Journalist Alice Su visits Elon to lecture on Middle Eastern Refugees

by Dalton Cox

From March 12-13 Elon University hosted Jordan-based journalist Alice Su as a guest lecturer. Su is a 23-year-old graduate of Princeton University and Pulitzer Center grantee, who reports on the experiences of asylum seekers in Jordan and Lebanon. Elon’s School of Communications and the Pulitzer Center co-sponsored the event.

Alice Su lectures at Elon University
Alice Su lectures at Elon University, photo by Dalton Cox

Currently, Jordan houses over 620,000 Syrian refugees. Su puts this statistic in perspective, comparing Jordan’s immigration surge to the hypothetical migration of Canada’s entire population into the United States.

Su’s lecture, entitled “Interim Lives: Refugee survival in Jordan and Lebanon,” gave a broad overview of what she has learned as a young journalist working with refugees. The presentation detailed the unyielding challenges and small triumphs met by these alienated people, incorporating humanizing firsthand accounts. One example included the story of a destitute family attempting to celebrate Ramadan for the benefit of their young child.

Su originally relocated to the Middle East after graduating Princeton in 2013 to complete two intensive Arabic language programs. She then began interning in Jordan with a small radio station, translating investigative reports from Arabic to English. Su did not want to teach English, so she began freelance writing to earn an income. Her first story was for The Atlantic Magazine about the Jordan-China fair, an exposition for Chinese commercial products trying to break in to the Middle Eastern market.

“I pushed this because I thought, I’m probably the only person who can write this story because I speak Arabic and Chinese,” Su said. “To my surprise they took the story. Eventually I realized I could sustain myself off my stories, and all of them at first were just cold pitches.”

Su’s persistence paid off. Today she has produced articles for such media sources as The Guardian, Wired and Al Jazeera. Through such extensive professional reporting, however, Su has had to cope with a sense of helplessness that comes with crisis reporting.

“I think I had an inclination to go to the Middle East with a kind of savior complex,” Su said. “I thought, maybe I’ll just write about the problems, and things will get better – or maybe if I write enough stories, then the refugee crisis will stop – or maybe if I write a book, the Syrians will stop fighting. It’s very humbling to see the scale of the conflicts that are going on and to see the scale of suffering, and to feel like I can’t fix it.”

Su has also come to understand what can continue to drive a reporter, despite the despair made evident by firsthand reporting of a crisis.

“If I think about what drives me in reporting and writing, it’s not so much anymore but I’m going to save this region,” Su said. “I just want to understand it. I feel like just doing that is enough.”

Video by Dalton Cox

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