Students’ photos capture impact of their international experiences

A man sits down to a simple dinner at a home in China where a rainbow array of pillows and blankets are the only decorations, a youngster visiting Tajikistan stares in wonder at a passing herd of sheep, a berobed figure stands upon an ancient Roman ruin in Jordan, gazing toward the Dead Sea — these are the three images taken by Yale students that won the top prizes in the 2010 photo contest sponsored by the Center for International Experience (CIE).

This is the fourth year that the center has sponsored the photo contest, which is held in conjunction with International Education Week (IEW), an annual event sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education “to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide.”

Students may submit only one photo, which they must have taken themselves while participating in one of the CIE programs. These include the Year or Term Abroad Program, the Yale-Peking University Joint Undergraduate Program, the Undergraduate Career Services Bulldogs International Internship program, Yale-in-London, Yale Summer Session, and more. (See the center’s website at

In addition to the photograph, students must submit a caption of no more than 125 words. Both the photo and the caption are judged primarily on how well they capture the mission of IEW.

The top three prizes are iTunes gift cards of $75, $50 or $25. The winning images are posted on the CIE website for a year.

“As you can see from the photographs, our students are so fortunate to be able to undertake any number of incredible experiences abroad,” says Katie Bell, assistant director of CIE. “The photographs and captions submitted for the photo contest get better every year, and we are delighted that they are so successfully able to capture the essence of IEW’s mission.”

The following are the three prize-winning photographs and captions for 2010, as well as two that received honorable mention. They were chosen from among nearly 80 submissions this year.

First Place
Volkan Doda ‘11, Berkeley College
Bates et al. Traveling Fellowship
Tashkurgen, China

In a small Tajik Village in Xinjiang, China, where the borders of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India meet to create one of the most ethnically diverse parts of the world, dinner usually means a bowl of sour milk tea and homemade bread. Yet however modest the dinner table may be, hospitality and stories to be exchanged abound. After all, it is for a reason that the sole decoration in the living room of this Tajik family consists of colorful pillows and blankets for visitors, piled up against the walls of the room … Indeed, there is so much to be seen, experienced and learned by visiting this humble home, which is so distant from everything that we take for granted in our daily lives, yet is surely equally valid and meaningful.

Second Place
Mari Michener Oye ‘11, Timothy Dwight College
Les Aspin ‘60 International Public Service Fellowship
Tavildara, Tajikistan

Karakul sheep block the road to Pamir, Tajikistan, reflected in a Jeep window and a young passenger’s eyes. Herders drive the animals into the mountains to graze in summer, and bring them back in autumn, blocking the dirt road that connects Tajikistan’s eastern and western regions. For travelers on the road, the herd is an inconvenience. For Matine, a three-year-old half Pamiri, half Canadian girl visiting her homeland for the first time, the sight is astounding. I traveled to Tajikistan to research national identity for my senior thesis, supported by the Les Aspin ’60 International Public Service Fellowship. This image captures some of my own excitement at the scale of the place’s beauty, along with its unique mixture of the ancient and the modern.

Third Place
Tantum Collins ‘12, Timothy Dwight College
Arabic Summer Session
Amman, Jordan

This photo was taken at a Roman ruin just outside the city of Amman, on one of the first days after we arrived in Jordan. Until this point, we had been busy with program orientation, and had been exposed only to other westerners. The moment depicted in the picture represented our first genuine interaction with the local culture, and the Palestinian-Jordanian man in it — braced against the wind, looking out towards the Dead Sea, and, beyond it, Israel — encapsulates the serenity and sense of loss that would come to define our interaction with Jordanian identity.

Honorable Mention
Gabriella Biondo ‘12, Morse College
CIE Summer Community Public Health in the Dominican Republic
Batey Chichigwa, Dominican Republic

We went to the Batey with the goal of understanding the life of the Haitian immigrant worker. We left with an understanding of the importance of education. In this three-sided building there were religious services, community meetings and clinic visits — but perhaps most importantly, reading and writing classes. These classes are provided through the graciousness of organizations; it is through international influence that education has become the most powerful development tool. It is my hope that one day this girl will not only be able to climb onto the bench, but be able to sit up straight and proudly read from the blackboard. As we expand ourselves by studying, serving and living in other cultures, we in turn help to instill the power of education.

Honorable Mention
Ava Socik ‘12, Morse College
Blanning Fellowship and Richter Fellowship
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

The essence of a country cannot be entirely captured until you experience it in person. This photograph captures a residential street in Cuba’s second largest city, Santiago de Cuba. It tells two stories: that of the past and also the present. Years ago, this was a wealthy neighborhood with lavish housing for the wealthy and excellent public transportation. Now, fifty years later, buildings deteriorate and modern transportation of any sort is nonexistent, yet Cubans continued to smile and greet me eagerly into their culture. Travel sparks an awakening: a call to me to see a different story that not everyone has the opportunity to see and the obligation to show others what lies on the outskirts of the world.

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