Alumni Spotlight: Catherine Osborn
The following interview is part of the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies’ Alumni Spotlight series focusing on alumni who majored in Latin American Studies in Yale College.
1. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a journalist based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for outlets including Foreign Policy, NPR, and Foreign Affairs. I write a weekly newsletter about politics, economics, and culture in Latin America for FP that aims to highlight debates and transformations within the different countries and across the region as a whole. I grew up in Austin, Texas as someone very interested in contemporary politics and U.S.-Mexico relations, and it was at Yale that I began studying Brazil and Latin America more broadly.
2. How was your time at Yale? Can you share a few memories that you think might encapsulate your experience?
What was incredible to me was the really vibrant student activities scene that included so many different ways of interacting with the New Haven and even broader global community, as well as the significant resources deployed for students to do international activities. It was reporting on housing segregation in New Haven that started to cement my love of journalism and researching issues of social mobility. For the Globalist, a student international affairs journal, we organized reporting trips that looked at topics ranging from struggles over water rights in Jakarta to what the treatment of Kurdish language advocates said about Erdogan’s political project in Turkey. And I was involved in a group that engages with scholars and education activists in Dominican batey communities, Yspaniola, which also focuses on educating about how U.S. foreign policy and certain mindsets about international development affect residents’ lives.
3. What made you decide to become a Latin American Studies major? Was there anything that you were interested in from Latin America? Did you study abroad while you were at Yale? Where did you go?
I was curious about the region and hoped to engage with it more, either as a scholar, a journalist, or with some kind of community work, and wanted to better understand the geopolitics affecting it. The chance to take courses in different research methods and do a fieldwork-based senior project was especially appealing, as well as the chance to study Portuguese. The summer before my senior year I did thesis research in Rio de Janeiro about community perceptions of a police reform program that aimed to take a harm reduction approach to the war on drugs as well as increase political participation. Another summer, I interned at the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires.
4. How has the Latin American Studies major influenced your life, professionally and/or personally?
Professionally, it gave me some of the historical context (especially Gil Joseph’s wonderful classes!) and analytical tools to identify research questions and consider different kinds of data. The research experience in Brazil was invaluable to what became a career there as a reporter. Personally, I hope the sensibility of the major has led me to try to assume little, research lots, and ask lots of questions, especially to people from different walks of life.
5. Can you describe your salient points in your career after Yale and describe your current role?
After graduating, I had a yearlong fellowship from Yale to report on a public works program in Rio de Janeiro favelas that aimed to integrate them better with the rest of the city through participatory design. I began freelance journalism at the end of that period, amid Brazil’s nationwide 2013 protests which were sparked due to a public transportation fare hike and grew to encompass discontent with plans for the World Cup and Olympics, among other issues. I had previous journalism experience from internships at Texas Monthly magazine and Austin’s NPR station, as well as Yale radio and student publications. I’ve since covered issues from organized crime to Brazil’s Black money movement to the role of credit and debt in moving people into a so-called new middle class. A favorite story from just before travel shut down due to Covid was on a group of feminist economists who would go on to become influential in Argentina’s Alberto Fernández government.
6. If you could go back and give yourself advice when you were a student, what would it be? If you could pass on a piece of advice to current students from the Latin American Studies major and people interested in Latin America, what would it be?
Talk to people ranging from your professors to guest speakers on campus about the different ways they are engaged in the region, be it in the private sector, scholarship, the media, etc., and take advantage of Yale’s resources for travel and internships to get more perspective about topics you might want to be involved with in the future. Politely ask people how they make it work financially. Have fun and don’t be afraid to try different things, show up in different settings, and have a windy path.