A year ago, I started my Bush Fellowship journey with much gratitude and excitement. It was the beginning of an intense leadership development through a rigorous master’s program in journalism at Columbia Journalism School. I am writing this reflection just a few weeks after I graduated, and a month after I started a certificate program in computational journalism. I can’t believe a year has gone by since I began this incredible journey.
During the year of my fellowship, I can genuinely say I have grown as a journalist. I have learned so much in just one short year. I have also made an amazing network of brilliant journalists. Those connections combined with the skills I learned at Columbia Journalism School will surely serve me well in the future. I am eagerly looking forward to coming back to the newsroom to continue writing stories and informing readers about what’s happening in their communities.
When I decided to embark on this journey, I had a clear plan of what I wanted to accomplish, to walk away with a master’s degree from one of the best journalism schools in the country. Being prepared helped me achieve so much when I moved to New York to study at Columbia. I knew the investigative master’s program was fast-paced with so many good classes to choose from. So, I made sure I planned ahead. I reached out to professors whose classes I could not take because of the credit limit. One of those was a Pulitzer-winning professor who allowed me to audit his class.
After graduation, he contacted me and asked if I could meet one of his friends who is writing a book about refugees. He wanted me to share my life experiences as a former refugee and a Somali-American journalist. My professor knew I was also interested in writing a book about the Somali-American immigrant experience in Minnesota. In the spring semester, I enrolled in an intensive book writing seminar where I learned the ins and outs of how to write a narrative nonfiction. The professor of that class drilled into my head how important it is for this book to be written. By writing a book, he made me believe that I would contribute to the society. I agree with him. I want to take a full ownership of my story. As the country continues to debate about immigration, terrorism and the place of refugees in America, there are so many preconceived notions of what it means to be an immigrant or a Muslim or a refugee. And as a journalist, I feel I have an obligation to write a book that will bring more depth and authenticity during this pivotal moment in our country’s history. I am uniquely positioned to write this book, for I would be able to open a window for audiences into the experiences of refugees in Minnesota. Without the Bush Fellowship, I don’t think I would have said that with such confidence. I don’t think the idea of writing a book would have ever crossed my mind. I am pleased to say this is definitely one of the most surprising things about my fellowship experience.
Meanwhile, the Bush Fellowship took me to places that I had not seen in more than a decade. When I finished the fall semester in December, I traveled to Kenya to work on my master’s thesis. I had lived there as child before I came to Minnesota, but I had no intention of returning as a reporter –– at least not anytime soon. After conducting a research, I decided to focus on writing about how the U.S. government is tackling the radicalization of Muslim youth in Kenya. I met U.S. officials, community leaders and youth groups. Some of them knew me through social media and were eager to share their stories. While I was in Kenya, I was lucky enough to get the support and guidance of one of Kenya's best reporters. I also reunited with my friend from primary school who cheerfully served as unpaid guide and translator.
I am thankful and blessed to have had this wonderful fellowship opportunity that allowed me to travel to places and write about issues that I care about. As my fellowship comes to an end in a few months, I can’t wait to start another phase of my career. This is just the beginning. With the education I got from Columbia and the opportunity that Bush Foundation has offered me, I am more than ready to face and adapt to any challenges.