Q&A With Francesco Somaini: Working as a Journalism Professor in the US as a Foreigner

03/07/2017

By Tom Sato

In Fiscal Year 2015, over a million foreigners got lawful permanent residents. Most of them move here to work, and there is a variety of job opportunities for foreigners. In the following Q&A, Francesco Somaini, a Journalism professor at Central Washington University who was born and raised in Switzerland, says his first three years in the U.S. were really hard for him in terms of keeping up with all the study in a different language while also teaching journalism.

 

Could you explain your background?

Somaini: I was born, grew up, went to school and worked most of my life in Switzerland, on the border with Italy. I graduated from the University of Italian Switzerland, in Lugano in 2001. I started working for daily newspapers in 1996. By the time I finished my college studies, I had been offered a position as a reporter for the main Italian language daily in Switzerland. I worked there until 2010, when I quit my job and moved to Eugene, Oregon to attend the doctoral program of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. As a journalist, I covered virtually all the beats except for sports and scene/art.

Why did you decide to work as a journalist in the US?

Somaini: I never worked as a journalist in the U.S. I was a doctoral student from 2010 to 2014, then a post-doctoral instructor at the University of Oregon for a year. I started working as an assistant professor at CWU in September 2015. When I went into journalism, I did it because I thought that would allow me to help people who did not have a voice and someone who would defend them.

Have you faced any difficulties because of the cultural or language difference between Switzerland and the US?

Somaini: I learned English well enough to communicate fluently and to work in my early 30s. My first three years in the U.S. were really hard in terms of keeping up with all the study in a different language while also teaching journalism classes in English. However, I studied foreign languages for many years starting at 6. At high school, I studied Latin and ancient Greek as well. I have strong grammar skills and access to a wealth of “root” vocabulary from which English has borrowed abundantly.

Why did you decide to be a professor?

Somaini: I decided to go into teaching because at one point of my journalistic career I had the impression that I was no longer making a difference and was not fully realizing the negative impact of some of the work I was doing. I decided I wanted to learn more about journalism and use my experience to train younger generations.

What do you expect for Journalism major students at Central?

Somaini: I hope that my students at Central will develop an interest for discovery, a desire to question the information that they consume and use for their stories, an ability to contextualize the historical events that they report on. I hope they will learn to be skeptical and to double-check the information they collect, and to bear in mind that their main job is to uncover and verify facts and present them to the public. I also hope that they will decide to be journalists because they want to help make the world a better place.

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