Vibrant First Fridays in Phoenix

A band plays on a patio in Phoenix

It was the first Friday of the month, and that has a special meaning here in Phoenix. My anticipation was especially high for the opportunity to get to know the Scholars a little more through their personal projects and what they’ve crafted over the past four weeks at the Cronkite School. Although each presentation lasted only fifteen minutes, between the lines pulsed all the complex cultural, social and political differences of the participants.

I believe that in a way they all shared at least one feeling in common: the brief anxiety of talking to a room and taking in some of the classroom nostalgia that must be consuming everyone around here. We still had the privilege of working once again with professor Marianne Barrett, who captivated everyone’s affection during our meetings earlier in the program.

The projects were a melting pot of possibilities. Bogdan Oprea (Romania) presented a research proposal on the functioning of fact checkers in the United States, to complement the new edition of his book on disinformation, while Juan Manuel Gari (Uruguay) presented his plans to make practical activities a fundamental part of the education of students attending his university.

Anabhuti Yadav (India), on the other hand, gave us an opportunity to learn about an ambitious plan for an entire postgraduate degree in digital media. Due to the size of the population and its cultural impact on the world, the region has attracted great investment interest from giant companies such as Meta and Google. Asraful Alam (Bangladesh) was inspired by the Teaching Hospital model, and brought up a recurring topic from the morning’s conversations: how to get investments for our educational institutions.

Some of the projects were also opportunities to learn about the complexities of each region. Hazhan Ahmed, Alev Yucel and Bintan Humeira presented proposals that would only be possible to imagine in their countries of origin (Kurdistan, Turkey and Indonesia, respectively), extremely sensitive topics such as coverage of armed conflicts and religion. Ian Espada (Philippines) talked about the complexity of implementing and assessing university internships. Brian So (Hong Kong), in turn, portrayed the pedagogical challenges faced by all of us after the pandemic: an X-ray of changes in teaching models in different parts of the globe.

I took advantage of my project to talk a little about home (Brazil). I could not pass up the chance to at least mention and introduce the importance of Paulo Freire and his pedagogy of the oppressed, explain a little more about our public and free university for all, in addition to recording the most important political statement in my country at the moment. Oh yeah, all this while recounting my plan to set up a podcast workshop with an emphasis on field research to define an audience.

In the last group, Soledad Arreguez (Argentina) spoke about her plans for a new course at the Pontifical Catholic University of Buenos Aires. Ani Bajrami (Albania) presented her plans for engaging students on climate change issues, while Louis Marie Kakdeu (Cameroon), Roy Jreijiry (Lebanon) and Ekaphone Phouthonesy (Laos) all presented particular things about how journalism is taught in their countries.

But like I said, it was the first Friday of the month and that’s something special here in Phoenix. At the end of the afternoon we could witness that there is life pulsating around here. The streets in the Roosevelt Arts District were crowded with people in a way I hadn’t seen in weeks. Art, music everywhere, with every corner occupied by people singing, dancing and exhibiting their crafts.

I think it was the first time I saw what I most imagined I would see in an American city. The people of Phoenix are extremely friendly and welcoming, always making a point of sharing a smile or one of their stories. It’s funny how every time someone hears my accent, asks where I’m from and I say “Brazil,” a door opens for many conversations and curious questions about my country.

This vibrant energy will, for sure, be one of the things I will miss most about this trip.