This Pinay Shares What It Takes To Become A Journalist In New York

Meet Jasmine Ting.
PHOTO: Instagram/justinepting

You know when you stumble upon someone’s Insta and then find yourself 42-weeks-deep in their feed, and you realize you are career crushing so hard? That’s exactly what happened when we found 23-year-old Jasmine Ting’s profile.

Her story started when she moved from the province of Tuguegarao to attend Ateneo De Manila University, and then she kicked it up a notch and went for a Master’s Degree at New York University (NYU). In the past three years, she’s lived in New York City, and right now, she’s the Weekend Editor at PAPER magazine and the Movies Writer for Bustle. On top of that, Jasmine has written for publications like Vanity Fair, Teen Vogue, Grub Street. Oh, and Cosmopolitan US.

In short, our Pinay pride senses were tingling, and we had to schedule an interview with her ASAP.  

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Down below, Jasmine talks visas, privilege, and how there was no magic (or magic passport, even) involved in the making of her success. For those of us in pursuit of a similar dream, here’s how to do it.

What was your life like before moving to New York?

I had just graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a major in AB English Literature. I actually wasn’t expecting to do [move to New York]. I had a part-time editorial assistant job at a local food blog. I could continue working there or work in PR, HR, or something in the Philippine corporate world because I knew that would’ve been a natural next step. But I really didn’t know. I decided that I needed more knowledge and experience because I had never formally studied journalism. I wanted a safe place to experiment and find out what I really wanted to do. That next step turned out to be grad school.

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So, why New York?

I visited New York for the first time through Ateneo. In college, there was an opportunity to study abroad while still paying the Ateneo tuition. It’s called the Junior Term Abroad (JTA)During JTA, I went to Fordham University. That was my first exposure to New York, and I learned immediately that writing as a career was definitely a possibility here. All the major magazines and publishing companies are based here. 

Can you describe the grad school application process for American universities?

First, look into the requirements and what you need to do before applying. You’ll need to take English language exams and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). I just did my research. That’s the very first step you have to do. Research what courses are offered and what scholarships are available. You have to know yourself and what you like, too. I saw NYU and thought, this is where I wanna go. They had a program that was so specific to what I wanted to learn. The name of my course was Masters in Journalism with a concentration in magazine writing. I was like, What? This exists?!

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It’s relatively easy to get a visa if you already have an offer from the school you applied to. The student visa, called the F-1, is not too hard to get—especially if you got into a reputable school. When you go in for the visa interview, people immediately recognize the name of your school. 

What are the requirements for a student visa?

Definitely have your school offer letter, of course. You’ll also need bank statements from your parents or from whoever is financing your tuition. Or, you’ll need proof of your loan or scholarship if you pursued those avenues. You need proof of everything. Bring as much as you can to prove that you can sustain yourself while living abroad. As for bank statements, they need to know how much you’re making to see if it’s enough to live in the U.S. My parents own a grain business in my province of Tuguegarao, and my dad had a brief stint in politics, so they were able to scrape up the required amount for tuition.

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Lastly, don’t forget your passport. Other than that, I don’t think I had anything else in my little folder when I marched my way up to the embassy.

How were you able to fund your NYU tuition?

I first looked into scholarships. But for journalism, they’re few and far between. I was lucky to have parents who were super supportive, and I also took a job on campus, which helped with some of the expenses. My parents didn’t have to give me an allowance. I also opted for paying the tuition in installments because it is expensive. I tried to do everything to ease the burden on my parents. I worked for the dorm I was living in.

To give you an idea, a semester at NYU, depending on how many classes you’re taking, is anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 (P1,041,000 to P1,561,500). There are three semesters, so it was more or less $60,000 (P3,123,000) for the whole program.

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How much were you paid for your student job at the NYU dorms?

It was pretty good. It was more than minimum wage at the time. I got $16 (P833)/hour. I’d try to get as many shifts as I could. I could work 20 hours maximum per week. I ended up making more on holidays when they needed more slots filled out. During a regular week, I averaged five to six hours a week. The income I had from my dorm job was the money I used to cover my expenses beyond the essentials.

Now that you’ve graduated, how much are you earning as a freelancer?

