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Bilingual, and want to be a journalist? What it's like as a BBC World Service trainee

Sofia Aboudari

BBC World Service Future Voices trainee

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Sofia Aboudari, a World Service trainee attached to BBC News Arabic

Any aspiring journalist dreams of working at the BBC, for it is the crème de la crème of all broadcasters, at least in my opinion.

I had heard of the Future Voices scheme long before I found myself applying for it on a cold March evening in my mother’s living room until the early hours of the morning.

During one of my journalism lectures my professor mentioned that a former student got his start at the BBC on the same scheme, and presently works as a senior broadcast journalist for the Somali service.

She went on to mention that the scheme was aimed at bilingual people. The very same lecturer posted the application link in our course Facebook group, and having read the job description and criteria, I knew I had to apply.

I had completed my MA in multimedia journalism, plus I am bilingual in English and Arabic and was a first generation immigrant, having arrived in the UK some 13 years ago.

It was the perfect opportunity to kick-start my career in journalism and I knew I fitted the bill. Months later, I found myself within the very same building as Mishal Husain, George Alagiah and Sophie Raworth, and of course I had to pinch myself several times.

The scheme entails training in varying domains of broadcast journalism, including learning the BBC’s editorial guidelines, training in various software for writing and publishing stories and editing radio pieces, and more. We also practised writing cues and presenting in front of the camera.

A day is dedicated to teaching the software or skill in question, making sure we grasp fully the ins and outs as well practising rigorously, all at the hands of professionals whose careers have spanned decades.

During the session, experienced journalists, editors and reporters would come in and talk to us about their journeys at the BBC: what they studied, how they started out, and what they are currently embarking on.

We attended events, editorial meetings, and met journalists, presenters and former Future Voices alumni who now work at the BBC.

My stint with BBC Arabic included Talking Point, a TV and radio phone-in programme that discusses topics and issues that are creating a buzz in the Arab world.

I partook in production, interviewing, pitching stories, writing for Twitter and Facebook pages, as well filming promos and editing radio outputs. Not only did I greatly improve my journalism skills, I had the opportunity to improve my Arabic, being exposed to dialects and words I had not come across before, and to work with people from all across the region.

The team eventually felt like a family to me, as they were friendly, welcoming and encouraging for me to step out of my comfort zone.

During the second half of the month, I was teamed up with Rasha Kashan, a renowned BBC Arabic editor and the founder of Aim High, an initiative training disabled Arab journalists. I translated, researched, and communicated with female influencers from the Gulf and North Africa, who are the least represented on the Arab world’s screens and radio waves.

Ultimately, we presented our individual showcase films that we’d worked on throughout the scheme, which were met with a great acclaim. It also granted us the opportunity to reflect on our experience.

I was a relatively shy person beforehand, but working in a journalistic atmosphere forces you, in the nicest way possible, to come out of your shell. You are communicating with people on a regular basis, be it your colleagues, editors or interviewees, so your shyness somewhat evaporates.

Sure, there exists a huge amount of pressure in the newsrooms that can be anxiety-inducing and daunting at times, but I found that being within the BBC’s largest and busiest language service pushes you to deliver to the best of your ability and meet the highest standards, making lifelong friends along the way.

It is the best experience I could ask for as a budding journalist and I am forever indebted to Future Voices and the BBC as a whole. I applaud its initiative in giving people like me, young bilingual third culture kids, a chance.

If you speak more than one language and aspire to be a journalist, it’s the best kick-starter for your career and will no doubt open doors for you, so don’t hesitate!

Find out more about trainee schemes and apprenticeships at the BBC here.

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