"Freelancing abroad" is an IJNet series that explores the lives of freelance journalists who have relocated abroad. Also check out part one about Pesha Magid's move to Istanbul and part two about Laura Dixon's move to Bogotá.
Qian Sun arrived in Germany from China in 2010. She originally moved to study international relations and learn German, but upon graduation, the Chinese journalist decided to stay and work in the country.
After several internships, she moved to Berlin where she worked for video agency Ruptly. She decided to start freelancing last summer when she saw a boom in the video news market in China and wanted to do less media planning and more reporting.
“Berlin is a great city to be a freelancer,” she said. “Even if you're new, there's different co-working spaces to which you can sign up, a lot of cafes to work at and a lot of networking is possible.”
Several months after switching to freelancing, Sun works as a Germany correspondent for Phoenix TV, a Chinese television station based in Hong Kong, produces videos for Chinese video platform, Pear Video and writes stories on technology, refugees and terrorism in Europe for Chinese and German publications.
She said since there are very few Chinese journalists in Germany, her transition from regular work to freelancing has been smooth since she always finds enough work.
“Most of the time [Chinese] media [organizations] come to me asking me for something because they don't have enough journalists based outside of China,” she said.
She manages her freelance work based on her financial needs. While she loves writing, she is often paid less to write than for broadcast reporting and video production. As a result, she balances a few articles about topics that she wants to explore and sends most of her pitches to television or video networks.
She mostly covers European politics and migration policies for television and produces social or cultural stories about Germany for online videos.
For Sun, staying connected is key to successful reporting. She subscribes to newsletters from different state branches including the foreign ministry and chancellor’s office as well as those from local think tanks and VAP, an organization of foreign journalists that organizes press conferences and briefings for its members.
Sun warned new journalists to be well-organized and plan their interviews ahead of time.
“Planning is quite important here in Germany,” she said. “It's really hard to get an interview on the same day, it's relatively rare. [Instead] they will always offer you an appointment in one week and if it's an emergency, they will still say tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”
While Sun speaks German, she said it’s not necessary when covering international relations, a field in which most experts speak English.
“When I use German I don’t get an email a lot faster so I don't think language is a key issue unless you speak to locals who don't speak English,” she said.
She has also noticed that the cost of life in Berlin has risen in the past three years and that finding an apartment has become more challenging than it used to be. However, prices are still lower than Paris, London, Frankfurt and even Munich, she said.
For non-European citizen, she advised to look into Germany’s freelance visa initiative.