The Columbia Journo Diaries: Journalism Bootcamp, My First 2 Weeks in NYC

Columbia Journalism School

#DailyWings“One belongs to New York instantly. One belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” -Tom Wolfe

The Columbia Journo Diaries is a series on my blog where I share my accounts of what it’s like to be a journalism master’s student at Columbia University in the City of New York during a time when the media landscape is relying on digital innovation to survive. 

It’s Friday night, and I’m raising a solo cup filled with red wine in my right hand. Someone sitting a few feet away whistles to get everyone’s attention.

“We made it through the first two weeks! Cheers!”

“Cheers!” I place the cup between my lips. The wine warms me from head to toe.

It’s the first night I’ve actually gone out with friends – mainly, other journalism students at Columbia who decided it would be a good idea to celebrate the end of our second week of reporting bootcamp. We have a picnic set up in Riverside Park right by the Henry Hudson Parkway, barely five minutes away from my apartment. I’ve been living here since the end of July, and not once did I notice before how beautiful the sun is when it sets over the skyline. I remind myself to do this more often. No matter how stressful journalism school gets or how many times you fail, I say to myself, never forget to appreciate what’s right in front of you.

It’s getting darker now. Instead of sitting in a circle, everyone has broken off into smaller groups to have more personal conversations. I ask a friend of mine, Courtney, if she misses her hometown.

“I’m homesick, but I’m not unhappy,” she says. I nod. I know exactly what she means.

There are days when I miss North Carolina so badly that there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for a Cheddar Bo biscuit or for someone to say “Hi, y’all.” Then, there are other days, like this particular Friday, when I look around and wonder how I ever lived outside of the city.

Henry Hudson Parkway

Across from the Hudson River (Manhattan side), you can see Edgewater and part of the New Jersey skyline.

Before I moved to New York, it always took me 40 minutes to drive to work every day. Once I got to the office, I sat at the same cubicle for seven hours. Now, it takes me five minutes to walk to school in the morning, but on any given day I spend at least two hours walking inside the city either in search for a compelling story or to run errands. Of course, that doesn’t include time spent taking the tube. I’m confident that, by the time I graduate in May, I will have gotten off of every subway stop in Manhattan. At the rate we’re going, maybe even two or three times.

This “semester” (I put “semester” in quotation marks because technically each semester of j-school is split into four mini semesters), my reporting class is covering Midtown West (FYI send juicy newz tipz to I have class from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, with a 2-hour lunch break. Occasionally, class is swapped instead for “reporting time,” or chunks of our day that are built into our schedules to give us time for research, interviews and writing. On days when we’ve got reporting time, I walk at least five miles a day.

Like most transitions in life, this one hasn’t been easy. One week into the program, I cried in fetal position for an hour on the bed because New York felt lonely and my computer charger had broken a few days earlier. I spent my first week of j-school stuck in the computer labs well past 10 o’clock because my laptop was out of battery and every project was hitting me like a train, full speed ahead. On one occasion, we had to interview eight different people in the city (AKA street reporting) and then compile a 1-minute audio story using those interviews – all in the span of eight hours. We were to present them, one by one, the next day.

Street reporting in New York isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Ironically, it’s the interviews I do with random people that make me feel like the city is and friendlier smaller than it feels. Sometimes, you do get funny looks or flat-out rejections. Other people will insist, “Oh, I don’t want to be interviewed,” but offer a little fact about yourself and slip in just one open-ended question, and they’ll ramble on about their lives/passions/pleasures for half an hour.

Then, of course, there are those people on the streets who come up to you instead with a comment or opinion they’d like to share. A few of them are cat-callers. Others are just a category of characters all their own. Like, the other day, my friend and I were chatting in Central Park when this random person came up to us and said the strangest thing I’ve been told so far since coming to New York: “I’m sorry to interrupt, but might I say that you ladies are just GORGEOUS. You (the person pointed at me) with your long, beautiful black hair – you would turn a gay man straight. I mean, I’m just gonna go take my eyeliner off now and find a beautiful woman just like you and we’re gonna have some babies.

Every day, New York surprises me with something new.


“You guys have been the best bubble poppers all day.” -The Bubble Man in Central Park, where he earns money by blowing gigantic rainbow bubbles to amuse children and their families.

Despite the curveballs, I know this – Columbia, New York, the city – is where I belong. Even though my undergraduate degree is in journalism, it doesn’t feel like I’m “repeating” anything. Columbia has a completely different pace and curriculum from those of UNC-Chapel Hill. Sure, we learn about nut grafs, ledes and kickers (the building blocks of a story based on good journalism), but the lessons are coming from different professors who have their own unique standards of quality, reporting experiences and teaching styles.

