Aliza Simons ’09 was in Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library over spring break exploring its rare books collection when she got the long-awaited email. The Watson Foundation informed Simons that she would receive a grant for her proposed project entitled, “Voices Across the Airwaves: Community Radio Broadcasters Across the World”.
“It’s basically a year of any adventure I choose and $25,000 to do that,” Simons said.
Simons will interview community broadcasters from India, Ecuador, Sierra Leon, Canada, Australia, Argentina, and Italy. In this oral history project, she is going to conduct in-depth interviews with the broadcasters as she tries to discover who each person is, what their goals are, why they serve their communities through radio broadcasting, and how community broadcasting works for specific broadcasters.
“I am so thrilled to meet them, and get to know them, and how they do what they do,” Simons said. “My goal is to not to assess whether or not community radio works as a whole, but [to assess] these individual community broadcasters and how it works for them.”
Through networking and google searches, Simons contacted radio broadcasters from all over the globe. She is particularly excited about her contacts in Ecuador and Melbourne, Australia. The year-long project is pre-planned, but many details are subject to change.
“If things aren’t going well at a station and nobody seems like they want to talk to me, I am going to have to leave,” Simons said. “If I find a station where I find myself tied to the community, then I’ll stay for longer.”
Simons has worked at the University’s home radio station, WESU, since her sophomore year. She began serving as treasurer for the WESU Board of Directors, and she now serves as the Board’s Vice President. Simons was able to start hosting shows her junior year, and it was then that she developed a passion for radio broadcasting and interviewing, Currently, she hosts a show called, “The Feeling of the Idea of Silk Scarves in the Air,” a program described as a mix of experimental and minimalism music, radio dramas, and narrative.
It was through her hosting and her work on the board that Simons learned how much radio broadcasting can affect and benefit a community. Her Watson grant will allow her to explore the effects of community radio broadcasting worldwide.
“I am thrilled to learn how their experiences relate to my own experiences as a community radio broadcaster,” Simons said.
The grant, however, comes with some pre-conditions. Simons must start travelling by August 1st, 2009 and she may not return to the U.S. at any point during her travel. The grant also requires her to travel by herself, and friends and family cannot visit for more than 10 days.
Though she is worried about becoming lonely, Simons expects that her outgoing personality and friendliness will help her through the trip.
“I have like zero amount of shame,” she said. “I am probably going to get lost like a badgillion times and I am going to ask so many people for directions, and make mistakes in every different language.”
Simons is unsure where her interests will take her in the future, but she is confident that the grant will help her decide.
“I look online and I see other Watson fellows, and they go on to do awesome things,” Simons said. “After people get back, they have clear ideas of what direction they want their life to go in.”
Right now, Simons is only focusing on this next year and the possibilities it holds. Thanks to this grant, the destinations, the people she will meet, and the things she will do in this next year are limitless.
“This is an opportunity to create the reality I want to live in.”