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The Global Citizenships Project at Boston College presented the first of five Action Workshops last Tuesday night, on March 12. Led by Professor Erik Owens, each session will bring students together for intimate conversations with extraordinary “global citizens” from different professional sectors to discuss the sense of purpose that directs their work and their lives. Last week, 20 students arrived at the Connelly House on Hammond Street to partake in a workshop for aspiring journalists, filmmakers, writers, and photographers.
The students joined global investigative journalist Jason Motlagh for an extended conversation about his personal career development, as well as the tolls and rewards of reporting on human rights issues around the world.
“I liked how personal testimony was a lead into raw, honest discussion about the highs and lows, challenges and rewards, and self-knowledge gleaned from living a life beyond borders,” Motlagh reflects after the workshop.
His resume includes serving as an Afghanistan correspondent for TIME Magazine, producing and/or hosting films for Al Jazeera English and National Geographic, and investigating international conflicts for publications including Outside, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, The Guardian and The Economist. From tracking migrants across the Darién Gap to following persecuted Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar, Motlagh’s goal remains the same: to seek out under-reported subjects and make their stories resonate as deeply as possible.
After years of solitary reporting, Jason Motlagh founded his production company Blackbeard Films to collaborate with others and explore new creative frontiers. Based in Oakland, California, his team consists of a global network of journalists and producers committed to pursuing cutting-edge stories.
The night of BC’s first workshop began with a presentation of Motlagh’s work and naturally progressed to an intimate dialogue between Owens and participating students. In conjunction with the broader discussion, students broke into randomly-selected small groups to engage in closer conversation and connect over shared career goals.
“The workshop [was] dynamic and flexible, full of motivated students looking for more depth and engagement with the world. In other words: just the kind of thing I wish was available to me when I was an undergraduate student,” Motlagh says.
Students’ interests ran from documentary production to investigative reporting, with a range of individual nuances in between. This variety allowed participants to brainstorm freely and take part in a multifaceted discussion on what it means to work globally.
“With all of the time and financial pressures students face these days, it's essential to leave room for free exploration before we become hostage to the obligations that crop up with time,” Motlagh explains, “Our identities are not set in stone, and as college students we still have much to learn about ourselves. Taking time out to test our assumptions and values can help set us on a life trajectory more fully aligned with our true nature. That's where deep fulfillment lies.”
Sharing experiences like these can be the first step in encouraging individuals to take part in the global conversation. “I think that sharing my detour into journalism gives students a little more permission to explore early on, to be uncertain about what's next,” he continues, “I didn't know this was the career I would pursue, and I never studied for it. I traveled and read widely, said 'yes' more often than 'no', and continuously tried to push myself to the edge of my comfort zone. This is how you learn your limits, and they're usually far greater than you can imagine.”
Functions of this nature not only create a network of like-minded individuals, but present the opportunity for students to pursue career paths they may have not previously considered. Motlagh and Owens have kindly made themselves available resources to these students in their global explorations. Motlagh concludes: “We've got one shot at this life, so better if we play it big than small. That's a little bit easier when you have allies to help show the way. I hope students left the workshop feeling fired up about what's possible.”
The next Global Citizens Project Action Workshop will be held on April 6, featuring Wellesley College alumna Ophelia Dahl, who co-founded Partners in Health and now serves as chair on the board. This organization cites two primary goals in their practice of supplying health care to impoverished areas: “to bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need of them and to serve as an antidote to despair.” She will be conducting an open discussion about public health, lending a hand, and how she stays positive on the job. Find more information and apply here.