Most of us have not been to Iran, but Ms Sharanya Pillai, 22, got to visit this Middle Eastern country last September as part of the Going Overseas For Advanced Reporting (GOFAR) module offered by Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (WKWSCI).
The journalism major worked on two stories — one on activist documentary filmmakers and another, on the country’s nascent gaming industry.
“The trip was truly one of the highlights of my NTU education, because it threw me out of my comfort zone and taught me how to make contacts and chase a news story in a completely foreign environment,” she says.
It was “very exciting to knock on (newsmakers’) doors and meet them in person,” she recalls. The resourceful undergraduate had reached out to them via social media prior to the trip.
Other countries that GOFAR students have been to for reporting trips include North Korea and Bhutan.
Learning the ropes
Ms Pillai is currently enrolled in NTU’s University Scholars Programme (NTU-USP). She was awarded the bond-free Nanyang Scholarship, which helps her keep her career options open, especially since the media industry is so diverse and constantly changing, she says.
The scholarship included boarding on campus, which greatly enriched her experience. Another boon is WKWSCI’s direct honours programme.
In January 2015, Ms Pillai went to the United States as part of her fivemonth overseas exchange stint, where she got first-hand experience of the American media industry.
At Boston University, she took classes in radio journalism and media criticism. The latter was taught by one of her favourite writers and national correspondent for American magazine, The Atlantic, Mr Ta- Nehisi Coates.
“It was a very nurturing and humbling experience to have my work critiqued by him,” she says.
She was also a student reporter with the Boston University News Service, where she covered exciting news events such as a Black Lives Matter protest and the Boston Marathon.
For her course’s compulsory six-month professional internship programme, she was attached to the Singapore office of CNBC Asia-Pacific as a news editorial intern and she also worked on its digital desk.
Ms Pillai discovered her passion for writing about current affairs in junior college, when she realised she really enjoyed General Paper. While researching university courses, NTU WKWSCI students’ Final Year Projects and the school’s GOFAR programme piqued her interest.
Speaking to professors at the NTU Open House, she noted that much of the emphasis of the Bachelor in Communication Studies course was on equipping students with practical skills — exactly what she wanted from her university education.
Additionally, being part of the NTU-USP means she had access to a multi-disciplinary education, where she would be exposed to subjects outside of her specialisation such as philosophy and business.
Of note was a moral ethics class, which encouraged intellectually stimulating debates on civil rights movements and the death penalty from the students.
Now into her final semester, she has established a broad network of mentors and friends, thanks to the NTU-USP. She has also gained life skills such as using Excel for practical calculations from her business school friends.
“I could not be more grateful for the variety and depth of learning opportunities I have been given at NTU. This interdisciplinary approach to learning will help me remain flexible and adaptable in searching for a job,” she says.