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2016-17 Photo Contest

From a goat guarding a famous World Heritage Site in Jordan to an array of colorful umbrellas lining the sky in San José, Costa Rica, this year's Off-Campus Study Photo Contest winners brought their unique travel memories to life. 

Thank you to the 26 students who shared their off-campus study experiences by submitting a total of 76 entries to the 2016-17 Photo Contest! Read on to see what students have to say about their winning photos:


1st Place

Smile for the Tourists by Leigh Anne Hahn, St. Olaf College

Tanzania: Ecology & Human Origins


"At first I was really irritated by the jeeps constantly driving by and disrupting my photos, and then I realized that I could incorporate them into the image with a new message. It made me reconsider our impact on the animals and the landscape."


Q&A with Leigh Anne Hahn, 1st Place Winner

What were some of the highlights of studying in the field for you – academically, personally, and in experiencing Tanzania and Africa? 

It was such an incredible experience to transfer what we learned in class to the field. Not only did we get to see beautiful, unique animals, but we also got to travel with our extremely knowledgeable professors and drivers. My research project involved observing and trapping reptiles, and it was always exciting to check a bucket and find an adorable lizard or to peer between rocks and see tortoises. With advice and assistance from my friends, these experiences made me as strong as a baobab.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience at the time you took the photo?

That whole day was surreal. We had just stumbled across over a hundred elephants, and a male and female lion walked directly in front of my jeep while we were surrounded by these herds. We drove a little further and found a lion pride, complete with tiny cubs. At first I was really irritated by the jeeps constantly driving by and disrupting my photos, and then I realized that I could incorporate them into the image with a new message. It made me reconsider our impact on the animals and the landscape. 

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a student who’s thinking about going on the ACM Tanzania program?

Do it! While you’re there, take risks, go on adventures, and try new things. However, don’t forget to take time for yourself. Although I didn’t want to miss out on anything, I was able to enjoy things a lot more when I paused to decompress and reflect on everything I was experiencing.

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2nd Place

Independence Day Parade by Ryan Aiello, Lawrence University

Costa Rica: Community Engagement in Public Health, Education, & the Environment


"Follow the Ticos' advice: Tranquilo, mae. ¡Pura vida! Get out of your American bubble and experience the beautiful world around you. Walk into random restaurants, order foods you can’t pronounce, and let yourself wander outside your comfort zone."


Q&A with Ryan Aiello, 2nd Place Winner

What were some of your favorite cultural experiences in Costa Rica?

Some of my favorite cultural experiences were simply getting myself lost among the people. Every weekend I would make sure I reserved a few hours to simply wander around, occasionally with my camera, and take in the sights. Specifically, I enjoyed wandering into random local “sodas” or restaurants and asking the cooks to surprise me with whatever they felt like. Those were honestly the most adventurous and memorable moments of my trip.

Did you often take photos in Costa Rica? If so, how do you think taking photos impacted your program experience?

Nearly every weekend I was out exploring the cloud forests of Monteverde or wandering the streets of San José, often with my camera. Over the course of my three-month stay, I probably took nearly two thousand photographs. There were some days in Monteverde when I was out in the reserves for the entire day before returning back to my host family, and honestly, I wouldn’t change any of those experiences for the world. It was because of my photography that I really felt motivated to go out and explore the beautiful country I was in. Yet my photography also gave me the chance to analyze the culture I was in with a more detailed eye, something I never would have been motivated to do, at least to as much detail as I did.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a student who’s thinking about going on the ACM Costa Rica program?

Keep an open mind, and stay positive. Things will not turn out how you expect; they just simply won’t. What you choose to do from there is how you will determine the success of your trip. Follow the Ticos' advice: Tranquilo, mae. ¡Pura vida! Get out of your American bubble and experience the beautiful world around you. Walk into random restaurants, order foods you can’t pronounce, and let yourself wander outside your comfort zone. Trust me—it’s completely worth it.

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3rd Place

A Goat by Karen Lynch, Knox College

Jordan: Middle East & Arabic Language Studies


"It almost seemed like the goat was guarding the area and had allowed me to have this glimpse of Petra—this amazing peek into an era long gone by."


Q&A with Karen Lynch, 3rd Place Winner

What were some of your most memorable moments during your semester in Jordan?

During my semester in Jordan, I had a wide variety of memorable moments with my host family—playing paintball for the first time during Eid, trips out to the Dead Sea, and family gatherings with bunches of great, energetic kiddos, to name only a few.

Did you often take photos in Jordan? If so, how did you think taking photos impacted your program?

