How to Make a Bad Impression in Russia Independent Skies Magazine No. 44

Welcome to the 44th edition of the Independent Skies Magazine:
  1. Citizen Journalism - Threat or Opportunity by Almustafa Mahmoud
  2. Books and the Universe by Madison Melton
  3. How to Make a Bad Impression in Russia by Paul Lorho
  4. It Is Just a Number by Zena Alhiti
  5. Summer Camp Adventures and the Power of Reflection by Theresa Lafranchise

Citizen Journalism - Threat or Opportunity

by Almustafa Mahmoud

The American Press Institute defines journalism as “... the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information.” However, we now live in the age of WEB 2.0 and where social media is becoming a huge contributor to journalism. It is evident that people are closer to events than journalists can ever be. Therefore, due to the highly technological world we live in, people have become their own reporters in specific geographical areas and/or topics. This phenomenon is called Citizen Journalism and is defined as: “ the reporting of news events by members of the public using the Internet to spread the information. Citizen journalism can be a simple reporting of facts and news... It is easily spread through personal websites, blogs, microblogs, social med ia and so on.” (

To begin, it must be said that Citizen Journalism has its advantages, but one of the most important aspects is the speed of reporting events. Citizens that are at the places where events happen are much faster to report something than for a news network to send in a journalist that has to first examine the story, ask witnesses, judge the story, make sure the sources are truthful then write the story and send it for publishing. The citizen has a much faster way of telling people what had happened. Part of the code of ethics in journalism is to publish truthful and fair journalism clear of any biases (Society of Professional Journalists), but the more time a journalist takes to write the story the more they are likely to input their own take on the situation. Not to mention the missing links such as understanding or insight on the issue due to not speaking a local language or the lack of sources. Citizens however, can share whatever they witnessed to broaden the dialogue with more information that is more proactive with the audience and is not monopolised by journalists and traditional media that basically suggest to the people what they need to know and read about. ( Vicente, Paulo Nuno , P.63)

The argument mentioned above does not deny the fact that there is a belief in the journalistic world that citizen journalism is dismantling professional journalism, a thought one can assume is similar to that about kindle replacing books, and netflix replacing television. But, this one is more of a big deal, netflix is basically the brother of TV, books can still be read on kindles but, journalists study, obtain degrees and go through the trouble of finding jobs, only to find themselves out of the offices because of citizen reporting. It must be mentioned that citizen journalism has time pressure, which leads to lesser quality, homogeneity, superficial news angles, excessive commenting and opinions. Therefore, the best we can get to neutral reporting is the dependence on professionals to get in depth analysis and contextual information. ( Vicente, Paulo Nuno , P.65)

Most of the journalism as we know it, is international journalism and throughout time it is known as foreign coverage by western entities and journalists in countries other than their own (Chakars, P.764). This means that we certainly has one view of what is happening around the world because most of the important news networks are public institutions and server the purpose of the government it is representing. Apart from the BBC, not many channels stay to their neutrality. This is why citizen journalism made a very positive entrance to the journalistic world by providing more views, sides and evidence to certain topics. Simply put, citizen journalism can serve as a moral entity to make sure what is posted for people to read is unbiased information. “This demands from journalists a renewed intelligence on social issues, identifying and accrediting the widening of information sources”( Vicente, Paulo Nuno , P.65)

To conclude, it is mature to say that one must not take one position or the other. By either defending professional journalism or simply thinking that citizen journalism will do and we do not need the profession itself anymore. One may believe that it is best if they both work together, and prepare to have a shift in the way information is provided. This can achieved by citizens sharing rapidly what they witness and then journalists digging up more on the situation due to the skills in which they have obtained during their study and/or experience periods. We live in a rapidly changing period, whatever deemed traditional is now in transition, of course it will not be easy to adapt, but it is important to find ways among what one would like to call “the triangle of

information” for when a news is reported by a citizen, it shall be approved by the journalist and vice-versa, while many of the audience are knowledgeable today they can also contribute to the path of information and it is important that they keep following the story until it is fully developed.

