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MCLA journalism alumna at work in Abu Dhabi

10/29/14

Jennifer Thomas ’07 took her double majors in English/communications and philosophy from MCLA to Abu Dhabi, where she’s the home page editor for The National, a government-owned, English-language, online newspaper. There, she’s responsible for content viewed by millions.

Jen ThomasImmediately after graduation, Thomas took her experience – which included serving as editor-in-chief of MCLA’s student-run newspaper, The Beacon – to secure a position at iBerkshires.com, where she worked for nearly two years before going on to earn a master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill.

As a graduate student, she got her first taste of reporting from the Middle East during an Associated Press internship in Jerusalem. Soon after, while working for a group of weekly community newspapers in Boston, she learned a former Medill professor had moved to Abu Dhabi to work for The National.

“I’d always longed to live abroad, maybe work as a foreign correspondent, and so I pestered the editors for six months until they agreed to give me a job,” Thomas explained. “I worked as the municipality and development reporter, then the special projects reporter before moving to the news desk as a senior news editor in 2012. In June, I moved over to the digital side, and now run our homepage and social media accounts.”

At home in Dubai, Thomas said the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is unlike any other place in the world.

“This is a country that is not even 45 years old. It’s come up so fast that it is still figuring out its identity and it’s hard to reconcile the posh, supercar and skyscraper element with the traditional bedouin and strict adherence to Islam element,” she explained.

“There’s so much money here and so much privilege that you sometimes forget what the real world is like. It’s really important to try and maintain a grip on your American lifestyle so you don’t end up in debt.”

In addition to all-day brunches, skiing on an indoor slope, a camel ride and “dune-bashing,” Thomas visited “the world’s most beautiful mosque in Abu Dhabi and made friends with people from all over the world, across religions and cultures.

Jen Thomas“I’ve stood on the observation deck of the tallest building in the world and camped out in the middle of the desert,” she said.

Thomas also discovered her passion – Ultimate Frisbee. Next year, she’ll represent the UAE at the World Championships in Dubai, where she’ll help run the tournament and do all the media and communications for the local Ultimate community.

While Thomas doesn’t need to cover her hair or wear the long, black robes (abayas) that local women use, “It’s definitely a place that takes some getting used to.”

“The culture is more conservative and more religious, and you have to recognize that you are an outsider here. You may not agree with the local way of life, but you have to respect it because you are a guest,” she explained.

Thomas loves her job.

“I'm learning new things all the time and I get to really be an expert in our newsroom, where a print attitude still tends to dominate. I edit, write, think about the best presentation, work with reporters and editors from all the sections and interact with our readers on social media, and there is rarely a boring moment,” she said.

“There are cultural sensitivities I have to constantly be aware of. There is no freedom of speech or freedom of the press here, so every journalist is at risk of prosecution if anything ever goes wrong.”

Thomas said she left MCLA with a solid foundation in “all things journalism” before even setting foot in a newsroom.

“I wouldn’t have been able to get a job right out of school if it weren’t for the skills I learned as an undergraduate.”