> January 2010 - Parallax: the life of media interns abroad

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January 2010

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With my headphones on, script in hand and mic at the ready, I sat eagerly waiting for the “on-air” indicator to flash red. Just minutes earlier I was looking into this very room fervently running over and over my lines and muttering softly to myself like a person suffering from schizophrenia (which Jungmi and HyoungJoo found quite amusing). But now, as the light flashed on, the nervous anticipation I had felt then seemed to evaporate and was replaced by a calm collectedness.

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Here are a list of articles and reports I have been contributing to the PDI. There are a few offline articles which I'll include when I find a decent scanner (they were only printed in the hard-copy version of the paper).

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Here is my second story for JoongAng Daily, 'Korean Student wins Prestigious Scholarship'.

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Covering events like Barack Obama's State of the Union Address, issues like the popularity of James Cameron's Avatar around the globe, and setting up interviews with people at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and the Conference on Afghanistan in London - interning at TBS eFM's This Morning is amazing!

Here are a few photos of the This Morning crew and the studio:

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From left to right this photo features Jungmi, me, HyoungJoo and Eun-Yi. Jungmi and HyoungJoo are the writers of This Morning and Eun-Yi is the editor.

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The Korean mediascape today is dominated by the ‘big three’ newspaper companies, Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo and Dong-a Ilbo. Each of these companies has a history dating back to the 1920’s during the Japanese occupation of Korea- except JoongAng which was first published in 1965.

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There is a mad rush for the bathroom (or Comfort Room, as Filipino's call it), after lunch, everyday.

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Before I tell you all how much fun I am having here living it up as a staff reporter for one of the most respected newspapers in Korea, I want to share with you all how I came to be here in the first place and why everyone should work overseas at least once in their life (this speech was inspired by a talk I gave to Korean high school interns currently at JoongAng Ilbo).

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A bundle of newspapers are delivered to the Malacañang Press Office (PO) every morning. They include the Manila Standard Today, People’s Journal Tonight, The Manila Times, The Manila Bulletin, Abante Tonite, Tempo, Police Files Tonite, Bulgar, Business Mirror, Business World, the Daily Tribune and Malaya.

…and that’s just a handful of broadsheets and tabloids that are competing with the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI).

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After a very organised and structured week at the Australian Embassy, I have to admit that the start of my first week at the Bangkok Post has been quite the opposite!

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Pardon the [bad] pun, but public transport here really is a pain.

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Yep, that is the title of my first published article in the Korean media. Not exactly a groundbreaking title, but hey, it's the truth. You can access the article here:

http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/NEWKHSITE/data/html_dir/2010/01/22/201001220029.asp

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Everyone come and view my first story published in a national newspaper! The story was published in the JoongAng Daily, called "Australia Celebrates National Day".

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6:02a.m…

Dialling the American Red Cross…“Hi this is Rachel Mulholland from TBS Radio in Seoul, South Korea…we’re trying to arrange an interview with someone on the ground in Haiti within the next hour and we understand some of your workers are there right now…Can you put me in contact with anyone? …No…OK…thanks for your help.”

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In what can only be declared a testament to Malaysia’s cleanliness, the day before my first day at The Star I managed to walk briskly and unawares into a brilliantly polished clear glass wall...

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Shot of my studio apartment
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Sailing on the Chao Prayer river at sunset
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Wat Arun, which means Temple of the Dawn, at sunset from the rooftop bar of Amorosa
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Wat Arun silhouetted by the setting sun.

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Sunday night 9pm - touch down in Bangkok. 10pm - arriving at my hotel, realisation slowly set in that the Ibis Nana hotel lay in the notorious Nana Enternainment Complex district, Bangkok's infamous home to its most frequented and popular Go-Go bars of the red light district! Needless to say, the lobby was swarming with old German men with Thai beauties on their arms. But who am I to judge? If the Thai's can accept it, so can I! Location aside, it felt so good to be back. The smells of street food cooking intermingled with the humid night air and the occasional whiff of sewerage is strangely comforting and familiar. Life moves at a million miles an hour, and I knew instantly that this trip would be nothing but fast paced and adventure packed.

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The beginning of my internship in KL will mark the end of my summer holiday and travels around Peninsula Malaysia. I’m back in KL after my quick trip up and down the West coast and beginning to settle into life here.

