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Jen Lazuta '07 is no stranger to travel. From backpacking through Europe and South America to visiting over a dozen African countries, including Burkina Faso, where she was a Peace Corps volunteer for four years, Lazuta has seen the world.
The economics and English double-major says she got the travel bug from her experiences studying abroad through Gettysburg College. She spent a semester at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa during her junior year.
“When I got back to the U.S. after that semester abroad, I pretty much knew I would return to Africa in some capacity,” Lazuta said. “On some level, the decision to go abroad really changed the whole course of my life.”
While volunteering in Burkina Faso, Lazuta attracted much media attention for finishing first among female competitors in the 2009 Ouaga-Laye Marathon. Lazuta was astounded by the publicity she received and the constant demand for exclusive interviews. Years later, the tables have turned, and now Lazuta is the one asking the questions.
She recently earned her Masters degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, and was able to travel to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a post-graduate internship program. In Phnom Penh, she worked as a reporter for the Cambodia Daily, one of Cambodia's two English-language newspapers; her first overseas reporting experience.
We had a chance to catch up with Lazuta between assignments. Read on for more about her experiences in Phnom Penh and find out about her current work for Voice of America's Dakar bureau.
What was it like living as an American reporter in Cambodia?
I found it to be surprisingly easy. Cambodians are very warm, friendly, helpful people who are used to having foreigners around, and I never felt as if I was an outsider. There were language barriers at times, but many Cambodians, especially those living in the city, do speak at least some English. If I ever needed help translating, I would just pair up with another reporter who was fluent in Khmer for the assignment.
Did you have more liberty in your reporting working for the English-based Cambodia Daily than you would have had working for other Cambodian publications?
I think so. The Daily is one of the country's two English-language newspapers, and while highly respected and well-circulated, it remains very much a small scale operation. As a rookie, working in such a tiny newsroom was ideal because it gave me more opportunities to dive into actual reporting and cover some bigger stories than I think I would have been able to at a larger publication.
To what degree was there freedom of press? How did it affect your ability to report?
The Daily's reputation gave me a lot of access to sources at all levels. Personally, I never had any limitations when it came to reporting, but I never did any investigative reporting. From what I understand, there have been many cases of journalists being “silenced” in Cambodia when they looked into things that someone felt they shouldn't. I've also heard that corruption exists between some Cambodian publications and the government, but I also never personally experienced any of that.
What were some challenges you came across while working/living in Cambodia?
The biggest challenge for me was just getting a grasp on what types of stories were important and interesting locally. As a foreigner, everything seems exciting and newsworthy, but you quickly realize that what may be a novelty for you, isn't necessarily the issues that Cambodians care about.
What are you doing for Voice of America's Dakar bureau currently?
I'm here as a freelance reporter. I'm based in Dakar, but have covered stories throughout the West African region. The stories for VOA are done for radio, but also go online as print. I've been mostly been writing about health and development issues, but any topic is fair game.
Do you have any particularly interesting stories from your travels that have influenced you more than others? What is the most memorable thing you've seen or experienced?
One of the stories that has really stayed with me was from my time in Cambodia. It was about a fisherman who was sold into slavery in Thailand. He was held captive for a number of years before being able to escape to Malaysia, only to be imprisoned again. When he finally made it back home to Cambodia, he became an activists of sorts, turning to art to spread anti-human trafficking messages. I had the opportunity to spend some time with him – hear his story, see his paintings – and was touched by how much this man was forced to endure. It's often easy to forget how many people, each day, all around the world are suffering unspeakable atrocities, and this man really reinforced for me the importance of journalism and the need to give a voice to those who would otherwise go unheard. Thinking about him still gives me goosebumps.Posted: Tue, 26 Mar 2013