November 18, 2013
Melissa Turpin was doing what every other college senior does this time of year - beginning the search for her first, full-time professional position. But an inquiry with a New York news organization turned into a two-week assignment in South Korea.
"I came across a job with the Ecumenical News," Turpin said. "I thought the job looked interesting so I applied."
Three days later, the senior communication major from Bloomington was contacted for a Skype interview, followed by an offer to become a freelancer. She began writing for the online media outlet in mid-October, with her work being posted on the news organization's homepage.
Then came her assignment - to report from the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly in Busan, South Korea from Oct. 30-Nov. 8. The Assembly, the more diverse gathering of Christians in the world, drew roughly 5,000 people from more than 110 countries, representing some 560 million Christians.
"I'd never been out of the country before," Turpin said. "I never considered reporting on religion, but I was excited for the opportunity."
In the weeks leading up to her departure, she had to apply and receive a passport, learn local protocol and a few basic words in Korean as well as work ahead in her classes.
Covering religion wasn't a huge stretch for Turpin.
"My parents are pastors at The Body of Christ Church in Bedford," she said. "They laughed when I told them about my assignment because I always wanted news."
Once in Busan, Turpin was able to do a little sight-seeing prior to jumping into her reporting assignment. Among the sites she visited were the many Buddhist temples and a local church opposed to the World Conference of Churches Assembly.
Once the Assembly began, Turpin was required to write at least two stories a day and to do some stand-up broadcast reporting.
"Ecumenical News is new to multimedia," Turpin said. "I was one of their first on-camera faces."
A typical day for Turpin consisted of waking at 7:30 a.m., attending sessions and taking notes.
"After each session, I'd grab my photographer and videographer and we'd do interviews," Turpin said. "I'd go back and transcribe the interviews and write the story."
"I was going non-stop until 8 p.m. when I met my co-workers for dinner."
Turpin's co-workers added to her international experience. During her two-week assignment, she worked alongside reporters from Britain, Switzerland, Australia and two other Americans.
Turpin was accustomed to the fast-pace and deadline pressure. But there was the added pressure of working for a relatively new media outlet.
"I was representing Ecumenical News, an organization that started in 2009," she said. "At the beginning of the Assembly, not too many people knew about us. But after two weeks, they knew the name."
In addition to the hands-on reporting experience, Turpin received a crash course on culture.
"I learned about new religions and the sufferings of others," Turpin said. "I enjoyed learning about other nations. At the end of each day I was grateful to be born in America and the opportunities we have."
She found the South Korean people very welcoming and helpful.
"Whenever I was hesitant or looked confused, there was someone there willing to provide assistance," Turpin said, adding it made her realize that Americans aren't as welcoming.
"The South Koreans loved showing their history and they loved visitors."
Her experience also helped her communicate with others who may or may not speak the same language.
"Many of the delegates spoke some English," Turpin said. "My co-workers were amazed that I could have extended conversations with people who didn't speak English well."
Turpin, to her credit, did her part to break the ice.
"I had a translator app on my phone so I learned how to say hello in Korean," she said. "So I made the effort to greet people in their native language."
Reflecting back on her experience, Turpin summed it up as inspirational.
"It was an awesome eye-opening experience because I learned more about the world we live in," she said. "I am more appreciative of life in general and have an awareness of what we all take for granted."
Turpin is quick to add that her time at Indiana State prepared her well for this stint on the international stage.
"My classes, along with my internships, prepared me well for this opportunity," she said. "If you can report on religion and politics and stay neutral, you can report on anything."
Turpin, who will graduate in May, can trace her love of news reporting back to middle school.
"I took a media class because I had to choose an elective," Turpin said. "Little did I know that I would end up loving it."
When she arrived at Indiana State, she decided to concentrate in broadcasting and electronic media. She joined Sycamore Video her freshman year to complement the instruction she received in the classroom and has completed an internship with Sycamore Athletics assisting with promotional videos and a news internship with B97 and WFIU radio, an NPR member station in Bloomington.
Now back on campus and in her routine as a college student and a member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, she is continuing her job search, ready for career in reporting and broadcasting.
"My dream job is being the anchor and host of E Entertainment News."
PHOTOS: All photos courtesy of Young-kun Park
Writer and Contact: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3783 or email@example.com
Bloomington senior Melissa Turpin covered the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly in Busan, South Korea as a freelancer for Ecumenical News.