Author Interview – Megan JulaLearn more the author
Megan Jula offers fascinating insight with her unique background in journalism and science. She loves to tell a story whether it's the intricate workings of the human body or the convaluted past of a war torn country. Her writing is both informative and illustrative and her recent article visiting the site of the atomic bomb in Japan, won her an Honorable Mention in GoAbroad's Next Great Travel Writers Contest. She is always looking for something to share with readers and her undying curiousity has launched her into a career of international reporting. Her interview takes you from the the site of utter destruction speaking with anit -nuclear activists, to volunteering with children.
" I’m always looking for a story and trying to think of the words to describe what I’m seeing. "
1. Your article, “Hidden in Hiroshima: Experience the History and Culture from the Site of the First Atomic Bomb Explosion,” gives a haunting description of the location and also gives advice cultural immersion in Japan. It earned you an Honorable Mention in GoAbroad’s Next Great Travel Writers Contest. What inspired the article? Were you nervous at all to write such a dark topic?
My 2012 trip to Japan changed the way I see the world. There is a difference between reading the other side of the globe and walking the streets. I was nervous that I could not accurately capture the heartbeat of Hiroshima in my writing. The city is entombed in a horrible history, yet it is also pulsing with life and a desire for peace. One moment I was standing, frozen, staring at the carcass of the Atomic Bomb Dome. The next, I was eating ice cream with a five foot tall Japanese woman, interviewing her her anti-nuclear activism. Or I was watching paper cranes flutter in the wind of the Peace Park. Hiroshima truly is a juxtaposition of life and destruction.
2. What are three of the most interesting characteristics of Japanese culture through the eyes of a Westerner living in the country?
Most noticeably, Japanese people have such composure. Our group of American travelers had to conscientiously lower our voices and mind the physical spaces we occupied. It’s a matter of both respect and maturity in Japan. Another interesting cultural characteristic was giving gifts – many of the people I talked with gave me a little gift, such as a postcard, even though we had just met. One of my favorite cultural experiences was riding the bullet trains. We were given warm clothes to wipe our hands, and an attendant walked by with a cart selling drinks and snacks.
3. What brought you to a reporting gig in Japan?
I traveled to Japan with an International Reporting class at Indiana University. The class was taught by Professor Joe Coleman, former Associated Press Bureau Chief in Tokyo. For months leading up to our week-long trip, we planned our stories and scheduled interviews. I must have sent over 300 emails arranging to speak with anti-nuclear activists half a world away.
4. What are the major differences between Japanese and American media coverage?
When I traveled to Japan I had the opportunity to both meet with Japanese journalists and ask Japanese citizens what they thought of news coverage. Our conversations were often in light of Fukushima, which created distrust of the media for many Japanese. The journalists I spoke with said they believed their coverage was fair; they were just restricted by what the government would tell them.
5. How did you first become involved in travel?
I first fell in love with travel as a high school freshman. My dad and I joined a group of volunteers on a mission trip to the Hogar Rafael Ayau, an Orthodox orphanage in Guatemala City, Guatemala. I remember traveling along the bumpy dirt roads, looking at the colorful laundry on the line, and realizing the world was bigger than my backyard.
6. You have a strong interest in science and health reporting. What spurred your interest in covering these topics?
Biology and journalism are my two passions. In a way, they are both telling stories though the characters are sometimes enzymes or molecules. Both subjects involve taking a complicated idea and breaking it down into legible pieces. My interest in science and health reporting naturally followed. It allows me to explain both the mechanism of scientific discovery and the human impact.
7. What is the most interesting or terrifying medical issue or condition you have covered?
Recently, I finished a several month long investigative story on Adderall abuse at Indiana University. Adderall has been illegally used to study for over a decade at IU. What’s interesting is the casual attitude towards the drug among college students, even though Indiana punishes illegal use with a felony. I learned the mechanism of how the drug works and tried to convey both sides of the issue – how in some ways the drug can be seen as a harmless study aid, and by others as an addictive, illegal substance. The story is here:
8. Your Twitter profile says you are the only journalist to not drink coffee, which seems like it could easily be true. What keeps you away from the popular hot beverage? Do you have another vice that helps you work?
It’s a bit of an exaggeration, I’m sure, but it has been a good conversation starter when I talk to other journalists on Twitter. I personally don’t like being addicted to caffeine. Instead, I drink a lot of herbal tea when I work.
9. What is your dream international reporting position?
I change my mind constantly, but I am currently dreaming of a communications position for Doctors Without Borders. I have a world map from the organization above my desk that says, "We find out where conditions are the worst-- the places where others are not going-- and that's where we want to be." I love that sentiment and the possibility of combining my interests in science, reporting, and international issues.
10. What location is at the top of your “must visit” list?
I would love to travel to Kenya. The Indiana University School of Journalism takes a class to Kenya every year or two to report on acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
11. How does being a journalist affect your view on travel?
When I’m traveling, I’m always looking for a story and trying to think of the words to describe what I’m seeing. The stories I have experienced abroad are all so universal. It’s exciting to think you can write a piece in one country that people in another part of the world could read.
12. What are a few American qualities people in Japan find fascinating?
The Japanese are the most stylish group of people I have ever seen, especially in Tokyo. Many of the boutiques we visited featured American brands. For example, one store had a whole section of T-shirts decorated with Disney and Marvel characters. Clothing also showcased English words and American or British flags. The obvious physical difference between our group of Americans and Japanese also drew attention. Blonde hair, tan skin, and a taller stature all stood out in a sea of more petite Japanese men and woman.
13. How do you experience a culture when visiting a new place?
I get lost. Not necessarily physically – though I do have a good story a taxi ride that dropped me off at the top of an unknown mountain in Japan. Experiencing a culture is getting outside of my comfort zone so that I need to ask for help. It can be as simple as inquiring what the writing on a museum wall means or asking what the server’s favorite dish is in a restaurant.
14. What is next for you in terms of international travel?
I will be spending two months in London, England interning at a local newspaper. It will be my first time in Europe and I can’t wait to visit other countries on the weekends – France, Spain, and Ireland are all on the list.