20 things to do in Amsterdam

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1. Rent a bike for the day, and explore

I don’t think there’s a better way to see an unfamiliar city than to ride a bike through it, and biking is a very popular mode of transportation in Amsterdam. It will seem intimidating at first. Pedestrian tourists in this city fear being run over by trams and cyclists who have no time to stop for your jaywalk, but once you start navigating the bike lanes it’s easy. The Guardian said it well, calling the biking culture in Amsterdam “…a chaos that works incredibly well.”

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Tip: There are bike rental shops all over the city. It’s  inexpensive to rent one for the day. Ask someone at the front desk of your hotel/hostel for one nearby.

2. Visit the Van Gogh Museum

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This is a great museum for anyone, not just art lovers. The paintings are displayed in the order in which Van Gogh painted them. As you walk through, it’s interesting to see how his style changed, and to learn what influenced his paintings at various points in his life.

Tip: Buy your tickets online ahead of time to avoid wasting time in the ticket queue. 

3. Eat traditional dutch food

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One of the best things about traveling is trying the native cuisine in a country you’ve never visited. Dutch food is hearty – think meat, potatoes, and greens. There’s also a lot of fish and seafood. I would give you a list of places I’ve visited. But why trust an American tourist when you can go straight to the source? Here’s a list of the Top 10 Dutch food restaurants on Amsterdam’s official website. The Pantry, pictured above, is a hot spot for many tourists.

4. Visit the Anne Frank House

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The Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh museum are the two quintessential things you should do in Amsterdam. It was in the annex of this house where Anne Frank and her family hid from Nazi persecution during World War II. This was also where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary. She did not survive the concentration camps, but her father did. He got the book published in 1947 after returning to Amsterdam. This museum is dedicated to Anne Frank’s life, and shares a great deal of history about the treatment of Jews during WWII.

Tip: You should buy your tickets in advance for this, too, in order to avoid long lines. It’s nine euro for adults. 

5. Pick your poison: Coffee shop or cafe

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In Amsterdam, if you go to a coffee shop, you should know that’s where you go to legally purchase and smoke marijuana. If you only want coffee, you’re looking for a cafe.

Your nose will help you sniff out the right place.

Tip: If you have a crowd mixed with smokers and drinkers, you may want to split up. Coffee shops do not sell alcohol, and bars do not sell marijuana.

6. Sail away on a canal tour of the city

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A canal tour in a city like Amsterdam is a great way to see the entire city. I’ve been on two tours with the Blue Boat Company, and they’re great. You’ll see the harbor, the Anne Frank House, the Red Light District, and more; and you’ll be guided by an audio tour, if you choose to wear the head phones. There’s also hors-d’oeuvres and drinks on the boat. Seeing the city from the canal at night is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s a fun thing to do with a group.

Most of the canal tour boats are enclosed, so you don’t have to worry about rain or cold.

7. Shop at a street market

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There are more than a dozen street markets in Amsterdam, most of which are open daily. The markets are a great place to eat a little street food, and meet local vendors. At the markets you can buy cheese, waffles covered in chocolate, tulips, and locally made goods.

Checkout the hours and locations here.

8. Educate yourself about cheese at a cheese shop

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Dutch people are very friendly, and in a tourist trap like Amsterdam, most of them speak English. Don’t hesitate to walk into a shop and talk to local vendors. Be careful with cheese, though. Some of the street vendors will tell you you’re buying 3-year-old, high quality cheese, when you’re not. The real fromagers will talk to you about cheese, share their cheese wisdom, and excitedly give you samples of their best cheeses.

Tip: The longer a cheese has matured, the crispier and stronger it tastes. If a vendor tells you you’re eating three-year-old cheese, but it’s creamy like the cheddar you buy at Harris Teeter, he’s lying.