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Well I am wrapping up my third day of working at the JoongAng Daily and I am starting to understand how it works around here. There isn’t anyone to hold my hand, no one to tell me what to do and I turn up and leave whenever I want. Don’t make the mistake though of thinking this is an easy, cushy job. It’s not!

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Koreans take their numbers seriously. And yes, they can be a superstitious bunch. Koreans believe the number 4 to be unlucky. In fact, there was considerable public and political concern about Korea being the 44th country to send troops to Afghanistan. True, if there's one place you want a bit of luck, it's Afghanistan.

But this is also why, upon entering a building and stepping into an elevator, one is likely to see an 'F' denoting the fourth floor, rather than the customary '4'. It generally appears: 1, 2, 3, F, 5, 6, etc.

For those unversed in the ways of Korean elevators, this would understandably be a tad confusing. Fortunately Jess, an intern from 2009, had the foresight to forewarn me of this custom. Because, as luck would have it, the offices of the Korea Herald are located on the fourth floor.

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Yesterday Alycia and I walked into the grandest of all places: The Manila Hotel. We were due to meet with Cathy, a senior reporter of the PDI, to help cover a story on the presidential economic adviser and Governor of Albay province, Joey Salceda. For those unfamiliar with Philippine politics, Salceda made headlines last month after helping to co-ordinate the evacuation of thousands of Albay residents from the possible eruption of Mayon volcano.

The forum itself was mainly informative; Salceda was providing an analysis of the Philippines economy and his vision for the future beyond President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA).

The most memorable part of the day was after the forum itself, where Cathy left and urged us to engage in some ambush journalism.

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The first ups and downs were those of my aeroplane as I took off from Sydney International Airport and landed in Kuala Lumpur last weekend. The flight also provided my first impression of Malaysia in the form of the Chinese-Malaysian woman sitting next to my mother on the plane. Reserved at first, she soon warmed up and was very friendly and helpful (even offering that we stay with her!), with a no-nonsense approach to everything, carrying her heavy luggage and elbowing her petite elderly self through sardine-packed metros. She was fluent in Malay, Mandarin and English and was reading The Star’s main competitor: English language newspaper The New Straits-Times.

The multicultural nature of Malaysian society is one of its most striking features and the focus of much political activity. The three main ethnic groups (Indians, Malays, Chinese) and followers of the three main religions (Christians, Hindus, Muslims) all live together in relative harmony. And the government is, of course, keen to keep it this way. In Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Georgetown I found this especially evident in the cities’ cultural microcosms of Chinatown and Little India.

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On the weekend Paddy, Cass and I had a brush with Korean culture when we visited the Gyeongbokgung Royal Palace in Seoul, which is located right near the Australian Embassy building and the "Blue House" where President Lee Myung-bak resides. The photographs say it all...

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Gyeongbokgung Royal Palace in Seoul


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On the second day of our journey in Seoul Cass and I went trekking up the mountain behind Korea University and stumbled on an army base...protecting the border between the North and South..

P.S. For those of you who may think us silly for walking this close to the border...it's not the real border between the North and the South. The "army base" we came across is actually a part of the "green belt" mountain range, which is dotted with small army set-ups to act as a final frontier protecting Seoul from the North. We also asked permission to film this area so there was no danger involved!

I am fortunate to be sharing my internship experience with Alycia Gawthorne, a Myer Fellow from the University of Western Sydney. Coming from two different universities, it is always interesting sharing our learning experiences and expectations about the Philippines mediascape. More importantly, we are friends sharing an unforgettable experience together.

Our first appointment was at the Australian Embassy on Monday. Upon arriving, we were showered with genial handshakes and glittering smiles from Jemain, Ezekiel, Paul, Steve and Rod. Jemain and Ezekiel hold positions and Public Affairs and Media, while Paul and Steve work in Security Services. Rod is the current Australian Ambassador in the Philippines.

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A week has passed, and Seoul and I are starting to get to know one another. And yes, it’s cold. The lead of an article in today’s Korea Herald just about sums it up: “The morning low in Seoul sharply dropped to minus 15 degrees yesterday, recording the lowest temperature in six years… Although the actual morning temperature was set at minus 15.3 degrees Celsius, it felt like minus 22.1 degrees Celsius due to the wind chill.”

