February 03, 2020

Sara Hamdan

Which school did you attend at Columbia and why did you choose Columbia in the first place?

I graduated with honors from what we warmly call j-school in 2010 - The Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. I wanted to validate my writing, not just at a regional level, but in the most competitive city in the world. And I really wanted to live in New York City :)

What did you enjoy the most at Columbia?

I made friends with some of the smartest, sparkling conversationalists I’ve ever met, which I expected, and they remain some of my favorite people today. My favorite course focused on video profiles of interesting people in New York and I had the opportunity to tell the story of an amazing jazz vocalist who had lost her voice. After our time together, she began to sing again. It was so moving.

Did you have a favorite place on campus?

I liked the thinking statue. I also like the black wrought iron gate and tree-lined path at the entrance. It felt like a metaphor to unlocking a world of dazzling intellectual stimulation. And it did.

For over six years you covered culture, travel, and business for International New York Times in Dubai - do you have any favorite stories that you worked on from this time? 

So many! One of my favorites is a piece I did on an American Idol-style singing competition in the labor camps (video here and story here). It felt like a fun, but important piece of investigative journalism. I had found a new, whimsical angle to cover a controversial topic. I also loved this piece on the rise of standup comedy in the region - partly because I love a good joke, and partly because I met my husband :) 

You moved from NYT to Google MENA, can you tell us more about the work you do today? 

I work part-time as editor of a site called Think with Google MENA, a hub for all digital marketing inspiration for advertisers and brands. I am not a Google employee, but a part-timer who gets to work in their office. My colleagues are some of the brightest, most motivated and nicest people I’ve ever worked with.

How have you been able to leverage the skills and knowledge acquired during your time at Columbia to grow your career?

Attending Columbia taught me that being at the top of your game doesn’t mean resting on your laurels. It means you have to work even harder to stand out and to have endurance. This mentality served me well while writing at The NY Times and now at Google. I could easily sit back and deliver decent work - or I have a chance to really shine. I prefer to sparkle.

What advice would you give recent alumni who are looking to work in the field of journalism in the Middle East?  

Everyone’s got a great story to tell if you ask the right questions. Also, it’s a tough industry right now flooded with freelancers and companies who are cutting back, so don’t be afraid to start a blog or video channel just to continuously get your name out there. I am very active on social media. Self-marketing is a must these days.

If you could go back in time, what would you do differently during your time at Columbia?

Stay longer! 

Have you connected through Columbia University or CAA to other alumni? How has that helped you in your current career?

Yes, I have just finished writing an actual, complete, entire novel (!!) and I reached out to our alumni resource center for guidance on finding a literary agent and general tips in the book publishing world. I’m also connected to the UAE chapter and briefly served as director of communications with a fabulous team of alumni here.

Piece of advice to students in the UAE who are keen to apply to Columbia? 

Do it! 


Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook handle?

Instagram: @holidaysinheels

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sara-hamdan-64701719/

Twitter: @sarahamdan