EVERY MONTH, MatadorU faculty members select one standout student from a pool of weekly selections nominated by both faculty and students.
For the month of February, MatadorU Travel Writing and Travel Photography student Colm Fitzgerald was selected for the honor. The work he’s been producing in MatadorU has us proud — especially when he revealed that prior to enrolling in MatadorU, he hadn’t really been writing in nearly a decade. We sat down with Colm recently to talk about his experience with MatadorU, how he’s been managing two courses at once, and his favorite climbing spots.
Sarah Park: Congrats, Colm! Let’s start off with some background info.
Colm Fitzgerald: I was born in Ireland and immigrated to Southern California when I was three. My dad is from Dublin and grew up Catholic, and my mom is from Belfast and was raised protestant, so I think this was one of the reasons we moved.
Growing up in California, my older brother and I were always the “Irish kids,” whereas when we visited family in Ireland we were the “Americans.” From an early age we became accustomed to traveling, whether it was to Ireland or on camping trips with the Boy Scouts. I’ve always been attracted to adventure and exploring wild places. It’s in these places, far from cities, that I’ve had my most meaningful experiences. Backpacking with friends, rock climbing, and taking road trips with my wife are the things I live for.
On your profile in MatadorU, you talk about how rock climbing led to lots of travel for you — where’s your favorite place to climb?
My favorite rock climbing destination is actually somewhat of a secret spot. So I won’t be sharing that! In a close second would have to be La Pedriza near Madrid, Spain. Amazing bouldering and a lifetime of routes on rosy Spanish granite, surrounded by pine trees and mountain streams.
So, you mentioned to a faculty member that before Chapter 1’s assignment, you hadn’t really written anything in 10 years! What brought about the change for you?
Throughout high school and for the short time I was in college writing was always very enjoyable for me. But before starting the MatadorU course I honestly hadn’t written anything since I was 19. I’m now almost 30!
The topic of career change has been a big issue lately and a couple months ago my wife said, “Hey, you love to travel and you like to write, why don’t you be a travel writer?” So I Googled travel writing and found MatadorU.com.
Awesome! We’re happy you found us! On the subject of career change then, what are your career aspirations?
I would absolutely love to travel and write for a living. I read National Geographic as a kid and I’m sure, like many people, daydreamed about joining expeditions to far flung destinations. I never really pursued writing though, and for the past six years my wife Anita and I have owned a window cleaning business. We work very hard but have the freedom to travel whenever we like. I am seeking to transition, however, into a career where I can feel more creatively fulfilled.
What’s been the most challenging part of your MatadorU courses so far and what parts have been your favorites?
So far, the writing course has been equally challenging and pleasurable. I found the research assignment to be a little tough because it wasn’t writing an exciting story or about an event that I vividly remember. But I learned so much more about the city I live in through exploring and asking people questions. The assignment motivated me to dig deeper into my local history and culture.
My favorite part of the writing course has been the fact that I now go on trips with storytelling in mind. Wherever I go, my senses are more acutely tuned for what’s happening around me.
You’re enrolled in both the writing and photography courses. What inspired you to enroll in both courses?
I enrolled in both the writing and the photography courses because I believe both are essential to storytelling in the modern arena. One can create vivid imagery with words but a photo can often bring up emotions and primal feelings that words simply can’t. Writing, on the other hand, allows the reader to imagine and create mental scenes on a personal level unique to each individual.
What would be your dream travel journalism opportunity and what stories do you hope to tell?
My dream travel writing opportunity would be to document adventures into vast wildernesses or climbers exploring and putting up new routes. Sustainable living and environmental stewardship are also topics that I’m very keen on. In my opinion, conservation and sustainability issues are the biggest challenges we face today and all we hear about is the economy. To paraphrase Chief Seattle,”you can’t eat money.”
You recently submitted a piece from the Bounty Board (specific submission calls by Matador, exclusive to MatadorU students)…what was it about the proposed title that spoke to you? Any advice for other students who are perusing the options on Matador Access, but aren’t sure whether or not they should take the next step?
The How To Piss Off… series is just genius. I was drawn to write my own piece after reading a few of the others on the Matador Network. It’s such an excellent way to relay what makes different people tick and the diversity of our world. I love how a lot of it is tongue-in-cheek and the authors poke fun at both the inconsiderate offender / tourist and the peevish victim / local. These pieces also get people talking and comments from those who take the articles at face value are especially entertaining.
For anyone not sure about submitting to an opening on Matador Access, I would say just dive in. Give it your best shot and worst case scenario you find out where you stand with your writing. Write about something you know and it’ll flow like The Ganges. We’re all here to improve our craft and I for one have a LOT to learn.
To learn more about Colm Fitzgerald, keep your eyes on Matador for his upcoming contribution to our “How to piss off” series or check out his blog at californiawild.wordpress.com, where he posts stories about excursions around California.
Student of the Month honorees are selected based on not only the quality of their work, but the progress they’ve made throughout the course, the effort and enthusiasm they show during their MatadorU journey, and their willingness to support and help their fellow students. Check out MatadorU.com for more information about our travel writing, photography, and filmmaking courses, and to learn how you can join Colm in our community of travel journalists from around the world.