Three days had passed since I had emailed 19 experts for a story on the increase in elective courses in China.
“How good your trend story is depends on how good your sources are,” said John Kupetz, a longtime instructor.
I sent follow-up emails.
A surprise came on Thursday when I woke up, grabbed my phone and checked my email.
“I am glad to help you,” wrote Guilin Yuan, a professor at the Institute of Education Theories at Beijing Normal University. “I am free at 3 p.m. this afternoon.”
I was thrilled, even though being 7,758 miles and 13 hours from China meant I had to get up at 2 a.m. for the interview.
The night before the interview, I rejected my roommate’s invitation to watch “Notting Hill,” placed my open notebook beside my pillow and set five alarm clocks to ring every five minutes before 2 a.m.
In fact, I stayed awake the whole time, double checking my questions and doing more research on the professor and the topic to make sure I was well-prepared.
I thought the professor would give me 15 minutes, but we talked for 50. During the interview, partly in English and partly in Chinese, I nodded my head, waved my arms and even laughed from time to time.
I hung up the phone, transcribed the talk and went to sleep at 4 a.m.
When I looked at the 2,841-word transcription and saw the surprised expressions on my friends’ faces when I told them about my experience, I felt proud and excited.
In the following days, 10 more sources replied “yes” to me, and I turned in my trend story two hours before the deadline.
As an international student whose first language is not English, I learned to ask sources to explain again and again until I understood their words. Often, I turned up the volume of my recorder, risking deafness, so that I could accurately quote the interviewees’ every word. I’ll never forget when I spent five hours transcribing and translating, watching my fellow cherubs leave the writing room before me one by one.
Whenever I was exhausted, I heard a voice in my head.
“You are doing well enough,” it said. “You are writing in a second language. Don’t be so strict with yourself.”
Still, I pushed myself to write the best story possible. After sleepless nights and lots of interviews, I think it paid off in the end.