Flagler College graduate Jessie Rowan says she “fell in love with being uncomfortable” on the road to becoming a travel journalist in Costa Rica.
“I fell in love with being in unfamiliar places and not knowing what the heck was going on,” she told a crowd at Flagler College. “I fell in love with different languages and families and how they interacted with each other. I fell in love with the adventure of not knowing where I would be sleeping next or who I would be meeting. I fell in love with new foods and just the raw unknown. I fell in love with journalism.”
Rowan was among the speakers at Communication Week, an annual event aimed at introducing students to communication professionals in public relations, video production, journalism and other fields.
Excerpts of Rowan’s speech are below:
So I started taking pictures when I got my first DSLR when I was in 8th grade. I grew up in Los Angeles, CA and was fortunate enough to be exposed to many different cultures and people from a young age.
I started taking pictures of my friends and just would walk the streets of downtown taking photographs of strangers. I got really hooked on street photography in high school and I think that is what lead into my passion to pursue journalism.
I conducted my first photojournalism project my senior year of high school and went to Morocco to study young girls and their lack of education in remote areas of the country. I got into that topic through a Moroccan girl I went to school with. That is my first piece of advice. Build connections.
So I presented my photojournalism project to my school and community in LA and had my work displayed, but that is when it all began. The craving for more travel, more adventure and new places.. Which scared my parents to death.
So the next new place I would head was across the country for college. I wanted to meet new people unlike those at my snooty Los Angeles school. I wanted to learn and grow as an individual… and my decision to attend Flagler College was to date the best decision I have made.
While at Flagler I met my best friends and had the most supportive professors who let me conduct weird and out there projects such as the Blue Whale Challenge. I came in as a journalism major until I could not figure out how to use AVID for the life of me. So I had a small crisis and switched to Media Studies for a hot second.. yes all because I didn’t want to use Avid. Then Tracey Eaton said “You guys can edit using whichever you choose!” and I immediately went right back in and changed my major to journalism.
If I hadn’t gone to Flagler I would have missed out on the small and personal connections , relationships and opportunities. For example, becoming the first Flagler Student Fellow of the Pulitzer Center On Crisis Reporting.
I came in not knowing a single person at Flagler and graduated as a member of a huge family.
So I currently live in Costa Rica as a freelance journalist and social media manager/writer and editor.
So why Costa Rica? Well, that is where I conducted my Pulitzer Center project and had grown up visiting the country every year. It also is probably the safest country in Central America so I wouldn’t worry my parents too much. Plus there is good surf.
I knew from a young age I wanted to live in a different country for some time. So I decided my senior year at Flagler to make that dream a reality. The start of the spring semester I began to google and research different magazines and news outlets in the country and came across Howler Magazine, the #1 magazine in the country, where I currently freelance. I have a lot of creative freedom there which is amazing. But with that, I have to stay personally disciplined. You do not have your professors reminding you an article is due and you certainly do not get any extensions.
So the Monday after graduation I packed my bags and moved down into a small studio apartment in Central America. I am living in paradise and interviewing surf legends such as The Endless Summer Robert August or getting to go on amazing tours and writing about it but I had to also pay my bills…. So I decided to take on a second job as a social media manager/writer and editor for several different travel companies.
You would be surprised how many people want English natives to proofread all their posts and documents. And… it pays!
I found this freelancing gig on Upwork and it’s really really fun. Each day is never the same. One day I could be ziplining through the rainforest and writing about it or spending the night in some chic new boutique hotel and writing a review, or heading up in a seaplane and snapping some aerial shots or spend a rainy day writing from home.
But what I can say is this job is not for everyone. It has its ups and downs like any job. You have to stay extremely disciplined and must have a willingness to get all your work done remotely. You also have to be prepared that you are not working with a culture with the necessarily the same work ethic/mentality.
The cool thing about working in Costa Rica is legally I have to return to the states every three months! The perfect timing to replenish on Trader Joe’s snacks and Target goods and also freelance for an advertising company, Belly Food Style who I had previously interned with in LA who I have worked on shoots for Corona Where I was a beer stylist, Shari’s Berries, and Univision.
Costa Rica is amazing and I love that I am able to work where people vacation from all over the world. But there are definitely some things I wasn’t prepared for when I moved down there… for example it is not common to have hot water, even in the nicer apartments. Or waking up to a scorpion on your face. Yes… this actually happened just last week. I was sleeping and felt something creep across my face, so I chucked it across the room. I immediately knew what it was because my hand and tongue went numb. But I guess it’s just part of living in the jungle.
But besides the scorpion, if you decided you want to travel and live as a journalist in a different country the best advice I can give you is to send a bunch of emails to different companies months before you plan on moving down…Google the heck out of the place. don’t wait until you get there to find a job. Worst idea. It is okay to be persistent and keep sending follow up emails, people just work a bit, okay.. A lot slower down there. And that’s okay. Because you are a guest of their country. Living in a different country has surely made me appreciate the US, and while I don’t see myself living abroad forever it makes you aware, it makes you love where you come from and how fortunate we really are but it is an amazing roller coaster!