The hardest question

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“So what the best part of the Fellowship?”

It’s a question that stops me in my tracks. Which is surprising, because I’ve been asked it multiple times over the last two months.

On the surface of it, the question is simple enough – what part of this amazing nine week experience has stuck out in your mind the most? Which meetings were the most beneficial to your career? What will you remember best when it’s all over?

I could answer by listing my favourite cities. Chicago, with its beautiful architecture and rich nightlife. San Francisco, with its breath-taking bay and anything-goes attitude. Austin, with its varied music scene and optimistic liberalism. Minnesota, which reminds me of my hometown of Canberra.

Or I could make note of the amazing people we’ve been lucky enough to meet. Like Jim Pensiero, Talent Editor at the Wall Street Journal, who answered our assault of questions with grace and enthusiasm. Or Star-Tribune investigative reporter Paul McEnroe, who was open and candid as he talked about reporting during the first Gulf War. Or Middle School Principal Celeste Douglas, whose fortitude and belief in her students was humbling. Or Stephen Menya, whose belief in himself was unwavering, even in the face of ignorance and outright racism.

I could answer the question by trying to recount some of the exciting professional experiences we had. Sitting in on an editorial meeting at the New York Times. Walking through the bustling CNN newsroom. Being granted rare access to the Centre for Disease Control while immunologists fight to contain the Ebola outbreak. Meeting the head of the Texas branch of the Republican Party.

All of these fantastic experiences aside, if I had to answer the question, the most honest thing I can say is that the best thing about this fellowship – and the most surprising – were my other Fellows. They alone managed to reignite my love of journalism. They are ambitious and always act with integrity, even in dangerous and difficult circumstances. I was thoroughly unprepared for how much I would learn from them.

They’ve taught me about how to investigate a story, how to establish new leads, how to tell a story in an engaging and different way.

They have been so much more than classmates, travel companions and roommates. They have become friends and mentors. They have encouraged me to think of things differently, and that can only be a bonus in my career.

My fellow Fellows and I are a breed. We’re inquisitive, cynical, open and ambitious. We look at issues from a number of different angles, and try to get to the heart of a subject through layers of PR spin and hyperbole. We ask questions ALL THE TIME. It’s nice to know that I’ve found a place where I fit in, socially and professionally.

I very much feel as though I’m still processing the last nine weeks. I’m sure there are things I’ve missed out on mentioning here. But I’ll end with this point. This nine week experience has been a once-in-a-lifetime one, and I’m very thankful to the World Press Institute and US Studies Centre for giving me the opportunity to undertake it.