The other thing is that everyone here is just so damn talented. There are students who have had internships – even entire careers in journalism – at incredible media companies I’ve only dreamed of working for. And that’s both inspiring and terrifying at the same time. But one of the first lessons my reporting professor shared with us on the first day of class was, “Put your head down and focus on competing with yourself, not other people.” In other words, become better than you were on Day 1.

And that’s what I intend to do.

Wendy Lu

Book Review: “Fakebook,” Memoir of a Social Media Prankster


#DailyWings: “Social media has given us this idea that we should all have a posse of friends when in reality, if we have one or two really good friends, we are lucky.” -Brene Brown

Some of you may know that I spent the better half of my senior year in college writing an honors thesis on social media personas. The idea of online personalities has always intrigued me, ever since I discovered Neopets and realized I could build character profiles not only for the virtual pets, but also for myself as an online user.

In this millennium, it’s easier than ever for people to customize an identity for themselves through blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other online social tools, even cloaking certain sides of who they are (which may or may not be a subconscious act). In this way, social media acts as a “veil.” My thesis was about the bridge between bloggers’ online social media personas, the way their readers (“followers”) perceive them to be and how they view themselves.

I’ve been asked before, “Where did you get the idea for this thesis?” While my majors/genuine interest in journalism and psychology kept me interested in the topic for nine months, the idea itself started cooking after I randomly met a young nomad on campus the spring before senior year and then, around the same time, learned of a memoir called “Fakebook.”

What It’s Like to Turn 23 When You Still Look 15

birthday peach bellini

#DailyWings: “We lived our lives as if life was forever. To live one’s life without a sense of time is to squander it.” – Diana Trilling

Most of this blog post was written on June 22, the day of my birthday, but I haven’t been able to post it until today. As I wrap things up with my current marketing role, I will be able to blog more and more. Huge thanks to everyone who sent me well wishes after my career announcement!

It’s 12 o’clock in the morning, and even though I technically don’t turn 23 years old until 9:15 a.m, my birthday is officially here and I’m starting to feel nostalgic – which is pretty typical when you’re about to start a new year of living. I’m about to be 23, and yet I’m still very much happy, free, confused and lonely. Those feelings haven’t gone anywhere; if anything, they’ve intensified.

To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to my birthday this year. In fact, I was dreading it. As someone who grew up absolutely loving surprise parties and sheet cakes and party favors and the special meaning behind birthdays, I can tell you this isn’t normal. Everyone tells me that when you pass all the exciting ages (meaning ages 13, 16, 18 and 21), the magic behind birthdays disappears and you just feel, well, old. When birthdays lose their charm, it means you’ve “grown up.”

I’m Moving to New York City to Live (Not Chase) My Dreams

New York City dreams

#DailyWings: “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” -William Faulkner

Happy June, writers and friends! Wow, has it really been a month (and some change) since my last blog post? A part of me is appalled that I took a month-long hiatus from writing, but the other part of me wants to remind myself that there is a very good reason why I haven’t been around.

Four days ago, I was finally able to make an announcement that I’ve been waiting to make for months. It’s the kind of announcement that is usually made right after a college graduation, when people are moving to new places, taking on summer internships and full-time jobs, and traveling to other countries. Honestly, it was hard for me to keep blogging without being able to share this announcement with you; I felt like keeping it inside was more difficult than not blogging at all.

Thankfully, I’m finally in a good place both emotionally and professionally now where I can share this publicly with you and my friends here on social media.

What I Learned From the April A to Z Blogging Challenge

#DailyWings: “Failure after long perseverance is much grander than never to have a striving good enough to be called a failure.” -George Eliot

…and with that, April is over.

If you’ve been following my “Blogging From A to Z” adventures, you probably noticed that I totally bombed the challenge after the letter “L” (“H” if you don’t count the “IJKL” catch-up post).

Once my mid-April trip to a wedding in the mountains rolled around, time for blogging just went *poof* Really, I come back after being on vacation for two days and it takes a week to catch up with everything in life! By then, I had no idea how to get back onto the “A to Z” train (what can you abbreviate using MNOPQRST?).

Even though I didn’t reach the end of the “A to Z Challenge,” I have a lot to be thankful for and want to share my gratitude with the following groups of people:

Thank you to everyone who followed my “A to Z” anecdotal posts. I had SO much fun writing about my childhood, and loved reading the comments you all left me each day.

April A to Z Blogging Challenge: IJKL is for I Just Knew Labels


#DailyWings: “We don’t need you to fit into the system. The system is full. We need you to escape it & then show us how it’s done.” -Jon Acuff

Blogging From A to Z is an annual month-long challenge in which bloggers around the world are invited to write a blog post every week day for the month of April, with each day corresponding to a letter in the alphabet (26 week days = 26 letters). For this year’s A to Z challenge, my theme is personal anecdotes, or “childhood memories.”


