International students report on their first Fourth of July

Parade marchers beat drums in the Evanston Fourth of July Parade. Photo by Marc Chappelle.

Parade marchers beat drums in the Evanston Fourth of July Parade. Photo by Marc Chappelle.

Adrian Wan wipes the gleam of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. With a phone, notebook and pen in hand, he runs alongside a car from which a woman is waving to parade viewers.

Wan is covering the Evanston Fourth of July Parade. He wants to impress his journalism instructor. He needs only one more interview. But this interview is the most difficult one to get.

Wan was one of seven international students at the Medill cherub program experiencing the Fourth of July for the first time and tasked with finding a story with a unique angle on the traditional holiday.

“It was such a memorable experience,” said Wan of China. “I really wanted to write a good story to hand in to my instructor, so I spent three hours with the parade’s program director. I kept beside her and chased her all the way. She was driving her car from the beginning to the end, and I chased her from the beginning to the end.”

For many cherubs, the parade story is one of the most difficult assignments of the summer. Gabi de Carvalho of Mexico said the hardest part was finding an angle.

“At the end, I found this Pakistani community, and they were marching,” de Carvalho said. “[One man] told me about the things that are going on in Pakistan. At that moment, I felt like a journalist. He’s my story, he’s my angle, and I have to spread what’s going on in Pakistan.”

Wan said the parade was a learning experience because he got to see a parade put on solely for the public, not for the government. He said that in China, the government hosts parades to display military vehicles and weapons and that the parades are not for enjoyment.

Wan said he felt confused and he was not alone. Nina Cong of China said she did not completely understand what the parade was or how to report on it.

“I had no idea what would happen, and I was so nervous to interview strangers in a language that is not my first language,” Cong said. “I was freaking out, but everyone is really friendly and answered my questions very patiently.”

Cong said she quickly realized how much work it is to be a journalist who is not fluent in the language and the time crunches it can cause.

De Carvalho said she faced a similar challenge. She said she was overwhelmed by how much was due in a short period of time, and it did not help that she never learned English in a traditional classroom.

“Watching Netflix really helps with English and you develop a hearing,” de Carvalho said. “Being here and not having subtitles or having to communicate with people is difficult. It was great being able to talk in English for five weeks straight with other people.”

Wan said he learned that cherubs learn from other cherubs. Whether he had issues with deadlines or could not get around English, his friends and instructors supported him wholeheartedly.

“It was so difficult to throw ourselves completely into American culture and to talk in English and write in English,” Wan said. “In the first weeks, I was so frustrated. In the first week, I didn’t even speak a sentence. But my roommate was so nice, and he tried to communicate with me and know about my feelings. It made me feel better.”

Along with building friendships, students attended many classes and lectures to learn journalism. Cong said almost everything was a first for her including talking to strangers and figuring out story angles.

“I learned from the program how to be brave,” Cong said. “Even in China, I was an introverted person. I didn’t like to talk to people much, especially to strangers. The parade made me feel like I could interview anyone in English, and I feel much more comfortable.”

Wan said he will never forget the experiences journalism allows people to have.

“I cried during the parade because of the unity and passion of the Evanston parade,” Wan said. “When I was chasing the director, I saw her waving to the audience and all the Evanston residents just exclaimed. It was so touching.”