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Not to Columbia Journalism Department

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Not to Columbia Journalism Department

A long time ago on a worn out couch on a beer drenched night a friend once asked me what I wanted to be when I got older. I replied automatically that I wanted to be nothing and do everything. I am unsure if I knew how serious I was at that time, but a decade later I am still nothing and still trying to do everything.

I suppose my ambition has not changed:

To be nothing and do everything.

My adviser at Global College seems to think that I could fairly easily get into the grad school journalism department at Columbia. This is the best journalism program on the planet, and I considered applying for a brief moment. Well, until my own reality quickly back-lashed upon me as I realized that this is the very last thing that I want to do.
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Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Brooklyn, New York City- mid September 2008
Travelogue Travel Photos
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It is my impression that it is very easy for someone to ruin a happy period of their lives by changing it. It is easy to change your path when you are satisfied. Perhaps it is difficult to see grungy fields on the other side of green pastures. I realize my own happiness and I know that it comes from doing exactly what I am doing now: being nothing and doing everything. I travel the world and write about it. I make very little money, I live simply, but I would not want it any other way.

(well, maybe I really should try to make a little more money, least I will find myself sucking dimes and knocking on farmhouse doors down a far roundabout of the Road.)

I know from here, after publishing five articles on a variety of subjects in print magazines and working on another as I speak, that journalism assignments, deadlines, and the editorial process makes me feel excited but it does not make me feel any more happy than blogging. I wish to finish my degree and learn everything that I can about publishing, journalism, how to use the press, and anything else that I can learn that can make VagabondJourney.com and this travelogue better, but I am not interested in writing as a job pawned out by a company or organization.

It is my intention to eventually make this travelogue like a daily magazine – or, more honestly, a storybook. I want to go to the source of the globe and write about what I find there. If the war cry is sounded in the east then that is where I will go, if hell fire rises in the west then I will be on its trail. I want to talk to people far beyond the cover of the NEWS to discover for myself what roots are sprouting up from the ground. I may not have the proper credentials, the money, or the backing support of a well known paper, but I will have the freedom to work with 100% independence, have no agenda other than my own, and have no audience that I need castrate my opinions for. These are the benefits of travel writing, and this, I feel, is the Path that has been laid out by the Travelers of Old: to go somewhere just to find out what is really there and report these findings – unedited – to the world. From doing a rudimentary survey of modern journalism I believe that more travel and less journalism is necessary.

I also believe that I have advantages that ordinary journalists probably do not have:

I can live and work on ten to twenty dollars a day anywhere in the world.
I write words for fun and not money
I do not look like a sad, sterile, and professional prick.
I can go anywhere at anytime with only a check-in bag, a beat up notebook, a pencil, a voice recorder, and my little computer and take out a story without support.
I would not have to adapt my writing to fit the pre-standing world view of an audience (the consumer).

This last point, I believe, would be my main advantage. I once wrote an article about Tibetan refugees in India for Glimpse Magazine and found myself proposing that were not very popular. I found the Tibetans in the Bylakuppe refugee camp to be very well off, and most of them seemed to be wealthy. It was not my impression that these Tibetans were any longer in need for international aid or outside assistance. I went into homes, asked questions, heard stories, visited their 21st century equipped schools, prayed in their lavish monasteries, spoke with scholars, anthropologists, the Indian community, and found out how things worked. I saw smiling faces in Bylakuppe, new clothes, and comfortable people. This is not to discredit the effort on the part of the Tibetans, but what I witnessed was not the typical view of a refugee camp. In this article I made references to how the refugee Tibetans were far more wealthy than the native Indians that lived in the same area as Bylakuppe; I wrote about how the Tibetans hire Indian laborers to do their work for them; I wrote about how international aid has made these refugees exponentially more prosperous than the surrounding Indian community and Tibetans in the Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Qinghai where I have previously studied. But I could not publish this to the etent that I wished.

Everybody loves the Tibetans (as do I).

But it was clear that the image of the happy Tibetan refugee would not sell in the West.

People will not accept reading about a world that does not meet their expectations. Tell someone what they already know and they will read your paper, buy your magazine, and watch your TV program. People like to feel intelligent. Present an impression of the world that is unconventional and you will be called a liar. To attempt to knock down the walls of preconception with your true impressions and you will find yourself with an unpublishable article.

I may be wrong, deceived, and incorrect but at least I write my honest impressions. I do not want to have to adapt this impression to match that of others who live in the bubble of TV news, NGOs who make money off of selling suffering, and tourism.

I want to publish the un-publishable impressions of planet earth. Good news is no news. People expect to see a world afire when they turn on their television sets and that is exactly what they get.

The world is not on fire. Life is good, as Andy says. Most people are well fed, have livelihoods, and are happy. I watched the news broadcasts from China during the Olympics and I realized that I am in no way suited to be a hired journalist. I would not write that crap. I do not wish to give astray impressions of the world just because that is what people expect to see. No way.

I want to write my own impressions, not the ones that I am paid to write. One person’s experience and impression of a certain topic is not enough to claim objectivity. It is not possible. Objective journalism would take far too much time to be temporally relevant. But I do believe that subjective opinion is valuable. To strip yourself away from the bounds of phony objectivity is to open yourself up to really expression the world that you see.

A few days ago I mentioned to a cook in the dining hall of LIU that I studied journalism. He replied by making a jest that I all I studied was how to lie. “So you know how to lie then right?” I said yes. I do lie. I lie every friggin’ day on this travelogue, but I believe that my lies are closer to the truth than if I stunted them with a phony sense of objectivity.

I am a 27 year old white country-boy from some backward nowhere-town on the bank of Lake Ontario, I have traveled the world for 9 years, studied language, and will take a degree in cultural anthropology and journalism. I intend to write in accordance to my biography; I would like to be read as such rather than as a faceless mouthpiece for the press.

I will not pretend that I write words from the a place in the world that is not where I stand.

I may not speak the Truth.

But I am honest.

I would not do well in Columbia.

Links to previous travelogue entries:

  • Vagabond Finds Home in Brooklyn
  • Space Noises in a Brooklyn Abandoned Lot
  • Reflections on Eastern Europe

Not to Columbia Journalism Department
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Filed under: New York City, USA

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Polis, Republic of CyprusMap