A reflection on my time at Columbia

By Multimedia Reporter


e change in scenery from a developing country like Pakistan to the urban and glamorous city environment of a bustling Chicago was a roller coaster ride of emotions.

I remember receiving my acceptance letter from Columbia nearly two years ago. The letter  was appreciative of my photojournalism experience covering the Sikh Baisakhi festival in Pakistan as part of my undergraduate thesis at Beaconhouse National University. I was the only female photographer who had to make my way through hordes of male pilgrims to capture the best composition and at the same time avoid being run over by a stampede.

I was teary-eyed the first time I saw downtown Chicago’s glittering lights.  The journey had been an exciting one, and I couldn’t quite yet believe I was finally here. 

One question I was asked all the time is, “You have moved all the way from Pakistan. How has that been for you?” My response was, “It’s the perfect fit for me.”

In the span of a few months, I realized Columbia not only prepares you for the real world—it makes you a part of the real world from day one. 

One of my first assignments was to shadow a working journalist for a day, which showed me what it’s really like being a journalist in this city. I followed photojournalist Rob Hart who has been a great contact in the industry.

In the graduate program, we report on happenings at Chicago’s City Hall, the Chicago Board of Education, the Chicago Board of Health and a multitude of other organizations and issues. The most exciting part of this reporting for me has been to write on deadline and read stories by other working journalists who were present at the same events. 

In my first class, a police officer visited as a guest speaker and explained crime and homicide in the city. The program has helped me understand the dynamics of the city in a unique way that I would not have had otherwise. 

Graduate school calls for caffeine overdoses, haphazard meals and quick shopping sprees in times of wardrobe crises. Columbia’s location in the heart of the city helps immeasurably. Being in Chicago’s Loop is an experience in itself, with all the tourist hot spots within a stone’s throw. 

With the help of mentors and internship opportunities, I was able to work for The Chronicle and intern at the New York Times Student Journalism Institute and the Chicago Sun-Times. With time, I was able to make contacts with editors in and beyond Chicago and was published in Al Jazeera America and The Huffington Post. To be a journalist in Chicago is an incredible experience because it offers diversity and opportunities to network in the third-largest media market in the United States. 

My experience as a graduate student at Columbia College and working in Chicago as a journalist has better equipped me to cover stories in Pakistan that I always wanted to cover and bring to the world’s attention.