Unity in diversity…the SUSI Way

A serene pond and waterfall in the Japanese Friendship Garden, in downtown Phoenix

Scorching, arid, sweltering, sizzling, etc. Mr. Thesaurus may have more options to shout upon stepping into the Valley of the Sun, Phoenix, Arizona.

This is what I felt when I first set foot in Phoenix, the home of the best Journalism school in the United States of America, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University. Though the weather is hot in the Philippines, it’s three or more times hotter here. Good thing I was not wearing my sweater…

I left my home country on Sunday, June 5 and arrived in Arizona on the same date after a flight of more than 18 hours. I met Hazhan and Anubhuti outside Taylor Place while waiting for my Kababayan to pick me up for dinner. I felt like an aquarium fish dumped into the ocean. At night, I came to know my dorm mate, Ekaphone from Laos, whom I now consider to be my twin brother.

But how did I come to find out about SUSI? Let me tell you a little background–but if this is not o interest to you, just skip ahead to after the photo below. 

How it all started?

It was November 3, 2021, when I received an email from the US Embassy in the Philippines inviting me to an off-the-record conversation with the Public Affairs Counselor John Groch and Press Attaché Heather Fabrikant on November 19, 2021, to discuss issues concerning local media—press freedom in particular—and the challenges facing the new breed of journalists amid the pandemic. Without batting an eyelash, I accepted the invitation.

This initial engagement paved the way for more collaborations and the 2022 Study of the United States Institutes for Scholars (SUSI).  Since I am a journalism professor, I chose the theme Journalism and media to deepen my understanding of media’s role in U.S. society and pedagogical strategies in teaching journalism students in terms of researching, critical thinking, reporting, interviewing, writing, and editing. It took me some time to finish the narrative and I nearly missed the deadline. To make a long story short, I received confirmation of my admission to the program after barely two months. The American dream was almost within my reach! The rest is history.

The scholars pose around a sign marking the Grand Canyon National Park, squinting against the late afternoon sun
Scholars finding their best pose before sunset at the
Grand Canyon National Park landmark

1st and 2nd Week at Cronkite 355

Though my body clock has yet to be calibrated, the first day of meeting with my fellow scholars, 14 of them to be exact, went smoothly as we converged at Cronkite room 355, serving as our lecture room for the duration of the program. Through a brief self-introduction, we got to know each other but it was only the tip of the iceberg. Though we came from different parts of the world, with diverse cultures, beliefs, religions, races, and colors, SUSI gathered us as ONE with ONE ultimate goal: to learn and apply these learnings to our respective workplaces as journalism practitioners and educators. 

The first week’s session was a blast! Dr. Dawn Gilpin, the academic director, gave us the program overview, plus a tour around the University’s facilities under the midday sun added not just a good sweat but flavor and color to this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Meeting the all-star cast of Cronkite, the professors who unselfishly shared their best practices and strategies in teaching journalism, was overwhelming.

Give me more space in my head, please! 

Though the lectures were equally important, the teaching hospital model slipped deeply into my psyche and inspired me to have this implemented at my university, as I deemed it necessary to strengthen collaboration among professors, professionals, and students to prepare the latter to become the best at their craft as journalism and communication practitioners. Students can be the agents to break the culture of mis- and disinformation. Sounds challenging, but persistent media literacy can eventually help students to become wiser consumers of media and to become responsible and sensible media producers someday. Thanks Dr. Kristy Roschke for helping us understand more about media literacy and get acquainted with fact-checking tools.

The breather!

The trip to Sedona, Flagstaff, and Grand Canyon gave us somewhat of a breathing space and helped shake our jitters away. The brownout while having dinner at We Cook Pizza and Pasta in Grand Canyon Village, and the wildfire in the Flagstaff, created a little drama and even made the cultural exposure more exciting. The experience not only give us a chance to see what the U.S. has in store for us but also time to bond with our fellow scholars.

Peeling the onion

I got to know Soledad, the bubbly facilitator of trips and hangouts after the class. Thanks for bringing us to the Japanese Friendship Garden. Ekaphone brought with him a rice cooker as he loves to cook not only rice but soup the Laos way. He is very determined to set up a teaching hospital at his University. Bogdan, the spokesman and a book author, loves to drink beer. So does Juan who has a Chinese wife always mistaken for Filipina. Brian is not fond of drinking alcoholic beverages and doesn’t take a bath in the morning (sorry for the revelation…). Roy’s story of his Yaris car speaks of practicality rather than a status symbol and he loves taking pictures. He always keeps his insulin ready. Bintan, like any other Asian mother, misses home and family. She is a very passionate journalism professor, too. Bruno’s tattoos have their own stories and he’s so close to his unica hija. Anubhuti is a vegetarian and a curriculum curator; Alev loves pizza and her niece loves cats; Hazhan is so kind to share links to pdfs and books; Louis-Marie wants to instill patriotism to his fellowmen; Asraful is a good cook (wish he could cook a special menu for us) and the king of selfies; and Ani loves to collect stickers for her laptop.

Dawn is no exception. I learned a little more about her love for rescued cats. She’s living with two, in fact. Thanks to the CASS experience as we were able to gradually peel the onion (Onion Theory of Communication). But wait, Sonal might get mad at me. She was born in the US and both parents are Fijian. She can speak Spanish, too!

The future

Hopefully, the rest of the weeks will allow us to learn more from each other’s experiences, the beginning of a long and lasting friendships. I am looking forward to forging more collaborative programs and projects between and among our respective institutions in the future – Unity in Diversity, the SUSI way.

The me!

By the way, I am a farm boy from the Philippines. I live in the heart of the country, Iloilo City, which earns its moniker as the City of Love. That’s outside the country’s capital, Manila.  A journalism professor since 2010, and a stray cat feeder and rescuer. Still figuring out how to connect cats and journalism… But one thing is for sure, they help keep my sanity during the pandemic.