“Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking it’s your story. You’re just the one who gets to tell it.” -George B. Sanchez
Journalists sometimes talk about “the story,” but we often talk about “my story.” We can’t do our job without the people who share their experiences with us, but ultimately we hold the power of how their story is conveyed.
What would it look like if we shared that power?
A big part of what I love about teaching media is exactly that: re-distributing the power. Earlier this year I led a series of digital storytelling workshops with exchange students from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. One of those students was Emmanuel, whose story is below. In it, Emmanuel describes the fears and doubts he felt as he embarked on his U.S. exchange year. Would he be able to keep up? Would he meet all the program requirements? In an English exam on the first day of class, Emmanuel found his answer.
The story captures a universal feeling through a vivid, specific moment or journey. And it does so because it’s told in only the way Emmanuel could tell it.
At the end of a digital storytelling workshop I led last night, I asked the students in the class to share one word that captures what they were thinking or feeling. The words above were some of the ones they chose.
The students in this workshop series are from five different countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. They are studying in the U.S. for one year through an exchange program that gives scholarships to young people from economically or politically marginalized countries and groups. Each of them could probably choose a dozen powerful stories to tell from their lives. During our three-part workshop, they are developing a story about one transformation they have gone through during their time in the U.S.
No matter what country or background you are from, this is for sure: living in a completely different culture for a year will change you. The students I’m working with are crafting stories about the struggle to be understood in a new language, finding confidence in a different education system, learning to explore a city alone, and more.
And me, I’m excited to help them tell those stories.