Last month, the second floor of the Millennium Student Center rotunda at the University of Missouri–St. Louis was adorned with spectacular scenes from around the world – the ethereal aurora borealis above Tromsø, Norway; serene Ameenpur Lake in Hyderabad, India; majestic Mount Fuji.
Photos of these natural wonders were displayed for members of the UMSL community to enjoy as part of UMSL Global and Study Abroad’s International Photo Contest. The contest called for original photographic work taken outside of the United States and was open to all UMSL faculty, staff and students – though only students were eligible for the scholarship funds that accompanied the three winners.
The top photographs were chosen by a panel of judges, including Kalven Duncan, development coordinator at the St. Louis Contemporary Art Museum; Sara Keller, alumna, artist and owner of The Keller Creative; Maureen Quigley, chair of the Department of Art and Design; and Judy Schmitt, health sciences librarian.
“The submissions were so amazing,” said Sarah Jimenez, international student service coordinator with UMSL Global. “Some of these students who submitted their photos, it made me feel like we’ve got some real artists in our community.”
The last contest was held in 2017, but the university had previously hosted it annually. This year, Jimenez and Annie Hyde, manager of UMSL Study Abroad, decided to reestablish and revitalize the contest. They aimed not only to tout travel opportunities through UMSL Global but also to promote the beauty of other cultures and advocate a global mindset.
Overall, the judges received about 70 submissions, which were evaluated based on the quality of the image, artistic expressiveness, creativity and relevance to the mission of UMSL Global. Jimenez added that judges were looking for submissions that highlighted the charm of other countries and cultures and reflected personal traveling experiences.
During a reception on April 25 in the MSC, Jimenez and Hyde announced the winning photographs, which captured scenes from Norway, Egypt and India. Senior business student Jackson Zamora took first place and earned a $500 scholarship for his photo of the northern lights illuminating the night sky north of the Arctic Circle.
“I feel very grateful for winning, first, and love this idea that UMSL Global proposed,” Zamora said.
Graduate business student Caitlyn Roth placed second and earned a $300 scholarship for her snapshot of a towering mosque in Cairo’s City of the Dead, while graduate information systems and technology student Rajasree Janyavula came in third and earned a $150 scholarship for capturing a peaceful moment on Ameenpur Lake.
Honorable mentions went to graduate students Dharini Rao and Hallie Travers for photos of a tropical boat trip in Gokarna, India, and an unrivaled view of classic architecture in Florence, Italy, respectively. Assistant Teaching Professor Hiroko Yoshii received an honorable mention for her shot of Mount Fuji mirrored on a lake, while executive assistant Carolyn Young was recognized for her picture of a solitary sailboat on a misty lake in Saint John, Canada.
Zamora doesn’t have a background in photography, but he’s had the opportunity to capture some great photos during recent international travels, including a study abroad program in Ljubljana, Slovenia. However, the winning photo was taken during a Christmas trip to Norway, which was a gift to his girlfriend, Anna.
“We both always wanted to see the northern lights in person, so we flew to Stockholm and took almost 18 hours of trains and busses to Tromsø,” he said. “The first night in Tromsø, we got on a northern lights chase bus that drove us to some spots that might show the northern lights. We actually got very lucky because we saw it at the first stop, where the photo was taken.”
Yoshii was surprised, but honored, to learn that her photo had earned an honorable mention. She was visiting Mount Fuji with her husband during their 2017 honeymoon. Since it was his first time in Japan, Yoshii was intent on bringing him to several iconic locations in the country. When the couple arrived at an inn near the mountain, their view was initially obscured by heavy fog. Eventually, it lifted, offering a clear vision of the landmark and a photo op.
“Next morning, when I woke up a bit early, I found this beautiful Mount Fuji from the window,” she said. “I woke my husband up, got outside to appreciate the magnificent view.”
Yoshii felt fortunate the weather cleared that morning, which she described as an instance of “ichigo-ichie,” a Japanese phrase often translated as “once in a lifetime experience” or “seize the day” that encourages people to appreciate the moment.
She also appreciated UMSL Global and Study Abroad arranging the photo contest, so members of the UMSL community – particularly students – could take part in cross-cultural exchange.
“I saw all the students’ submissions, which really captured their special moments,” she said. “I’m sure this has inspired students to get to know about the places, the cultures and the people in the photos.”
Jimenez said there are plans to continue the contest each spring going forward. She added that it will provide another outlet for students to share their study abroad experiences and encourage international students to make connections on campus.
“Our students are always so willing to share their countries with people,” she said. “This is a great way for them to get the opportunity to share a picture from their home country and to relate to people who have gone and visited parts of the world – other fellow travelers.”