Jefferson Fellowships


The Jefferson Fellowships offer print and broadcast journalists from the United States, Asia and the Pacific Islands the unique opportunity to gain on-the-ground perspectives and build international networks to enhance their reporting through an intensive one-week education and dialogue seminar at the East-West Center in Honolulu followed by a two week reporting tour in the Asia Pacific-U.S. region.

Program Background

The Jefferson Fellowships is the East-West Center’s most widely-recognized and established seminar program, with an illustrious alumni network of more than 700 Jefferson Fellows across the Asia Pacific region and the United States. The broad goal of the program is to enhance public understanding through the news media of cultures, issues and trends in the Asia Pacific region. Participation in the Jefferson Fellowships provides journalists with an opportunity to report from cities across the Asia Pacific on key issues and developments taking place, sharing with audiences first-hand perspectives and new insights. The program provides a unique combination of study-dialogue at the East-West Center with a reporting trip taken with colleagues from countries across the region. This provides journalists with enhanced knowledge of the most important regional issues, reporting imbued with perspectives from journalists from 10 different countries, valuable professional contacts, and life-long friendships with their colleagues in the program. They also gain access to the EWC’s international network of more than 1,000 media professionals and 50,000 alumni. The program is made possible through a generous grant from The Freeman Foundation of Stowe Vermont and supplemented by contributions from news organizations, US Embassies in Asia Pacific, other foundations and the East-West Center.

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2018 Jefferson Fellowships

Theme:  Populism, Identity, and the State of Democracy in Southeast Asia

Dates:  June 18 – July 10, 2018

Destinations:  Honolulu, HI; Singapore; Manila, Philippines; Kuala Lumpur/Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

After nearly three decades of progress, democratic norms and institutions in Southeast Asia are being weakened by ineffective governance, endemic corruption, technological change, growing inequality, and political leaders seeking to consolidate their power and marginalize opposition. Decentralization as well as appeals to issues of race and religion have also sharpened rather than blurred ethnic, religious, and geographic identities and undermined democratic pluralism within Southeast Asian countries. Increasingly there is a sense that governments and the elite have failed to address public concerns and that democratic institutions and processes are not functioning properly or in the interest of the people from whom power is derived. Regional factors have also been important. ASEAN’s commitment to human rights has lacked substance and China’s growing political, economic and social influence in the region has worked against democratization. A three-week dialogue, study, and travel program to Honolulu, HI; Singapore; Manila, Philippines; and Kuala Lumpur/Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, will enable participating journalists in the 2018 Jefferson Fellowships program to better understand how domestic, regional, and global forces are influencing democratic progress in Southeast Asia and producing a new generation of populist leaders and movements as well as identity-based conflict.

The 2018 Jefferson Fellowships program began at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii with U.S.-based experts regarding the spread of populism in the United States and the Asia Pacific region. Journalists also shared perspectives from their own countries on populism and identity politics through topic papers and presentations. Travel to Manila explored the rise of Rodrigo Duterte, including his populist economic policies, criticism of the Philippine-U.S. relationship and the Catholic Church, and extrajudicial drug war. Journalists explored how the President portrays himself as an authentic voice of the masses and how his language of crisis has delineated a criminal “other.” Travel to Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu similarly examined Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration, the nexus between ethnic and religious identity in Malaysia, and its impact on representative and electoral politics ahead of the competitive 2018 election. Meetings with government officials, academics, students, media colleagues, civil society leaders, ethnic and religious representatives in the Philippines and Malaysia contextualized and compared populist mobilization and identity politics across Southeast Asian nations; offered journalists an opportunity to explore whether the experiences of the Philippines and Malaysia are part of a larger trend towards the weakening of democratic norms and institutions; provided first-hand exposure to a more nuanced understanding of the countries visited; and built the professional networks of participating journalists.

The 2018 program also included participation in the East-West Center’s 6th International Media Conference in Singapore where journalists gathered to discuss “What is News Now,” and shared on-the-ground information on news and media issues in the region. The Conference included distinguished keynote speakers and panels of working journalists, a wide range of practical skill-building workshops, and unique opportunities to network with hundreds of international media professionals. Finally, efforts by political leaders to undermine media’s legitimacy were explored throughout the program.