It fluctuates and depends on what extra gigs I’m doing in each month. I can make anywhere from $2,500 to $3,900 (P130,125 to P202,995) a month. It’s a big fluctuation. The $2,500 is my baseline income for a month in which I’m not doing anything in addition to my PAPER and Bustle jobs. I usually have something else going on during the month in addition to my regular jobs. I try to do something else because every penny helps. It helps me live a more comfortable life. Be human and socialize with friends, basically. It helps that my rent is relatively low compared to other New York apartments.

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How much does that come out to, yearly?

On a good year, I can make $50,000 (P2,602,500), but that’s if I have huge gigs throughout the year. On an average year—if I didn’t do anything extra—it’s between $30,000 to $35,000 (P1,561,500 to P1,821,750). That’s an entry level salary for an editorial assistant position in New York.

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How much is your current rent and other living expenses?

So right now, I rent a room in a four-bedroom apartment that’s rent stabilized, which is very rare these days. I pay $632 (around P33,000) a month for rent alone. Bills are anywhere from $50 to $70 (P2,603 to P3,644). Each month, I pay $700 (P36,435).

After your student visa expired, what was the process like for the visa you have now?

That’s a little trickier. Once you complete your course, all international students are given the opportunity to do a year of optional practical training (OPT), which is basically a year of work. Halfway through my OPT, I realized that I needed to find another visa. My friend told me about the O-1 visa, which is also called the Extraordinary Talent Visa. It sounds ridiculous, but you need a substantial body of work before you apply for it. That, and a good lawyer.

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I was balancing a full-time job and a part-time job, seven days a week for over 40 hours. 

For the O-1, you need to first get an agent or a sponsor. Your agent can be someone who works in the industry and is willing to vouch for you. Your agent is the person filing the petition for you. They’re the ones who deal with the people you work for in the U.S. I was lucky to have met my sponsor, who also turned out to be my roommate! She’s an American citizen.

After getting a sponsor, I paid for the lawyer fees with my savings. To save up for the entire O-1 process, I was balancing a full-time job and a part-time job, seven days a week for over 40 hours. During this time, I had a fellowship at Cosmo US during the week and then my job at PAPER on the weekends. I had no weekend.

How much did you end up spending at the end of the O-1 visa process?

My lawyer was Filipina, and she was referred to me by one of my roommates at the time. My lawyer was so gracious and kind and gave me a reasonable price. She knew I was paying this all by myself without my parents’ because it was something that I wanted to do. She let me pay $5,000 (P260,250) in lawyer fees. She also let me pay in increments because I totally did not have $5,000 just lying around. I also paid for the expediting fee, which was really expensive at $1,040 (P54,132). Your agent also has to put down $400 (P20,820) on your behalf. The grand total was a little under $7,000 (P364,350).

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What was it like waiting to see if you got approved for the O-1? And how were you to work while waiting?

I was on my OPT year while waiting, so I could take temporary work. I had a fellowship at Comso US in the last six months of my OPT year, so that worked out. I was contemplating going home after my Cosmo fellowship. I thought, “Okay, that’s good enough for me!” Even before Cosmo, I was able to freelance for Vanity Fair, Teen Vogue, so there was still a part of me that felt that writing is a viable career here—I can actually be a writer based in New York. I never thought it was possible before, but it was. So I applied for the O-1 with lots of anxiety.

There was a point when I was unemployed and sitting in my room when I began questioning what I was doing and began opening up the possibility of going home.

There was a point when I was unemployed and sitting in my room when I began questioning what I was doing and began opening up the possibility of going home. I was accepting that I could cut my losses and chalk it all up to experience. I moped around for three months when I got a job offer from Bustle. That was the last thing they needed to say yes and to prove that I did have something to do in the U.S. And because of that, I heard back, and my O-1 was approved for three years.

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Amazing, it sounds like finding your own niche and networking through that really worked out for you!

Definitely! It’s all in community. A big reason why I stayed this long is the community I made for myself. I just happened to meet three journalists living in this rent controlled apartment, which is impossible to find in the first place. They were all doing the same thing as me. We were all on the same boat and going through the same stuff. Since they had been living here way longer than I had, they had the resources to share with me. So yeah, you need people.

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After everything, what has been the biggest challenge of moving and living in New York?

