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Student Spotlight: Luisa Alvarez

Heels high and smile bright, Luisa Alvarez knows her career is going to take her to new and interesting places, even the other side of the world. Now wrapping up her last year in the Broadcast and Online Journalism program, the Colombia-born student is travelling once again, this time for an internship at Fashion One television in the Philippines. We spent an afternoon in Gastown with Luisa, talking about her amazing experience abroad.

Photos by Maddy Adams

How did you get such an incredible opportunity?
Once you’re in your second year in my program we do industry rotations and I chose to do one of my rotations in the Philippines and work with Fashion One TV which is an international Channel. So I spent 5 weeks working and living there.

Is this something you expected you would get to experience when you started the program?
I’ve always been interested in going abroad, whether it’s studying or just travelling, it’s always been a passion of mine. This opportunity kind of just came up and it was in a unique way. I got the opportunity and I decided to take it because it’s not every day you get offered to go across the world and work with a channel.

What was the most surprising thing about your journey?
I wasn’t used to seeing so much poverty in one place. I stayed in Cebu, and where the studios were was kind of where all the resorts are. I was used to seeing resorts, but then right next to the resorts is so much poverty. There are people living in cardboard boxes and kids don’t have shoes and it was just shocking for me to see so much luxury and so much poverty so close together.

“I think in western culture we’re so used to material things and we tend to put so much value into that.”

Did you experience any culture shock when you got there? Was there anything that was a 180 to Canadian culture?
I was expecting it to be different so I wouldn’t say I was shocked. The people there have so little and they are still very happy with what they’ve got. I think that was the most remarkable thing. I think in western culture we’re so used to material things and we tend to put so much value into that, that we tend to forget that you can be happy without having so much and holding so much importance on “things.” There the kids are outside, they don’t have shoes but their playing and they’re laughing. It’s just so different.

Another thing is that there aren’t a lot of regulations. You’ll have babies on motorcycles with the mom and three people on one motorcycle, and like 5 people in the back of a car, or even people just piling on top of each other just to get on a bus. So that’s not something you would see in Canada, and that was kinda shocking.

You worked with Fashion One TV, was this an ideal job for you? Is fashion your passion?
I’ve always been interested in fashion. It wasn’t necessarily something I was aspiring to be into. When I started Journalism, I’ve always been into the hard news—the politics and the crime—but this opportunity came up and I wanted to explore every outlet that there is in journalism, and entertainment journalism is one of those. Now that I’m in my second year, I kinda wanted to test things out and see where I wanted to direct my attention as I am looking for a job.

What were your expectations when you decided to take on this opportunity?
When I was offered the internship, I was offered it because I was working with Fashion One already from here. One of their producers was producing a fashion finance show and they needed a host so I applied for that job and I sent in a demo and I got hired for that. So I filmed the pilot episode here and then I was referred by that producer to go to the Philippines to work on some shows over there. Going into it I knew I was gonna be hosting some shows and I knew I was gonna be writing, but I didn’t really know what to expect.

When one of the other projects I was there to work on got delayed, I was thrown into doing fashion news. So I was writing the script for that and I was hosting it, but then the producer from that show had to leave so then they were like: “You need to produce it.” I was kind of thrown into being a producer really quickly. So ended up producing one of the episodes and wrote the entire script for a couple of them but I was mainly working on my one show while I was there.



“I was kind of thrown into being a producer really quickly.”

Wow! So you were  producing a whole T.V show for an international channel?
It was a lot of fun, but I’m not really into producing; that’s not something I would want to do again. It’s a lot of stress and I like more aspect of writing or hosting it.

Did you get to travel to other places while you were there?
Yeah, I was actually flown to Singapore to do one of their fashion segments. They do streetstyle and you go and talk to people on the street and you get to kind of see what the style of the city is. I actually was flown to Singapore for a day because my Visa in the Philippines had expired and you can’t stay there if it’s not renewed, so I left for the day and then two days later I was on a flight back to Vancouver because my internship was over.