Congratulations to the 2018 Jefferson Fellows:

  • Ms. Simrit Kaur AMAR SINGH, Assistant Editor, Star Media Group Berhad, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Mr. Chad BLAIR, Politics and Opinion Editor, Civil Beat, Honolulu, HI, USA
  • Ms. Katie A. BRADFORD, Political Reporter, Television New Zealand, Auckland, New Zealand
  • Ms. Sunetra CHOUDHURY, Political Editor, New Delhi Television, New Delhi, India     
  • Mr. John H. DIAZ, Ediotrial Page Editor, The San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, CA, USA
  • Mr. Titthara MAY, News Editor, Khmer Times, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  • Mr. Kumaran M. PILLAI, Editor-in-Chief, The Independent, Singapore
  • Ms. Emily R. SCHULTHEIS, Freelancer, The Atlantic and Foreign Policy, Berlin, Germany/USA
  • Ms. Ashley WESTERMAN, Associate Producer, Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Washington, DC
  • Ms. Tsoi Lai Catherine WONG, Reporter, South China Morning Post, Beijing, China
  • Mr. Karl Lester Malcampo YAP, Editor, Asia Economy, Bloomberg News, Manila, Philippines                                    

Professional Exchange:  One essential element of this professional experience is the journalist-to-journalist exchange. Central to this is a presentation that each Fellow will give to his or her fellow participants. Each Fellow is required to prepare and submit two weeks before arriving at the Center a short paper (1,000–1,500 words). The paper should address a significant issue in the participant’s country that is relevant to the theme of the program and discuss how the country – at the government, private sector and/or socio-cultural level – is responding to the issue. The Jefferson Fellowships coordinator will work with invited Fellows to develop a series of presentations relevant to the theme. Each Fellow also will make an oral presentation (approximately 15 minutes) based on the previously submitted paper and participate in discussion of his or her topic.

The purpose of the presentations is to tap the education and experience of participating journalists in ways that will be professionally useful to fellow participants as they study, assess, and report in their media on the themes of the program and the Asia Pacific region.

Funding:  The Jefferson Fellowships are funded by the Freeman Foundation and the East-West Center. These funds provide for 10-12 full or partial scholarships, including approximately 4-5 for qualified American journalists and 7-8 for Asia Pacific journalists. A full scholarship for the Jefferson Fellowships is valued at approximately $8500 and includes:

  • Roundtrip airfare to and from participant’s home country and throughout the study tour
  • Lodging in each of the cities
  • Program meals and a modest per diem to cover meals not provided
  • Ground transportation and airport transfers
  • Cultural activities and networking opportunities
  • Interpretation as needed
  • Pro-rated speaker honorariums, cooperating organization costs, and meeting rooms
  • Participant Resource Binder and pre-arrival background readings 
  • Thumb drive of fellowship documents, speaker PowerPoint presentations and photos
  • Experienced escorts and professionally organized program of meetings and visits, often with unique access to speakers and communities.

All participants must pay an $800 program fee to cover costs not provided by the scholarship funds. Participants are also responsible for all applicable visa fees, any additional visa-related expenses, health insurance, and baggage fees. Given that there are very few full scholarships available, we strongly encourage media organizations to cost share program expenses and/or airfare. Cost sharing is seen as an indication of the commitment of media organizations to the value of the program and their willingness to invest in the participating journalist. It is an important consideration of the Selection Committee. The “Employer’s Statement of Support” indicating cost sharing is required for all applicants. Journalists also are welcome to offer cost sharing on their own or identify other sponsors to cost share participation, such as local foundations. Please complete a second copy of the Employer Statement of Support form and indicate who is providing the cost sharing.

