Danielle Wong had an inkling she should pursue a youth journalism program while in high school. Her high school, Eastview High School in Apple Valley, had a program, but freshmen were not allowed to take part.
Like professional journalists are constantly asked to do, Wong kept digging. Her mother searched for available programs in the Twin Cities and ThreeSixty Journalism popped up immediately.
A few years later, Wong was chosen as a ThreeSixty Scholar, which brought a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to the University of St. Thomas College of Arts and Sciences and an academic adventure that took her overseas.
“I received a full-tuition, four-year scholarship to St. Thomas under ThreeSixty, which is really, really, really important for me,” Wong said. “Actually, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to college, especially not here at St. Thomas.”
Now a senior at St. Thomas, Wong is back where she began working with prospective high school journalists as a summer intern with the ThreeSixty program.
During her junior year, Wong studied abroad in Taiwan, where she took electives for her justice and peace studies minor. She said she sought out a country where she resembled the people, but the language barrier posed a challenge.
“I wanted to go back to a place where I look the same, but I may not exactly feel the same. It was very true when I went to Taiwan because, obviously, I look like everyone else there. I look Chinese or Eastern Asian,” she said. “But I felt so different, and so out of it, for the first couple months, because I was this Chinese-looking girl that couldn’t speak good enough Chinese to get by.
“I think that feeling, those looks of disappointment when people would look at me and try to talk to me in Chinese, and I’d be like, ‘Oh, I can’t say anything to you,’ that really fueled me to be intentional about my Chinese learning while I was abroad and reconnect with this language that I so quickly pushed aside when I was growing up.”
Wong spent time learning about international images and how countries perceive each other, especially from a career perspective.
“You need to look at the way that countries look at each other’s news and consume each other’s news,” she said. “If you’re an international journalist or international station, to be careful about the way that you present that country and your reports and everything. So that was a really good classroom.
“And then democracy, just talking about democracy and how that affects the journalism world.”
It wasn’t hard for Wong to bring what she had learned back home. Leaving Taiwan, however, was a different story. As she faced an early morning flight back to the U.S., memories, friendships and a lifestyle she had grown into were hard to let go of. Wong called it “reverse culture shock.”
“It didn’t really hit me that I was leaving until literally, like, the day before we left, because that whole week leading up to it, I had to move out, I had finals, I had final essays and projects and presentations that I had to do all in one week,” she said. “It was really stressful for me. I didn’t really even have time to think, ‘Oh, my gosh, this might be the last time I’m seeing some of these people in my classes and a lot of my friends.’ The night before we left, it was just me and my three best friends I made on the trip.”
She added, “We just stayed up all night, holding each other and crying. It was so crazy to me, because I was thinking about how worried I (had been) to leave the U.S.”
Wong said she learned a lot about herself overseas and wants to pass on the importance of that to younger journalists.
“If you can know yourself and you can have that good sense of self, it helps carry you and telling other people’s stories, because that’s the basis of empathy,” Wong said. “It’s understanding, empathy. It’s the whole golden rule: Do unto others as how you’d want to be treated. And also how they would want to be treated, recognizing that you need to know yourself in order to tell other people’s stories.”