I am an international student from Beijing, China, and my undergraduate studies officially began here at Brandeis University in Aug. 2012. How time flies. Almost four years have passed since then and it seems to me that my Brandeis Orientation just took place yesterday. However, time waits for no person. We have to keep moving forward and I am expected to receive my undergraduate diploma on Sunday, May 22.
I am majoring in International and Global Studies (IGS) with a double minor in French and Francophone Studies and Journalism. I also did some Russian language and area studies during my senior year here at Brandeis, but it is neither my major nor my minor here. I will probably continue my Russian language and area studies in my graduate school in the Greater Paris Area (Île-de-France) of France from a European perspective effective Fall 2016, and will probably travel to the Russian Federation from Beijing with a tourist agency next month (June 2016). After mastering Russian, I will be able to fluently speak all the national languages of all the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC): China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States.
As a news presenter and broadcast journalist with WBRS, today I am going to talk about how my academic studies at Brandeis have been contributing to the constant improvement of my professional weekly radio show “Brandeis & The World,” which is aired on Saturdays during regular semesters.
I officially joined WBRS in 2012 and the very first episode of my program was aired on Oct. 13 of that year. At that time, as a newcomer here in the United States who already spent 12 years mainly studying for extremely tough exams in an incredibly competitive environment back in China like a test-taking machine, my worldview was very narrow. Chinese and English were the only two languages that I could speak back then and the topics aired on my show were also very limited. I spent most of my airtime just talking about three things: Brandeis, America and China. Nothing else. There were basically no interviews aired on my show, either. I spent a lot of airtime reading news headlines. I did not have an assistant. Everything related to my show had to be completely produced by myself, even including the soundboard operation work in the studio while I was live on the air. The first year of my show was not recorded, either.
However, a person’s words shaped the fate of my radio show. She was China Radio International (CRI) Reporter Wu You based in Beijing. We met each other in the summer of 2013. After finding out that I was a college radio host, she asked me, “Is your show recorded and posted online as well? If not, it would be such a pity.” I chose to follow her words because I have been treating my “job” at WBRS in a very serious and professional way, not necessarily for fun.
I started to upload the podcast of my program on SoundCloud in Fall 2013, but I later realized that there was a space limit in my SoundCloud account and I had to delete the audio playback of some old episodes in order to upload that of some new episodes. Sometimes, I even had to explain this tech problem to my interviewees again and again. It was a very embarrassing moment, especially when I was trying to be professional but was not professional enough yet.
We use words such as “developing” and “developed” to describe member states of the United Nations (UN). If we use those two words to describe the level of my WBRS radio show as well, then I would have to say that the first year of my show was undeveloped, my sophomore year’s show was developing, the fall semester of my junior year’s show was almost developed and my senior year’s show is very developed; I was off the air in Spring 2015 since I studied abroad in Paris during that semester.
In my view, the year of 2014 was the most embarrassing year for my radio broadcast here in the U.S. Since I already learned my third language French for two semesters in 2013, I officially started to cover France-related topics in January 2014 when the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was marked. I even had the chance to exclusively interview former Chinese Ambassador to France Wu Jianmin in person for WBRS. Although my radio program is usually in English, I still mispronounced a lot of French names on the air in 2014 since my French was not good enough at that time. But I was still trying to interview as many foreign guests as I could. But the good sign in 2014 was that my radio show’s Tumblr website was officially launched. Unlike SoundCloud, I can upload as many audio clips as I want on Tumblr, although there is a 10MB size limit for each audio segment uploaded there. With Tumblr, not only can I upload the technologically compressed version of my full episodes, but I can also upload the audio playback of every single small segment of my program. My interviewees usually want the permanent audio links to the latter one after my broadcast is over so that they can share those permanent audio links to their own segments on their websites with their connections.