9. Eat an authentic Indonesian meal


This photo of Kantjil & de Tijger is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I don’t know how else to describe Indonesian restaurants other than to say that it’s stacks on stacks on stacks of food. Plates filled with spicy and savory Indonesian cuisine are served family-style. Lamb, pork, chicken and things I can’t describe. Sit down. Order a drink. And don’t ask questions. Just eat what you are served. It’s delicious.

A good place to try is Kantjil & de Tijger. 

10. Take a picture in front of the IAMSTERDAM sign

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Self-explanatory.

Tip: If you want a picture in front of the sign by yourself, or featuring your group, don’t go on a weekend. Wait for a weekday when there are fewer tourists.

11. Eat at an Argentinian steakhouse

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Argentinian steakhouses are everywhere in Amsterdam. I’m not sure why. I asked Google, but I didn’t really find an answer. Maybe the Dutch just love the way Argentinians do steak? Anyway, you’ll see one of these steakhouses down just about every street. I ate at two while I was in Amsterdam, and thoroughly enjoyed both restaurants. Gaucho’s is popular and has good reviews.

12. Snack on waffles and stroopwafels

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Unless you’re Buddy the Elf, waffles in Amsterdam are dessert, not breakfast. I got one smothered in chocolate. You can add candy and all sorts of goodies, too. Most of the street markets mentioned above have vendors selling these sweet treats.

Stroopwafels are like cookies with a caramel-like syrup inside, and you buy them in a package. They’re a great gift to take home to friends and family. I imagine taking waffles would get a bit messy.

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Tip: Place a stroopwafel on a cup of coffee while the coffee’s hot. The heat from the coffee will melt the gooey caramel in the stroopwafel. Yum!

13. Walk or jog through Vondelpark

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Vondelpark is Amsterdam’s version of New York City’s Central Park, and it’s pleasant to stroll through. You don’t realize how metropolitan Amsterdam is until you escape into this calm park.

There are several entrances, but one of the main ones is directly across the street from the Hard Rock Cafe – a prime tourist region. If you’re a runner or an outdoorsy person, this is worth your time..

14. Visit a tulip field

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I’ve never been to Amsterdam at Springtime, so unfortunately I haven’t done this, but it’s on my bucket list. Here’s a Guide to Seeing the Tulip Fields near Amsterdam.

15. Visit the Heineken Museum

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Personally, there are other things I would do before making this a priority. If you’re between 18 and 21 years old and can’t drink in the U.S. you might enjoy it. But if you’ve been to one brewery, you’ve been to this one. With that said, it’s inexpensive and you get three beers with your ticket. You also learn about Heineken’s history and how Hollanders drink beer.

You will not go to a bar or restaurant in Amsterdam that doesn’t serve Heineken. It’s their version of Budweiser.

16. Try Middle Eastern cuisine 

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The only Middle Eastern place I’ve been in Amsterdam is Bazar, pictured above. SO MUCH FOOD! Bazar is also one of the few places I’ve eaten in Europe with really great service. I highly recommend it, and so do those who have reviewed it on TripAdvisor.

17. Walk through the Red Light District at night

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Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, making Red Light Districts (there are multiple) in Amsterdam a popular place to visit for tourists. This certainly is no place for families to tour together, but it is a cultural element of Amsterdam many don’t want to miss.

Women pose in small rooms or cabins illuminated by red lights, and they offer sexual services to men. Learn more about red light districts and prostitution here.

18. Checkout a relatively new street art display

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Artists Hero de Janeiro and Ottograph created an incredible street art display in the spring and summer of 2014. Get your cool #Amstergram pics here.

19. See what swims in the canals and more at Artis Royal Zoo

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Artis Zoo is a fun way to spend a few hours in Amsterdam, and it’s family-friendly. There’s an aquarium at the zoo, where you can see what fish and creatures live in the canals, in addition to your usual zoo things like chimps, lions, and llamas.

20. Drink your way through the House of Bols

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The House of Bols prides itself on being one of the world’s oldest distilleries. The museum and tour is right across the street from the Van Gogh Museum. This is similar to going to the Heineken Museum – you learn how vodka is made, and you get complimentary drinks with your ticket. If you’re choosing between the Heineken Museum, and this one, I would go to House of Bols. This is something you can’t get in the States, and the drinks are great!

