Freelance journalist Sara Hamdan describes path to a dream job
By Ayesha Balfaqeeh
ABU DHABI—Students in communication classes at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi had the privilege of attending an interview with Sara Hamdan, a freelance journalist and blogger from Dubai. Ms. Hamdan spoke to COM 210 and COM 353 classes on the 8th of November in the du Lab via video.
Going into this interview, I didn’t know what I expected Ms. Hamdan to be like or what I expected her to say to students. However, as the interview progressed I found myself sitting at the edge of my seat waiting to hear what anecdote and advice she was going to give next.
Ms. Hamdan is the publisher of the blog holidaysinheels.com. It is a high-end travel blog. She also is a freelance journalist who writes for The New York Times international edition. She also has been a magazine editor and business writer. In addition to The New York Times, she has written for the Financial Times, Fortune, Stylist Arabia, CNN Travel, Savoir Flair and Rolling Stone.
Her undergraduate degree is in finance from the University of California at Berkeley and her master’s degree is in journalism from Columbia University in New York.
Ms. Hamdan said that she loved her Berkeley years. The journalist did not know what she wanted to major in when she arrived on campus. She took Russian literature, biology, and many other courses. She settled on finance and finished in three years. She said Cal is an amazing university.
“There are parking spots everywhere for Nobel Prize winners on campus,” she said. “One day I would like to say I have one of those parking spots,” she added with a laugh.
Out of Berkeley, she took a job in banking in Dubai.
“I worked at a bank for six years,” she said.
Then she grew a bit restless and started to write for a financial magazine in Dubai. Back to college she went and earned her master’s at Columbia, which has perhaps the most demanding journalism program in the world. She was on the verge of an internship with the Financial Times in London when she met an editor at The New York Times at a launch party in Dubai.
“It was all luck,” she said. “We were at the coat room checking in, and I told him my background and pitched three stories.”
That led to her first story for the Times as a stringer. She said she generally writes “soft” stories about culture.
“Most of the stuff in the news media about the Middle East is politics and religion,” she said. “I wanted to tell the other stories.”
As a journalist, Ms. Hamdan is formidable. Although she mentioned that she wasn’t sure how her career path was going to pan out, you just know that with her passion and drive she’d excel in any career choice. She is thinking about going commercial with her travel blog.
“The ads would have to be similar to the content,” she said.
Although she talked—at length—about her freelancing career, spreading the word about her work on social media and her booming blogging website, what stuck with me most is her encouraging words and eagerness to help students follow their passion in becoming journalists. At the end, she told the students that they could email her anytime if they needed another eye to look at a story or if they needed career advice.
Ms. Hamdan shared that being an Arab women in media is an exciting and enlightening experience you won’t regret.
She is a great role model for all Arab women who want to make a living out of their passion. Ms. Hamdan was not afraid to share the positives and negatives of pursuing her passion, giving us a realistic look into what that path could look like.
“The key is to have a support system around you that believes in you,” said Ms. Hamdan. “Just don’t let anything stop you.” So, what’s stopping you from chasing after your ambitions?
As for her travel blog, she said a hotel she and her husband stayed in on their honeymoon in St. Lucia remains her favorite in the world, but her top travel destination remains Greece.
“I grew up in Greece and was was educated there, and even though I am an Arab-American, I feel Greek,” she said. “Greece will always be home. You can’t do better than the Greek isles for vacation.”