Alumni Profile: Floriano Filho

Floriano Filho was a fellow based at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. He reflects on his time for us below.

A family journey through GTC, Oxford

Floriano Filho Profile Pic with art behindMy wife Ines, our two daughters and I arrived in Oxford on 6 January 2006. Our oldest, Carolina, had just turned 12 on Christmas Day, as we were packing and preparing to leave Brazil and start this relatively short, but wonderful journey. Our youngest, Lara, would turn 10 just about one week after we had already begun organising our new apartment at 33b Grove Street.

It was not exactly easy to find a place for our family of four, also considering the girls’ ages. In parallel, we had to enrol them in school, which was also challenging given their basic level of English. In a couple of months, however, they were already not only fluent, but also speaking with a distinctive British accent.

Having taken care of those two priorities – housing and school – and with Ines, an experienced journalist from Portugal herself, starting to find her own way around, my mind could now focus on my Reuters Institute fellowship. To make our lives easier, one of our first decisions was to buy bicycles for each of us. Before long we were riding all around Summertown, back and forth on Woodstock and Banbury Roads.

The Reuters Foundation was the main force behind the Institute for the Study of Journalism, and they had an agreement with Green Templeton College (GTC). I was in the last cohort of journalists before the program became attached to the Department of Politics and International Relations in the Manor Road Building [Green Templeton remains a home for the Institute and its fellows today]. The Institute is located at 13 Norham Gardens, where we fellows had several brown bag lunches filled with insightful discussions, and could use the internet on desktop computers available to all of us.

Long before GTC, I had already obtained my second master’s degree in London in 2001 (MA in Communications Policy with distinction from the University of Westminster, with a thesis about the insertion of Brazil into the Global Information Society). My first master’s was earned in New York in 1991 (MSc in Broadcast Journalism from Columbia University). Also, my several years as a reporter and editor covering political and economic affairs provided me with the necessary maturity to undertake this new mission.

Given that background, my Oxford project initially dealt with broadcast journalism, but once I delved deeper into my reading and interviews, I realised the new trends in the sector were closer to the global trade of digital content and the international discussions about intellectual property rights (IPR). That ended up being the topic of my final dissertation.

Many of our events took place inside the GTC main campus. In one of the auditoriums, each fellow gave a series of lectures about issues we usually covered as journalists. At the end of January, Rifat Orakzai, a friendly gentleman from Pakistan, talked about his reports on Osama bin Laden. It was among the most memorable talks we heard, not only for reminding us of 9/11 and the ongoing global ‘war on terror,’ but also because we were still processing the July 2005 bombings that had shaken London. I had no idea that years later, in 2009, as a TV correspondent based in Washington DC, I would receive an invitation from a Pentagon liaison to cover a few of the trials at Guantanamo.

During my presentation at the GTC auditorium, I spoke about Brazil’s role in global issues, also referencing the BRIC countries (at that time South Africa had not joined yet), which was still an unexpected and uncertain coalition. My colleagues looked sceptical. They were probably wondering about the bond between countries apparently so different among themselves as Brazil, Russia, India and China. At the time, I was not able to foresee the combined BRICS economies would surpass those of the G7, but in general my analysis was not far from reality.

The subject of the ‘war on terror’ previously covered by Rifat resurfaced at the end of February when our group made a study trip to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Brexit was not even an issue yet. Some people seemed uncomfortable when we were told that the US contributed more money to the organisation than all the European members combined. Then a discussion arose among some fellows about how European countries should provide more funding to NATO operations. Bringing an alternative perspective, I raised my hand and asked whether, if the intention was to neutralise the causes of terrorism, it wouldn’t be better to invest in providing good education for children in countries known for early terrorist indoctrination. The sudden silence in the room made me feel some people were puzzled by my viewpoint.

Other discussions and panels at GTC were part of a profound self-enlightenment process shared with fellows coming from different corners of the world. One of them, Ms Yoko Hani, came from Japan, where I had studied between 1991 and 1993. She reminded me of my past, but our conversations also shed some light on my future. Without knowing then, I would go on to live in Tokyo in 2015 as part of my PhD studies, and again from 2021 to 2022 for postdoctoral research on China-Latin America relations and their implications for Japan. This latter research is currently ongoing through collaboration with the Asian Studies Center at the University of Sao Paulo, and is progressing to investigate critical metals for the global energy transition through articles for a forthcoming book and conferences such as the one in Colombia in August 2023.

Three other fellows – Po Wah (Sharon) Cheung, Mei Ping (Gladys) Tang, and Wei (Leia) Li – were from China, the first two from Hong Kong. We also had many opportunities for insightful discussions. Had I known my 2017 PhD dissertation would cover Japan-China strategic relations, I would have talked with them even more. They would have better prepared me for the several study and work trips I later made to mainland China, including Tibet, starting in 2010. Also, that millennia-old Japan-China relationship prompted my first postdoc research in Taiwan on energy security in Asia. That work eventually led me to become a non-resident fellow at Chihlee University of Technology in Taipei, and collaborate on a chapter for a book launched in 2022 in the US and Taiwan, available on Amazon and other outlets, about Taiwan-Latin America relations.

Back in Oxford, during free time and evenings, one hobby I pursued seriously, being one of the few Brazilians around, was playing football. That addiction was so strong that not even cold or rain would stop me. I was delighted to learn that so many people were eager to play football in any weather conditions as well, just as I had found during my first time living in the UK.

I have very fond memories of events and parties I attended at GTC. Towards the end of my programme, an invitation arrived for a ‘garden party’ for me and my family. I thought that if it was in the garden, it had to be a casual event. When my two daughters and Ines saw me wearing a vivid blue t-shirt with yellow letters spelling out ‘Brazil,’ plus shorts with red flowers like those surfers wear in Miami beach, they all asked, ‘Are you going like that?’ I replied, ‘Why not? It’s just an informal gathering in the garden.’ They did not look convinced, but I did not change my mind or my clothes. Arriving at the venue on our bikes, I realised they were right. I looked like an intruder or a Florida tourist crashing an upscale black tie affair. At least while I was helping myself to the buffet, I overheard one of the ladies wearing a fancy hat saying that I had nice legs!

Looking back at so many enlightening and memorable moments, I have no doubt that applying for the Reuters Institute programme and going to Oxford was one of the best decisions I made in my life. Not only for myself and my current radio podcast on global affairs, but also for our girls. Carolina today is a medical doctor at Salem Hospital in Massachusetts, and Lara is a food engineer living and working in Guelph, Canada. Having learned the language and culture in Oxford made all the difference for their English-based schooling before we moved to Washington, DC the following year for the Fulbright-APSA Congressional fellowship I was awarded. Their fantastic educational journeys also started in Oxford, and GTC is part of all our lives.

Today, I am an active member of the Columbia, Chevening and Japan alumni networks. They provide rich professional and social exchanges, where we discuss and receive valuable information about a wide variety of subjects – from geopolitics to macroeconomics and business opportunities, besides volunteer work. They also serve as a platform for collaborations on different projects, such as startup investments. I look forward to keeping in touch with GTC alumni and learning more about their current activities.