"In London I was constantly learning things, like, 'I have to go experience this or try this' to learn about my environment. I had to constantly push myself. I was just kind of hustling a lot." (Salem, Episode 17)
Salem Joseph is one of my very good friends from the time when we were both undergraduate students, in the same major, in James Madison College at Michigan State University. She had originally planned to pursue international law. But during our senior seminar our professor noticed Salem's skill and passion for analyzing film, and encouraged her to study it more with the time she had remaining in college if at all possible. Around this same time Salem was also trying to decide on whether to find another internship or to study abroad in order to complete her degree, since the internship she was previously poised to do didn't work out. So with the encouragement of said professor and another advisor, Salem applied and was accepted to a summer program at Regent's University in London, studying not only film but also how film shapes notions of nationhood.
When she was first looking for study abroad programs, she had hoped to find a suitable one in South America due to her interest in surrealism and magical realism. If not there, anywhere that was not a majority white country would have been ideal for her, since she was already attending a PWI and was greatly interested in representation and film cultures outside of the white, Western realm that she was used to back home. But the London program she chose met the necessary duration and course requirements for her degree, so that's where she went. And looking back on it, she doesn't regret going there at all. She was fascinated by the diverse material she studied, made her first short film ever, and overall learned many things that solidified her desire to pursue film as part of her life plan. Plus she got to visit other places like Brighton, Cardiff, Oxford, and Paris, each of which was full of delightful and informative surprises.
"Everybody got they own path."
Being the child of Eritrean parents, at first Salem hadn't considered studying film (much less pursuing a career in it) as a real possibility since that would have been "impractical". Being able to live more openly as a queer person was also a process; she came out to her parents while in college and it's something that they have struggled to understand. But as Salem has become more sure of who she is and what she's meant to do, she's also demonstrated remarkable patience toward her parents. They don't want to push her away, and she appreciates the decisions and sacrifices they made in coming to America too much to forsake the love that she and her parents still have for each other.
As for her career aspirations, Salem's still deciding whether to opt for film school or not. In the meantime, she's surrounded by inspiration and other creative people all around her, and has a number of poignant examples to look to (shoutout to Hope Robinson from episode 7!). She's glad to have people who have already dipped their toes into what she wants to do before her, and as she mentioned to me, "Everybody got they own path". She currently lives in New York City, where she moved immediately after graduation. She has actively worked in youth mentoring and programming, and has taken up various film and photography projects on the side while deciding what steps to take next in pursuing her dream. Salem can be found on Instagram (@its_saa_lehm).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "You Don't Know Until You Know (LONDON)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!