Grady alumnus finds dream overseas in West Africa

The Southerner

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BY DIANA POWERS

One day. The day he left New York and stepped foot in West Africa. That’s all the time that was needed for Drew Hinshaw to decide the life he wanted to live.

“I finally knew exactly where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do,” Hinshaw said. “It wasn’t what I expected, but I just decided to make this dream my reality.”

Following graduation from Grady in 2003, Hinshaw attended New York University and in 2006 visited Ghana. After spending one day in Ghana, he knew right away he wanted to come back for good. After “a lot of fails and a few big breaks,” he is now the West African correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

Hinshaw has two types of typical workdays: hectically running around West Africa with a notepad and camera while meeting as many people as possible, catching rides to various locations, trying to understand what’s happening and why it’s important; or, he is sitting at his desk compiling notes and trying to explain why people in the United States should care about the story he’s writing. He typically spends more than two weeks working on big stories. Once he’s finished, he makes plans for his next trip.

Hinshaw never imagined himself doing the job that he loves so much today. He originally went to NYU to study music production.

“I spent most of high school making rap beats,” Hinshaw said. “And so that’s what I wanted to go to college for.”

Hinshaw participated in marching band throughout high school and joined The Southerner staff as a junior. He feels his involvement at Grady gave him a good background for his studies in college.

“Grady put a lot of effort into Black History month, which I appreciate now because I feel that my education [at Grady] pushed me to think about Africa in terms other than poverty and war,” Hinshaw said. “Without Grady, I don’t think I would have ever thought to go to Ghana.”

Once at NYU, Hinshaw realized that he enjoyed writing, and then everything came together when he studied abroad in Ghana for his junior year.

“It’s an incredibly exciting place,” Hinshaw said. “Everything here feels special. You can feel society changing very fast.”

During his time in Ghana, he took classes and traveled all over Africa. He decided that he wanted to become a foreign correspondent.

In 2008, he won a Fullbright and used this money to travel all over Africa and practice journalism.

“I didn’t have to do anything special to get the scholarship,” Hinshaw said. “You just get one page to say who you are and what you want to do that is deserving of the money, and I put a lot of energy into that one page.”

Once he returned to Ghana, Hinshaw began to pitch story ideas to U.S. publications.

“I asked newspapers that I knew were above my reach if I could write something for them,” he said. “I basically called them over and over again until they gave me a definite yes or no. Eventually, the no’s became yes’s and I got more opportunities.” Hinshaw’s “huge break” was when Obama came to Ghana in June 2009 to make a speech about historical ties between Africa and America. Newspapers from across the United States quickly called him to see if he could cover the story.

“Suddenly the newspapers were calling me instead of the other way around,” Hinshaw said.

He then wrote for various American publications, such as The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic and Rolling Stone. Eventually he became the foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

Hinshaw considers life after high school to be a sort of lottery game.

“You go to school to get a degree, pick up small jobs, then decide what you want and just take chances until eventually it works,” Hinshaw said. “Eventually, I started working under different assumptions—to just go do what I want, live the life I want to live. If you have a dream, you should just start it.”

 

 

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