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I watched dragon boat races in Hong Kong. Cruised the Pearl River in China. Saw the Berlin Wall and

I watched exotic dragon boat races in the pouring rain in Hong Kong. Walked the eerie grounds of the Wannsee compound in Germany where Hitler and his henchmen concocted their chilling Final Solution; took a private military tour of NATO in Brussels and Radio Free Europe in Prague. I also sang karaoke with international friends at a nightclub in Tokyo; took a nighttime cruise on the Pearl River in Guangzhou, China and sipped Prosecco alongside Angela Merkel at the Bundestag.

I did all this on journalism fellowships to Europe and Asia. And they were fully paid.

The new year is here and it's time to start thinking about what you hope to accomplish as a journalist in 2019. Not just locally, but how will you expand your national and global experiences to make you a better and more informed reporter? There are several incredible journalism fellowships available but you have to know about them to get all they have to offer. I did. And I not only became a better journalist who brought my newfound knowledge back to my local newsroom but I also became a better world citizen.

Here in the United States, the best opportunity are the six fellowships offered annually by the National Press Foundation based in Washington, DC. I was honored to go on two - one for the study of obesity in Aurora, Colorado at the state-of-the-art Anschutz Health and Wellness Center where we ate clean meals and did Zumba and yoga in their gym. The other was for the study of cancer issues at NPF headquarters in Washington, D.C., where we also had meetings at the National Institutes of Health.

The NPF typically selects 20 journalists in a highly competitive entry contest but if you have a solid pitch, there's a good chance you will get chosen no matter the size of your news market or whether you're a print or broadcast journalist. The NPF also accepts freelancers. Some of the topics in 2018 ranged from what's next in artificial intelligence; food and agriculture and opioid reporting. More at their website here:

The most popular international news fellowship is the RIAS-RTNDA Fellowship to Germany. The year I went, 2010, we spent a week in Germany where we stumbled along the intentionally crooked path of the Holocaust Memorial, toured historic sites where Hitler concocted his deadly plan, took in an opera and cabaret at night while drinking amazing steins of German beer during Ocktoberfest. We were also lucky to be there for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and were guests at an incredible reception at the Bundestag with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and free-flowing Prosecco.

Sometimes you can even find love on a fellowship. Former Sacramento journalists Marianne Sharp and Richard Sharp did during their RIAS fellowship.

"The fellowship itself was life changing," said Marianne Sharp, who toured a concentration camp and the Berlin Wall memorial, among other sites. "The seminars and tours gave me a new appreciation and view of the trans-Atlantic relationship, and the importance of international reporting."

Marianne, a former KFBK and Capital Public Radio Bureau Chief, was a reporter in Ohio at the time. She met her husband, former KCRA reporter Richard Sharp, who was then a TV reporter in Texas.

"We connected immediately, and would walk in the early mornings through the streets of Berlin, Brussels, Potsdam and Leipzig getting to know each other," she said.

My year included a side trip to the beautiful, medieval Czech city of Prague to visit Voice of America then on to Brussels, Belgium for a soldier-guided day at NATO and canal ride in ancient Bruge.

The deadline for the Spring RIAS German fellowship is February 1st. Another will be offered in the fall. Learn more here:

My European fellowship came a year after I was honored with the Jefferson Fellowship, a very exclusive one that offers 12 journalists worldwide the opportunity to study the economy of Asia. I was one of only four Americans chosen. The other Fellows came from China, Japan, India, Thailand, Australia, Indonesia and Pakistan. It was such a wonderful experience to spend three weeks with them and learn about their countries and cultures.

The Jefferson Fellowship began in Hawaii at the East-West Center in Honolulu where we began our briefing then on to Tokyo to tour their stock exchange and hear from business leaders. Next was China and Hong Kong where we visited modern work factories and villages where Apple, Nike, Coach and other U.S. businesses have their products made. The deadline for this year is February 7th.

Learn more here:

Former Sacramento Bee reporter Steve Magagnini also experienced the Jefferson Fellowship and the Knight Fellowship offered by Stanford University.

"I studied history that I hadn't studied before," said Magagnini, such as Latin America, immigration and constitutional law. Attorneys he met during his fellowship later became sources for stories he did at The Bee.

"It widened the background in my fields of interest," Steve said. "I took classes that dealt with race and social injustice."

The history I learned in Europe and touring factories where American products are manufactured in Asia gave me a close up perspective of both our national and global business climate that I used back in Sacramento, CA as a journalist and editor guiding reporters on stories. The exposure to different cultures, food, architecture, lifestyles and even transportation (our main transportation around cities we visited were subways and rail systems) widened my perspective of how the world operates outside of the United States. I also cherish the time I spent with my fellow fellows and the experiences we shared. Several remain friends.

These learning experiences are best summed up by the National Press Foundation's motto: Making Good Journalists Better. Start bettering yourself by applying. You'll have lifelong, cherished memories and invaluable experiences. And be a more informed journalist.

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