They offered me water, they offered me chai. They accepted my late-flight fiasco with understanding. It might have been a high fashion international magazine, but this was not the Hearst building.
This was winter in Mumbai, but the city hadn’t heard. My hair curled rebelliously and my silk blouse was damp against my back. Between the airport, the long wait outside and changing into a skirt and spiked heels in a muddy bathroom, I realized that I was a long way from home.
“So, what makes you think you can handle Mumbai?” an editor asked me, skeptically.
My articles and experience were not questioned, but being American was. What would I do squashed up against thousands in the public trains? How would I live alone, hire a cook, and afford the expensive city?
“And more than that, Ankita,” she continued, “why do you want to work here?”
Looking for a job in India wasn’t always on the To Do List. For years my New York City fever and Time Inc. dreams were intact and I was ready to evolve from local, small town newspapers to get there.
Four years of undergrad education later, thinking outside the box has become a habit. In the new world—a world without the Boston Globe and Lehman Brothers—the journalism industry is more underpaid than ever.
Interns are expected to live in Manhattan or Washington D.C. without pay, and every newspaper seems ready for early retirement. My visions of sitting in big leather armchairs with a legal pad and fountain pen dissolved, as my friends and I sat through classes in online communication, Web site creating and multimedia skills at the University of Florida.
It was time for a new plan.
When I first started writing fiction stories in elementary school I would curl up in a corner in my house in Hudson, Florida and start without any idea of where the plot might go. I would follow my imagination around with a pencil until finally, usually because my hand was tired, I would finish. Then I would sit and reread from the beginning and the characters and scenes would play like a film reel in my head, complete with a soundtrack.
The multimedia and online world is a reflection of what my mind already practiced all those years ago. While writing remains my medium of choice, and a true art form, I re-trained my approach to storytelling to include possibility of visual and audio support. Online is no longer a bonus feature, it is the primary means of communication.
At our journalism department, the professors make sure we don’t enter the world as it was ten years ago. As much as HTML, CSS, and Dreamweaver make me want to move to a commune, I try to see them as the organic chemistry of print journalism—the stuff you have to wade through to see the view.
Growing up in a family of doctors and engineers gave me little guidance in the creative world. Outside of class, most of the friends I had grown up with were studying for their MCAT, LSAT, and every other acronym that ended in a dollar sign and job placement. While they were in the library, I freelanced (emphasis on the free) for every newspaper and magazine I could find in Gainesville.
My fear of being unemployable led me so far as to consider a career in psychology. For one month I convinced myself and friends and family that I would switch to the health field. I ordered GRE books, school brochures, and talked to psychologists. I applied for an extra semester on my scholarship.
I got a thumbs-up pretty much everywhere and from everyone. My sister was relieved. “You’re not going to be poor anymore!” she told me.
But it didn’t feel right. Creative writing class felt right. Having a midnight deadline and thirteen pages of interview notes felt right. Thirty days and sleepless nights later, I was back, and this time I was ready to do anything to get a job I loved.
And that’s when I started the job search with renewed energy. I checked job listings before I put on my contacts in the morning. I made charts and spreadsheets of places to apply—everything from National Geographic Traveler to a weekly newspaper in Oregon. At first I checked just the United States and Canada.
Then I added England and Australia to my list.
Living in India was an experience I had wanted to try after each summer I spent in Hyderabad with my family. A trip after my senior year of high school had given me a new attachment with the society and the precarious balance of tradition and globalism it was facing.
The magazine I interviewed with was one of my favorites when I went back every few years. It was a balance of Indian and Western culture and lifestyle. And it was a name that could be respected in any country I went to afterward. One enthusiastic e-mail and a few months later, I was set for my interview on the very day that I would leave from Mumbai back to Florida.
To be honest, I know I can do this,” I said to the editor that day in January.
And suddenly, despite the tummy troubles and the thought of coming home to an empty flat, I knew that I could.
As I enter my final semester—the four months of overtime that I happily fill with an internship at the Gainesville Sun, a journalism trip to Brazil, and multimedia classes—I keep my eyes open.
In six months I may be in Mumbai, Melbourne or Tampa Bay. I might be a feature writer, an editor or a coffee-filler. Wherever I am, I will be on my way.
Ankita Rao is a journalism senior at the University of Florida with an interest in humanitarian assistance and magazine writing.