Did I miss anything? Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments!

Why the world needs liberal arts majors, communicators

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Many liberal arts students will tell you that people believe their dreams and career goals are impractical or risky.

Healthcare workers, teachers, and entrepreneurs serve a clear and distinct purpose. Tell people you want to be a reporter or a history major or that you study communication, and the belief among many is that a career path in liberal arts is precarious.

Passion gets you farther in a career than anything else. I truly believe that. And if you’re passionate about something, the work demanded to be successful will come easily – so easily, you often won’t even realize you’re working. We’re all expected to provide a service to this world in order to earn a comfortable place in it, and, for that reason, I believe you should find a fulfilling profession – something that motivates you to wake up in the morning.

As someone who has wanted to be a news reporter since I was 14, I can personally attest to the skepticism of liberal arts. But liberal arts professionals and communicators are essential to understanding, empathy, connectivity and so much more.

I was recently reminded of this while interning for a week in Europe, when my family in Chapel Hill experienced tragedy and loss. Former UNC Basketball Coach Dean Smith died. Three young students were killed in a senseless shooting.

I was thousands of miles away from all of it.

It was the experience of being so far that served as a reminder of three things: 1) why I want to be a reporter, 2) what I hope to help change about news and media, and 3) why local news is a necessity for all of us.

My lifelines while I was in Europe were local newspapers and television stations in the Triangle, friends posting their reflections about the events on social media, and the conversations I had with the fellow UNC students who were in Europe with me.

It was difficult to be so far away while the community that feels like family at UNC mourned together without me. But having access to all of it via online news sites and social media was soothing. It allowed me to participate in the pain, and feel included in what was happening at home.

My career path isn’t risky or unfeasible. I’m not a five-foot-tall woman hoping to be a model for New York Fashion Week, or a female hoping to be a quarterback in the NFL. I’m a student and young reporter with a passion to share information, truths, and stories.

The need for communicators is as great as the need for healthcare workers and mechanics.

Every tribute to Dean Smith in the news, every story shared about Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha serve as reminders of our human need for connectivity in times of loss and tragedy.

A liberal arts education provides students with the skills to communicate and to understand. Without it, our world would not be a globally connected place full of empathy and knowledge.

While our purposes in life are all different, we all have one. Next time someone tells you his or her major or profession, I hope you consider what role it serves in the world. I feel so lucky to be inspired everyday by people who encourage me to practice my passions, and I hope this post will encourage others to do the same.

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both. -James A. Michener

How to do Paris in three days

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I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia as my mind is cast back this week to my trip to Paris, France a year ago.

The time I had in La Ville Lumière was nothing less than incredible. It’s impossible to turn around without seeing something triumphant and beautiful. Paris makes you feel small in the very best way possible.

To remedy my reminiscent mind, I thought I would share how I chose to explore Paris in three days . From Sacré-Cœur to the Eiffel Tower, here’s how I spent my split-second trip in one of the most captivating cities in the world.

Day 1: Check-in, explore the area around your hotel/hostel

My friend and I stayed at Perfect Hostel in Montmartre. It’s exactly what you expect from a decent hostel. It’s about 35 bucks per night, there’s friendly service (aside from the creepy dude who works at night), free breakfast, and free WiFi. The bathrooms are shared and you’ll want shower shoes, the beds aren’t terrible but they’re not great. As a poor college student, I would  stay at this hostel again, but you get what you pay for.

The first night we went to dinner at Le Refuge des Fondues. When in Paris, overdose on wine, bread and cheese without shame. La Refuge is an American tourist trap, but it’s a great place to meet people and the atmosphere is fun. The tables are shoved together, so you end up talking to and getting to know the travelers next to you. Wine is served in souvenir bottles, which I can appreciate as someone with too many wine-stained shirts.

