Photo of Nissa Rhee (left) and Diane Bou Khalil (right) at Northeastern's El Centro library.

News & Features

Beyond borders

Friday, April 3, 2020

If Diane Bou Khalil could aspire to be like anyone, she’d choose British-Iranian journalist Christiane Amanpour. With Bou Khalil’s passion for journalism, international background and education from Northeastern Illinois University, she’s on her way to walking in her favorite reporter’s footsteps.

Bou Khalil was born in Chicago but spent most of her life in Lebanon. She’s the eldest of three and was determined to attend college in the United States.

“In 10th or 11th grade, I visited NEIU,” Bou Khalil said. “I got to know the University by doing more research online and I really liked it.”

Bou Khalil’s love of studying communities, analyzing them and wanting a deeper understanding of what people go through led her to become a Sociology major. Then her collegiate career took a shift last semester when she decided to take a journalism course offered by the Communication, Media and Theatre (CMT) department.

“I always wanted to go into journalism, but I thought I couldn’t mix sociology and journalism,” Bou Khalil said. “I’m very nosey. I like to ask people questions. I took one course in journalism and decided I needed to dedicate at least one semester to taking the classes in CMT, so that’s what I did.”

Not only is she currently enrolled in four journalism courses, but Bou Khalil also became the first intern for Borderless Magazine, a nonprofit publication cofounded by Northeastern Instructor Nissa Rhee.

“The people who work at Borderless are very encouraging,” Bou Khalil said. “The stories they tell are not stories you’d see in mainstream media. It’s very different.”

Borderless Magazine emerged from a volunteer project in February 2017 in which Rhee and two of her colleagues decided to cover the impact of the Muslim travel ban in the U.S. The project was called “90 Days, 90 Voices.”

“We realized there was a huge hole in the media ecosystem in Chicago where big outlets like the Tribune and Sun-Times didn’t have someone covering immigration regularly,” Rhee said of the “90 Days, 90 Voices” project. “Outlets that traditionally cover immigration were either shrinking or closing.”  

Borderless aims to present alternate narratives to immigrant stories in mainstream media. For example, the magazine’s coverage of COVID-19 includes highlighting six immigrant organizations that need assistance during the outbreak.  

Bou Kahlil serves as the engagement intern for Borderless, a position in which she helps the magazine with social media, attends events and helps the magazine staff think more critically about what they can do to engage the communities they’re reporting on in more meaningful ways.

“What we were really looking for in an intern was someone who has a passion for the work that we do,” said Rhee. “We are a nonprofit with a mission to reimagine immigration journalism for a more just and equitable world. Diane really gets that and brings her experience growing up in Lebanon and being connected to Middle Eastern immigrant communities here to the magazine. We’re really thankful to Northeastern for letting us have Diane and hope to have more Northeastern students as interns in the future.”

Rhee is hopeful that Borderless will be able to offer an engagement internship in future semesters as well as a reporting internship to give students the ability to learn how to work in a newsroom and go through the reporting process of writing and editing. Bou Khalil is looking forward to the possibility of pitching some stories and writing a few articles for the publication as well.

“Whatever I want to learn, the staff at Borderless helps me along the way,” Bou Khalil said. “My aim is to produce good quality work that reflects the quality of Borderless.”

Rhee has 14 years of professional journalism experience, working in a variety of settings from newspapers and magazines to podcasts and radio. Though Northeastern offers a Journalism minor, but not a major, she finds students to be engaged in the newsmaking process.

“As an instructor at Northeastern, when I go and teach my classes I get really energized by my students,” Rhee said. “Hearing their questions about the journalism industry, how stories are made and how decisions are made in a newsroom really reminds me why I do this work.”

Rhee also says that the skills taught in journalism classes, such as clear, concise writing, editing and asking questions, are transferable to any profession a student may pursue. Bou Khalil feels similarly. Though her short-term goal is to focus on gaining journalism experience through interning at Borderless and writing for Northeastern’s student newspaper, The Independent, she is currently in the process of applying to master’s programs in international studies.

“If anything I’m more motivated now than I was as a freshman,” Bou Khalil said. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for Northeastern.”

Borderless Magazine accepts freelance pitches about immigrant communities and will work with writers to tell their stories. To pitch an article idea, send an email to info@borderlessmag.org.