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Heidi Zhou

Live from the Galápagos

Sometimes fate knows best. When Heidi Zhou came to Northwestern, she was “a journalism major desperately wanting to be a theater major.” After her Teaching Media experience in Fargo, N.D., she realized that broadcast journalism combined her passion for presenting stories with her desire to change the world.

Since her junior year she has been working on two documentaries about the people of the Galápagos Islands, one focused on the conflict between local fishermen and the Galápagos National Park and the other on workers in a Galápagos brothel.

“I reached the conclusion that there is a strong economic interest on the part of the Ecuadorian government and the private tourism industry to keep problems of inaccessible drinking water, a lack of medical services, inadequate education and rare environment-friendly job opportunities — and even the very existence of the residents — a secret from the international community. The image of the Galápagos as a human-free paradise brings in big tourism bucks,” says Zhou. “I wanted to investigate and publicize these problems in hopes of making a difference for the people of the Galápagos.”

Zhou, who grew up in Mounds View, Minn., has been interested in the islands ever since the inhabitants won her heart when she visited the Galápagos as a volunteer during high school. The summer before her senior year at Northwestern she returned to the islands to intern as a reporter at a local television station.

An Eric Lund (J49) Global Reporting and Research Grant from the Medill School of Journalism enabled her to return to the Galápagos over winter and spring breaks during her senior year to shoot footage for her documentaries.

Zhou plans to submit her documentaries to film festivals “and see where they go” at the end of her senior year. She hopes her language skills — she was born in Beijing and speaks Mandarin and has a major in Spanish — will play a role in her postgraduation plans to work as a broadcast television reporter.

— Elizabeth Henley (WCAS09)

Photo by Bill Arsenault