It’s tough enough being a reporter right out of school and finding the right words to tell a compelling story, but imagine doing that in a country that does not speak your native language.
That is the challenge that James Thompson is embracing. Thompson, a recent summa cum laude graduate of Grady College, was named a Fulbright scholar and has accepted a journalism assignment in Germany.
“International experience is a very large asset to journalists,” Thompson said of the year-long grant. “I think it’s good for people who are reporting and interpreting current events to have a broad range of experiences and knowledge.”
Thompson, a native of Screven County in Georgia, originally heard about the Fulbright program when he was meeting with Maria de Rocher about an honors program scholarship. As UGA’s Fulbright coordinator, de Rocher told Thompson there was a Fulbright program for journalists in Germany, a perfect combination of his dual majors of digital and broadcast journalism and history, and his minor in German.
With his interest piqued, Thompson submitted his proposal which had to include an independent, journalism-related project and an internship affiliation. Although the projects are subject to change, Thompson’s application and proposal were accepted.
Included in the project proposal are the production of a short documentary film, along with an internship with a daily newspaper in the German city of Freiburg. The film Thompson proposed closely aligns with a subject he wrote about for his senior history thesis: an examination of German faith communities’ outreach efforts.
“In Germany, like most of Europe, religious participation is noticeably less than in decades past,” Thompson explained. “My project would aim to examine how religious congregations seek to engage with those not active in organized religion.”
For the second part of his Fulbright scholarship, Thompson proposed an internship at the daily newspaper in Freiburg, the Badische Zeitung, where he will submit video features for its website.
“I expect to use the exact same video journalism skills that I learned at Grady to tell stories in Freiburg,” Thompson said. “I’ll have to find story ideas, shoot b-roll and do interviews. My German is respectable, but it will certainly be an adjustment to do interviews in German instead of English.”
Thompson’s interest in German began in high school, where he learned from Screven County teacher Jim Sheppard. During this time period his family also hosted German exchange students. While he didn’t have the opportunity to travel to Germany as a high school student, the experience presented itself in college when he spent six weeks in a study abroad program taking a language course at the Goethe Institute and studying sustainability efforts in Freiburg. Thompson looks forward to returning to Freiburg and reconnecting with families he met during his previous travels.
Thompson’s Fulbright studies will also include an immersive 1-1/2-month language course at Phillips University in Marburg.
It is rare to hear the German language spoken in the streets of Georgia, but Thompson admits seeking out those who speak it.
“Whenever I hear German being spoken here, I follow them and make them talk to me,” Thompson said.
One of the aspects he enjoyed most when he was previously in Germany was getting to interact with Germans in their own country. “Getting to be fully immersed in their culture and speaking their language on their turf really allowed me to improve my language skills. It is such a perspective-altering experience to participate in other cultures.”
Thompson is spending his summer before his Fulbright travels working as an intern in Governor Nathan Deal’s Office of Communications, where his duties include assisting with press releases, social media and speechwriting. Politics is an area that Thompson has an interest and he expects to get a lot of questions about the current state of American politics.
“It should be interesting,” Thompson said. “Germany and the U.S. have been strong partners on many fronts. Journalists with a knowledge of both nations will be vital to interpreting that relationship in the future.”
Thompson will leave for his Fulbright travels in early August 2017 and return in July 2018.
Thompson is one of more than 1,900 U.S. citizens who will conduct research, teach English, and provide expertise abroad for the 2017-2018 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields.
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.