Miss Rebecca Lawn is a freelance journalist that is currently based in London, UK. She has managed to live in more than 4 countries for various periods of time, get involved (through her work and by volunteering) in important social projects, and managed to become a successful freelance journalist, all by the age of 25!
I have had the fortune to meet and befriend her in 2008. We were both interviewing, at the time, for a job position at a local kindergarten in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Neither one of us got it but our friendship flourished nonetheless, naturally and very easily, from that moment on. We spent some wonderful times together exploring Cluj-Napoca and its cultural and artistic venues, as well as Paris, France, two years afterwards. We also discovered early on that we share many interests and passions that were very solemnly discussed in chic cafés, over a good cup of coffee and a rich (chocolate!) cake.
I was deeply impressed with her openness, curiosity, sweetness and her views about journalism. I remember asking her once how does she handle having to talk to many people and mostly, having to probe and possibly ask a lot of personal questions. How does she get people to open up? And how far does she go?
In a media that is full of paparazzi where all intimate, personal details of public people’s lives are savagely pursued, discussed and judged, where the right for a private life has lost all its sanctity, I found her answers very striking and made me grew in respect for her, both as a person and friend, and as a journalist. She told me that first of all, she respects her interviewers. And then, she listens. Truly listens to what they have to say, especially to the things they leave unsaid. Actually, those are the very things she pays close attention to. Most of all, she is always mindful of their sorrows and their need to have some things kept private. If they do not want to answer some questions, she is respectful of that.
I find that amazing! I know many journalists are faced with looking and finding a scandalous and dramatic story just for the sake of boosting the sales and focusing solely on those subjects, looking incessantly just for the negative and probing mindlessly into people’s lives.
Therefore, I believe that she has a lot of things to share with the rest of us!
Here is our interview:
1. Hi Becky! Please start by telling us 5 things about yourself and what do you want to do when you grow up? :)
1) I have had the opportunity to travel, live in different countries and meet people from all over the world; that is one of the things I feel most grateful for.
2) I started writing stories as a young child and haven’t stopped. (My stories don’t involve so many animal families and aliens from Jupiter now though, sadly!)
3) I have curly hair and I’ll always remember a rhyme my grandma used to say: ‘There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid!’ It still makes me smile!
4) I seem to collect quotes. I love this one in particular: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear” – Mark Twain
5) I often get the urge to do really daft stuff like jump in piles of autumn leaves, dance like a fool or run through the park like Phoebe does in Friends! :)
In my ideal future, I would love to have a family, live by the sea, write novels and do charity work.
2. What is your favorite playtime and what do you do to relax and enjoy yourself?
Being in the sea, on the sea or near the sea! It’s like an addiction! It just relaxes me completely. I’d love to live by the sea one day. I’ve recently started learning to surf which has been a lot of fun. Otherwise I enjoy sitting in a cafe, catching up with friends or reading a good book.
3. You are a freelance journalist. What made you decide to become one in the first place, and how has your journey been so far?
I really loved my job working for a newspaper in France but unfortunately it closed. I knew I wanted to keep writing so I decided to try my luck as a freelancer.
I’ve been freelancing for about a year and a half. I enjoy the freedom it gives you and the fact that you get to have different experiences and meet interesting people. However it isn’t always easy. When I was in France, I also taught English and worked in a museum for a while alongside writing. That suited me quite well as I like variety.
4. What are the nowadays challenges of your job?
It’s great to be able to write the stories that you want to write, but at the same time, you do have to pay the bills so sometimes you take on work that you might not be very passionate about. (I wrote a gardening column once, despite not having a garden!). However, when an editor likes an idea that you are passionate about, it’s brilliant. Unless you’re very well established, it can be hard to know how much work you have on each week. It can vary. I enjoy it but ideally I would like to combine freelancing with other work.
5. In 2008, you spent a three-months internship in Romania. Tell us about your experience there and what did you find surprising about the country?
