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Guest Commentary: Newspaper intern checks in from Africa


November 8, 2019

Three years ago, a dream came true for a 26-year-old woman from Uganda who had struggled all her life to get an education, who felt lucky just to make it through school. Then, a year after her graduation, there came a guardian angel who said, "Don't unpack your bags just yet."

Cloquet's Tim Krohn was determined to make my dream come true - and eventually I found myself coming to the United States to work as an intern at the newspaper in Cloquet.

I was excited when Tim (who knew my family because of his work with Blue House Orphanage here) offered to sponsor me to go to the United States; I owned a passport, but it was just for a show and used as an identification card despite its being expired. I did not think for a second that I would travel anywhere in the world. How could I afford it?

I was excited for over a year, telling everyone I was traveling. I didn't even know what that meant, what procedures were needed, how it would happen. At the back of my mind, I knew Tim would just call me and say, "Tomorrow, you're going to the airport."

Before that, I had gone to the airport only when escorting visitors returning to their countries - and that would be the best part of the month, or even the year.

Just telling your classmates that you were at the airport would make you the rich kid in school, and everyone would want to associate with you. Some of the kids would be willing to share their packed meals with you just to make sure you were actually friends and tell them all you know about the airport. The interesting bit about this, as I told my friends or wannabe friends is that I also hadn't been to the airport. Yes, I arrived at the building with "Entebbe International Airport" written across it. I could see the box-shaped colorful machine that everyone stopped to look at - with the plasma screens of arrival and departure times - and the people lined up with suitcases, wearing fancy clothes, removing some to enter a machine that made noise every time someone walked through. All this I viewed through the glass doors, but I never actually entered the airport until my trip to the United States.

I am Oyat Sharon, a columnist who was an intern at the Pine Journal August through November of 2016, when Jana Peterson was the editor there and helped get the internship approved. While I was in Cloquet, I wrote about my cultural shock experience as a foreigner in a foreign land in my "through foreign eyes" column.

I remember one day I was walking home from the paper, and a lady walking her dog said, "Hi. How are you?"

I was surprised, because someone talked to me.

I responded, "Hi," and my eyes crinkled, the corners of my mouth turned up like a banana, exposing my dark gum and flexing the muscles in the apples of my cheeks.

"You have a lovely skin. Do you mind if I touch?" she asked.

I was amazed and humbled at the same time. Of course, I let her experience what I was experiencing, she was the boldest to ask, as some just stared at me in admiration. I realized then it just takes one big step to make a life's achievement.

After experiencing the colors of autumn and snow for the first time, I returned home. I am so grateful for the hospitality and the experiences.

While I was working as an intern at the Pine Journal, I was being paid. I managed to save up most of that money, so when I arrived home, I enrolled in a master's program studying refugees and migrations. I recently completed my dissertation on cultural identity in children. I will be graduating this fall.

I hope to share new stories with the Pine Knot News readers when I can, and I enjoy reading the paper online, from nearly 13,000 kilometers away.


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