Jonathan Shadel graduated from his Masters in International Relations in 2013 from the University of Exeter. He was interviewed by Julia Paci, Employability and Outreach Manager in the College of Social Sciences and International Relations about his career and his choice to study abroad at Exeter.
Jonathan, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a lifestyle writer and editor in Portland, Oregon, and am the co-founder of a lifestyle magazine called Limbo, which I describe as a “guide for those who wander.” For my day job, I currently work as the travel and tourism editor at MEDIAmerica, a niche publishing company where I oversee feature content and edit a half-dozen print travel guides on the Pacific Northwest. I also contribute on a freelance basis for a number of magazines and periodicals. When not writing or editing, I am often booking my next flight to a foreign destination, geeking out about coffee or planning a weekend hike somewhere in Oregon — gosh this is a gorgeous state!
What made you come to the UK for postgraduate study?
During my undergraduate studies, I spent a semester in Ireland. I spent months backpacking through Europe and North Africa, but I absolutely fell in love with the UK. I knew I had to come back. When I was researching grad school, I started looking at different British universities and what degrees were on offer. I was really impressed with the independent nature of the university system as well as the opportunities to experience a more global perspective on the media, politics and culture.
What do you think are the benefits of getting a British degree if you are an international student?
It’s funny you ask this question. After completing my MA in International Relations from Exeter, I spent an academic year advising American and Canadian students on behalf of British universities. Students asked me this exact question all the time.
I’ll say that an international degree isn’t right for everyone or every discipline, but the benefits can’t be ignored. Firstly, there’s really no better way to prepare yourself for leadership than through international travel — it forces you to be flexible and immerse yourself in a foreign culture, experience different perspectives and make decisions when out of your comfort zone. These are all qualities of a successful leader. Secondly, there’s no better way to learn about yourself and the world than through international education experiences. How can you be well versed on any subject unless you’ve extensively traveled? Thirdly, employers now recognize that they need employees that understand the international implications of conducting business in a global economy. Employees that are sensitive to different cultures, different perspectives and different ways of communicating have a strong edge in the job marketplace.
What do you write about, and what inspires you to write?
Over the last five years, I’ve had the pleasure of writing about a broad variety of topics ranging from technology startups to interior design, but my passion lies in culture writing. Most of my work focuses on issues of culture and identity, travel, design, maker culture and the people behind coffee. Recently, I’ve been exploring ways in which technology is transforming and influencing previously unrelated industries. I have an academic background for narrative nonfiction, so I am also constantly working on personal essays to pitch magazines.
What are your tips for breaking into the media?
This is a highly competitive field, and you have to really be passionate about the work to make it anywhere — the hours are long and the pay is often quite a bit lower than other industries. However, passion and talent isn’t enough. You have to hustle, and keep putting yourself out there.
If you want to pursue work as a writer or editor, you first need to build a portfolio of writing and raise the profile of your byline. How do you do this? Start by pitching regional and niche magazines. Approach editors with a concise and well-researched pitch that’s relevant to their publication. As you begin getting published, start aiming for more national titles. While a good idea can occasionally trump a full portfolio, it’s hard to deny the fact that there is a ladder, and you need to build your folder of clippings before you can get pickier with your assignments.
Also, don’t ignore the really exciting opportunities that exist in content marketing for copywriters and content strategists. Some of my most rewarding content projects have come through freelance work with business and nonprofits. This writing can be in the same areas I mentioned above — for example, I’ve worked with a number of companies in coffee, travel and so on for web copy, social media and blogs. It can be just as rewarding, and the pay is often more consistent for freelancers.
What advice would you give other students who have a passion they would like to pursue?
If you’re in any creative field, really focus on honing your craft. I think you always have to have a level of dissatisfaction with your work. It’s exciting how much there is to learn. I’m always challenging myself to be better, to take on more ambitious projects and to try something new. Yes, networking is a really important skill. This is a field where you often get jobs based on connections. But you often can’t get those connections without being really good at what you do. There’s no shortcut. You have to put in the hours. It’s hard work, but the satisfaction makes it all worthwhile.
And finally, what were your favourite quirky things about the UK?
I have to say that my favorite thing about the UK would be the traditional pubs as well as the cask ale scene. Some of my favorite memories of Exeter are hopping between pubs with friends as we debated international politics after spending hours working on essays in the library