Books and the Universe

by Madison Melton

Six years ago when I was living in China, on a visit to a local primary school in Chengdu, Sichuan I saw a young girl across the playground who was probably eight or nine years old. Her hair was up in a dorky fountain ponytail on the top of her head. She looked out across the activities in the school year with mild disinterest, her skinny arms clutching a Chinese translation of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tightly to her chest. Intrigued, I kept an eye on her. She didn’t let go of the book the whole day. She never stopped to read it, but just held it tightly while she observed her more active classmates from afar, her striped green shirt and precious book never confronting the dust from the pavement. In her every mannerism, I saw myself as a young child.

My father recalls a similar image of me at her age at a swimming competition. All day, springing up to dutifully swim my races before rushing back to a beach chair in a far corner of the pool, my swimming costume drying in the summer sun while I paged through whichever Harry Potter book it was that had been released the night before. I remember the book on my lap, sunscreen from my legs oiling the semi-glossed cover, and wiping my hands carefully on my wet swimsuit so as not to also smudge the pages.

This was always the way it was. Books in my house were never a finite resource. Shelves of my father’s forgotten books, perhaps dating back decades, lined the walls in our basement. Books of more recent significance framed the television in shelves in our living room. More still were shelved and stacked between the clothes in his closet, and my own large bookshelf was double-stacked before my tenth birthday. My parents did not usually lean towards spoiling my siblings and me, but books were an entity unto their own, and they would never turn down our requests to fill the home with more pages. Books were not a luxury item, they were a staple as essential and integral to our family as the roof of our home or the food in the kitchen.

In fifth grade my teacher started a competition at school. For every book we read, we got a paper ice cream scoop to add to our own paper ice cream cone stuck on the classroom wall. My stack of ice cream shot straight up, eventually curving around the edge of the ceiling and snaking its way horizontally around the classroom.

It is perhaps silly to admit, but I have been surprised to find that book are not always revered as a staple good, akin to bread and water. In many places, they remain a luxury item. In South Africa for example, even paperback books can cost around R300 (US$20). With minimum wage at R11.44 (US$0.80), for some it can be more than half a week’s labour to purchase a single book. I assume in part as a result of this, libraries often have limited stock, particularly outside of major urban centres. This is further complicated by the fact that bookstores sell books predominately in English, and to a lesser degree, Afrikaans. While every South African has to attend school in one of these two languages after third grade, they are not the home languages of most of the population. Because they are learned as second languages in an oftentimes unequal education system, many students are reading at a level far below their English and Afrikaans first language peers, especially those at ‘top schools.’ If you are mostly limited to reading stories written for children much younger than yourself because of language limitations, and reading itself is a challenge, who would enjoy it?

Growing up I was also able to take for granted the fact that most books I found in the children’s section at my local bookstore or library were about children just like me who went on fantastical adventures. In most bookstores I have been to in South Africa, ‘African Literature’ is a designated section, usually taking up no more than a shelf or two. The books that populate most of the store are the ones that I could find in my hometown in Virginia, British and American authors mainly, writing about lives so far away from the small Eastern Cape town where I reside. The reason I fell in love with books is because they led me to believe that grand adventures were perhaps just around the corner for me (as it turns out, this was true). It would have meant far less if I had read the same stories believing that the most wonderful journeys were out there waiting for someone else.

Now, of course, I read books originally written in English and those in translation. I read books by people from all corners of the world about places I have been and places I have not, about people who are echoed in my friends and loved ones and people I do not recognise. But I suspect I only began to appreciate these stories because I first heard my own voice shouting proudly in the cacophony of world literature.

Like anywhere else, there is an amazing range of South African and African writers who philosophise in many languages and from every imaginable point of view. However, they are underrepresented in bookstores, libraries, and in South African and global school curriculums, particularly in younger grades when children are only beginning to read, when the possibility to fall in love with the written word still hovers above every assigned chapter.

When I saw that girl on the playground in Chengdu, it was significant because I saw in her something that is universal. Two children who grew up at different times on opposite sides of the world, but with an identical grip on the same story. Yet in order to look further, we first need to see ourselves positioned within this universe.

Would we explore the heavens if we thought it separate from our earth?

How to Make a Bad Impression in Russia

by Paul Lorho

When I decided to go to Russia with my brother, we were insufficiently prepared for the culture shock that we were about to face. This is why, if you intend to visit Russia someday soon, our failures may help you to build some true and generous relationships by understanding some of the principles of Russian culture.

