Thursday January 11, 2018

This woman will travel to 52 places in 1 year for her New York Times dream job

Jada Yuan landed her dream job at the New York Times — the coveted 52 places corresponded.

Jada Yuan landed her dream job at the New York Times — the coveted 52 places corresponded. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

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Jada Yuan beat out thousands of applicants to land a coveted New York Times gig that will see her travel all over the world within the span of a year. 

The inaugural "52 places correspondent" position will have the New York magazine entertainment reporter visit a new city every week for 52 weeks, documenting her experiences along the way. 

"Her application was chosen from among more than 13,000, a pool representing plumbers, project managers, teachers, basketball players and even State Department officials," the Times wrote in announcing Yuan's success.

"Ultimately it was Ms. Yuan's writerly voice and her keen sense for personal narrative that pushed her to the top."

As It Happens host Carol Off — herself a seasoned traveller — spoke with Yuan about the adventures that await her on the road. Here is part of their conversation. 

Did you think it was possible you'd actually get the job?

It was interesting. I've been working at New York magazine since I graduated college and I'm about to turn 40. And I hadn't really applied for another job in 17 years. I didn't have a resume. And through the process of writing my resume, I started getting more confidence that I might actually be a qualified candidate for it.

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Yuan's first stop will be New Orleans, La. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

What do you think it was about you and your resume that made you stand out from the crowd?

I have a lot of on-the-ground experience. The job description said that they were looking for someone who could parachute into a place and distil its essence pretty much immediately upon arriving. And that's just a lot of what, as an entertainment reporter working in film festivals, I've done. 

I land in Sundance or Cannes or Toronto — go Canada! — and, you know, two of those are foreign countries for us. And I had to figure out the lay of the land. I didn't know how to get around. I didn't understand the subway systems. I didn't know how to speak French when I got to Cannes. ... And I just figured it out.

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Yuan's journeys will see her driving through Chile's Route of Parks, passing 17 national parks and catching glimpses of the country's beautiful Patagonia region. (Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images)

What about you? I mean, I know that you made a video as part of your application describing who you are. You grew up as a Chinese-American in a Hispanic neighbourhood in rural New Mexico. Do you think that was part of it? Just the story of where you came from? That you might have some unique insight, some way of seeing things that others might not?

I do think that all of that makes for an interesting perspective in that I grew up being a minority in a minority community, and that I didn't really have a way to get around until I was 16 and was able to drive. It was pretty confined to a really small area in New Mexico where we didn't have paved roads until I was 12.

I think that maybe they were looking for someone who hadn't had the opportunity to take a trip like this. I've travelled a lot since I left home, but I have been working since I was 22-years-old steadily, you know, with whatever vacation you get and also a journalist's salary. And the idea of taking a trip around the world, for me, was just kind of unfathomable.

Brenda Goran pic of Saskatoon

Saskatoon will be Juan's only Canadian stop along the way. (Brenda Goran/Facebook)

But one of the things about it, and you've said it elsewhere, is you like the idea of being able to describe for readers what it is like for a woman to travel alone.

There's a lot of obstacles that you run into and safety precautions that you have to take. And I think that that's interesting and I don't see it a lot in other travel writing.

It is very different. Sometimes hostile, and sometimes ... doors open for you because you're a woman. So there's lots for you to discover.

Tell me the tip!

The tip is just wide-eyed curiosity. Somehow, it always works. But always keeping eyes at the back of your head at the same time so you know what might be coming up behind you. You're starting with New Orleans, where do you go from there?

From New Orleans to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then to Montgomery, Alabama. Then Disney Springs, Florida. Then I just head into South America. I've thought about the first southern trip [but] South America is just this whole new spectrum that I'm going to have to compute in my head after I figure out just how I pack for this thing.

I'll be hitting Canada also: Saskatoon. Then I'll hit Asia, Europe and Africa. It's going to be amazing. I can't believe the places I'm going to see.

Is there a place that you just can't wait to get to?

I really always wanted to get to Australia and New Zealand and have just never gotten over there. There is a drive in Chile that's going to be along all the parks on the coast. I hear it's a 12-hour drive. I'm really looking forward to that too because I just think it will be beautiful. 

You have many people listening being very, very jealous of you right now, Jada.

Well, I hope they can join me. I want to be as inclusive as possible. I hope that people follow along on Instagram and Twitter and that they send me tips. And we're even thinking about doing some events along the road.

Top End

Southern Rockhole waterfall in New End, Australia. The region is one of the 52 places on Yuan's list. The intrepid reporter says she's always wanted to visit this country. (Tourism Top End/Instagram)

Well, the only advice is a good pair of shoes, never check any bags and watch your back.

Never check any bag?

No, carry-on! 

How am I supposed to pack everything in one carry-on?

There's a lot to figure out about this, but you'll do it. 

 This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Yuan will travel to 52 countries. In fact, she will travel to 52 cities or regions, some within the same country.