You have to work twice as hard as your white male counterparts. Sometimes, even ten times more because you’re not making as much money. You’re from another country, first of all. Nobody wants to hire you at first because they think you don’t have the paperwork. The biggest struggle is getting your foot in the door in the first place. Opportunity is scarce—especially in this industry. You really, really, really have to be persistent and know what you want. Say that you want it, and do everything in your power to get it. You’ll apply to 100 jobs before you get something. Once your foot is in the door, it helps to meet people and talk to them and tell them what you’re interested in doing and what you’re currently working on.

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You have to work twice as hard as your white male counterparts. Sometimes, even ten times more because you’re not making as much money. 

The other part of what’s so difficult about being here is being far away from home. New York may seem glamorous, but it’s also a very cold and very lonely city. If you don’t build a community for yourself consciously, then you wouldn’t know where to go. Back when I was studying, I used to feel so lonely on Sundays because I grew up spending time with my family on that day. My mom, cousins, siblings and I would just watch television and do nothing. Here, I didn’t have a Sunday person in the beginning.

It took some time, but I eventually did meet these girls who were like me, started living with them, and eventually, they became my Sunday family in New York.

How did you overcome the competition?

I had this professor who was very straightforward. He said that nobody is going to do it for you. No one is going to hand you a job. You have to email people you don’t know and be confident enough to say: I have this great idea. I know how to package it into a story, and I’m the only person who can do it for you. You have to not be ashamed. I had to learn to be obnoxious. You have to be makulit. You have no choice.

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What is that one moment that made you feel the proudest?

I have two. The first wow moment was Vanity Fair. I just sent my pitch. I was nervous because it was a big name, and I was a nobody. My professor had former students come visit our class at NYU. Some of his students worked at Vanity Fair, so I took a chance and pitched to them. I pitched a story on the fashion in Crazy Rich Asians way before the movie premiered. I was referred to the style editor at Vanity Fair, and she took it. When it went up, I was like whoa. This is possible. Second was buying my mom an Apple watch with my own money. That was special.

What is your advice for anyone interested in a similar path?

Hard work goes a long way. If you really are persistent about wanting to pursue this career, you have to look at all the opportunities available to you. Do your research. Know what you’re aiming for. Want it, badly. If you don’t want it as bad, there are a hundred other more privileged people who want the same thing and can easily get it in a snap of a finger. There’s nepotism everywhere. There’s office politics everywhere. You can’t avoid that. If you don’t want it bad enough, you’re not gonna get it.

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Because I didn’t have connections, I became aware that I had to be the best at my first magazine internship in Manila.

I learned this lesson when I moved from Manila from Tuguegarao. I grew up in the province, so I wasn’t in any of the Manila social circles. Because I didn’t have connections, I became aware that I had to be the best at my first magazine internship in Manila. I had to pay attention to my boss. I had to do everything she said. I had to do a little more.  Be a little extra. I even remembering sourcing sausages from Tuguegarao for a food feature in the mag, writing about things I didn’t know, like food processors, and going on food runs for photoshoots. My attitude was always like: Hell yeah, I’ll do it! I became the person people wanted to work with. My stint at my first internship led to the next, and my first boss even put in a good word for me when I interviewed for my second internship. The hard work pays off. Being kind pays off. Remember that you’re starting from the bottom. It doesn’t do you any good to be mayabang.

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Why do you think making the leap is worth it?

Because what else would you do in life? For some people, it is more sustainable to play it safe and I understand that some can’t afford to take risks.

A friend once told me that privilege is not transferable, so why not make the most of it and use it for good? Because I moved here, I learned to love where I came from. Being here made me acknowledge my privilege  and made me realize that I had to do something about it. There was something I could give back. I’m not a math major. I am not a scientist. I don’t have those kinds of skills. I only have language. That’s the only thing I command. The only way I can give back is by learning more. I needed to be here to change my mindset and love my country more.

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What’s next for you?

I’m working on trying to stay here a bit longer. I want to earn more experience, all in all. Ride the tide, wherever life takes me. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but long term, I definitely want to end up back home. That’s where I’m at. I’m still figuring stuff out, like how I can combine being a journalist with doing more meaningful work.

I want to do all that, and grow.

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