ABC News foreign correspondent Alexander Marquardt has been a traveler since birth. Born to American parents in Bahrain, he grew up in Luxembourg, Belgium and Switzerland. The first time Marquardt lived in the U.S. was during his college years at Georgetown. After graduation, following stints as an NBC page, a Channel One News reporter and a correspondent for CNN, he hit the road again for ABC News. “Having grown up as an American expat helps me bring home these global stories to an American audience,” Marquardt told us.
The well-traveled Marquardt now lives in Beirut, but just returned from two months covering Syria and the refugee crisis stretching from the Middle East to central Europe. While traveling, he immersed himself in the news–literally–as he was part of ABC’s first virtual reality report:
TVNewser: Where do you see VR reporting a decade from now?
Marquardt: Two things hit you when you put on the headset: first, how cool and immersive the experience is. Then, the immediate realization that this is going to be an integral part of delivering news in the not-so-distant future. So many people I’ve shown this to have turned to me and said, “this is the future.” The video quality will very quickly get better, the production turnaround time will be shorter and the headsets will start detecting where your eyes are looking to direct the experience. In a decade? Impossible to say. But when you experience this and then see the research and investment being done in this space, I have little doubt that the way we consume video is about to change in a big way very soon.
TVNewser: Does anything still surprise you after covering uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria and the day-to-day chaos that occurs in the areas you report from?
Marquardt: Without question. On almost every story there’s something new that amazes you, a scene or someone’s story. Last month in Hungary, refugees that had been stuck at the Budapest train station started marching toward the border with Austria. Marching to a border over 100 miles away. By the time we caught up, the refugees were stretched out for miles, walking briskly by the thousands in the beating sun. Here were grandparents in wheelchairs, parents pushing multiple kids in/on strollers, many walking in just flip flops. On the shoulder of a major European highway. One man had slung his friend’s prosthetic leg over his shoulder as the friend kept up on crutches. Some Hungarians were shouting insults from passing cars, others along the side of the road were welling up at this truly incredible display of determination. Eventually buses were sent to pick the refugees up, but they were ready to walk the whole way.
TVNewser: How many weeks have you been on the road and what’s it like to live the nomad lifestyle for such long stretches?
Marquardt: I’ve just gotten back home to Beirut after basically two months of travel, which is one of the longer stretches. The traveling is one of the best parts of this job, getting to know places and people you’d otherwise probably never get to. There’s no doubt that it can take a toll on you and your personal life; it can be grueling and missing special occasions is never fun. But I work with great, fun people at ABC and the traveling circus of colleagues I see on the road are some of my closest friends. This is what I signed up for. News tends to come in waves; you’re working flat out for weeks, moving around all the time. Then you head home for a brief lull to catch your breath, do some laundry, catch up with friends and wait for the next big story.
TVNewser: You travel all over the world as a foreign correspondent. Is there a specific city or region that you look forward to visiting from a food standpoint? If so, what is your favorite meal there?
Marquardt: Man, where to start? As far as regions go, I’m pretty lucky being based where I am. That’s one of the highlights, finding the best eats wherever you go. With deadlines that often means just hunting down the best street food, like the falafel stand just inside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Or Tepsi Kebabi in southern Turkey which is literally just a tray of ground meat with some vegetables and spices that you share and pull apart with fresh bread. In Damascus, it’s the leg of lamb with bulgur at a famous restaurant in the Old City. But the highlight this year was definitely the momos in Nepal, steamed dumplings with a spicy sauce. Could’ve had those for every meal.
TVNewser: What do you miss the most when you’re overseas?
Marquardt: Mostly Mexican food. I get back to the U.S. about twice a year for work and family visits and really what hits each time is the ease of life. Stuff works there and it’s clean. No worries about water shortages, power cuts (another one just now) or growing mountains of garbage. Even going into a CVS in the States is exciting, so many choices. But all that is manageable, the tougher part is not having that ease of seeing family, going to people’s weddings and meeting their kids, grabbing dinner with some of your oldest friends. It’s a trade-off. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love it. It’s also what makes visiting the U.S. lots of fun. Along with Mexican food.