Josh Boissevain

I got to know Josh in 2011, after he has recommended an awesome TEDxChisinau speaker. Since then, we’ve worked on some other projects, including Forever Young Project, English at Conversational Level, when Josh has agreed to a challenge: to teach basic English for one week to public officials over 45 years old. Below, I have addressed him some questions. He is a great journalist and has awesome views/opinions about Moldova. He always knows the other side of the story. It is always great to talk to him and see a foreigner’s perspective.

What has inspired you to be a journalist?

I wish I had a good story to tell about why I became a journalist, like that I had always known I wanted to be one.  The truth is that I didn’t realize it until halfway through university, when it was almost too late.  One day, it came to me that what I was good at–and what I liked doing–was to try to understand things then explain them to other people. Growing up, I hated writing, so it’s strange to now be writing for a living.  At first, I studied to be a photojournalist.  I know this isn’t a real profession in Moldova, but in America it is. I wanted to be a photojournalist because I thought I could help the world by being a witness to its events, both good and bad. Then one day, I learned that I could do it better through writing than photography, so I instead learned to be a print journalist.  It was hard at first, because I had to learn how to write well.

How have you found a way to Moldova?

I came to Moldova as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2008.  I was an English teacher at a high school in a small town. The Peace Corps is an American governmental organization that allows its citizens to volunteer overseas. I wanted to see more of the world and really experience a new culture by living in it. When you join, you do not get to pick what country you go to. For example, I assumed I would go to Africa or Asia, not Moldova.  When they told me that I would come here, I didn’t even know where it was. But I am happy that I did not get to pick where to go.  In this way there is an element of fate involved, and so it was somehow my fate to come here to Moldova.  That is obvious now. Usually, a Peace Corps volunteer only works for two years before going back home to their real job.  But for me, I decided to stay and work for a third year.  I finished my service in September of 2011, but I stayed a little bit longer to make a documentary about Moldova.

How have you seen Moldova change through your time here?

I can’t believe how much change I have seen since I came in June 2008. In some ways the country now is not the same one as when I arrived.  For example, there is a radical shift in the mentality of the youth.  They are much more optimistic now.  For example, in 2008, the most common thing I’d hear Moldovan young people say is “there is no future for me here in my country, I want to leave.”  But I rarely hear this anymore.  Now I hear a lot of young people who want to make their life in Moldova, they want to find some way of contributing to their country. I see a lot more young people who get involved. Not only involved in politics, that’s only one way.  But they get involved in their community. They do something good for others without expecting something in return.  Last year’s Hai Moldova campaign was a great example of this.

As a journalist, I have also seen a big change in the media. Today news organizations in Moldova are a lot freer and are producing much more quality reports than before. There are a lot more instances of good investigative journalism and of journalists holding people in power accountable. Partly I think this has come because Moldovans have started demanding this from their media, but also because of the work of some amazing NGOs like Centrul pentru Jurnalism Independent and Școala de Studii Avansate de Jurnalism and the tireless work of good publications like Ziarul de Gardă.  But I think social media has also had a huge influence on improving the quality.  International sites like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter have taken the power of information away from traditional media and government official and given it back to the people. Moldovan sites, particularly and, have given a forum for Moldovans to see the actual news events in their country take place without the filter of the traditional media.

Would you come back?  

Of course I would love to come back someday.  I know that once I leave I will dream about having a barbecue (frigărui, of course) with my friends on the bank of the Prut.  I have so many good friends here, not to mention my host family with whom I lived for two years. I have so many good memories, too.  I think after this period here, I have become partly Moldovan. I would also love to come see in ten years what my former students are up to and how much the country’s changed. I am so optimistic.

But the world is a big place.  It’s my dream to visit every country. So far I have already visited 40, so obviously I have a lot of work to do. I guess I will just have to find a way to come back here in between exploring the world.

Where lies the truth?

I think, for a journalist, “truth” is a dangerous word. It implies an unhealthy amount of hubris on our part in our ability to understand our world and our place in it. I am suspicious of people who claim to know the Truth (with a capital ‘T’). For me, “truth” is something personal; I have mine, and you have yours. Maybe if our truths overlap, then we can share a truth.  But just because it’s right for me doesn’t mean it’s true for others. In this way, I much prefer to work with facts, just as a scientist would.  You have small piece of information that you try to fit together like puzzle pieces, but what you have when you finish is more a working theory than anything else.  Any new information can always completely change the picture. I think a good journalist, just like a good scientist, always has to question what they think they know, just like they question everyone else. No, to me ‘Truth’ is not the province of journalists, but of poets and fiction writers.

There is a quote by one of my favorite authors Sherwood Anderson (also a journalist):

“In the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts.”