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Northwest Missouri State University

Photo-Essay Contest 2009

1st place: Jennifer Plenge

Plenge 09

The landscape in Mexico is so varied and diverse that the possibilities for incredible scenery are endless. One of my many excursions led me to the state of Chiapas. Chiapas is in the southern part of Mexico along the border with Guatemala. Much of the state is covered in tropical rainforest, but there are also various mountain ranges that alter the ecological systems. Because of its astounding natural beauty, there are many small parks in Chiapas. This waterfall is located in Aguas Azules. The name literal translated means blue waters. In this particular park the water is a bright blue, almost teal color. The reason for this is that the soil and rock in the area has a certain mineral composition that reflects a bright blue color when the light hits it.

For all of its natural beauty, Chiapas is one of the poorest states in all of Mexico. In these parks and along the narrow winding mountain roads children try to sell coconuts, lemons, sugarcane, and a sweet type of corn bread. Older girls often times have one of their younger siblings strapped across their back. Most of these children belong to various indigenous tribes in the area and are bilingual. They speak Spanish and their native language. Their livelihood depends significantly on the generosity of tourists.


2nd place: Jessica Day

Jessica Day picture

I never would have imagined that my story would be at the chapter it currently is. Also, little did I know that my story would take me back to a place where I had studied abroad. I will be moving back to Germany in January of 2010. My adventures took me to Germany just over a year ago in August. I learned the language, went to school, and worked, as well as experience the culture during my time there.

During my time in Germany, I experienced something I had never seen: an Easter Fire. This event was so amazing and will forever be a vivid picture in my mind which I will be able to tell the story for years to come.

The Easter fire actually begins in December. After Christmas, the trees are collected by the Catholic Youth Group in January. The high schoolers go around collecting trees for a small donation. The trees are then all piled onto a near farmers land where they are left to dry until April.

A week before the Easter fire, the youth group got back together and cut all of the trees to create the bonfire. There were around 200 trees collected in January. It was a site to see the boys and a few girls out there with little hatchets cutting up all those trees. There was then a large cross that was erected into the ground before the trees were then piled around it. This was to symbolize Christ dying on the cross for us. A teepee was also erected for the kids to enjoy a small bonfire inside of the teepee. It was also really cool. On Easter Sunday, one of the adults got out a huge torch, and starting lighting the brush pile on fire. An amazing site to see, I must say! (One of my photos submitted shows the event.)

The event ended up bringing close to 1000 people together from Sutthausen, a small suburb of Osnabrück. It was the coolest event that I had ever been to, especially a bonfire that attracted so many people to come together and celebrate. Our town was even in the newspaper the following day because of all of the smoke it emitted!

I'll never forget that bonfire, that time, that place, or those memories.


3rd Place: Ashley Wilson

Wilson 09

This summer I had the opportunity to study abroad in Saltillo, Mexico for a month and a half. I was able to take an Advanced Spanish course at the Tecnológico de Monterrey and live with a family in nearby Ramos Arizpe. The thought of studying abroad has always made me fearful. I never thought I would be able to survive living away from home in a country where the culture and language were entirely different from my own. However, I knew that by immersing myself in a study abroad experience, where I would be forced to speak the language and participate in the culture, I would likewise greatly improve my ability to speak and comprehend Spanish. Looking back, I can say that I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to study abroad. When it came time to return to the U.S., I found myself wishing that I had more time to spend in Mexico with my friends and family. Throughout the course of my stay, I found that speaking and listening in Spanish slowly became second nature. It was so exciting to be completely immersed in the language and culture and as a result be forced to communicate and participate. The family that I stayed with welcomed me with open arms, and truly made me feel like I was a part of their family. I had the opportunity to meet aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandmothers who all made me feel as though I was loved and welcomed. I can truly say that I have a second home in Mexico, complete with a family who loves me and welcomes me to visit anytime. If given the opportunity to have that experience again, I would take it in a heartbeat. I would highly recommend a study abroad program to anyone else who is even remotely interested. Whether it's only for a month, a semester, or even an entire year, the overall experience is truly valuable and something you can cherish for the rest of your life. I look forward to returning to visit my family and my second home, and I hope that other students, if given the opportunity, take full advantage of a study abroad experience and reap the benefits of such a great and life-changing opportunity.

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