Getting to know CBS News' Holly Williams

CBS News correspondent Holly Williams has reported from some of the most dangerous places in the world, gaining access that most Western journalists cannot. Most recently she's been in Iraq and Syria covering the Syrian civil war and the fight against ISIS.

Williams took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk with the CBS Evening News social media team about what her job is really like. Below is an extended version of our chat with her.

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Holly Williams reports from inside Syria
CBS News

Much of your reporting is in very dangerous zones. What drives you to do that?

First of all, I always want to stress to people that we do go to places that are -- where there's kind of an inherent danger because there's conflict. But, I don't want to die and I really don't want any of the people I work with to die. So we're constantly doing our best to kind of mitigate and avoid actually going anywhere that we might die or be injured. But I want to go to those places for the same reason that I want to tell any foreign news story that I think is interesting. Because I think we live in a globalized world and what happens there matters here, and matters to our audience. And I want to help them connect with what's happening -- to see what's happening -- and maybe try to understand what it feels like to be in that place.

You're a mom. How do you make it work?

I make it work the same way that any working parent makes it work. It's hard if you want to have a career, and you're passionate about your career, and you want to have kids -- you have to juggle. I don't think that my job is any different that any other job. And in fact I'm lucky because when I'm not traveling on a story, I'm able to be fairly flexible with my hours. If you want to be a working parent, whether you're a mom or a dad, what you need is good childcare and I'm lucky because I do have good childcare for my daughter.

What languages do you speak?

I do speak Chinese because I lived in China for 12 years, and I studied Chinese at university. I kind of speak English (laughs). And my Turkish is alright. I'm learning Turkish, but it's not great.

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Holly Williams just outside of Mosul, Iraq, where U.S.-backed forces were preparing to fight ISIS to take back the city
CBS News

Name an event in history before the time of media coverage that you would have wanted to cover.

My understanding is that news books started coming out in the 17th century or maybe even the 16th century. So before that, I guess since I'm in the Middle East, I would have wanted to cover Alexander the Great. I would have wanted to interview him because he was a pretty interesting character.

What is the secret to packing light?

I'm not sure I'm very good at packing light. I may not be the best person to ask that. In fact I always get in trouble with my producers for having a bag that's too big for the back of the car.

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Australia. When I was little I lived in Tasmania, and then I went to high school in Victoria on the Australian mainland.

What is a Tasmanian devil?

It is a real animal! Not just a cartoon character. It's small, pretty aggressive. It's small but could probably take your finger off if you got too close to it.

You're in the middle of no where and you get a craving. What is it for?

I'm sort of famous for being the one who's always hungry when we're traveling. Nothing very unusual. Chocolate, and I'm always caffeine deprived. Vegetables sometimes when we're in the Middle East and we've just had one too many days of kebabs for lunch and kebabs for dinner.

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In Iraq, Holly Williams speaks with an American colonel who is an adviser to the Iraqi military working to take Mosul back from ISIS
CBS News

How do you avoid getting emotionally involved in stories, particularly with children and refugees?

So I always get asked this question. How do you not feel emotional, how do you not get involved? But of course we do. Of course, if you see something that's really upsetting, a tragedy that's unfolding in front of you or someone who has lost a family member or who's in terrible strife. I think you do get emotional. I don't think there's anything wrong with feeling that emotion. If I didn't feel it, I wouldn't be a human being. You have to make sure that you try and keep your reporting fair and balanced and looking at things from a kind of broad perspective and you don't get too caught up in that when it comes to your reporting. But when you're there in the moment, it's impossible to not have any emotion.

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Holly Williams speaks to a Syrian refugee while comforting one of the woman's four children
CBS News

What is the most difficult part about being a female reporter in culturally male-dominated countries?

Actually, it's really good being a woman in more culturally conservative places. For instance, parts of the Middle East. Because as a woman journalist, you get access to the men, who absolutely understand that the West is a little different and that women occupy a more public role. And you also get access to the women who wouldn't necessarily talk to a male reporter in those more conservative areas. So I feel like it's all a bonus being a woman.

Is there a place you want to cover that you haven't been yet?

Africa. I would love to do reporting from Africa. And I recently went back and did a story in Australia for CBS which was really interesting -- covering my own country for an American audience. I'd like to do that some more.