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After dinner, we walked around the shops near Sacré-Cœur, found the metro station closest to our hostel, and made a game plan for the next day.

Day 2: Walk off the wine, cheese and bread

On day one we took the metro, which is easy to navigate,  from Montmartre into the seventh arrondissement (Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements), which is home to many of the attractions on a tourist’s Paris checklist. If I remember correctly, we estimated that we walked about 10 miles in one day. Prepare yourself.

TIP: Don’t make the mistake I made and wear heels because it’s Paris, and you think you’re fabulous. Contrary to what you might think (or contrary to what I thought), you are not (I am not)  Beyoncé or Kim Kardashian. Be practical.

We got off the metro at the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and began our journey. The Champs-Élysées is a straight shot to the Louvre, where thousands of tourists visit each day to see the Mona Lisa (and thousands of other works of art… but Mona… can I call her Mona?…  is certainly the most famous). To conserve time we took a picture in front of the Louvre, but didn’t go inside. It’s overwhelming and huge, and there are other art museums you can do in a shorter amount of time.

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From the Louvre, we walked to the Musée d’Orsay.  It is well-worth your time to buy a ticket and go inside, and you can get through it in about an hour. The museum was originally a railway station, so it’s neat inside. It’s home to the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, and works from artists you’ll recognize like Monet and Van Gogh. This was my favorite museum. It’s where I found the painting below, and a quote that hit the spot in the midst of my first trip abroad.

“Artists, in their individual styles, were continually redefining the sometimes fantastical images of a foreign culture that satisfied the craving for exoticism of all those who set off in search of unknown lands.” -Musée d’Orsay on Orientalism; Painting is Charles Vacher de Tournemine’s “Éléphants d’Afrique”

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From Musée d’Orsay we grabbed brunch at a small cafe on a side street. We drank wine and ordered croque-madames, which is essentially a grilled cheese with ham, and a friend egg on top. But it’s French and more delicious than the sandwich your mom made you as a kid.

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TIP: Don’t eat somewhere in the midst of tourist land. Walk down an alley to a little cafe. It will save you money, and it’s more likely authentic.

After lunch we walked across the Love Lock bridge to Musée de l’Orangerie. This is another museum that’s easy to get through in an hour, and it’s worth the hour spent.  Here you’ll find the works of Picasso, Rousseau, Modigliani, Monet and more. Monet’s water-lily paintings stain your memory. Eight paintings cover the walls in two large oval rooms. I could easily spend hours in them with a book and a cup of coffee. They’re beautiful.

Off to the Eiffel Tower. We had big plans for this journey – plans to take advantage of the legality of drinking a bottle of wine in the public domain, and plans to get the perfect profile pic. Done. And Done.

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Spend time at the Eiffel Tower. It was amazing to see so many people from all over the world gathered in a single space – a space with which almost everyone is familiar and feels welcome. You’ll be surrounded by languages you don’t understand, but somehow you know you’re all having the same conversation. Differences and cultures and nationalities aside, the reaction to the Eiffel Tower is all the same.

Tip: Don’t climb the Eiffel Tower. It’s expensive, and time-consuming. There are better views of the city that are far more worth the climb.

Off to the Arc de Triomphe. The walk toward the Arc de Triomphe is cluttered with tourists scrambling with maps. But try to make it to the Arc at dusk, and take the time to climb to the top. It’s an overwhelmingly long journey up winding steps that seem like they’ll never end, but do it. It’s good for your gluteus maximus, and it will work off the thousands of calories you’ve consumed in wine, cheese and bread.

The view from the top is everything – to your right is the Eiffel Tower, to the left is Sacré-Cœur on a hilltop that protrudes just enough to request your attention, and in the middle is the hustle and bustle of the Champs-Élysées, seemingly calmer up high where the noise of street performers and honking cars are only a muffled hum. It’s the vantage point of your wanderlusting dreams.