I lived in Cluj-Napoca, a lovely town in Transylvania, for three months after I graduated from the London-Paris University.
One of my favourite memories from that time is of picking grapes on the side of a mountain. I was there in autumn so the mountains were brightly coloured in patches of red, yellow and orange. I went one Saturday with my flatmates, a brother and sister, to help their grandmother with the grapes. Every time we came back in the house with the bags, their grandmother had made more food! I loved Romanian food, especially “sarmale” (stuffed cabbage) and “mititei” (sausages).
My other favourite memory is of visiting Sibiu and Sighisoara, two beautiful towns, with no other than Roxi Staton ;) I loved taking the train because there were separate carriages so we could each have a bench to lie on as we looked out the window in the evening at the snow-topped mountains. It was magical!
I didn’t really know what to expect but I still found quite a lot of things surprising. There are a few things that stand out – I remember the first thing that hit me was the architecture because I had never seen Orthodox churches before. And I was amazed by how many languages a lot of the young people I met could speak. I was also surprised by the hitch-hiking! It seemed like a normal every day thing – it’s how a lot of people got home from work. I even did it myself once – I’d missed the last bus from Turda, a town near Cluj Napoca, where there is an impressive salt mine, and so I got a lift with an old man who drove a Dacia. There were two women and a little boy in the car too. I have to say I thought that he’d drive a lot slower than he did! When I think about it now it was probably a bit dangerous but it was fun at the time!
It’s also very definitely a Latin country. Coming from a country where people are known to say sorry if you bump into them and say please and thank you at least five times when buying something in a shop, there was quite a big difference. I remember being in the office when my colleagues starting having what I thought was an argument – raised voices, arms flying. I had no idea what was going on and was worried it was about to kick off! Later I asked one of my colleagues what had happened and she just said ‘oh we were just discussing something!’
(Haha, yes, we are and can be very expressive and opinionated! :))
6. What are, in your perspective, the country’s main issues and strong points?
When you think about the country’s history, how people lived under Ceausescu, I think one of its strong points is the strength of its people. The main road through Cluj-Napoca is named “Decembrie 21 1989”, a constant reminder, along with the bold, steel, anti-Communist monument, of the country’s revolutionary past.
When I was there, I felt that Romanians were very proud of their country. They were also proud of the fact that they had joined the EU, as they felt it was a positive step. And of course the country is very beautiful!
I think there are issues with poverty, especially in rural areas, low wages which make it difficult if not impossible to live well and a ‘brain drain’ whereby qualified young people are moving abroad because there are not opportunities for them. I think that sadly the country also suffers from a bad image abroad, although this may be changing. (I hope this is the case.) I also think there is also a lot of tension between Romanians and the Roma community.
7. If you could sum up your experience there in just three words, what would they be?
Eye-opening, adventure and friendship.
8. In February 2010, you spent 10 days in Sri Lanka exploring women’s specific issues for that region. What have you discovered about women’s rights there and their much needed empowerment? What are the major differences between our (Western) culture and theirs?
Yes, I went to Sri Lanka with an association to research issues affecting women. I found that our societies had many things in common, although I think there is less pressure on women in the West. In Sri Lanka, there is still the idea that a woman’s ‘proper place’ is in the home. Feminists there have fought for women’s rights in education and work but tradition and culture put pressure on women to act and behave a certain way. I think this is changing for young women living in cities, though.
I think one thing I realized about women’s rights is that they’re not permanent. I used to think that as they had been fought for and obtained, there was no going back. But what we’re seeing this across the world at the moment is just how fragile they can be – we can’t get complacent; sometimes you have to keep fighting.
As for cultural differences, there is a real emphasis on the family and on making guests feel at home in Sri Lanka. I stayed with my friend’s family and I felt welcome straight away. I was unbelievably spoilt and looked-after! The other thing is you must always remember to use your right hand to eat with.
