Reuniting with the Land of Sun Devils and Forks

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Coming back is always a challenge. Imagine these situations: encountering an ex-lover in your 20s, resettling in your hometown, or stepping back into a former workplace. Even mid-career journalists aren’t exempt; they face the risk of losing reputation. As a Humphrey alumnus, I was afraid of everything. I just wanted to be remembered as a former Humphrey fellow. However, life goes beyond our expectations.

That’s why I decided to return. This opportunity is like my final chance. Many students enjoyed the lessons and lives of Cronkite. How about an additional chance? There is be no reason not to accept it. The fact that Cronkite’s support is huge and the faculty and staff are always encouraging me is another plus factor for my decision. Also, I felt that if I didn’t grab this chance, there would be no more possibility for me. So I grabbed this ‘golden rope’ from Dr. Juan Mundel at Cronkite Global Initiative.

Value of Cronkite to Me 

When I was in Korea, I fully enjoyed the immense value of Cronkite Humphrey network. For example, I could host seminars for Korean journalism students with my Humphrey friends. My cohort friend Tasneem Amro from the West Bank, who visited Korea later, spoke with Korean journalism students, and shared her insights with the younger generation. My students, some of whom already became reporters at famous media outlets in Korea, enjoyed talking with a seasoned journalist in the Middle East.

Korean young journalists with Tasneem.

Mohamed Asmieu Bah, who is a TV news presenter in Sierra Leone, is also a good friend of mine. Asmieu was one of the speakers at the World Journalists Conference hosted by Journalists Association of Korea. He introduced his commitment toward the local audience and the role of public broadcaster. Siqi Yao from Phoenix Weekly in China was also a participant at WJC. She is now working as the team leader of social media in her magazine. 

My lessons from Professor Julia Wallace were very useful for my teaching and mentoring Korean students. Her renowned work, “There’s No Crying in Newsrooms” served as a great tool. I introduced my lessons from her book and shared some stories in that book. As a secret project, I tried to contact Korean publishers which can make a Korean translation of that book, which was not successful yet. I hope that my no-more-hidden-gift to Professor Wallace will be accomplished in future. I dream to be her sincere translator. 

At World Journalists Conference in Seoul. Me (from left), Tasneem Amro, Siqi Yao, Mohamed Asmieu Bah, Gahyeok Lee. We shared and improved knowledge and insight from HHH fellowship to our works.

I also dreamed of enhancing the global Cronkite Humphrey Alumni network. Cronkite has around 140 Humphrey alumni all over the world. Many of them work as reporters, editors, or communication experts. Some alumni got distinguished awards and fellowships. 

This will be converged with the vast Cronkite School’s Alumni network in the world. Cronkite boosts 14,000 international alumni. With mid-career experts at ASU Humphrey alumni, there will be a good synergy effect. 

Life is NOT easy, but NOT difficult 

Life in Phoenix is still not easy. Due to inflation in the U.S., grocery prices are very high. Sriracha sauce is selling at super higher prices, while it was around $5 years ago. I need to eat fried rice without spicy flavor. Eggs are more expensive than COVID-19 times, and milk, rice, and oatmeal become more expensive. So I visit ’99 cents only store’ often, and I search for big deals when I have free time. 

With 2023-24 cohort fellow “Sunshine” Seungshin Seo(left).

Flight ticket prices skyrocketed, too. One way direct flight from Seoul to Los Angeles was around $2000 in early August. This prompted my decision to embark on a multi-stop travel, which was eventually a good memory. I visited Hong Kong, Auckland, and Tahiti before coming to the U.S. It was a very interesting and refreshing memory except for the fact that I need to carry around 10 bags. 

Vacation in Auckland.

Study is another obstacle to me. Studying was not easy during my Humphrey years, too. Studying again with more credits is harder. However, there is no option. It is my choice, so I need to overcome my study burden. I am also no more within the protection of Humphrey fellowship, so I need to solve administrative things on my own. Fortunately, I could get generous support from Cronkite’s Humphrey Senior Coordinator Adrienne and Dr. Mundel. 

My family members are happy. My wife enjoys this welcoming city. My son likes his new life, too. He got accustomed to life in Phoenix again. He even enjoys this 110-degree weather because he can swim everyday. 

In short, my life met a significant but unprecedented milestone. I don’t know the answer yet, of course. However, I hope to enjoy this unexpected itinerary and I hope to get successful results, here in Cronkite again. 

About Hyuntaek Lee

Hyuntaek Lee is an Assistant Editor at the Chosunilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper. He was 2021-2022 Humphrey fellow at Cronkite.

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