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My first few days working at the Australian Embassy in Seoul have been totally mind-blowing. The Embassy building for a start is enormous with 22 floors and is home to five other Embassies, including the Canadian and Swedish Embassies. The Australian Embassy, which is located on the 19th floor, is a maze of white corridors and has security doors requiring swipe-card access and a pin code at every turn.

As Cass has already told you, the view from this floor is utterly breathtaking. Glancing out the office window to the North, I can see traditional Korean houses, or as the locals call them, Hanok, nestled into the side of a beautiful mountain range – a mesmerizing image of postcard perfection. Because this district is only about 55km from the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South, these mountains are known as the ‘green belt’ and are dotted with small army bases as a kind of last frontier protecting Seoul.

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Hello everybody !

Thanks for your contributions and looking forward to hearing more from Mark and Jacqueline.
Don't forget to post lots of photos and stay in touch.

Warm Regards

Robin
Internship Coordinator
Media & Communications

As I stood above the molten 'pig iron' I could not help but feel that this must be the feeling people have when standing on the edge of a volcano. The metal plates we were standing on had long thin glowing cracks. The air smelt of sulfur and there was the grinding of machinery, but this was all lost to the amazing sight of millions of tonnes of iron streaming from the smelter, sparks flying, and at a temperature of 1500 degrees celsius. It was actually mesmerising watching the iron flow beneath our feet and the warmth was pleasant after waking up to a morning of -14 degrees. It was scary and exhilarating to think we were standing right over the top of liquid metal and could easily have been a scene from the third lord of the rings!

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As I look out over the bustling city of Seoul, 19 floors up in the Australian Embassy, it is still amazing to think that I am really working in another country. I have been assigned to the department called Australian Education International, which aims to promote study in Australia and strengthen education ties between Korea and Australia. My first project is to write a story about the successes of Australian University researchers and their innovative projects with regards to environmental sustainability. Surprisingly this is a very similar task to what I do for Sydney University World, a magazine distributed by the University of Sydney, and so I am finding this really enjoyable.

This is actually my second day at the embassy and I am patiently waiting for people to reply to my interview requests. On my first day I was introduced to several people who work in the Embassy; Jinny- who is heavily involved in the Australia-Korea Foundation (who sponsored our internships), Jenny- part of the political section who had to answer all of my questions about North Korea ( it is amazing hearing her experiences first hand as she makes regular trips over the border to look at the success of aid projects), and the lovely people who work in my department, Juhee, Emily, Dean and many more I would meet but they have taken leave.

After a quick briefing there was not much time before we headed out for lunch. Jinny took myself and Rachel out to a traditional restaurant where we ate Shabbu Shabbu (or at least that is how it sounds), which involves cooking an array of vegies, noodles, dumplings and thinly sliced beef in a broth and then dipping them in a wonderfully tangy sauce. The flavours here are just amazing, I am going to have to find a Korean recipe book for kimchi, bibimbap, shabbu shabbu and all the other wonderful dishes I have tried.

From my office window I can actually see the mountain ranges which divide the north from the south and there is a beautiful view of the president's palace called the Blue House. It is surrounded by guards and tanks for fear of attack from North Koreans who have made it into the country. I am hoping that one weekend I will be able to do an army tour of the demilitarised zone and view the negotiations room. It is interesting to compare the different attitudes towards the North Koreans. The Australians in the embassy have been several times and don't show any fear so much as sadness for the people over there, whereas the South Korean people would not dare go anywhere near even the border. A block away is the US embassy which has a staff of 400 people and their own building, we only have the 19th floor of one building!

I also witnessed another cultural difference at taekwondo tonight. Every person has their traditional uniform called a Dobok but apparently women are supposed to wear a shirt underneath as the uniform has a v-neck. In Korea that is apparently too much skin and so even though my master understands western culture (as he taught in the United States), the other girls in the class asked if i could wear a shirt underneath to cover my skin. This was a bit embarrassing at the time but again, just goes to show how different the two cultures are. The amusing fact is, that Koreans can show as much skin on their legs as they want- to the point where women walk upstairs with their handbags tucked behind their backs to stop people from seeing their underwear. It is confusing.