Was there a language barrier that you faced?
There wasn’t, because Fashion One is an international channel so it’s mainly English-speaking. Most of the employees that work for the channel aren’t Filipino and are just flown in and work on a contract basis. Because the area is quite touristy, a lot of the locals in that area speak English.

Do you feel like you learned something new about your industry while you were there and learning in a new environment?
Yeah, I definitely feel like it opened up my eyes and showed me what there is out there. Fashion One is an international satellite channel so it has a small viewing in lot of countries. It doesn’t have a certain audience. In the studios you’ll have your Korean shows and your Chinese dramas, then you’ll have fashion news and your English reality shows, so it’s very diverse and I thought that was interesting because it’s coming from one studio. That really opened up my eyes to what there s out there and what you can get into because there are so many roles to fulfill.

Do you feel like you learned something new about yourself in your travels?
I feel like I really learned about working for deadlines. When something’s going to air you need to get it done at this time, because you need to get it edited. It’s not the same as when you’re in school and you get that leeway… you don’t have that in industry and you just need to get it done. I feel like most of the learning I did was when I graduated from high school and moved to Madrid for a year and a half. It was there when I realized that I had a passion for Journalism as opposed to where I was heading before which was into studying law.

“They are one of the most hardworking people I think I have ever come across.”

Where the locals friendly and hospitable?
I was extremely impressed with their culture and in my time there. I gained a lot of respect for Filipino people. I haven’t really had a lot of exposure to their culture beforehand, but being in the Philippines I saw how hardworking they are. They are one of the most hardworking people I think I have ever come across. Most people don’t get paid a lot. You’ll see them working hard and doing their best to do a job. Their not doing it half-assed either, which is another thing I think that shocked me, because I feel like people in Western countries and cultures tend to find shortcuts and if no one’s watching them they won’t do their best. It’s admirable that they work so hard and that’s something they are used to.

What was your work schedule like? What did you do in your downtime while you were there?
In the studios we worked Monday to Saturday so we only ever got Sundays off. But at any given day you could be used, you might be needed for this, or you might be needed there, so you’re always kind of on stand-by. I didn’t work every single day, but some days I would work like 18 hours, so it was very fluctuating. On Sundays though, because everyone is an outsider, we usually planned a huge day trip. If I look back, I think every single Sunday we’d leave at 5am and we’d stay out all day and go exploring around because we wanted to take advantage of our only day off.

Did you make friends while you were there?
I made some really great friends. I will definitely stay in touch with them and they are probably going to be some lifelong friends. They are amazing. You really bond with someone when you’re both out of your home and out of your comfort zone. You’re essentially free to be yourself without any expectations, so we definitely bonded over that.

Did you get to do any outdoor activities?
We would go to visit little towns around, but we visited this place called Oslob, which is near Cebu, and we swam with Whale sharks. That was an out-of-body experience. They are absolutely massive and you’re so close to them and they’re so gorgeous and tame. That really was an amazing experience. And one of my friends is a scuba instructor, so she trained me and I am now a certified scuba diver. I think being in the Philippines really opened up my curiosity of the underwater world.

“I’d rather integrate myself with the locals and the culture.”

What was your favourite part about where you were staying?
Although there were resorts around us, our studios were really in the middle of the locals, so I felt like I was really embracing the culture. I don’t like to go to touristy areas, because I’d rather integrate myself with the locals and the culture.

Is this something you want to pursue in the future, working abroad?
Definitely that’s my goal. I do not want to stay in Vancouver. One of the main reasons is, [working abroad] takes you to other parts of the world. I’m not quite sure exactly where yet ,and I feel a bit torn in between hard news and entertainment news. I want to try and dip my feet in the different aspects and decide later.

Where do you see yourself ideally in the future in regards to your career?
I would love to make documentaries, because one of my passions is people and exploring their stories, and I think that there are a lot of stories out there that haven’t been told and should be told and cultures that haven’t been shared and I would love to be that person that can integrate and immerse myself into those cultures and just help tell their stories.

Would you recommend going abroad to study or to work?
I would recommend going abroad for any reason. If anyone offers you any kind of position, or any kind of opportunity outside of your hometown, I highly suggest you go ahead and take it. Because even if you don’t like it, you tried it.