Eligibility:  The Jefferson Fellowships are open to working print, broadcast, and online journalists in the United States, the Pacific Islands, and Asia. A minimum five years of professional experience is preferred. Applicants must have the ability to communicate in English in a professional, multi-cultural environment. Preference will be given to journalists who clearly articulate the relevance of the theme to their areas of coverage and how they intend to use the knowledge gained to enhance the perspectives of viewers, readers, and listeners. Journalists are strongly encourage to generate media content during and after the program in the form of formal print and broadcast stories, blogs, tweets, Instagram and other social media communications.

2017 Jefferson Fellowships

Theme: Trade, Security and Strategic Relationships in Asia Pacific and the Future of the US Role

Destination: Honolulu, Hawaii; Tokyo, Japan; Beijing & Shenzhen, China; Manila, Philippines

Dates: May 6-May 28, 2017

The 2017 Jefferson Fellowships Program took place May 6-28, 2017. Fourteen journalists from Asia, the Pacific, and the U.S.—including the first Fellow from Laos—spent one week in Honolulu followed by study tour travel to Tokyo, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Manila. The 2017 program theme was Trade, Security and Strategic Relationship in Asia Pacific and the Future of the U.S. Role. With a new Presidential Administration in the United States, journalists explored the stakes in the Asia Pacific region in terms of trade, security, and partnerships and the potential impact of new U.S. policies, approaches and actions. Participants explored the way that the dynamics of the region are changing, especially with the rise of China, and the future of the US role in this context. The theme felt very timely as key regional developments were happening in real time throughout the program: serious escalations with North Korea and Japan’s first-ever civilian emergency drills related to the NK threat, meetings on the future of the TPP among Asia and Pacific signatories at the APEC trade ministers meeting in Hanoi, the Belt and Road Summit in Beijing, and martial law being declared in the Philippines as the group’s plane arrived in country.

Right: Journalists share perspectives with one another and with experts in dynamic discussion sessions. Left: A tour of the missile destroyer the USS John Paul Jones provides first hand insights into US military presence and readiness.

Because of this, the journalists found much to report on during the travel. Journalists tweeted experiences to audiences back home throughout the program; others posted on Facebook, and still others filed stories and videos or beamed into their stations for interviews, all with first-hand perspectives and on-the-ground sources.[1] They were able to do this by engaging with 29 experts, 52 policymakers, business and community leaders, students, journalists, workers, and others during the course of the program, and making 22 site visits to see factories, nursing homes, drug rehabilitation centers, fish markets, innovation centers, companies, cultural sites, free trade zones and other places that illuminated and brought life to what they were learning. They had high-level access to policymakers such former defense minister Gen Nakatani and special advisor to the Prime Minister’s Cabinet, Tomohiko Taniguchi, in Japan; and Sr. Col. Yang Yujun, Spokesman, Ministry of National Defense and Wang Xining, Deputy Director-General, Information Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China. But a key element of the program is to provide multiple and unique perspectives on the issues. For example, in the Philippines, journalists learned about the drug war not only from officials in the Duterte administration, but from the independent Human Rights Commission, from the families of victims, from doctors and patients dealing with drug addiction, and a priest who embeds with the police to document their actions. The cross-cultural perspectives also are valuable. The Fellows now see issues from the view of four countries through their meetings and visits—in this case the U.S., China, Japan and the Philippines—but they also see every issue through the lens of the journalists in the program, representing 11 different countries. The Americans even learned from one another, sharing different views of what is happening in the U.S. from the East coast, Midwest and West coast, from newspapers to TV to radio, and local to national.

The journalists produced 63 stories reaching audiences in excess of 10 million across Asia Pacific and the US, bringing them unique perspectives that they would otherwise not have had.

Left: Celebrating a Shinto festival in a Tokyo neighborhood for a taste of Japan’s rich cultural traditions. Center: Shenzhen’s free trade zone is an example of China’s experimentation in its largest trade hub. Right: Philippine priest Brother Jun shared his experiences on the night shift in the country’s drug war.

