Tag Archives: John O’Keefe

Blessed to learn and to love

It’s been five weeks, 35 days, 840 hours and 50,400 minutes. The whole trip, every single minute of it, was better than I had ever imagined it would be.

I’ve been thinking about how I was going to write this last blog post for the past 24 hours. How could I possibly sum up such a wonderful and impactful experience?  So to save you all from my rambling and incoherent thoughts, I want to share with you what I’ve learned from this trip:

1. Writing a movie script is different than any journalism story I’ve written. 

I’m used to telling stories using my words in my own style, letting others’ voices help me prove whatever statement I’m making. That’s what many journalists do, and that’s the privilege of being a journalist. You get to share stories, and it’s your job to tell the story to others. This experience has been different because instead of using our own voices, we help in another way.  We let our video and our interviewees tell the story. We rely heavily on them, while leaving ourselves out of it. Perhaps that’s what makes the best kind of story; when the subject is able to speak to a large group of others directly with only a little help from journalists.

2. I need practice shooting video, but hey, at least I know what all the buttons on the camera do. 

I can tell you how to set the ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance on a camera. I can tell you that when you don’t have time to set those features, shoot in Program mode. However, I’m not quite comfortable with a camera yet.  I hope to spend more time with a camera in the future (and maybe not with the thought of making an award-winning documentary in mind).

3.  Confidence is absolutely vital to a project like this. 

You need a lot of faith in yourself and in your team members to complete something like this. You need faith you’ll get the interview, faith you’ll get enough b-roll, faith you’ll find a good story, and faith it’ll all come together in the end. (I also learned I’m awful at hiding the times when I don’t have faith in myself; John had to remind me to be confident.)

4.  When you find a culture and a people as special as those in Bethel, you try to soak in everything you can.

I’m still trying to soak in all the lessons learned and the sights I saw. This culture is a welcoming culture, an open culture, a completely different culture than my own. Cecilia let us try on her parkas, pieces of clothing she hand-made and were a part of her culture and identity.  Nelson let a dozen people watch him cry as he told us how climate change is affecting the edge of the world and his life. If you’re blessed enough to be a witness to all of this, you keep a place for those people in your heart, knowing that truly good people, people who care, are out there.

5. Once you become aware of a moral evil or a social sin, you are held accountable for your actions. 

During our last lecture on Tuesday, we talked about social sins and modernity. We reflected on becoming aware of the social sin that has become climate change. Now that we are aware, we are held accountable to help make it right. As Nelson would say, we need to  find a way to say sorry to the land.

Carol asked us,”What is something you can do differently based on what you learned?”

I learned that climate change is not a hoax. I’ve seen the impact it’s had on people and on their culture. I’m now accountable for my actions. I can’t change the consumer society that is affecting climate change, but I can take little steps, like recycling and reusing items, and find out how to take bigger steps in the future.

6. It takes a lot to still love 19 people with whom you’ve spent five weeks, 35 days, 840 hours and 50,400 minutes. 

The Alaskan family. Photo courtesy of John O'Keefe.
The Alaskan family. Photo courtesy of John O’Keefe.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard sometimes. But, in all honesty, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend over 50,000 minutes with. This trip and my whole experience wouldn’t be the same without them.  I  walked out of the classroom today with a happy heart and a feeling of gratefulness.

So again, I’d like to thank Carol, Tim, John and the rest of my peers for a life-changing experience.

Alaska? Why not!

When I try to explain to people why I am going on a Backpack Journalism trip to Bethel, Alaska this summer, I tend to get the question a lot, “Why are you, a Biology/Pre-Dental Major, in a Backpack Journalism program?” But my answer to those people is, “Why not!” I believe that inside everyone is the need for a sense of adventure. I figured that if my dream of going to dental school and becoming a dentist does work out, I would never be able to have an opportunity like this to travel to Alaska and be a part of a theology and journalism class that gets to produce a documentary. Now how many people get to say they were part of a documentary team?

I just so happened to see my window of opportunity one day while on my way back from class one day to my dorm room. Just to pass the time, as I waited for my elevator to come, I glanced over at the flyers hanging on the wall that no one usually pays attention to anyways. Thank goodness I actually paid attention to those flyers for once because I saw this bright blue (actually my favorite color!) poster that said “Want to travel to Alaska?” I knew right there that I had found my window of opportunity. My elevator finally came, but I wanted to find out more about this Alaskan adventure…so I took the poster (oops!) and hung it up on my wall until the day I moved out. And what do you know? I am going to Alaska! I’m not going to lie,I had to do a little research as to what Backpack Journalism was at first. After meeting with Dr. O’Keefe, our Theology professor, and attending a couple information meetings I immediately became intrigued and wanted to learn more about the Yupik people and the role of theology and the Church. Just the thought that these people have a story waiting to be heard by the world is just surrounding me with so much excitement and anticipation!

Of course I hope to discover new passions and things about myself that I’ve never been able to experience before until now with this trip. However, my main hope with this project is to be able to learn in a whole new way than what I am used to. It is one thing to sit in class and listen to a lecture. It is a completely different way of learning by going out of my comfort zone and to be able to immerse myself in a different culture and help tell a story with this documentary about the Yupik people. I just have a gut instinct this one that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Packing lots into one week

We start the Backpack Journalism 2014 on Monday. Officially start, that is. Preparations have been going on for just about a year. It’s always amazing how quickly that first day of class or boot camp as we affectionately and accurately call it arrives.

My faculty colleagues — John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie — and I will be doing more packing than layering T-shirts and jeans into a suitcase. Tim will be doing the near impossible for anyone but Tim as he teaches them how to shoot and edit video, how to get good audio and how to tell good stories in five short days. Layered in there will be theology and feature writing as we get this great group of students ready for Bethel, Alaska.

It all adds up to new ways of looking at the world and learning the necessity of bearing witness, being present and telling people’s stories the best way we can.

Now, if I could only close that suitcase …