Experiencing New Places With a Journalist’s Eye

myahwords: Myah Schlee

photos: Lauren Zawatski

It has become increasingly easy for me to lose focus on my surroundings. With technology and information constantly at my fingertips, the urge to be updated on world events and where my friends went out last night is omnipresent. Access to news has only become faster as time has passed, causing the urge to explore to diminish to an almost nonexistent level.

However, this semester I decided to try seeing the world through the eyes of a journalist: observing, engaging with others and becoming a part of my surroundings. The result has changed the way I approach new places, people and experiences.

In September, I made my first trip to Oakland after receiving an assignment that intimidated me: walk around and get a feel for the atmosphere of the neighborhood. As I walked the streets of Oakland, an extremely unfamiliar territory, I was shocked at what I was able to notice simply by paying attention.

Never before had I observed a place through the eyes of a journalist; in fact, I picked up on happenings that I never would have seen without putting down my phone and pausing to look around. I saw the way students sprinted through the streets in a hurry to get to class, observed the way the man begging on the corner shook his Styrofoam cup full of change at every passerby and took in the smell of fresh bread baking on the corner of the busy street.

After the first trip to Oakland, I soon realized that the best way to fully experience a new place is to blend in and become part of the surroundings.

Rather than dodge my way through the streets to avoid the foot traffic spreading across the sidewalk, I learned to sit on the steps of a nearby building and observe the pedestrians. Instead of rushing through superficial small talk with the workers at various shops, I engaged them in conversation about how they got to where they are. Utilizing a new approach to getting to know the people of Oakland proved to be a lesson I could take with me outside the boundaries of the neighborhood.

Not only are observation skills acquired by getting out in the field important, but the inquisitive nature of a journalist is also extremely useful. When exploring any new city, the best trick to understanding local life is to engage with the people that inhabit the area.

Think of it this way: Every person around you has at least one experience that could be turned into a story. Therefore, it’s a journalist’s job to go out and find these gems of information. For example, instead of getting lost in an article about World War II, go out and find a veteran who can give you a first hand account of the same battle that the article details. If you’re an avid sports lover who enjoys the latest information from Twitter, try going out to the game and experiencing the commentary as it happens.

From behind the lens of an iPhone, the world is not nearly as exciting as it would be right in front of your eyes. As I learned on the streets of Oakland, listening to your surroundings and talking to the people you encounter can give you more information than a statistic from a website.

Hearing another person’s story or experiences can give a brand new view of an area, and insight that few newcomers may possess. Regardless of who you are or what you study, the benefits of seeing the world from the eyes of a journalist are invaluable.