‘Great news! But where exactly is that, Columbia, Missouri?’
When I told my friends that I got a scholarship to go to the University of Missouri, most of them had the same reaction. I can’t blame them: before starting my application process, I would have had the same question… I used to explain to them that it was a small town somewhere in the Midwest, 600 kilometers south of Chicago. Today, as I am about to leave, my answer would be totally different. Columbia is not just a spot on a map anymore. It is a town and a University where I’ve been living for four months, and where I felt welcome from Day 1.
On the academic and professional level, it has been a truly transformative experience. I came to the University of Missouri School of Journalism – one of the best in the US – to do research about sports journalism monetization, and I had many fascinating discussions about it. But I’ve learned so much more! I had, among others, a great course taught by Randy Smith called ‘Journalism and Chaos’, about media entrepreneurship and business models. Our main work this semester has been helping a media initiative in Eudora, a small community town in Kansas. The 6,000 people had been living in a news desert for a decade. Journalism students and a professor of the University of Kansas have brought local news back to life with a digital publication, ‘The Eudora Times’. Our mission was to make it financially viable. In my first week of class, we drove to Kansas to meet people in Eudora, to discuss their news habits and expectations. The tone was set. At Mizzou J-school, we help people and media for real. We call it the Missouri Method. And that’s why you will so many Missouri alumni in the best newsroom of the country.
With this same class, we had a three-day trip to New York, the media capital of the world, to visit some news organizations like NBC, Bloomberg, AP and The Wall Street Journal. More than the spectacular views from their fancy offices, what impressed me the most was the way the young journalist coped with the pressure and high standards every day. I also had the chance to take part in a Fulbright seminar in Minneapolis about rural economies, with 90 other Fulbrighters from all over the world. I could find out a state very open to immigration. What a reinsuring reminder: Americans’ values are not the ones of their President…
As a sports editor-in-chief, I naturally took the occasion to go immersed in US sports. I could experience the craziness of college sports and its biggest paradox: this is a multi-billion dollar industry, but the athletes are not even paid! In Columbia, when the (American) football team is playing, everything else stays still. At the Stadium, there can be more than 60,000 to cheer for the Tigers. Not bad, for a town of 120,000 habitants.
On a personal level, this adventure has been awesome as well. And I felt fortunate to share it with my wife Harmony and my two kids, Mia (9, and Pablo (7). To be honest, we didn’t think we would like living here so much. We felt we had a much better sense of real America than we would have had in a big city. My kids went to a (great) public school, in English, and after some difficult first weeks, they adapted well and made friends. If you intend to become a Fulbrighter and if you hesitate to bring your family, here’s my advice: do it with them!
After such great times, it’s difficult to realize I will have to leave Missouri in a few days. The semester went so fast! In Columbia, Missouri, time flies, because life is sweet. For real.
Benoît Delhauteur is a Belgian 2019-2020 Fulbright Visiting Scholar to the University of Missouri, School of Journalism as part of the University of Missouri Journalism Award. Benoît is the editor-in-chief of Les Sports, a sports newsroom providing content for two Belgian national newspapers (La DH and La Libre) and three websites (DH.be, LaLibre.be, LesSportsPlus.be). He started his career in 2002 as a sports reporter for La Dernière Heure Les Sports. He covered the two last soccer World Cups in Brazil and in Russia, following months of preparation in designing a multimedia strategy. In 2018, he managed a large-scale project of a new sports-only paywall website, one of the first of its kind in Europe.Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.