Here is an anecdote about my brother and I landing at 6 am in Moscow. We took a cab that we later found to be much more expensive than normal… We arrived in front of an gigantic building in a suburb where we had to check in. In fact, nothing indicated that this was our hostel. The door was made of heavy steel; I remember us wondering “Wow is this a bunker? Are you sure this is the right door?”. There was a man outside, we went to ask him. Surprisingly, he got very close to us. In fact, it appeared that in Russia, there is no such idea like the persona bubble, so you might happen to be almost nose to nose with people sometimes when you’re talking on the street and it’s just fine.

We had to ring at the interphone, say the three words we knew in Russian “Good morning, we have a reservation”. The man replied in perfect English “Sure come up!”. After four flights of stairs up, we arrived. We rang at the door and a man only opened a wooden door behind the steel door to check who we were. We told him we were French tourists with a reservation and he finally opened the steel door.

The first thing that went wrong, was when we both tried shaking hands with the guard through the doorway. This is considered bad luck! You have to do it either inside or outside, but make a choice. Secondly, my brother tried to shake hands with his gloves on, which is totally disrespectful for Russians and of course the man didn’t shake our hands and did not quite like us.

Even if it’s -30°C outside Russians take off their gloves when shaking somebody else’s hand. In fact, it is an old but really important tradition. Some say that it is meant to check that you have nothing to hide. However, if you really are too cold just say the words "давай по-зимнему" meaning “let’s do it the winter way” and you’ll shake hands with gloves on.

Thirdly, we entered the flat with our shoes on, stepping on the clean and stainless floor. The cleaning lady that was witnessing this outrageous and barbaric act came to us saying things in Russian that I hope were not as bad as they seemed… We quickly understood her message and got rid of our shoes. There is always a room near the entrance for shoes in Russian apartments. Also, most of the time, Russians tend to stock extra pairs of sandals for guests, put them on and just feel at home.

With our sandals on, when paying, we handed the rubles to the woman at the front desk. She asked me to put the money on the desk first and only then took it, then I opened my hand to take the change and she left it on the desk again. I was confused. It is another custom not to give money into someone’s hands directly.

During the check in, my brother told me another woman was standing next to us, he tried a soft handshake but quickly figured out by her disconcerted look that men and women don’t shake hands. When we decided to head for a quick breakfast we met many Russians eating altogether at a table. We decided to sit where there was enough space: in the corners. People looked at us quite strangely for a moment but understanding that we were some other random strangers so they explained to us that seating at the corner of a table means that you won’t get married for 7 years! We laughed quite a lot and ended up getting along with them very well, asking about places to visit, moments to experience, full of curiosity and enthusiasm on our journey.

Meanwhile, there was a growing number of bottles left on the floor, we found out later that leaving an empty bottle on a table could make you lose money according to Russian superstition. We decided to head off to our room, because there were many people and a lot of noise in the kitchen, we said a quick “goodbye” and went for a nap. This was surely seen as very impolite and we only started to understand that within the following days. When leaving, say goodbye to each person you meet if you don’t want to hear them say “Ykhadit pa angliski” meaning literally “to leave the English way”.

Last but not least, a birthday party took place at the hostel, it was a series on non-ending toasts during which people were reciting long and sincere lists of wishes. By the way, two more pieces of advice: Never say happy birthday in advance, it can bring bad luck and if you were to buy flowers only buy an odd number, including for funerals.

First impressions matter and especially to Russians having such important and original codes of conduct. After six months in Russia, I can testify that once you get to know them, they will give a lot back to you. It reminds me of an experience I have had at a colleague’s, we were having dinner and I was complimenting him on the meal, on the decoration, at one moment, I told him that I really liked the traditional tea pot and my friend stood up, grabbed it and said: “Here it’s yours!” It was a family heirloom!

So, understand and embrace these cultures’ differences and you will find incredible friends.

It Is Just a Number

by Zena Alhiti

These days, I have been thinking about this topic more frequently. It may be because I’m getting older and more mature! It’s about so called “Chronological Age” which is the actual time from your birth. For some it’s a normal growth process but for some it can signify an obsession.