Training taekwondo is amazing here though. They are meticulous in their technique and force you to practice until you have all the patterns (called Poomsae) and kicks engrained in your memory. Master Hur teaches in both English and Korean and so I am slowly learning more words. He also teaches a separate martial art called Gumdo, which is the art of the sword and is really fascinating as there are so few schools in Australia which teach this curriculum let alone have such a recognised teacher. My forearms are sore though because the sword is extremely heavy and a lot of the moves require lunging and balancing.

Tomorrow I will be going to POSCO, the second largest iron ore steel mill in Korea. We are going to tour around the plant and see how our Western Australian iron ore is transformed into steel for cars and industry. This trip was organised by Jinny and the AKF and so we are extremely lucky as we will be able to see what life is like outside of Seoul. we are also lucky that we are heading south towards the equator as it will be -14 degrees tomorrow and i don't think i can fit any more layers of clothing on!

Another day, another adventure!

I headed to Rizal park today, and stumbled on the Vice President of the Philippines, Noli de Castro! We greeted each other.

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Wiping away a drop of sweat, the bare-footed Vice President (in the middle).

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1) View from my bedroom window.

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I stood at the roof deck of my condominium complex. I directed my vision to the scene below. This is what I saw:

Thirty-eight levels above the chaos.

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I was met with the glow of buzzing neons and two boundless highways lined with shimmering orange lights as my KE122 flight from Sydney to Seoul descended on Wednesday night.

The earth beneath us was far from the flat, parched land that is Australia. Instead, as I pressed up against the cabin window, I could see mountainous terrain that seemed to undulate below. Seoul appeared so alive and endearing, and my heart began to race in anticipation of landing...

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I’ve been to Bangkok twice before. As a fresh faced eighteen-year-old, Bangkok was the overwhelming, energetic, consuming first stop on my gap year out of school. The second time, I ended a summer trip to the Thai beaches and Cambodia with a self-indulgent shopping trip.

But I’ve always only passed through the city once titled the ‘Venice of the East’, and in my preparations and research for this, my next adventure, it’s only just starting to dawn on me how much I might have missed. Which makes the five weeks awaiting me in Bangkok, writing for Thailand’s national English newspaper The Bangkok Post, such an exciting prospect.

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Before jetting off to Malaysia for my internship, I thought it wise to do some research. I’d done the Lonely Planets, the tourist brochures in the travel agents and the Wikipedia pages. While hunting for some meatier articles, I came across a lot of books about journalism practice in Asia.

Apparently ‘Asian news values’ are very different to those in the West, including Australia.

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I have decided to give you a more interesting perspective of what I am currently doing... cue slide show!

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I have been in Korea for 3 nights and 2 days. And I am still alive!

Finding Korea Unviersity was difficult on the first night as not even the taxi drivers new exactly where the CJ International Dormitory was. I was very lucky that on the bus from the airport I met a man who spoke fluent English and was so nice that he caught the cab with me to make sure I reached my destination safely!

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“I’m going to Korea,” I excitedly tell anyone who’ll listen. “I’ve got an internship at a newspaper over there.”

“Oh, really?” comes the response. “I didn’t know you spoke Korean!”

“I don’t,” I reply. “It’s at an English-language paper.”

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Annyong Haseyo!

Hello! Let me introduce myself- my name is Cassandra O'Connor and I have just completed my third year of my media and communications degree at the University of Sydney. For those who know me well, I am a martial arts fanatic, book worm, and journalist in the making. Those who know me too well couldn't tell you how much I have wanted to go to Korea.

There is approximately fifteen hours between myself and touching down in Incheon- South Korea's international airport. I have a pocket guide to Korean Phrases and a poor accent I have adopted from my Taekwondo master- who has visited Seoul on several occasions. Surprisingly my preparation for this trip did not begin with a language book, or articles or reading the newspaper, rather for the past three years I have been practicing Korea's national sport, Taekwondo. I am hoping to train at the World Headquarters and watch some of the most skilled and talented athletes in the world. Whilst I know Korean words for stop, start, run and kick... I would never make it through the airport by myself and so I wisely invested in a language guide.

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About the Blog

Parallax records the experiences of final year students of the B.A. (Media & Communications) degree who have won competitive overseas internships to work in Asian, Indian and Latin American media organisations.
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