View from the Arc de Triomph
View from the Arc de Triomph

After a day jammed with every tourist attraction in a three-mile radius, our energy was spent. We had high expectations for ourselves. Goals to go out, flirt with Parisians, sleep for three hours, and rally the next day. What we actually did was grab dinner at a mediocre cafe, lacking the energy to find something good, and then we passed out early in preparation of another day full of tourist attractions and walking.

Day 3: Take time to absorb

Our only plan for day two was to find Notre Dame Cathedral in the Fourth Arrondissement, and then to let ourselves get lost in its surroundings.

Notre Dame is as magnificent as you might imagine. It’s detailed and old, and it’s a piece of history you can be proud to say you’ve seen in person. We didn’t go inside, as we tried to save money… for wine, cheese and bread.

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Shakespeare and Company Bookstore is where we landed next. It’s just across the river from Notre Dame. Go inside. Read. Listen. Breath in the comforting smell of old books. Indulge.

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Latin Quarters is just a few blocks away from Notre Dame, so we found ourselves there after a long lunch. At mid-afternoon, we decided to go back to Montmartre and refresh for dinner and a night out.

Sacré-Cœur at sunset is one of Paris’ best-kept secrets. From the top of the basillica’s steps, the sunset glows pink, purple, orange, red and yellow behind the Eiffel Tower that stands beautifully in the distance. I tried to capture this sunset in a picture, but it’s impossible. Sit on the steps with a bottle of wine or a few beers, and absorb.

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This was our last night in the city, so we explored a little more. There are plenty of things you can do that are within walking distance in Montmartre. You can go see Moulin Rouge (we didn’t because it’s a bit expensive, but I’ve heard it’s fun). We walked around the streets behind Sacré-Cœur, watched French painters create their masterpieces, shopped for gifts for friends at home, and then bought a bottle of wine to toast to a great trip.

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Sacre Coeur
Moulin Rouge
Moulin Rouge

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Were Tom Ross and UNC’s Board too polarized to work together?

Three week’s after President Tom Ross’ unexpected resignation the UNC System’s Board of Governors still hasn’t said why Ross was asked to step down.

Carolina Week’s Kristin Leigh takes a look at the political powers at play in North Carolina, where she found connections that suggest Ross and the conservative board might have been too polarized to work together.

Watch the report above for details.

View this week’s full Carolina Week newscast here.

What a professor says is missing from UNC’s response to SACS

A public policy professor at UNC-Chapel Hill said the university failed to address an important issue in a report to its accrediting body.

Professor Hodding Carter III said the administration should be better prepared to respond to future whistleblowers similar to Mary Willingham, a former academic adviser who publicly criticized literacy levels of UNC athletes amid investigations into academic fraud at the school.

“From here on our first instinct should not be to shoot the messenger, it should be to come to grips with what was said,” Carter said. “A great university shot itself repeatedly… in the foot, in the head, in its moral center, over and over.”

The university sent a report this month to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) asking the group to find the school in compliance with 18 accrediting standards in question.

The 220-page document lists and describes actions taken and reforms put in place in recent years to ensure academic fraud doesn’t recur at the school.

Carter said he agrees that university officials have installed steps to move forward from an academic scandal that has riddled the university since 2011.

But, Carter said, the report does not illustrate how the university plans to better respond to crises in the future, crises he said are inevitable.

“Those problems won’t arise again,” Carter said. “What will arise again are things, because this is a human institution, after all, which will require candor.”

SACS has been watching the university closely since 2011, when claims of academic improprieties first surfaced. The university was in good standing with its accrediting body by the summer of 2014.

Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor who was hired by the university to investigate the irregularities, documented new improprieties in his report in October 2014. His report revealed the scandal lasted longer, affected more students, and implicated additional faculty members than previously known.

According to SACS officials, the new information didn’t agree with what the university reported to them in 2013.

In its response this month, the university said new information was made available by Deborah Crowder and Julius Nyang’oro, two former employees who the university said were at the center of the wrongdoing. Prior to Wainstein’s investigation they were unavailable for interviews.