For more photos of the 2018 Jefferson Fellowships program, please visit the Flikr page

Reflections from the 2017 Jefferson Fellows:

"I had only arm chair knowledge of Asia-Pacific relations since my core competency areas are Latin America and Europe. I exponentially learned about the history, dynamics, fault lines, and alliances that inform those relations which will help me better inform my viewers, especially to report on the impact that trade deals have or don’t have on the loss of manufacturing jobs in my area."

"The Fellowship exposed us to an array of issues that are topical now, which have roots in the past and are likely to be in the headlines for years ahead. The program has also left us with a rich network of resources we could tap in exploring future developments in US/Asia-Pacific. There was good access to a variety of newsmakers who are involved in making/enunciating policies which helped me get a feel for the issues and how they are officially/unofficially expressed."

“Jefferson provided very deep background information on many of the things that interest me as a journalist, especially Asia-Pacific/US relations, both by way of expert opinion and first-hand experience of the countries I visited. The expert briefings were a rare opportunity as were the trips to places as diverse as Huawei HQ and a drug rehab center in Manila. One of the best takeaways was the conversation among the fellows after these trips/visits/briefings, adding fresh, and multiple, points of view and further enriching the experience.”

"I learnt a lot of different perspectives, which were different to the usual narrative played by media in the Philippines. The different countries we travelled to were a great selection and even in the Philippines, the country where I work, I still learnt a lot by listening to how the other journalists saw issues like Ph/US relations…Yes it definitely deepened my understanding of the complex theme of ‘Trade, Security and Strategic Relationships in Asia Pacific and the Future of the US Role’. I now have a wide contact base and lots of recommendations and reading material to help me produce in-depth analytical pieces on the subject which I plan to use to write commentary pieces on the theme.

[1] Please visit the Jefferson Fellowships blog site to find links to all of the stories by the journalists (under “Participants”), complete program agendas, biographies, readings, and other program materials:


The Jefferson Fellowships are supported by a grant from The Freeman Foundation and by the East-West Center. The 2017 program also was supported by: The Mary Morgan Hewett Fund, Asia New Zealand Foundation, NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation, Phoenix Satellite TV, South China Morning Post, Hybrid News Limited/The Asian Correspondent, Channel News Asia, and US Embassies in Port Moresby, Vientiane, Hanoi, Singapore, Tokyo, and the Consulate in Hong Kong.

The 2017 Jefferson Fellows were:

  • Mr. Henry (Hal) Berton, Staff Reporter, The Seattle Times, Seattle, USA
  • Ms. Huong Doan, Reporter, The Economy and Urban Newspaper, Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Mr. Thonglor Duangsavanh, Director-General, Vientiane Times Newspaper, Vientiane, Laos                                       
  • Ms. Bhagyashree Buddhavarapu Garekar, Deputy Foreign Editor, The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings, Singapore
  • Ms. Viviana Hurtado, Anchor, WTOL/WUPW, Toledo, USA
  • Mr. Abdul Azim Idris, Senior Writer/Journalist, Hybrid News Limited / The Asian Correspondent, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Mr. Xiaofeng (Terry) Jiang, Assistant Editor-in-Chief; Senior International Correspondent, Phoenix Satellite Television, Shenzhen, China
  • Ms. Wendy Lee, Tech Reporter, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, USA
  • Ms. Waywaya (Aya) Lowe, Philippine Correspondent, Channel NewsAsia, Manila, Philippines
  • Ms. Quintina Primrose Naime, Senior Journalist, LOOP PNG, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
  • Mr. Toshifumi Oikawa, Reporter, International News Division, NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, Japan
  • Mr. Debasish Roy Chowdhury, Deputy Editor, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong
  • Ms. Stacey Samuel, Supervising Editor, National Public Radio (NPR), Washington, DC, USA
  • Ms. Philippa Tolley, Executive Producer Insight, Radio New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand


For a summary of the 2016 Jefferson Fellowships program, please click here.


Contact Information
Liz A. Dorn
Seminars Program Coordinator
East-West Center
1601 East West Road
Honolulu, HI  96848-1601  USA
Phone: (808) 944-7368
Fax: (808) 944-7600