For one American student in France, writing for publication is about processing the world around her — and stepping out of her comfort zone.
News Decoder: Hi everyone, and welcome back to a new episode of the Decoder Podcast. Today, we have the pleasure of sitting down with Clover Choi, a third-year high school student studying abroad at News Decoder partner institution School Year Abroad France. In just a few short months, Clover has impressively published two stories on our site, with a third on its way. She has so much to share, so let’s go ahead and get to it.
ND: Clover, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Clover Choi: Well, my name is Clover Choi. I am 17. It’s my junior year. I am from Orange County, California. I’ve lived in California my whole life, and then for high school, I moved to boarding school in Indiana.
I attend Culver Academies. I was there for my freshman year and sophomore year. And I just really wanted something different. It was really static and the same kind of schedule every single day. And I’ve always loved French. I’ve studied French since I was in middle school and took it up in high school again.
School Year Abroad offered something different.
Choi: When I found out about SYA, it was just such an amazing and perfect program, specifically for me, because not only could I get a year away, but I could experience so much more that I can’t experience in boarding school. Because in boarding school, I always felt really tight and just stuck in one place. So I really liked that SYA could allow me to expand and grow. I could travel, I could see new things, I could have time outside of the classroom. So that’s why I applied to SYA.
I’ve been in Rennes for this whole year. It’s almost the end of the year. I only have about a month left, which is really sad.
I just love SYA so much because I feel like all of us at SYA, we all have the same intention of why we’re here. Because we all wanted to explore. We all wanted something different, that was unlike what a normal high school could give us.
And we all have that motivation to try new things and to experience new things. It’s also great to experience new things in a new culture, in a new country, with other people who feel the same way. So it’s really nice that we’re all American in the same school because we all relate to each other.
So we’ve just got an amazing opportunity to travel. I’ve been to Paris, the south of France. I went skiing in France. I’ve just done amazing things.
We have field work every Thursday, which means that we go out of the classroom and do an experiential activity that can be going to a museum or going to a castle or we’ve done interviews in the street. So it’s just a lot of place-based learning, which I really love. Learning is not just described through the classroom or through a textbook.
News Decoder as a link to the rest of the world
ND: That really sounds amazing. I think that is the trend we see a lot of educators trying to go in — more experiential, project-based learning, which is, I think, beneficial for students. That’s great. Okay, so shifting over to News Decoder, how did you get involved with News Decoder at SYA?
Choi: I got involved with News Decoder because we had a presentation about it and about being a student ambassador. I thought this was really interesting because I’m [now] really into journalism, but I actually was not really into journalism before News Decoder.
I took up the school newspaper at my home school a little bit, but I wasn’t too involved. But I always liked writing, and I do enjoy writing in English class, like essays and things about books. So when I found out about News Decoder, I thought it was an interesting idea because I could write articles, which I was used to from my school newspaper, but I could take them into a more serious setting, especially with politics and news.
I was not really into following the news or politics before News Decoder, actually, or before my time in France. It just wasn’t a thing for me because I think I felt really blocked from the rest of the world when I was in boarding school. I was just surrounded by what was happening in my school.
I couldn’t really take my mind outside of school, into the real world. So in France, I’ve been able to keep up with politics, which is really fun, and also French politics because it’s just all around us.
News Decoder was something I just wanted to try, and then it turned out to be something that I really enjoyed doing — interviewing people, writing articles. I also participated in the [News Decoder cross-border] school webinar.
Journalism as an outlet to the world
ND: That was a great webinar, I really learned a lot from you students. So, in your time as a writer and reporter with News Decoder, can you talk us through the process of writing your articles?
You’ve already published two at this point: one on the energy crisis and what that effect is on boulangeries in France, and then another one on Ukrainian refugees. How did you come up with these topics? What did you do after you pitched a story? What were the steps you followed?
Choi: Sure. I actually am in a politics class here in France, and we talk about a lot of current events. So a couple of my article ideas, even ones I haven’t written, they’re coming from my politics class. The first one — the energy crisis — that one I decided on because I would just see through my own eyes a ton of boulangeries and a ton of small businesses closing due to this energy crisis.
So then I decided, you know what, let me try to write an article for this. So then I pitched my story to the online website, the online pitch form. It got accepted.
Then I just literally walked outside, went to five boulangeries in Rennes and tried to interview them. Unfortunately, none of them said yes. But then I asked my politics teacher, and he had a couple of connections. So then I got a couple interviews. After that, I wrote the story.
Then I went online, did some research about the energy crisis specifically, and then a little bit about other boulangeries that have closed in Brittany, the region that I’m in in France. Then put it all together. And there you go. There’s my article.
ND: Awesome, and was it similar for the Ukrainian refugee story as well?
Choi: For the Ukrainian refugee one, that was a little different because it was for the webinar. So I did a lot of preparation for the webinar and in the end, before I did all that research, I knew I wanted to write an article on it anyways because I found it an interesting topic.
