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Washington and Lee University

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Alisha Laventure '09

Hometown: Massapequa, NY

Majors: Broadcast Journalism, Romance Languages (French core, Spanish), Concentration in Shepherd Poverty Studies

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • Resident Assistant
  • Caribbean Society, Co-chair
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages, Publicity chair
  • Student Association for International Learning
  • Rockbridge Report, student reporter/producer
  • Society of Professional Journalists
  • Knowledge Empowering Women Leaders
  • University Chorus

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Spring Term in Ghana (2009)
  • Todd Smith Fellowship: foreign correspondent for Thomson Reuters, Colombia (Summer 2008)
  • Fall Term in France (2007)
  • Shepherd Alliance Internship: teacher's assistant leader, Peru (Summer 2007)
  • Spring Term in China (2007)
  • Spring Institute in Senegal (2006)

Favorite W&L Activity: Working The Rockbridge Report, a multimedia news production operated almost entirely by journalism students. Over the past four years I have filmed and edited news stories, anchored and produced our weekly news cast and produced our weekly website. Only as a senior can I recall the many all-nighters pulled working on RR and admit to loving every minute of it.

Favorite W&L Memory: Allowing myself to be hypnotized by a magician during a freshman orientation program. I was made to believe I was Shakira, then danced like a maniac to "Hips Don't Lie." For the following month, nearly every freshman I met called me "Shakira" and commented on my dance moves.

Less than two hours after I shook the hand of the Bogota bureau chief, I found myself shaking the hand of Juan Carlos Lecompte. I had no idea who this man was or what I was going to ask him. It wasn't until after the camera started rolling that I realized who he was--the husband of Ingrid Betancourt, the former presidential candidate of Colombia who had been kidnapped by a guerrilla group in 2002.

I am still amazed this is how I started my summer internship with Reuters. For two months I was a foreign correspondent in Colombia and met everyone from coffee farmers to ambassadors to the United Nations. When I wasn't interviewing in the field, I was in the bureau learning how a new wire operates, pitching and writing stories on Colombian industry and translating articles riddled with whacky economic jargon from Spanish to English.

As a romance language major, I felt more than prepared to intern in a Spanish-speaking country. Still, the language barrier was one of the most significant challenges I faced during the internship. During my initial weeks on the job, I was told my accent was similar to that of Dominicans--the dominant Hispanic population in my hometown. While it worked to my advantage in the classroom, some Colombians could not understand my Spanish at all!

These challenging moments were when I most appreciated my relationships with professors at W&L. They sent unexpected e-mails asking how I was doing and congratulated me for stories I had written. The last thing I expected was that my professors would keep up with my work over summer vacation! Their e-mails were especially nice to receive during my random bouts of homesickness.

Nothing was more unexpected than the events of July 2, 2008. That afternoon, Ingrid Betancourt was released along with 14 other U.S. and Colombian hostages. The news break was the biggest story to occur in Colombia in a decade. The following day, I wrote a story about Betancourt's captivity that appeared on Washington, and news sites based all across Europe and Latin America. Knowing that my story was being read by people around the world felt absolutely incredible.

My internship in Colombia was truly one of a kind, made entirely possible by Washington and Lee. The university has partnerships with the most prestigious news bureaus to provide unique internships exclusive to W&L students. I could not have tailored a more perfect internship to match both my academic and personal interests in foreign correspondence.

What I value most in Washington and Lee is its commitment to international learning. The opportunities it affords its students to take learning beyond the classroom are truly extraordinary. By the time I leave Washington and Lee, I will have studied in six different countries on four continents outside of the United States. My friends from other universities are dumbfounded by the cosmopolitan education I have received at W&L. Only at Washington and Lee can you double major with a concentration, study abroad in half a dozen countries and finish within four years in time for graduation.

Note: The Todd Smith Fellowship memorializes a 1982 graduate of Washington and Lee whose deep devotion to the profession of journalism and to international reporting led to his untimely death. Todd Smith was brutally murdered in November 1989 in Uchiza, Peru, by The Shining Path guerrillas and drug traffickers.