“So exactly what were you doing in Germany?”
It’s the question I’ve received almost daily since I returned back to Kansas City a few weeks ago. And I’m still not sure how to answer it.
What was I doing in Germany?
There’s the canned response that I was part of the prestigious Robert Bosch Stiftung Fellowship that brings 16 Americans to Germany for a year to work with German institutions and encourage better transatlantic relations.
There’s the answer that sometimes I worry makes eyes glaze over: the details of my transatlantic research project topic studying the intersection of disinformation/misinformation/fake news/hate speech, social media and press freedom. (Oh, don’t worry. I plan a post on this soon. I hope you’ll find it interesting and not a cure for insomnia.)
There’s an answer that involves me hopping between small towns in Germany to attend multiple David Hasselhoff concerts and uncover why he’s so popular in Germany. (Yes. That really happened.)
And then there’s the answer about how it changed me personally. This is the answer that I can’t quite articulate yet. I learned a new language, met a ton of influential and interesting people, and was repeatedly pushed out of my comfort zone, all while traveling across Europe, Asia and Africa. I believe I made it to more than 24 different countries over the year.
Still, it’s easy to come back to KC and quickly slide back into its comfortability. It’s home, after all. And while it’s been an amazing year, it’s also exhausting not to have a “home.” I feel thankful for Kansas City’s familiarity and happy to pick up friendships as if no time has passed at all. As another Kansas Citian (who once lived for several years in Hong Kong) just told me, “It’s weird that KC changes. But then again, not really.”
The same is true for myself, really. I’m changed, but not really.
So as I return to my “old” life, it sometimes feels like the last year happened so long ago. But, I just got home!
I also miss the other Americans who went through that crazy year-long journey with me. It’s hard to articulate how you become a make-shift “family” with other ex-pats when you live abroad. They become your connection back to your home and your support system on rough days. I’m definitely on a culture shock rollercoaster after returning from such a crazy year and it’s weird not to have the people who shared this experience with me nearby.
Still, life moves onward. Though I wanted to acknowledge where I’ve been, this post is also to announce where this blog, which has been on hiatus, is going. Over the last year, I’ve realized how much I missed writing and I’m excited to get back to that passion. I’m also thankful for the many people who voiced how they, too, have missed this blog—especially when I was feeling so insecure about writing it.
One of the things (perhaps ironically) I could see so clearly from Germany was that there is a need for people who understand the nuances of the Midwest to write about it. (A great example: fellow Kansas Jayhawk Sarah Smarsh’s soon-to-be-released book Heartland. Anyone interested in a virtual “book club” reading of this?)
I also hope I can continuing sharing some of what I’ve learned from living both in D.C. and in Europe. I had intended to keep writing while I was in Germany—but there was so much to learn and comprehend— I wasn’t sure where to begin. I answered so many, many questions about the United States—forcing me to examine my own worldview. It has been both a humbling and rewarding experience. However, I felt uncomfortable writing about things I was still seeking to understand. And thus, this site took a break even as I experimented with some travel writing.
Now that I’m back home, I plan to resurrect this blog, but it is going to change course a little — I hope for the better. I plan to do more original reporting and interviews with people I think will add to our understanding of the world.
My hope is to also be transparent about the reporting process so you understand why I’m interviewing these folks and why I think they are qualified to speak on the topic in question. I hope that will help you trust that what I’m writing about is accurate and factual, yet also give you insight into how journalists do their jobs.
For now, I plan to just publish once a week to make sure the quality of this blog remains high and that you also find it “adds value” to your week. Through my research, I’ve really been pondering this idea of “communications pollution” preventing us from having shared facts and values. Though I love the internet and social media, I’m really wondering about the psychological effects of us being SO plugged into each other all the time and whether constant news updates are really helping or hurting democracy.
Food for thought.
That said, on my Facebook page, I’ll continue to periodically share pieces I think are quality journalism. I want to explain why I think they are important and point out the attributes that I think make it a piece of solid journalism to support. I truly believe that the only way to get rid of “junk journalism” is to support quality journalism. I hope you will help me with that mission!
As always, please reach out if you have thoughts on people I should talk to or subjects I should explore. I definitely could use help identifying under-covered communities as well as issues worthy of more discussion.
I hope we can continue to use this space to have constructive conversations in polite company and look forward to hearing from you as this site evolves.