Polyester ghosts and first op-eds

The Boston part of the fellowship is ripe with possibilities. As a Neuffer fellow, I’m a part of the editorial board of the Boston Globe, I work as a research fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies, and I can also audit classes at various Boston-area universities.

My goal for the first month was to try things out and choose the ones that work for me. I did my best not to let the over-ambitious part of me rule it all, and stick to the main principle of the Neuffer Fellowship: you can do everything, but you don’t have to do anything. 

The MIT campus

It’s easier said than done, obviously. How can you not be the kid in the candy store, when you can audit any class you want at MIT and Boston University? By the way, I have no idea how the previous fellows made their course choices, since they could also audit at Harvard and Emerson College (now closed to auditors due to COVID, thank God) (kidding, I was kinda heartbroken to learn that).

I’ll tell you about my choices in another post, because some of these classes deserve a magazine-style feature (I’m talking about you D-Lab), with portraits by Annie Leibovitz (and she hasn’t gotten back to me yet). So for now, let’s move to yet another cherry on top – The Boston Globe. 

The Neuffer fellows are traditionally based in the Opinion Section of the paper, so as of September 1, I became a part of the team led by Bina Venkataraman. I was hyper excited to learn that she is with the Globe, as I’ve followed her work for years.

I was a little worried about the Opinion part though. I’m a reporter by training and – excuse the pathos – by calling. I love reporting in the field, talking to my protagonists and trying to piece their stories into a narrative. I’m generally much more interested in what other people have to say than myself. Which makes me the perfect fit for an opinion writer, yep, I know. I even raised this point during the final interview for the fellowship (great strategic move) and was assured by the awesome Peter Canellos that some of the best opinion pieces he’d ever read were reported.

Downtown Boston where The Boston Globe is based

My doubts dissolved as soon as I joined the team. It turned out that I do have some opinions and a few of them are even worth publishing (or at least my editor Marjorie Pritchard seems to think so, and I trust Marjorie). I arrived in the US when Texas effectively banned most abortions, so my first op-ed was a personal account of what it is like to live under one of the strictest abortion laws in the world – in Poland. The second one shined the spotlight on the current humanitarian crisis brewing in the EU, in which border security is prioritized over human rights (over human lives, at this point). 

The biggest takeaway from the process of writing them was learning how to shape an op-ed in a way that is potentially interesting to the American readers. An op-ed is essentially a guided tour of one’s perspective on an event or a problem, and the key is to find the right balance between the universal and the specific. It’s useful to take a step back and think in terms of themes, solutions and ideas, instead of details (as telling as details can be). 

Alright, before we go and you think that my life is all about work now, let me just tell you that the foliage season is here! Wow, New England you really know how to put on a show. My American friends keep on inviting me to exotic sounding autumn activities like leaf peeping (which I believe is going for a walk in the woods, but I’ll report back to you). Halloween is looming and my neighbourhood Somerville (by lucky coincidence I live in the prettiest part of town) is covered in spider webs, fake gravestones and polyester ghosts. And you will have to excuse me now, but I’m off to carve some pumpkins.

My neighborhood Somerville by night