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Northwest Missouri State University

Photo-Essay Contest 2011

1st place: Amanda Engelhart


My study abroad experience took place in Vasteras, Sweden through the ISEP program.  I went spring semester of 2011.  My favorite part of my experience was meeting so many amazing people.  These people became my very close friends, and they helped me grow as a person immensely.  They helped me grow by introducing me to their own cultures and shedding light on aspects of my own culture that I didn’t think about.  For instance, I never thought about our gun laws in America because they have always been the same.  It struck me as odd that all my friends from various countries think America is crazy for allowing its’ citizens to carry guns.  I learned that the Spanish and Italian cultures are not very worried about time, as they were always late for our group meetings and dinners.  I was introduced to so many new foods prepared for me by the people I met.   My friends were the ones that made my experience.  I learned that no matter where you are in this world, if you are with people that you enjoy, you are going to have an amazing time. 

My favorite experience abroad was when I traveled to Italy.  I went to Italy for two weeks, and flew home to America from Milan.  The first ten days I stayed with my friend Fede and her Italian family.  I have never felt so welcome in my entire life into a household.  Fede was the only one I could speak English to, but I felt like we all understood each other regardless of the language barrier.  Some of this can be contributed to the fact that Italians are notorious for talking with their hands, so deciphering what they are saying is easier.  Fede and I went to Rome, Florence, Pistoia, Luca, Pisa, Bologna, and Ravenna.  We saw so many ancient monuments and we also spent a day at the sea.  It was the most surreal trip I have ever experienced.  The last four days that I was in Italy I went to Milan to stay with my best friend Claudia.  She and I met in Sweden.  We met through the classes we shared together.  Claudia planned a trip to Venice for us.  This picture is taken there as we were sitting on a bridge taking a break from walking around.  It is the Grand Canal that runs through the whole city.  Venice was amazing and very special.  What makes it so special is the feeling that it is stuck in time.  There is no modernization and that’s what gives the city its magic.  Although Claudia is from Italy, she had never been to Venice before.  It made the trip that more memorable for us both. 

I think about my study abroad experience every day.  It has changed me so much as a person.  I am only 22 and I have been to places I never thought I would ever see in real life.  It has empowered me to do anything that I want to do.  I will never forget the places, people, and understanding that I have gained through my study abroad.  It was the best decision I have made in my life so far.  


2nd place: Brandon Clark

Costa Rica

This past spring I studied abroad in Costa Rica. Translated to English, Costa Rica is “Rich Coast” which is definitely apparent by the amount of beautiful beaches in the country. During my 5 months abroad I had many opportunities to visit both sides of the country, the numerous coasts and other attractions like the volcanos and hot springs that populate Costa Rica. Everyday brought a new experience for me but I would have to say that one of my most memorable trips would have to have been my very first visit to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. Located on the pacific coast, my friends and I took a bus from the capitol, San Jose, to the park to relax for the weekend. After the two hour bus ride, checking in to our hostel and grabbing a casado (a typical dish) for lunch, we made the trek down to the park.

Words cannot describe the feeling I first had when we reached the public beach outside the park. My very first time seeing the ocean was this first trip to Manuel Antonio, so not only was it incredible to see the ocean, but to be in another country while doing so was an experience that I will never forget. That day we spent our time walking along the beach, playing in the waves and relaxing in the sun. We stayed until the sun began to set but we were sure to snap a few photos against the sunset before heading back to our hostel for dinner and socializing. The rest of the weekend was spent exploring the trails and beaches inside the park, working on our tans and capturing photos of the monkeys and other wildlife that populate the area.

The photo that I have chosen is one that includes me and a few friends from my ISEP program. Jake, Annelise, Caitlin and I were in a group of about 6 people that went to the beach during this particular weekend. Caitlin is giving the peace sign which is very appropriate for the situation primarily because of the fact that the saying in Costa Rica is “Pura Vida”. Although “pura vida” is a saying that is used for a number of situations and can have a variety of meanings the Costa Rican culture embodies the “Pura Vida” lifestyle by always being laid-back and cool.

To me, this photo is very “pura vida” because of the fun and relaxing weekend we had at the beach and the awesome experience of seeing the ocean for the first time.


3rd Place: Christine Rahorst


Thinking back on the past eight months of my life, it would be difficult to select only one experience or moment as most remarkable.  While I have been granted countless opportunities, several of which my other submitted photos demonstrate, this photo overlooking the entire city of Valparaíso sums up all that my time abroad has meant to me.  Throughout the challenge of learning to adapt in a new environment far from home, living immersed in another language and culture, and taking advantage of every instant bestowed upon me, I have truly grown not only as a student and future teacher, but also as an individual and child of God.  I have greatly improved my Spanish, both colloquially and academically, and have learned so much about the Chilean culture, which has really allowed me to open my eyes to another reality and to see my world distinctly.  I have learned to appreciate and foster differences in all people, to acknowledge and consider other points of view and to be truly grateful for my own home: my family, education, language, culture and nation.  I have learned to always look for the positive in my life—to take notice of and cherish every detail of nature—and have gained a curiosity for learning unlike any I had previously known. 

While I have been granted so many opportunities to learn and grow through university classes, extra-curricular activities, in church, volunteering, and traveling, what I will most remember from Valparaíso are the personal relationships I have formed here: with my host family, friends and with God.  When I think back on this beautiful city, I know that the times I shared with these individuals will be the first to come to my mind.  The love of my host family and friends and all they have done for me to assist in the cultural transition and to support my individual and spiritual growth are things for which I will be eternally grateful and for which I will never be able to repay them.  They have led me to view not only my own life, but my entire world differently and have also served me so much in my faith journey—my walk with God. Here in Chile I have learned to listen to and obey the Lord´s calling throughout my life in order to always serve Him in all that I do.  I know that this lesson, above all the rest, will stick with me throughout all my future years and will always leave for Valparaíso a special place in my heart.

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