Shadi Garman is a student in the Graduate Program in International Affairs (GPIA) pursuing a concentration in Media and Culture. She is currently in Cape Town, South Africa where she is participating in the 2015 International Field Program (IFP) during June and July. In Cape Town she is working with GroundUp, an online community-focused newspaper, to create photography and assist with their social media presence. In this interview Shadi shares her experiences working with GroundUp so far.
The South Africa (SA) IFP is unique this year because it offers students the choice to work with either urban or media focused organizations. Was this what drew you the SA IFP?
This is actually my second time in South Africa. Three years ago, I volunteered in Nature’s Valley for a couple of months. However, last time I was only in Cape Town for a few days. The opportunity to explore such an exciting city for two months and to work in media truly sold the South Africa IFP for me.
Did the required pre-departure courses prepare you for the work you are currently doing?
The course was immensely helpful to provide all of us with a knowledgeable foundation of South Africa’s history and how present-day life in the country is as well. We had a solid mixture of assigned readings, short documentary screenings, and lively discussion in class. While it is always a bit overwhelming to travel to a new place, I believe that the class and the lab definitely prepared us well.
What are the objectives of the social media and photography projects you are working on for GroundUp?
My goal for GroundUp is to build their social media brand. Currently, they have consistent, amazing articles from journalists that come from a diverse range of backgrounds. GroundUp is a fantastic community news organization and I aim to help expand their reach as much as I can. As for photos, it is a wonderful opportunity for me to expand my current photography work (http://www.shadigarman.com) to develop more photojournalism skills.
Is the work you are doing with GroundUp the kind of work you had hoped to do in SA?
Yes and no. The work I am doing is mostly what I was hoping to do, but GroundUp has also led to other opportunities in the process. I’ve made great contacts through this organization to pursue my own interests, in addition to my time working at GroundUp.
What success or challenges have you experiences so far?
Language is not a barrier in South Africa. While there are 11 official languages in the country, English is widely spoken. My main challenge has been being brave. In a new place, it can be very intimidating to speak your mind and try to be involved. However, this gets a little easier each day. While my internship isn’t perfect, there are unexpected benefits to the challenges I face. This experience has given me invaluable insight into inter/intrapersonal communication, workplace dynamics, and organizational structure. Observing firsthand the struggles and successes of a local news organization is a rare opportunity. Even being in our group dynamic of 9 people constantly is a lesson in itself!
You are conducting research on ‘the impact of technology and social media on young South Africans’? What are you expecting to find?
There are currently the same percentage of South Africans that have access to mobile phones as the percentage of Americans. While that doesn’t mean all of those individuals have smartphones with internet capabilities, the implications are quite exciting. South Africa is a fascinating case study into how the digital revolution is changing the world. I’m particularly interested with how social media is used by South Africans as a tool to shape their identity in the post-apartheid world. Being here is invaluable for that kind of research. My main objective is to talk to people, hear about their experiences, and simply listen. Hopefully by the end of this trip, I will have too many stories to share!
What do you expect will be the impacts of your work on these organizations?
I look forward to developing a social media best practices document for GroundUp to utilize and tweak to fit their needs in the future. Being an intern for only two months is a relatively short amount of time, so I hope to create something that their permanent staff can use and further develop over time.
Any funny stories you’d like to share?
In our first week in South Africa, several of our classmates and Sean Jacobs (our professor) had to push a minibus taxi that had broken down in the middle of a busy street! That was quite hilarious to watch.
What is your living situation like?
We have been very lucky during this IFP in terms of housing. There are 9 of us in one house, that’s beautifully decorated! I have an attic room, which is cozy even though I frequently hit my head early in the mornings. It definitely has started to feel like home.
What advice would you give to students interested in participating on the 2016 South Africa IFP?
Go to South Africa and you will never regret it. It is a beautiful country, with many natural wonders. There is also a lot of complexity in the political and racial landscape of the country, which is also important to witness and learn from. I definitely recommend being very forthright about your interests and getting in contact with your internship supervisors as soon as possible to make sure that it is the right fit. But I 100% recommend the trip because I strongly believe that South Africa is an unforgettable place that will teach you a lot about your core values.