A hidden gem of quarantine: making a podcast

February 1, 2021 — by Serena Li
Screen Shot 2020-12-03 at 3
Photo by Serena Li

The Spotify page of Aiya podcast.

After several failed attempts at starting a podcast, junior and her older sister manage to complete heartfelt episodes.

The year was 2018. I received a text from my older sister, Emily: “Serena, do you want to start a podcast with me?”

From crime shows to political commentary podcasts, I was a huge fan of the genre. So the thought of having my own was exciting, to say the least. Then 14-year-old me answered “yes!” without a second thought.  

Unfortunately, our first attempt at starting a podcast went astray for two reasons: our exceptional procrastination skills and our location difference. 

Emily lives in Berkeley because of college, and I live in Saratoga. We struggled to find a time that worked for both of us, and we didn’t want to record the podcast separately. Of course, our procrastination played a bigger role in the failure. We created all the necessary folders and documents on Google Drive to start, but neither of us wrote an actual script or brainstormed ideas of topics to talk about. 

Fast forward to 2020. The pandemic forced Emily to come back home. Now that the distance was not a problem, the idea of starting a podcast seemed more possible. 

In May, the two of us held a long meeting to discuss the direction of the podcast. We wanted it to be about something that interests both of us, so we decided that our theme would be a comparison between American and Chinese culture, from the pop industry to our daily lives. We decided to use the Chinese phrase – “Aiya!,” a common expression that can be used in almost any situation, like when you stub your toe or hit the jackpot at a lottery, as our podcast name.

Our first episode was originally planned to be about a Chinese television show “Nothing but Thirty,” which aired in July, because of its discussion of the role women play in society. However, by the time we finished a detailed draft of our script, it was late September, and the timeliness of the episode had evaporated. 

Ultimately, we decided to go with an evergreen topic: a comparison of our experiences going to school in both China and the U.S. 

Instead of writing a detailed script this time, we decided to freestyle off a list of bullet points we made. On a Friday night in November, we started our first recording session. 

Our podcast setup was nowhere near professional – Emily and I were crammed in front of my desk with all of my homework papers haphazardly placed around my desk. The application that we used for recording was Voice Memos (which surprisingly works quite well). And once I hit that record button, we started our first episode. 

While recording, I was genuinely surprised by how little I knew about my older sister. Since we have grown up together, I thought I knew Emily really well. 

But as we shared our experiences of growing up in China and America, I heard new stories about my sister for the first time. For instance, she discussed hardships like leaving her closest friends and familiarizing herself to a new culture that she had endured as she made transitions between Chinese and American school when she started high school, which I wasn’t aware of before. 

In addition to getting to know each other better, the one and a half hours we spent recording the podcast was probably the most I’ve ever laughed since the beginning of quarantine. We recalled nostalgic memories and embarrassing stories (unfortunately, many of them didn’t make the final cut), and reminisced about our carefree elementary school days. 

It was a great experience because it not only allowed us to accomplish something we’ve been planning for years but also it brought us closer together as friends.

We tried to keep the momentum going by recording episodes with topics that genuinely interest us. So far, we’ve recorded three: our experience going to school in China and America, the celebrity culture in China and our take on obsessively following certain celebrities and our struggles with being bilingual. 

Recording podcast episodes, though stressful and time-consuming from scriptwriting to editing, is something that I want to continue into the future. I love being able to form even stronger bonds with my sister while expressing my opinion on topics that I care about. Hopefully, it doesn’t take another two years to record our next episode.

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