Post-Soviet Union Student Journalist

The future of journalism may look a little like Mariam Kevlishvili, a 19-year-old foreign exchange student at Our Lady of the Lake University. Mariam speaks three languages, is studying a fourth, writes copy and shoots pictures for the student newspaper, the Lake Front, manages news content for the paper’s Web site and edits video for Lake Front TV.

Less than a decade ago, aspiring journalists studied one track in college. Newspapers. Photojournalism. Radio and television. Not all three. The digital age has rendered old school journalism obsolete. Today’s reporters often carry cameras — even video recorders — with notebooks. But few acquire skills in the four medium areas of print, photography, online news and broadcasting.

Then there’s Mariam, a sophomore who embraces 21st century change and brings a global perspective to The Lake Front. “I’m thinking,” says the native of Georgia, the post-Soviet state, “about becoming an international reporter.”

Her inspiration comes from her grandfather, the first radio disc jockey in Georgia. Before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Illia Kevlishvili delivered the news, offered commentary and played a little rock ‘n roll in the capital city of Tbilisi. There, on the southeastern edge of Europe, Illia introduced listeners to a taste of Western culture and music: Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Mariam grew up hearing about one song in particular: Back in the USSR. Though censored in the Soviet Union, Illia played the Beatles’ hit for Georgians who loved the melody and beat but wondered about the words:

“Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the west behind
And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
That Georgia’s always on my my my my my my my my my mind”

Illia spoke minimal English. But with the help of a translator, he explained the lyrics to his audience with a bit of poetic license. Mariam explains: “He had to translate the lyrics to sound more communist so they (government censors) would allow the song to be played.”

Growing up in Tbilisi, a city of more than one million residents, Mariam considered Illia a role model. She spoke Georgian and Russian, like her grandfather, but started studying English in third grade and began to dream about visiting the United States. In 2008, she got her wish. As a high school junior, Mariam came to San Antonio with the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) and enrolled at John Jay. She took up photography, fell in love with the city, and returned to Tbilisi for her senior year.

To the disappointment of her parents, Mariam returned to San Antonio. Why did she choose OLLU? “I applied to a lot of universities in San Antonio but Our Lady of the Lake was the most welcoming,” she says. “I liked the journalism program and found really nice people who were interested in my story and wanted to help me out.”

She began studying Spanish, joined The Lake Front and blossomed. “Mariam is quickly learning what it takes to be a journalist in today’s world,” says Kay O’Donnell, PhD, program head of Mass Communication and faculty adviser to The Lake Front. “She started at the newspaper as a photographer and soon was writing stories and learning the content management system for updating the online news site. She is an invaluable asset to the news operation on campus.”

One memorable story was a first-person explanation about her native language. Under the headline, “Thoughts of a Trilingual,” Mariam wrote: “Georgian is an ancient language, our alphabet is dated back to the 4th century B.C and it is one of the 14 unique alphabets in the world. … Nobody speaks Georgian but Georgians. And there are only about 5 million Georgians in the world.

“It is impossible to make spelling errors in Georgian, because you write exactly what you hear. We don’t have silent letters or capital letters, we don’t pronounce combination of certain letters differently. Every sound has an equivalent in letters.”

Mariam loves languages. She wants to become fluent in a fourth, Spanish. After she graduates with a degree in Mass Communication, Mariam wants to return to Georgia and travel. See the world. She might become an international reporter. She might become something else.

With her foreign roots, mastery of so many tongues and emerging multimedia skill set, the possibilities are as wide as the distance between San Antonio and Tbilisi.

(Note: This article first appeared in “Light from the Lake” a City Brights blog on MySA.com about the inspirational people of Our Lady of the Lake University.)

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