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2020 Photo Essay Contest Winners

1st Place

1st Place

Emma Bjork
Birmingham City University: London

The bus trundles down the narrow London streets as I stare eagerly out the window, knees bouncing uncontrollably. Zoe, one of my Australian friends, laughs as I ramble on about Harry Potter, and how excited I am, and how cool this place is going to be.

When we finally pull to a stop near the studio, I bolt out of my seat and sprint outside, leaving my friends in the dust. I ignore their laughs and shouts for me to wait up and run to the front of the building. The wind whips my hair in front of my eyes, but I can still read the sign perfectly. Warner Brothers Studio Tour London The Making of Harry Potter.

My heart stutters in my chest. I know it’s just a building. Harry Potter is just a book. The giant chess pieces are just props. But in that moment, everything felt like magic. I started jumping and skipping and maybe squealing a little bit too. When my friends finally joined me, all I could do was point. I had no words for the sheer joy overwhelming my entire system.

I handed my phone to Zoe and ran to the spot between two chess pieces. I raised my arms up and kicked my feet out, like I was trying to take in as much of the place as I could. She didn’t have to tell me to smile. I hadn’t stopped smiling since the bus pulled in.

“What do you want in the photo?” she asked, trying to decide between portrait and landscape.

“As much as you can fit,” I shouted back.

This photo was taken at the start of my weeklong trip to London . After spending 3 hours at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour learning the magic behind the movies and geeking out over my favorite book to movie adaptation, I continued the Harry Potter extravaganza by going to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child live on stage the following day. For the remainder of the trip, my friends and I decided to be typical London tourists. We visited Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Cambridge Market, and everywhere in between.

That was the best week of my entire life, so when I was invited to participate in this photo essay contest, I had such a hard time choosing a picture. How could I pick one photo to encompass the best and most life changing experiences of my life? But when I found that photo, from my first day in London, getting an inside look into Harry Potter, and remembered the story behind it, I realized it was the perfect choice. It conveys not only the joy I felt from that trip but also the joy I felt through my entire study abroad experience.

2nd Place

2nd Place

Elizabeth Skelly 
Academic Programs International : Rome

One of my favorite memories from my trip abroad was from a weekend trip to Greece. My friend and I found a little restaurant on Google that opened at 9 that night and decided we would have real Greek food for dinner. We got to the restaurant and spoke to the server who informed us that the restaurant did not open until 10, so we had an hour to kill. To kill time, we explored the streets of Athens and went into many little shops. We made our way back to the restaurant where the server asked us if we had reservations. Of course, we did not have them because we were not aware that we needed them. But also, we were trying to find something that gave us that true “Greek” experience. As someone who had never been out of the country before my study abroad trip, I was trying to soak in as much of other cultures as I could. Fortunately, the waiter was kind enough to fit us into a table at the end.

The restaurant was essentially a large tent with heaters spread throughout to keep us warm; there was a building across the street where more seating and the kitchen was located. The best part of this night, other than the kind waiter and delicious Greek food, was the fact that out of the entire restaurant, we were the only two people in there not in this large, Greek family. It was funny because there was a kids table and an adults table. There was live music and a lot of chatter from the family. I felt like I was imposing on some sort of family reunion. Everyone was having this amazing time. The kids were crazy, standing on chairs, dancing, and laughing, and occasionally, their parents would come over and scold them.

Out of my entire trip, it was one of the times where I felt the most connected to people. I had no idea what they were saying, but I could feel the family connection they had, and I was able to live off the energy in the room. It also reminded me a lot of my family Thanksgivings. The kids all sat together and goofed off while our parents sat at the table over and told us to calm down and eat. I loved comparing their culture to mine because it really showed me that even halfway across the world, we are not so different after all. I loved that genuine human connection and I love to relive that moment.

3rd Place

3rd Place

Grace McCarty
Council on International Educational Exchange: Amsterdam

You know how everyone makes fun of that one friend who studied abroad, and starts every story or conversation with “When I was abroad…”? Well, that friend is me. But what that one friend probably won’t tell you, after all the “amazing” sites and friends they met, is all the hard, lonely moments that they experienced. For myself, this was not a topic of conversation I shied away from.

            What I took from my experience abroad, and what I still tell people to this day, is how I learned to enjoy time with myself. Or in other words, time with my favorite gals: me, myself, and I! Here is how it all started. I knew I wanted to study abroad before I enrolled in college and made it a priority to happen. I knowingly chose a program and city that no other students from Northwest were attending, but what I did not know was that this would be the best thing to happen to me. An experience of so many firsts: my first time traveling alone internationally, my first time entering a program knowing no one, and my first time being eight time zones away in case I needed to call Mom or Dad for help.

            I got to Amsterdam and made acquaintances within my program of international students. While I had made friends, I felt all alone. I was used to constantly being surrounded by people back home, whether it was my five roommates, a trip to the grocery store with my friend, or my large, boisterous family. But in Amsterdam I found myself going to the grocery store alone, biking to classes alone, and making dinner alone. Do not take this as me complaining, because I was in the coolest city in the world, and this alone time turned out to be the best thing that happened to me.

I quickly learned to love this time spent with myself. Trips to the grocery store were already overwhelming in a foreign country, and I learned to quickly navigate the system. Biking with a group of people was stressful, not to mention dangerous at times, and I used my thirty minute ride to class to jam to music or catch up on a podcast. Time spent alone in my housing allowed me to Facetime family back home, a task that deemed itself tough due to the eight hour time difference.

            Aside from finding a new best friend within myself, I gained my new best friend, a self-timer camera! Half the fun of studying abroad is seeing new sites, but when I wanted to catch a photo of myself when I was alone, I did not have to bother a person on the street! I could whip out my phone, catch a selfie of myself, and carry on with my day! I became notorious for this abroad that my friends even gave me a hard time when I returned and still utilized the self-timer! But it sums up my experience entirely- independent, curious, and ambitious!

While I only got to experience two months of my semester in Amsterdam, I got more out of that little of time than I could have imagined. My appreciation for the little moments is something I will have with me forever, like sitting in the Jordaan parks as seen in the photo, self-timer photos in front of the Eiffel Tower, and struggling alone in the grocery store. That is what they don’t tell you about studying abroad, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me.


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