GRAHAMSTOWN, South Africa — “5-4-3-2-1!” As the director counts down on a student- produced broadcast at Rhodes University, I take one last breath and prepare to delve into “anchor mode.” I’m supposed to focus on the red recording light and wait for the words in the teleprompter to start moving, but I’m in total awe of the people around me.
I watch aspiring journalists from around the world transform into a well-oiled machine in a matter of minutes. There are no hurt feelings as camera operators are bossed around and anchors are instructed to stare into glaring studio lights. No diva attitudes when the teleprompter stops working and the crew has to restart the entire show. The theme of this production was clearly teamwork, no drama allowed.
The Captivate Student Media Conference definitely wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars to sit in packed conference rooms listening to guest speakers hawk their latest books, nor was I compelled to wear some color-coded name tag. There was no annoying “ice-breaker” game or forced networking exercise with faces I’d soon forget. No exchange of business cards and fake grins, just genuinely passionate people focused on getting to know each other and learn along the way.
The participants were a diverse range of students from across the globe from a boisterous University of Southern California student nicknamed Shotgun to a shy young woman named Phelo from the South African University of KwaZulu-Natal. The two personalities seemed destined to butt heads, but when I looked past his blond hair and her South African accent I began to see a resemblance.
Like the other students I met, Shotgun and Phelo were able to put any personal differences on the back burner for three days and create a successful product. His experience producing nightly sports podcasts for USC and her news judgment from years at her school paper both added to the team dynamic.
There was no backstabbing or eye clawing during competitive events. When the students had to complete a video in a matter of minutes, a member of the opposing team didn’t hesitate to abandon his work and help me out. Even though everyone at the conference had a million different ideas and views on how to make the project successful, individuals faded into the background as the team became the central focus. After a few days these students felt like family. Everyone was willing to work toward a common goal without feeling compelled to claw their way into the spotlight.
Maybe this South African spirit of unity really does exist, at least for a few days at Rhodes.