The overall quality of my show, including the sound quality, the editorial quality, my intonation, my pronunciation, my guest-booking skills, my interview skills, my broadcast skills and my production skills, significantly improved effective Fall 2015 after my semester abroad and more than half of a summer vacation doing a professional broadcast journalism internship at CCTV-NEWS in Beijing. After visiting the TV studio of France 24 in France and interning with a program production team of CCTV-NEWS in China, I suddenly realized what striving for perfection is really about—every single second of the content put on the air must be good enough. Yes, personal experience does matter. As a way more experienced student journalist right now, I choose to cut out all the unnecessary materials from my broadcast scripts and prerecorded audio clips so as to ensure that every single second of my show is good, important and fancy.
Since I am now absolutely bilingual in Chinese and English, proficient in French and have a basic understanding of the Russian language, the regions that I cover on my show this year are very diverse, including East Asia, Post-Soviet States, Central and Western Europe, the United States, Latin America and the Middle East (I should report on Africa as well). I also had the opportunity to exclusively interview French writer Pierre Lemaitre (in person) and French movie actress Marie Bunel (by telephone) in French. Regarding Russia-related topics, I even had the chance to interview London-based former Kremlin advisor Alexander Nekrassov by telephone for my show aired on March 12, 2016 (in English). As a perfectionist, I have recently interviewed many of my former interviewees again for some new topics in order not to leave any regret, but to leave some excellent audio segments online before my official departure.
International broadcast journalism is a very tough business. It basically requires the journalist to master all the major skills, all the way from script writing to news presenting in a very sophisticated manner. Many scholars and print media journalists are very good at writing articles for print media outlets, but some of them are not necessarily good at public speaking. They are very nervous and speak with stammers on TV or on the radio. Regarding the pronunciation, you may not be able to figure out people’s accents from print media, but their accent-related problems will soon be exposed if they go on the air. For me, as a non-native speaker of English, French or Russian, since I did not grow up in any of those countries, it is not an easy task for me to completely get rid of my foreign accents. But as a perfectionist, what I can do is to make sure that I can at least correctly pronounce every single syllable of the word by looking up the standard phonetic symbols written in the dictionary for all the words that I am not sure of.
In the past, I thought that everything would be fine as long as I hosted my show on time and well fulfilled my airtime. Although I still do not have any assistant for my radio show right now, this year, I have been trying my best to find some time to go over my broadcast scripts for a few times before going on the air. You may have noticed that in addition to the overall sound quality of my program, my pronunciation and intonation have also significantly ameliorated. My on-air speeches should sound way more natural and way less choppy now.
As many experts say, people can improve their public speaking skills by recording their own speeches and then listening to the recordings of their own speeches. As my favorite location on campus, WBRS Radio has been giving me such a wonderful platform to practice all those skills. My speeches recorded in 2015 and 2016 should sound much better than those recorded in 2014. In the meantime, I have also been recording the voices of some of my American classmates here at Brandeis. By comparing the intonations of their speeches, it seems to me that theirs has not necessarily changed whereas mine has improved so much, probably because English is their first language, they grew up here in America and they had already become pretty mature before coming to Brandeis. What’s more, journalism is also taught in some American high schools. I have not seen such an equivalent in Mainland China yet.
It is a very different story for me. I still keep growing here at Brandeis. Everything, including my maturity, understanding of the whole world, academic proficiency, foreign language proficiency, intonation, vocabulary, interview skills, broadcast skills and multimedia production skills, has enormously improved. From my own experiences, I can tell that the difference between a sophomore and a senior is HUGE.
So thank you very much, Brandeis University! Thank you very much, WBRS Radio! You have laid a very solid foundation for my future academic and professional endeavors. It is Brandeis that will help me reach a higher platform sometime in the future. It is very hard to say goodbye and my feelings are very mixed right now.
I am expected to host the very last episode of “Brandeis & The World” on WBRS on Saturday, May 14 by covering Russia’s May 9 World War II Victory Day Military Parade. I am sure that my broadcast here in the U.S. will then reach a very impressive climax by covering that super exciting story. My latest audio works can be found online at http://wbrsdavidhlb.tumblr.com.