It finally happened, y’all. I was doing so well, blogging every day for April A to Z, and then it happened: I fell behind and missed a few days. Gah! Oh well…I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, seeing as this is my first year doing the challenge. Anywho, what counts isn’t that I tripped – it’s how I pick myself back up, right?

April A to Z Blogging Challenge: H is for Heroines from My Childhood

Superwoman at work

#DailyWings: “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” -Christopher Reeve

Blogging From A to Z is an annual month-long challenge in which bloggers around the world are invited to write a blog post every week day for the month of April, with each day corresponding to a letter in the alphabet (26 week days = 26 letters). For this year’s A to Z challenge, my theme is personal anecdotes, or “childhood memories.”

If there’s anything you should know about me, it’s that I’m obsessed with Superman. I collect the comics. When I was little, I stared at the television screen every day after school with a bowl of dumplings my grandmother made me as a snack, watching “Superman: The Animated Series.” I handmade two DC costumes: one Superwoman costume, one Zatanna costume.

I grew up watching “Smallville,” a show on CW that ran from 2001 to 2011, chronicling Clark Kent’s childhood and how he eventually became the superhero we all know and love. I followed that show religiously for all 10 years, and it’s safe to say that that show — and those characters on that show — helped make me the person I am.

But…I’m not here to talk about Superman today. Or Clark Kent. (Yes, there’s a difference.)

April A to Z Blogging Challenge: G is for Giveaway (surprise included!)


#DailyWings: “Things never go the way you expect them to. That’s both the joy and frustration in life. I’m finding as I get older that I don’t mind, though. It’s the surprises that tickle me the most, the things you don’t see coming.”
-Michael Stuhlbarg

Blogging From A to Z is an annual month-long challenge in which bloggers around the world are invited to write a blog post every week day for the month of April, with each day corresponding to a letter in the alphabet (26 week days = 26 letters). For this year’s A to Z challenge, my theme is personal anecdotes, or “childhood memories.”

The great thing about having a big sister when you’re really young is that you get to meet all of her popular, older friends – and because you’ve got the squishy cheeks, the kiddie dimples and a habit of trying to copy what they do, they love you. (It’s also pretty awesome when your big sister doesn’t mind you getting all of this attention.)

It was the year 2000. I was seven years old when I attended my sister’s friend’s bat mitzvah. It was hosted at some party venue in Boston, and I can still remember looking down from the second floor and seeing all of the boys and girls on the dance floor. There must have been a disco ball, because the whole room was shrouded in colorful party lights – purples and blues and pinks.

April A to Z Blogging Challenge: F is For Fangirl


#DailyWings: “There are too many books I haven’t read, too many places I haven’t seen, too many memories I haven’t kept long enough.” -Irwin Shaw

Blogging From A to Z is an annual month-long challenge in which bloggers around the world are invited to write a blog post every week day for the month of April, with each day corresponding to a letter in the alphabet (26 week days = 26 letters). For this year’s A to Z challenge, my theme is personal anecdotes, or “childhood memories.”

In my last blog post, “E is for Eyes,” I mentioned that my sub-par vision as a kid was due to my tendency to stay up late and read books under the covers. Those adventures I embarked on with characters like Harry and Ron, Meg and Calvin and the worlds I discovered with them were sooo worth getting glasses (and even worth getting caught once in a while!). You know I just had to dedicate an “April A to Z” post to all of the books I loved to read as a child and made me fall in love for reading, writing and everything related to words.

April A to Z Blogging Challenge: E is for Eyes


#DailyWings: “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”
-Jonathan Swift

Blogging From A to Z is an annual month-long challenge in which bloggers around the world are invited to write a blog post every week day for the month of April, with each day corresponding to a letter in the alphabet (26 week days = 26 letters). For this year’s A to Z challenge, my theme is personal anecdotes, or “childhood memories.”

I started having vision problems toward the end of fifth grade when it became too difficult to read the dry erase board in Mrs. Garcia’s math class. The equations were fuzzy and, more often than not, I had to squint my eyes to clearly see anything that was far away.

It wasn’t until I took that routine eye exam at school – the one where you have to read letters with one eye open and move a step back after every reading – and realized my vision was no longer excellent that I admitted to my parents that maybe it was time for me to see an optometrist.

My first pair of glasses had thin, pink frames that were oval, like my eyes. I picked them out for myself because I thought they looked sweet, feminine and innocent – all adjectives I wanted to be (or at least appear to be) back in sixth grade. In some ways, I prided on being a kid with glasses because I felt like they made me look smarter, or at least well-read. I did – and still do – attribute my sub-par vision to late nights spent under the covers with a flashlight and good book (sometimes, I’d hide away in my closet).