Personally, I tend to avoid this question, not because I’m shy or embarrassed; contrariwise I like people to judge my age based on my character and personality and not on how old I am.

Discrimination due to age is one of the great tragedies of modern life. People use to categorize an individual based on their age as a child, young adult or old. Based on age only, they will often times judge their capacity and role. This is not how it ought to be done. To set a limit on yourself based on your age is totally a wrong concept that leads you to undermine your own potential.

It’s your own choice to be young, joyful and productive forever. It all begins within yourself. You are the one to set your goals and your limits. If you love yourself from deep within it will reflect on the outside as well.

One day you will look back to the years you spend waiting for the right moment and realize that you could have created that moment on you own initiative way earlier. So don’t wait, don’t procrastinate and start working with no limits.

In this era, time is passing by so quickly, advancing with a non-stop momentum, and so do we. Therefore, to be able to par with this speed we need to set free from limitations and think wide open.

And remember, age is a matter of feeling not years. It is how you feel about yourself and your ambitions.

Summer Camp Adventures and the Power of Reflection

by Theresa Lafranchise

Have you ever experienced a moment in time that momentously changed your direction in life? Do you ever go back to that moment? I find that the more I reflect on the important moments in my life, the more I understand my present and future.

I have had a breadth of experiences in my life and I credit my success to one very formative moment. When I was 18 and finishing my first year of university, I had a desire to work at a summer camp because I wanted an exciting, different summer experience.

I applied to many different summer camp programs throughout California, my home state. I assumed getting a job at a summer camp was an easy and simple process, but I was very wrong. By May of that year, I had no prospect or opportunities. In addition, every camp I applied to had zero openings.

On a whim I began to call camp programs. By sheer luck the 4th camp I called picked up the phone and listened to my request for a job. That camp was CYO Camp and Retreat Center in Occidental, California. They told me they had one opening left for the upcoming summer season. It was for a lifeguard. I didn’t swim often then, but I told them I could become a lifeguard by the end of the month.

That simple, unexpected commitment developed into a whole new way of viewing the world, accepting others and appreciating nature. I ended up working for 6 consecutive summers at CYO. I also spent a year working as a Teacher Naturalist for their school year program, Caritas Creek.

It might seem strange, but this simple summer job turned into my lifestyle. While working with CYO I became a person with a sense of self, confidence as leader, and an active listener. The things I learned at camp, shaped who I am today. I can credit this transformation back to one simple aspect: reflection.

As a counselor with CYO, I spent each night reflecting on the day with the girls in my cabin. Our reflections ranged from a simple check in about how they were feeling (tired) to in-depth conversations about aspirations and dreams. I realized that these seemingly meaningless conversations each night, lead to a better understanding of one another. Our level of connectedness would grow stronger, the more we spent time reflecting on our very active summer camp days.

Taking time to look back on your day or week helps you see moments of gratitude. You learn through reflection to plan for your dreams in order to see them in your lifetime. You no longer feel tied to the expectations of the people around you. Instead, you feel connected to your life, your aspirations and your goals.

While working with CYO year round I felt driven to travel the world. I dreamed of living and working in Europe. I made that dream come true by becoming an au pair in The Netherlands. That position lead to a position working in Brazil and later in northern China. I am currently living out my dream to become a designer by studying for my master’s degree at the Institute of Design in Chicago, USA. As you see, our life’s achievements often times lead back to a single point in time where we persevered and made the right decisions. This only becomes apparent afterwards, so don’t give up on your dreams.

I urge you to reflect on your own day. Look for the best part, the worst part and the potential opportunities for tomorrow. As we grow, our reflection of the past allows us to flourish into the future.

I feel lucky to begin writing with ISM monthly. The desire to use journalism to foster connectedness between cultures of people throughout the world is commendable. I can only hope that my writing here, allows for a connection between you and I.

Independent Skies Magazine No. 44
Created By
Svea Freiberg


Created with images by akk_rus - "Toward blue sky" • JFrazier_Photo - "divestdapl-2989" • jarmoluk - "book exposition composition" • akk_rus - "Toward blue sky" • kyle.tucker95 - "Bearonica In The Wild" • vanngoctang - "camping beach holiday" • Bitterjug - "Blue"

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.