No limits


POSTED: Monday, November 10, 2008

Apologies fill journalist Lisa Ling's blog. Posting is inconsistent because she travels. Constantly. And not to easy places, either. There was North Korea, where cell phones don't work and the Internet does not exist. And Chad, where she mingled with enormous bugs. Next she's off to Nigeria for CNN's “;Planet in Peril”; series.

Yet the special correspondent for “;National Geographic,”; “;Oprah”; and Oxygen made time to visit Hawaii last week, speaking at La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls on Thursday and the Junior League of Hawaii's seventh annual HerStory Conference on Friday in an effort to raise awareness of global issues that don't always make headlines. She also hoped to encourage women of all ages to open their minds to other cultures and viewpoints, and avoid putting limits on themselves.

  Ling's petite stature belies her strength and ambition. In a speech devoid of notes yet full of sincere enthusiasm, she spoke to about 250 girls at La Pietra about her difficult childhood in Sacramento, Calif., where she grew up with little money in a divorced household. From the age of 7, she and her sister essentially raised themselves. Opportunities to travel didn't exist.

“;Television was kind of my babysitter,”; she said. Her affinity for the medium fueled her desire to be on TV. In high school, she earned an internship with a news station, working at 4:30 a.m. every day before school.

While at Boston University, she landed a gig at Channel One News, shown in classrooms across the country, with the now famous Anderson Cooper. That's when she began to travel. A trip to cover the civil war in Afghanistan changed everything. Seeing young boys carrying assault weapons larger than they were—primarily supplied by the United States—sparked more questions and propelled her into a career in journalism. For the “;intrinsically curious,”; she said, “;there is no better job. I'm long out of school, but I always consider myself to be a constant student.”;

  Travel, she insisted, “;makes you a smarter, more well-rounded person. It makes you more human.”; Even visiting different parts of the country is important. When the Los Angeles-based Ling spends time in the Midwest and the South, she's “;shocked at how differently people think.”;

At age 26, Ling was invited onto “;The View”; with Barbara Walters. That raised her profile and helped her move to National Geographic.

The now 35-year-old feels she does better journalism for “;National Geographic”; and “;Oprah”; than for traditional news outlets where expectations are more rigid and she can't get as involved.

Her exploration of the effects a mother's incarceration has on young children, and the way other countries allow kids under 5 to live with their moms in prison, altered her opposition to the practice. When she met children sold into fishing slavery in Ghana, she played a pivotal role in rescuing 15 of them.

Another story about teenage prostitution helped her understand how easy it is for young girls starving for love and guidance to slip into what she calls another kind of slavery. Ling encouraged the audience to remember “;that people are struggling in this world, and don't have the same opportunities.”;

Students surrounded Ling after her talk. Eighth-grader Amber Daniel said Ling made her more aware of “;keeping your mind open to everything around you.”; Ling's extensive travel and ability to cross over into mainstream journalism as an Asian-American woman inspired senior Cecilia Chung most of all. Classmate Melissa Kim agreed: “;She's definitely opened the door for me.”;