Monday, July 23, 2012

Tune in to Culture Shock this Sunday at 10PM

Culture Shock: Sneak Preview from part2 pictures on Vimeo.

Rawan Jabaji (GSAS '06) is a graduate of the Journalism Institute who has been working as producer and correspondent on Culture Shock, a television special airing this Sunday, July 22 at 10PM on OWN. Jabaji is one of three correspondents on the show who travel to different parts of the world to explore the nature of relationships and love across cultures.

"By delving deep into the private lives of people around the world, Culture Shock will expand our concept of what defines a relationship and what connects us across the globe." --OWN

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to speak with Rawan about how she grew from a classmate-biting kindergartner into a cross-cultural television producer.

NYU Arts and Science Alumni Relations: Tell us more about how the concept for Culture Shock was born. What initially spurred your interest in the ideas of love and marriage across cultures?

Rawan Jabaji: We set out to try and make a film of portraits of people around the world --intimate, detailed, seen through the eyes of us, the filmmakers. I worked together with a great Brooklyn-based production company, part2 pictures, to develop a show that took us on an atypical travel adventure -- one that tried to really get to know how people live in different parts of the world. Love and marriage are as universal as it gets, so it seemed like a good theme to start with.

Alumni Relations: Culture Shock will explore cultures from Moscow, India and China. How were these three locations chosen?

Rawan: The team at part2 pictures spent quite a bit of time trying to find the perfect stories and locations to take our audience. In addition to Russia, India, and China, the team looked into Morocco, Brazil, and Jordan, among many others. But there are only so many stories that can be told in an hour! The three stories we chose worked thematically. Three stories in three different countries that examine three different stages of love and marriage. I went to Hyderabad, India and followed a matchmaker, Farooqui, who was arranging the marriage of a couple.


Alumni Relations: Did any experiences from your time at NYU influence how you approached this project?

Rawan: While I was getting my master’s at NYU’s Journalism school, I was enrolled in the Portfolio program, which encouraged longform, literary non-fiction reportage. I remember spending hours and days with my characters trying to learn what makes them tick, observing their habits and trying to grasp their stories so I could rush home and re-create what I observed in words. Those experiences taught me to be a better storyteller.

Alumni Relations: Is there any particular lesson that you, personally, learned through the production of Culture Shock?

Rawan: We’re far more similar than we are different. Farooqui, the matchmaker, may dress, eat and talk differently than we do but he’s really just trying to earn a living by finding members of his community the perfect match. He wants to provide for his family and he has dreams and aspirations just like we do.

Alumni Relations: Tell us about the first time you experienced culture shock.

Rawan: I was born in the US but I grew up in the Middle East speaking only Arabic. I moved here to start Kindergarten. I remember having no idea what was going on the first day of class. I spoke no English! But it’s not nearly as traumatic as it sounds. I was so excited to be in school that I figured out my own way to communicate with the kids. And if they didn’t understand me, I bit them!

Alumni Relations: You bit them!? What did your teacher say?

Rawan: Yes! I got in trouble but I think my teacher understood it was more out of frustration. Geez, I just wanted to play with the other kids! Soon I got an ESL teacher and learned English. And I've been fluent ever since!

Alumni Relations: When did you become interested in producing?

Rawan: During my time at NYU I interned at ABC Nightline in the evenings. I remember sitting in the newsroom researching a story for a senior producer on the Haditha Killings in Iraq. I was incredibly moved by the topic and storytelling. I decided that one day I wanted to be a producer and tell those stories.

Alumni Relations: Do you have any projects lined up after Culture Shock?

Rawan: I’m very excited about Culture Shock! I can barely contain myself! That’s my main focus now. I’m allowing myself time to absorb and enjoy what’s happening. And then once I’ve experienced this to the fullest, I’ll take some time to figure out my next steps. Hopefully you’ll be seeing more of me!

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