I both did and did not take a lot of photos. In the beginning, I took photos of everything, and when I travelled in Jordan, I took a ton of photos. However, I think I really missed out on the opportunity to take a lot of photos of the everyday life of Jordan, and that is the experience that I should have paid the most attention to documenting. In some ways, though, I didn't take as many photos during that time because I forgot I would only be there for a short time—emotionally, at least. It felt like home.

Explain to us what was going on when you took this photo. How did the moment you took this photo enrich your program experience as a whole?

I had just finished hiking up past the monastery at Petra to the cliffs that overlook a large canyon and the rocky peaks of mountains disappearing into distant hazy air. I had been in a bit of a rush until this point, and on my way back down, the goat in the picture began to bleat at me. I stopped, wondering partially if the goat would headbutt me off the edge of the cliff. Then I bleated back at the goat and pulled out my camera, noticing that the monastery was situated in the background in a cool way.

It was a weird sensation because it almost seemed like the goat was guarding the area and had allowed me to have this glimpse of Petra, this amazing peek into an era long gone by. Reflecting on that moment gives me so much gratitude for my ability not only to have studied abroad in Jordan, but also to have met so many wonderful people and made such unforgettable memories.

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4th Place

Avenida 4 by Fernando Figueroa, Lake Forest College

Costa Rica: Field Research in the Environment, Social Sciences, & Humanities


"I can truly say I experienced all of Costa Rica’s beauty. I visited different beaches, volcanoes, mountains, lakes, rivers, cities, and forests. Don’t be afraid to hop on the bus and explore."


Q&A with Fernando Figueroa, 4th Place Winner

Did you often take photos in Costa Rica? If so, how do you think taking photos impacted your program experience?

Yes, I was always taking pictures. I’ve been extremely interested in photography since high school, and Costa Rica provided beautiful landscapes that allowed me to explore this hobby. As I traveled around Costa Rica, I was snapping pictures for my own record, but also to show family and friends who were not there with me. I can still recall those special moments I experienced due to the pictures I took.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience at the time you took the photo?

I took this photo as I was walking around the downtown area of San José. I was actually going to meet up with some friends and I decided to go early. Throughout my time in Costa Rica, I tried go into local shops and talk to different people. I was really intrigued by the Tico culture and their hospitality. I tried to engage and learn about it as much as possible, and this was part of another beautiful day in Costa Rican paradise.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a student who’s thinking about going on the ACM Costa Rica program?

In general, studying abroad allows for opportunities to travel around the country you are studying in or the neighboring ones. In my case, I was able to explore a lot of Costa Rica due to it being a relatively small country. This was great because I can truly say I experienced all of Costa Rica’s beauty. I visited different beaches, volcanoes, mountains, lakes, rivers, cities, and forests. Don’t be afraid to hop on the bus and explore.

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Fans' Choice

Make Tacos Not War by Thet Htut, Macalester College

Chicago Program: Arts, Entrepreneurship, & Social Justice


"The whole concept of the National Museum of Mexican Art really impressed me. The building, free of charge to the public, really represents the value of togetherness that can be seen in the community of Pilsen."


Q&A with Thet Htut, Fans' Choice Winner

In addition to the National Museum of Mexican Art, what other museums or cultural institutions did you get to visit during your time in Chicago? Any favorites?

One of my favorite visits would be to the Field Museum. During my time in Chicago, I actually got to visit this museum more than a couple times. The one visit that stood out from the rest would have to be when we got a tour of the museum with the artist behind the dioramas. We got a behind-the-scenes guide on the arduous process of making dioramas, and visited sections of the museum we would not have known about otherwise, like the rooms where they dissect birds and feed carcasses to worms!

Did you often take photos while in Chicago? If so, how do you think taking photos impacted your program experience?

It is always a fine line between taking too many photos and not taking enough. While my personal philosophy is to live in the present, I believe that taking photos should be a supplement to and should not take away from that live experience. For example, the angle from which I shot the photo created the whimsical juxtaposition between the statue in the bowl and the "Make Tacos, Not War" text. If not for the camera, I would not have looked at the museum exhibit in that way.

Along with the description you provided with the photo, is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience at the time you took the photo, and how that moment enriched your program experience as a whole?

The whole concept of the National Museum of Mexican Art really impressed me. The building, free of charge to the public, really represents the value of togetherness that can be seen in the invigorating community of Pilsen. During my time in Chicago, I was surprised that other Chicagoans still have the misconception of Pilsen as one of the dangerous neighborhoods. That was not how I experienced Pilsen at all, because of places like the National Museum of Mexican Art.

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