Journalism Abroad: How To Get Started

Olivia Crellin Malawi

Olivia Crellin reporting overseas in Malawi

Graduate Olivia Crellin has freelanced internationally for major news providers. In the first of a three-part series, she shares her tips on finding work overseas…

Just dropping everything and going abroad may seem scary, but if you don’t like the idea of further study or being placed within the structured, rigorous confines of a grad scheme, then starting your journalism career away from home may be the perfect move.

Graduating with absolutely no idea of what you want to do can be daunting. I intended to put off all of those ‘serious career decisions’ by taking a post-uni gap year in South America.

I had been a reporter and editor for a couple of my university newspapers but I still was not convinced I wanted to be a journalist.

My journey

I persuaded myself that I was being very sensible by getting all those South American clichés (following the Inca Trail, salsa dancing until dawn and eating steaks as thick as my bicep) out of my system while I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Plus, the UK was still in the grip of a recession.

In fact, it turned out there was no need to persuade myself of anything. A year later my ‘serious career decisions’ were miraculously made for me (at some point between dodging Molotov Cocktails in the streets of Santiago and reporting from Ecuador for The Guardian!)

Throughout my time abroad I’ve been able to build a serious portfolio of work, been offered a place at Columbia University in New York to study a Journalism Masters, and gained a readership that includes Julian Fellowes (email me if you want to know the story behind this one).

So, if this sounds like an option you hadn’t explored but are willing to, you will want to know the following – how can you prepare yourself before your trip, and what are some of the key things you should be taking into account?

Location, location, location

It may sound obvious, but think about where you want to go. Do you already have family or friends in a place that could provide you with free accommodation or contacts?

Did you study languages at university or have a particular connection to anywhere in the world? What is safety like for journalists in that country and are there any official schemes or internships in place in the region?

Of course, be strategic. For example, Syria might not be the best place to head off to as a beginner, but Turkey could be a clever move. It’s right next to Syria and will be getting a lot of refugees streaming across its borders, bringing with them a lot of news and stories of their own.

Learn a language

If you just want to stick to the English, you naturally have a lot of options – many parts of Africa, India, and Pakistan to name a few.

I would say, however, that picking up another language is immensely rewarding – both on a personal level, and for your career.

After returning to the UK I spent three weeks as an intern with the BBC World Service. I was the only member of my team who spoke Spanish during the days that Hugo Chavez died, and then when an Argentinean was announced as Pope.

Brits are impressed by foreign language skills and even if you decide at some point journalism is not for you, you have a skill for life that could lead to very exciting opportunities, completely unrelated to your current aspirations.

Lay the foundations

Before you go it is best arranging meetings with foreign editors at the publications that you would like to work for. I never did this when I set out – mainly because, at the time, I wasn’t intending to work professionally.

I’m planning on heading off again though and will be making a wish list of those I want to meet face-to-face over a coffee. That way, when my email lands in their inbox, they might be slightly more inclined to open it.

Another journo grad friend of mine who is planning a move to Turkey later this year recently met with editors, taking his CV and portfolio with him.

He got up early that day, checked the wires and local Turkish news and wrote up an article specifically aimed at the editor he was visiting. “That is what I would have written for you today had I been your stringer in Istanbul,” he said.

The editor didn’t even look at the portfolio or CV but read the piece and promised to look at future work my friend sent. Nifty move that I will definitely be employing myself in the future.

Olivia Crellin is a freelance journalist who has covered stories overseas for the BBC, Reuters, The Guardian and The Economist. You can visit her website here and follow her on Twitter @OliviaCrellin.

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