To Jakarta, by way of Athens
By Sally Ann Cruikshank
A scholarship from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism changed Sara Schonhardt’s career path and the place she calls home.
Schonhardt, a freelance journalist based in Jakarta, Indonesia, now writes for the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and Voice of America.
Her career in Southeast Asia began with an internship at Asia Times in Thailand after she received a John R. Wilhelm Foreign Correspondence Internship scholarship in 2003.
"It was only supposed to be four months," Schonhardt said. "But when my four months they said do you want to stay, and I said yes."
Schonhardt recently returned to Athens to speak with journalism freshmen as well as seniors applying for the same scholarship that changed her life.
Evan Rhodes, a Scripps freshman interested in broadcast journalism, said Schonhardt’s story was powerful.
"Sara’s visit was critical in allowing me to further address one of the multiple career options I have as an up and coming journalist," he said. "She helped me open my eyes to a position that, although doesn’t seem to conjure much wealth, allows the journalist power to control their stories, which could pay off emotionally in an indescribable way."
After spending three years in Thailand and one year in Cambodia, Schonhardt returned to the United States for graduate school at Columbia.
"After four years, I really felt like I’d built some strong journalism skills, I really fell in love with Southeast Asia. I loved my time in Thailand, in Cambodia, but I didn’t feel like I had a background knowledge of the region," Schonhardt said. "I had not prepared for being a foreign correspondent."
With a master’s degree in international affairs in hand, she bought a ticket to Indonesia, where she has worked ever since. In her talk, Schonhardt advised students how to get started as a freelancer, including how to navigate a new culture.
As a freelancer another vital thing is making friends with the local journalism community," she said. "I have a lot of local journalism friends. They know so much better what’s happening. They’ve been doing this far, far longer, so they’re definitely good connections to have.’
Schonhardt also stressed to students that it’s never too early to start preparing for an international career.
"Take background courses, if you know what region you might be interested in. Really focus on that region and learn as much as you can about it," she said.
She also urged students to get involved with organizations in Athens.
"Practice your journalism," she said. "Write for the local paper, maybe even try freelancing" Go out on the weekends, go out and drive around and find something interesting. Because that’s how you cultivate those skills.
Jeff Kassouf, a Scripps freshman, said Schonhardt gave him a fresh perspective on journalism.
"Sara was definitely a great speaker to have brought in. In a way, she showed me the light in the dark and gloomy tunnel that print journalism has become," he said. "If things don’t fully work out, but I have a graduate degree and job experience under my belt, then there is still ... hope in freelance journalism. Her experiences in Indonesia, Thailand, and other parts of the globe have shown that a reporter is still needed in some capacities, and that the news didn’t change, just the way we find it has."
In this video, Schonardt discusses her path from journalism student to freelance reporting from Southeast Asia.