Working as a Student Writer for UC Davis Global Affairs
Riding towards Sacramento, the packed charter bus groans and shakes as its standing occupants stomp and sing at the top of their lungs. I grin in acknowledgment at our collective confusion as I sit across from my fellow Global Affairs students and staff members. I turn to face the flowing Afghan flags and bright smiles, and I ask the closest Fulbright Student, Nasrin Sultani, what they’re singing.
“Oh this is Ahmad Zahir — he is like the Elvis of Afghanistan,” Sultani said. “For us he represents cultural ideas of the past we want to uphold today.”
It’s times like this that I wonder at the opportunities offered to me as a student writer for UC Davis Global Affairs. In December 2017, I signed on to be their first student writer, and since then, I haven't looked back. In the process, I’ve gained credits for a professional writing minor, and I’ve had the good fortune to work with accomplished academic and professional figures from all over the world.
Choosing a minor
Much like choosing a major or a minor, choosing an extracurricular during your college career can seem like a daunting task. UC Davis is home to many fantastic programs that are constantly on the hunt for creative students.
I’m graduating with a degree in psychology and a minor in professional writing. Working for UC Davis Global Affairs helped me recognize that I wanted to pursue the University Writing Program’s professional writing minor. I hope to show prospective students that the process of choosing a degree can be incredibly rewarding when combined with extracurriculars.
Learning outside the classroom
I began my experience at Global Affairs with a story about a former Somali Minister of Agriculture, Abdi Ahmed Mohamed. This gave me the unique opportunity to learn in an environment outside of my undergraduate classes. As a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow, Mohamed spoke at a UC Davis graduate seminar about international agriculture development.
At the seminar’s conclusion, I sat down with Mohamed, where he expressed excitement over his presentation.
“I wasn't sure what I was expecting from this presentation,” he said. “But I saw a lot of interest, it has generated a lot of interest, and it helped the students to see perhaps aspects that are not usually covered.”
Beyond the presentation, I had the chance to get to know Mohamed on a personal level and learn about his experiences in Somalia as a young boy and what drove him to study agriculture.
Through Mohamed I was introduced to UC Davis Global Affairs’ relationship with the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program. The program is part of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, which brings accomplished professionals from countries with developing and emerging economies to the U.S. for professional development. To date I have had the distinct honour of writing numerous profiles and feature articles on the program’s UC Davis alumni.
Outside the comfort zone
Soon after my story on Mohamed I swiveled to the global impact of UC Davis undergraduate students. In February of 2018, I published a story on the efforts of UC Davis engineering undergraduates on improving access to water in Peru. The student engineers — led by Evan Barnett, Nicolas Dante Dilliot and Nisha Marwaha — worked with the Peruvian community of La Huaylla to repair the local water system with grants from the Blum Center for Developing Economies within Global Affairs.
“One of the major issues the community had was they just didn't have enough water throughout the day,” said Barnett. “The reservoir had some water but the way the pipes were designed it didn't flow right.”
As evidenced by the complex engineering issues at hand, this article was one of the most challenging of my Global Affairs tenure. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone, but I came out a better writer and technical analyst.
Stretching as a writer
I’ve had eclectic work opportunities through UC Davis Global Affairs. One week I could be interviewing Afghan Fulbright Students about leadership, and the next I could be writing a story about the long-term relief provided by water catchment systems in Peru or an agricultural design project in Botswana.
While the subjects of my writing have constantly changed, the UC Davis Humphrey Fellows have continued to emerge as a topic in my writing.
In April 2018, I covered the International Women’s Day event at the International House Davis, hosted by the Davis Chapter of the United Nations Association. The event featured an all-women Humphrey Fellow cast of Fernanda Gonzalez, Laila Annouri and Selenge Chadraabal.
I found myself thrust into the previously unlikely experience of learning the intimate life stories of professionals hailing from Ecuador, Morocco and Mongolia, respectively. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, the three fellows offered their own uplifting advice to women across the world.
“I wanted to share with people that when women want something, we can get it. And it doesn't matter where you’re born or where you grew up,” said Annouri. “The most important thing is who you are and what you want to achieve. Doors will open for you if you have that ambition.”
My next story came in July of 2018, during which I wrote about Global Affairs’ International Graduation Celebration. The festive event recognized the contributions of the UC Davis international community, featuring the unique experiences of graduating undergraduate student Titcho Farima Kone Kito of Burkina Faso and graduating Ph.D. student Zidong Li of China.
Finding a mentor
These experiences and more have culminated in my most ambitious work at Global Affairs. I have begun working with Angelina Davydova, a Russian journalist who is part of the latest cohort of Humphrey Fellows at UC Davis. Together, Davydova and I have spearheaded a multimedia project that will profile each Humphrey Fellow currently at UC Davis. The profile will include an article about the fellow as well as photographs and podcasts from the interview process.
In just two years with UC Davis Global Affairs, I have gone from attending classroom seminars to designing and implementing my own journalistic multimedia projects. I’ve learned how to hold virtual interviews with scholars in other countries and how to research the technicalities behind global projects.
Most importantly I’ve had the pleasure of learning from the subjects of my articles. This experience has given me the unique opportunity to hone my interpersonal skills with cultures and ideals from all over the globe.
Looking toward the future
As I prepare to graduate, I am reflecting on the opportunities provided to me as a student writer at UC Davis Global Affairs. My work has been invaluable to my personal and professional life, showing the power of what UC Davis students can do with their academic passions through extracurriculars.
Going forward, I will be pursuing my passion for writing through the median of food. I’m spending my first post-grad summer in Barnard, Vermont, where I’ll be interning at La Collina Vineyards, Kiss The Cow Farm and Fable Farm Fermentory. Soon after I will be moving to Florence, Italy to further pursue my culinary interests at The Badia a Coltibuono in nearby Tuscany. I hope to channel these gastronomic experiences into a food writing career with a scope as global as my position of Student Writer at UC Davis Global Affairs.
See Rowan O’Connell-Gates’ writing portfolio with UC Davis Global Affairs.