Nandini Sen: We connect through shared experiences

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Current is marking the 50th anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act by illuminating the experiences that inspired people to choose to work in public media. Every week, we are sharing their stories using the hashtag #IAmPublicMedia. Current is also collecting longer contributions, like this one. If you’d like us to feature your story, submit it here.

I was barely 20 and had just migrated to the U.S. from Kolkata, India. I was the first in my family to travel more than a few miles away from home in search of a better life. What I remember most about that time is how incredibly lonely and out of place I felt. I did not grow up with the privilege that is public media or anything close to it. I had no concept of it, either.

Fortunately, one day driving around in Fullerton, Calif., I happened upon public radio. My first experience of it was my “driveway moment.” Twenty-five years later, the specifics of the story I heard that day have faded from my memory. I do not remember the frequency or the call letters of the station. But what I very vividly remember is how it felt, sitting in my car, listening to it.

The story was about a man who lived in Guatemala, who saw his entire family move away from home. The story was about migration, about our basic need to pursue our dreams and livelihoods, about our journeys, both as individuals but also how they relate to us as a global community.

It was the very first time I felt a sense of connection to anything or anyone in my new home country. It was my story as well! It was the first time I realized how intimately connected we are as the human race and that that connection does not come from sharing DNA. It comes from sharing of experiences. This is what public media does best — it weaves stories in a way that makes them personal, that makes you part of the story. That appeal of public media has stayed with me all these years. It helps me stay connected, stay informed, stay entertained.

The decision to pursue a career in public media was fast and easy. However, there were hardly any resources about how to pursue a career in it if content creation was not your goal. I was fortunate to have found my way into it. I have been a public media broadcast technologist and engineer since 2001, first at North Carolina Public Radio and now at PBS. (We will not speak of the two years in between in commercial broadcasting.)