The university insists in the report that there has been no wrongdoing since 2011, regardless of the new information brought to light by Wainstein.

The report states, “While Carolina continues to take these issues very seriously and without offering excuses, it is also critical to make it clear that the Wainstein investigation, like prior investigations, found no evidence of any academic improprieties occurring since the summer of 2011, and no evidence that these academic improprieties extended beyond courses in one department in the College of Arts and Sciences.”

“If nothing is done except to prove we’ve learned how to master PR, then the university is going to be doomed as a place of integrity that it’s understood to be,” Carter said.

“One of the things you’ve got to decide is what price you’re willing to pay for the essence of the integrity of a place,” Carter said.

Read UNC’s full report to SACS here.

 

 

 

How I started my career when I was two

“She’s driving me crazy!” my older brother would say as the two of us shared the backseat of the car. There was only about a foot of space separating Ben from my incessant curiosity of the world around me.

“Why does the sun follow us, but stay in the same place?”

“How much money does the president make?”

“Does chocolate milk come from brown cows?”

“Why didn’t this popsicle make my hair standup, like it did to the kid in the commercial?”

“Why are power lines on the side of the road?”

You can imagine how annoying these questions would become in the confinement of a small vehicle.

Every toddler is curious, I know; but this knack never left me.

It continued during elementary school and middle school. I may have eaten a lot of lunches in silence as punishment for my chatty habits, but I knew the child who sat next to me in class better than my teacher or my fellow students.

If there was an opportunity to move my mouth, I’d take it. Need someone to read to the class? I got this. Want to play classroom? I’ll be the teacher. We’re going to dad’s basketball game (he’s a high school coach)? I’m sitting with the cheerleaders.

It followed me onto the softball field and the volleyball court. I may not have been the best athlete, but no one shouted a cheer or chant louder than me. In middle school, I got the “Ruffles” award, which was a bag of chips that was given to me for being such a ham – the one who energized the team and lightened things up when we needed a lift in a tough match. “Ruffles” was a friendly nickname. I found the award embarrassing at the time, but it’s now one of my favorite trophies.

In high school I was a cashier at a grocery store. I still don’t know how many items I was supposed to scan per minute, but I do know I never once achieved the goal. I saw more value in taking time to speak with customers.

If I didn’t know what my peers were doing, I found out from their moms at the store. I knew all about the lives of the church ladies’ grandkids. I knew the mens’ favorite beers and sports teams. I was given advice from old couples, who wanted nothing more than to have someone with whom to share their wisdom. And if you didn’t like talking, you didn’t want to get in my line, because you would have to wait for my conversation with a customer to be over before I would move on to the next one (most of those people go to self-checkout these days, anyway). Yes, this got me in trouble with management quite often.

That’s okay, though. Bagging groceries wasn’t my plan  for life, but talking to people? That’s what I really wanted to do for my career.

People are interested in people. It’s why we spend hours per day on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s why we share YouTube videos of people lip syncing to a Frozen song on their dash cams with 5-year-olds. It’s why we turn on the news in the morning or at night. It’s why we watch movies and Netflix.

Everyone is curious. Everyone has questions. But not everyone has a desire to find answers and share stories.

I do.

There are several reasons I want to be a storyteller, but most of them are things that I’ve picked up from other storytellers:

News is the first draft of history.

Local news ignites change in communities.

Events in the news are often heartbreaking,  but people’s resilience afterward restores faith in the human spirit.

They’re all noble reasons to be a reporter, but they’re not mine.

I want to be a reporter because I believe the time spent speaking with one another is valuable. I believe conversation causes understanding, and understanding closes gaps that separate people by creating compassion and empathy.

Being a reporter also means it’s my job to find out where chocolate milk comes from and to learn the president’s salary. I’ll be sure to share those answers with you, Ben.

Photo from Tumblr. Click for source.
Photo from Tumblr. Click for source.
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