cultural] things I was missing in Malawi and how to overcome them, and asked people for help so that I could understand.”
Harrington said that these three different experiences—one academic and journalistic, one research-based and one working for a client—will help her as she pursues her career goals. She is most interested in the type of journalism she was doing in Morocco but is keeping in mind the need for safety and stability among American journalists, especially freelancers, in North Africa and the Middle East.
“Freelancing isn’t always the safest thing do to because you may not have an organization backing you up with insurance or editors telling you to stay away fromcertain areas,” she said. “So, I’m glad I had the experience in the more academic and public relations sense.”
After graduation, Harrington will remain in Chapel Hill to oversee the summer interns for Reese News Lab, an experimental media and research project she’s been part of for three years. During this time, she’ll be figuring out what her next move is.
In the meantime, Harrington still carries many memories of Morocco with her. She has integrated the word “snu,” which means “what” in Moroccan Arabic, into her daily vocabulary. She said that Morocco taught her to better prioritize things, such as her academics.
“I went to Morocco wanting an awesome story that would get picked up by a great publication and wanting my Arabic improve a lot, but throughout my time there I realized those things weren’t important,” she said.
“That has definitely continued. I don’t care what grade I get in class, I care about what I’ve learned from my classmates and the interviews or assignments that I’ve done and that I’m enjoying every day. The future doesn’t matter as much as the present does because happiness in the present leads to happiness in the future. That was my biggest lesson in Morocco.”