So for that one, kind of the same process, but just a little bit more research online for the webinar itself. But I did do some interviews with Ukrainians, so that was really interesting and impactful.
ND: That’s great. And I know that you had a lot of local lenses, what’s in your immediate area, and I think that was a really nice touch because we hear a lot about what’s going on in Ukraine, but what’s unique is that you have that local angle.
The challenge of the writing process
ND: Great. So, what have been the biggest challenges of the writing and reporting process for you?
Choi: I think the biggest challenge is finding people to interview, but it’s more of getting yourself out there to find that interview because a lot of the time you just want to go to the internet for resources. It’s really easy to just want to steal other people’s words from other articles that you’re writing about and just copy and paste their interview lines, versus finding your own person to interview.
And I would also say just finding the details. You don’t want to make your story sound like everybody else’s story, because why would you read a story that’s already published? So you need to find something, especially for News Decoder, you need to find something really unique to write about.
For example, my upcoming article is on the French retirement system. There are thousands of articles about the retirement pension online. So how can I make mine different?
ND: Yeah, that’s great. You’ve been doing a great job with the ones that you’ve published, making them different and interesting. Those are great reads.
‘I’m not writing for anyone else. I’m really writing for myself.’
ND: Okay, so finding primary sources and interviewing, that’s your biggest challenge. What have been the most rewarding parts of your writing and reporting experience?
Choi: I think the most rewarding part is when I can see that my name is published on the News Decoder site, when I can see that I’m a real journalist. Especially once you’ve done all that hard work.
Writing for News Decoder is really a thing about writing for yourself. I’m not writing for anyone else. I’m not writing for a grade. I’m really writing for myself. When I can see that my name is published and my article is there and people can see it and people can read it, it just makes me feel really accomplished.
ND: I love that you said that — writing for yourself. Obviously you’re sharing this important information with the rest of the world, but that intrinsic motivation is really crucial. This is a good segue into my next question. What did it feel like to have your first story published?
Choi: It was a really cool moment because it was in the beginning of when we first started our work with News Decoder for the year. Also, it was a really long process to write my energy crisis article because I had a lot of interviews and some of them worked, some of them didn’t. It was just a whole process of getting it together.
It was also my last day before a break, so it was my last class, and I saw on my computer that the article was up, and so I was really excited. That was the first time that I’d ever been published officially. So that was exciting for me.
Confidence is key.
ND: Alright. A couple more questions here. Now that you’ve published two articles, with a third in the pipeline, what advice would you give to other students working to write and report for publication?
Choi: I would say, just go for it. I mean, you never know what you can come up with. And even if you have no experience, I think that’s totally fine, because neither did I. I’d never published or written for a real news source before News Decoder, so I don’t think you even need any journalism class for now. You don’t need any background in writing, as long as you just try it out.
You need to have the confidence to just be able to go up to people to interview them, because if you don’t, then you’re not going to have what you need specifically, and that’s really important. Also, just have fun — don’t write about things you don’t want to write about. Write about what makes you happy and what you’re passionate about writing.
Next stop: The New York Times
ND: That’s great advice. Thank you. Looking forwards into the future, do you want to continue in the field of journalism given your News Decoder experience? What does the future look like for you?
Choi: Yes, I really do. I’m actually doing a journalism course this summer with the School of New York Times, so that is exciting.
I also have my own blog, which was my first form of writing that I did before News Decoder. That’s just about my own personal life and my journey in France. So I will continue that probably.
When I go back to my home school, maybe get back to the school newspaper. But after doing News Decoder and doing all these other things, that’s a little bit on the down low.
But I would love to continue. And if I can continue News Decoder when I’m back in the U.S. that’d be great, too.
ND: Yes, you absolutely can! You’re still eligible to pitch. So stay connected, absolutely. That would be wonderful. We would love to see more of your bylines on our site.
A place to publish and get recognized
ND: Cool. Alright, last question for you. Is there anything else you’d like to share with the News Decoder community?
Choi: I would say thank you, News Decoder, for giving students the opportunity to find a place to write and pitch and get published, because it’s not very easy to do that as a high schooler.
Also, I think it’s really fun and really cool that I can read articles and see other students from around the world. It’s not just SYA or just the U.S. — it’s kids from all over the world. And that is really interesting to me.
With the webinar too, that was really great — getting to do something out of the ordinary that was its own unique thing. With our other two home schools [in Italy and Spain], that was great because we don’t really get to connect with them on too many levels that often.
Then, just your accessibility and always being there for the students to reply to emails, help on story edits, all of that. It’s just really helpful. So thank you.
ND: Thank you. It was really nice to sit down with you and learn more about your experience. I really appreciate you taking the time, Clover.
Choi: Thank you so much.
[This podcast was recorded on 13 April 2023. Since then, Clover has published a third article on News Decoder. Read it here.]