9. Your last international project was in Honduras, with a charity called Progressio. There, you were a 3 months volunteer, teaching to children and working with local women on developing sustainable business activities . Tell us about what you have earned, how it influenced your life and what made you decide to apply and join the volunteering program?
I have always wanted to volunteer abroad on a meaningful project and I was excited when I came across International Citizen Service (ICS), a program funded by the British government which gives young people the chance to work in development for three months.
I worked for a charity called Progressio and I lived in Marcala, a small town in Honduras which is known for its coffee. It’s very high up and surrounded by cloud forest. Honduras is a beautiful country but sadly poverty, violence and corruption are serious issues there – 60 percent of people live below the poverty line!
Being a volunteer in Honduras was life-changing! I met some remarkable people, such as Maria, who runs a small business producing organic fair-trade aloe vera soaps and shampoos, and Delila, who is involved with an anti-femicide campaign and raises awareness of domestic violence.
I went out with nine other volunteers and we worked with two organizations: COMUCAP and COOMUPL. They aim to empower women and provide technical assistance and training to help them to develop business activities, mainly in organic coffee production. (You must try Honduran coffee if you haven’t yet – it’s good!)
While we were there, our aims were to help local women to diversify their diets by planting different crops and to work on projects linked to the environment and sustainability. We were involved in many different activities, from tilling soil with pickaxes to picking coffee, teaching school kids about recycling and creating a mural on climate change in the centre of the town.
In the fields, after a hard day of work. They helped till the soil, put in an irrigation system and plant carrots.
I came away with a greater understanding of poverty, alongside a feeling that I had hopefully done something to help.
It’s easy to think that as just one person you don’t have the ability to change things, but I don’t think that’s true. Exchanges, connections, showing that you care – that can all have a positive impact.
When you see how some people live, the difficulties they face, it does put your own concerns into perspective. I think I’ve become a lot more grateful!
(More about her project in Sri Lanka, here).
10. You also lived in Paris, France, for about six years, studying, working and living there. What are your best tips for the people that want to live and travel to Paris?
Paris really is beautiful! There is something mesmerizing about it. As a traveller, I’m sure you’ll want to see certain places like the Eiffel Tower, the Sacre Coeur and the Notre Dame because they’re stunning, but I also have a few less well-known favourites to recommend:
* Parc des Buttes Chaumont, for a Sunday afternoon stroll.
* Rue de la Butte aux Cailles: a lively little cobbled street tucked away in a residential area. It is lined with fun bars and cafes, and there’s a great atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights.
* Helmut Newcake: a gluten-free bakery which is just divine for anyone with coeliacs who don’t want to miss out on croissants and pastries!
* 25 Est is a great restaurant by the canal. Perfect for sitting outside on summer evenings or for grabbing a hot chocolate in winter!
If you want to live there, I’d say really make an effort with your French before you go as you will feel a lot more at home. Do some research before you go –it’s better to have an honest picture of what life there will be like so you know what to expect.
11. Now, at the end, please tell us what makes you a powerful, honest and good journalist?
Thank you! It’s hard to answer that. I guess what interests me is being able to tell people’s stories, especially when they don’t have a voice. And I’m always trying to be better at what I do. There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement!
12. How would you like the World to be, in the future?
I think I want what most people want – a world that is fair and tolerant, a world without war and poverty. It is scandalous that people’s basic needs are not met in this day and age– the world produces enough food for everyone and yet many people do not have enough to eat.
13….And if you could say one thing to it, what would it be?
I hope we start to look after you better.
Thank you, Becky, for so graciously answering my questions and sharing your experiences with us!
Guys, I hope you enjoyed this interview and all the wonderful tips and inspirational ideas that it contains just as much as we loved putting it together! :)
If you want to know more about Rebecca Lawn and her work or if you’d like to contact her for future work, you can do so here, on her WordPress page.
Love to you all,