I can’t believe February is already coming to an end. I feel so at home here and the thought of leaving in a month makes me want to cry.
This week at work was probably my favorite so far. Ida and I got to work with George Papagiannis again this week to produce podcasts about leaders in artificial intelligence for next week’s global conference being held at UNESCO.
I have never worked in producing before and up until this point, I basically had no idea what it even meant to be a producer. Because I was ignorant, I had mentally eliminated the possibility that I would ever do this or like it. (I am not proud to admit this, but what is the point of these weekly updates if I am not being honest?)
But when George presented this idea to us I signed on with enthusiasm. Working with him, and just being in the room and hearing his awesome stories, has gotten me so re-inspired about journalism and life and I wanted more of it. So I said yes without really understanding what it would actually require of me.
We received the long list of brilliant minds who would be speaking at the conference and were tasked with researching all of them, and determining who would be the most interesting, relevant podcast guests. It was hard to cut down the list because everyone was fascinating. (I watched probably at least 19 TED Talks during this part of the process and learned so much!) We made a long list of our favorites and then reached out to them to see if they would be willing to carve out some time during the conference to come down to the studio and talk to us. We expected a lot of rejections (note: this felt remarkably similar to planning my birthday parties in middle school).
To our surprise, only one person turned us down, and it was simply because our schedules didn’t match up. We had way more guests than we expected to have, but that is a good thing. (The middle school birthday party of my dreams, basically.)
We spent the rest of the week researching more, asking them questions, making sure we had the correct pronunciation of their names (we had guests from all over the world with really cool, hard to pronounce names), and preparing detailed production sheets.
It should come as no surprise to you that I did not know what a production sheet was until about 72 hours ago. But I was eager to learn and everyone was patient with me and everything was fine. (My anxiety is shocked, too.)
A production sheet, at least in this setting, is just a document with the guest’s name, title, a brief bio that can be read verbatim, interesting facts, and a list of personalized questions in a logical order.
I felt immense pressure while preparing these because I knew that George would read them 5 minutes before the session and if there were errors, they would be obvious and embarrassing for everyone.
Ida and I went over the 12 sheets roughly 150 million times with great care and the finest tooth comb you can possibly imagine. And reimagined the strategic schedule almost as many times.
We begin the podcast interviews early on Monday morning and I am nervous but so excited as I type this! George will conduct the interviews, but we have had all the contact with the guests so far, so we will go find them in the conference and bring them to the studio, and then sit in the room as they are being interviewed. If you would have asked me two weeks ago I would have told you that I wanted to conduct the interviews myself. Interviewing is my favorite part of journalism. But I don’t. I am so excited to be able to watch George conduct the interviews and learn from him.
This podcast is a new project for UNESCO, and in addition to producing it, Ida and I were tasked with brainstorming names for the series which will continue on after we both return to the states. We made a long list of titles and polled our office mates, and then sat with George for a while when he practiced saying them all in his radio voice. We finally settled on “Many Voices, One World” (which was my idea!!). This is the tagline of The Courier and I have loved it ever since I first began reading the publication in October. When I got here I tried to convince my supervisor that it should become a regular hashtag but she rejected me because it is too long. Anyway, we are thrilled to begin recording UNESCO’s Many Voices, One World Podcast this Monday.
On Friday, the first day of Women’s History Month, during my sunny lunchtime walk to get a sandwich, I discovered that the little mini profiles that Ida and I had been working on last week were hanging in beautiful posters along the gates of UNESCO. When guests come to UNESCO, they have to wait in line to go through security alongside these gates, and usually read whatever is posted. Today there was a high profile fashion show for the Dutch brand Loewe (it is Paris Fashion Week) and the likes of Anna Wintour were at UNESCO. The posters will hang throughout the entire month, and hopefully will be read by many during that time. I was so excited when I realized that the text was familiar because I had written it! I texted Ida and she came rushing out of our office. We took some selfies next to our projects and then got back to work.
Work this week soaked up a lot of my mental energy, and my dance class was cancelled because my Parisian comrades were observing their version of Spring Break. But it was so sunny and warm that I didn’t wear a coat all week and biked to work several days with my roommate Pien who works nearby at the Dutch Embassy.
Biking has been the second most fantastic discovery of my time in Paris (second only to my awesome stationary discovery of a few weeks ago, obviously). Both Pien and Ida are biking fanatics and I have spent the past two months rolling my eyes at them daily, and insisting that I am not coordinated enough to commute by bike the city. Also secretly not being willing to mess up my hair.
But last weekend it was so sunny and beautiful that Pien talked me into biking to a cafe to do some schoolwork. I rented a bright green bike from the city bikeshare here, Velib, and only crashed once on the first day. Don’t worry, it was more of an ego injury than anything. My hand bled for a little while, but a French man saw the whole thing happen and proceeded to try to help me and ask me if I was OK in French while I was flustered and confused and humiliated. Anyway, I am mostly recovered by now.
We had so much fun riding around in the sunshine all weekend. I felt like I was in a movie. I truly cannot believe this is my life right now. I’m so grateful.
On Wednesday Pien invited me to a send-off for two of her colleagues at the Dutch Embassy that I have met several times over the past few months. Every time they invited me to a social event I am shocked because I am totally the odd one out. I am the only non-Dutch one and the only one who is not a colleague of theirs. But I am also always shocked by how kind and welcoming they are to me. And how willing they are to speak English (even with each other) when I’m the only one at the party who doesn’t speak Dutch.
We met her colleagues at Place de la Contrascarpe, a beautiful little square that is literally right around the corner from our apartment. It was the last day of February and evening in Paris and I was wearing just jeans and a t-shirt. I didn’t even bring a jacket. I’m not sure if it is global warming or good luck but it was a wonderful evening. We sat on the terrace I met a fellow UNESCO intern who is located at the Dutch Embassy. His name is Motts and he was very nice.
We were chatting and enjoying our drinks when two French guys at the table next to us asked us if they could practice their English with us. Their names were Benjamin and Ivan. It was going smoothly until Benjamin asked me if he could ask me a bothersome question: “What do you think of your President Trump?”
I proceeded cautiously, but I was honest, and I did not get to speak very much before Ivan — who was visibly intoxicated and has lived in Paris his entire life — decided to divulge his strong opinions about American politics and Hillary Clinton and neoliberalism.
While I am always interested in intercultural dialogue, this was unexpected and I can’t say I really knew what to do or say throughout most of the conversation. At one point he asked me, in reference to the 2016 presidential election, “Would you rather have cancer or aids?”
By now I am pretty used to being the only American in any given social situation here, but I felt particularly uncomfortable as everyone was watching me to see how I would react to him, and how I would represent my experience of American politics.
Overall, I think I did OK. I am proud of the way I helped Ivan, and others at the table, understand how Trump’s racist, sexist, xenophobic, and ableist ideologies have empowered people with similar (or stronger views) and made the country a more dangerous place for basically everyone but white, straight, cisgender men.
I feel responsible to always make sure the dialogue is including everyone. My goal in journalism and in life is to show people they can care about people they might not expect to care about.
OK, congratulations if you actually read to the end of this super long post! I am signing off now, and am rushing home to meet my sister who has just arrived in Paris!
My fellowship at The UNESCO Courier was arranged through the University of Oregon Crossings Institute for Intercultural Dialogue and Conflict Sensitive Reporting. My weekly blog posts are also published on the Institute’s website.