With so many rich stories from Carleton students’ study aboard and overseas adventures to choose from, selecting the top submission for the 2020 Global Engagement Travel Writing Contest wasn’t easy!
Special thanks to the Travel Writing Contest Sponsors Dean of Students, STA Travel, Off-Campus Studies, The Center for Global and Regional Studies, and The Writing Center. Additionally, many thanks goes out to this year’s internal and external judges. Our external judge, Larry Habegger provided the wonderful explanations below for his final selections. Congratulations to the winners.
1st Place: “A Bus Ride in Vietnam” by Emma Wasend
The writer of “A Bus Ride in Vietnam” pulls us in with his/her (?) carsickness so we immediately engage with her and her discomfort. Who hasn’t been motion sick on a bus in an unfamiliar place? We identify with her and her experience. Her physical discomfort overlays her emotional discomfort of not wanting to be there, wishing she were home, away from these strange foods and strange place. We learn she doesn’t like Chi, the family’s guide, because Chi called attention to the writer’s acne, and she resists everything Chi offers in the way of information or knowledge.
The writer is challenged by a visit to an impoverished family and war museums, but she also skillfully weaves the narrative with current thoughts about the questions she is facing from this trip so long ago. She comes to the conclusion that being uncomfortable with unpleasant realities is a real and perhaps essential response to them. Her closing paragraph wins the competition for me. In it she describes a powerful moment with Chi when Chi recognizes the pain the writer is suffering and offers her silent comfort with a look, a gentle touch, and then walks away to give the writer time to experience her emotions alone.
The writer comes to terms with her resistance to Chi, seeing the truth in Chi’s efforts simply to raise her awareness, present these awful truths, and allow her to process them in her own way. And she acknowledges that she doesn’t have the answers, but at least now she understands the questions.
2nd Place: “The Best Country in the World” by Santi Rico
The writer of “The Best Country in the World” establishes a connection with his father through their shared interest in soccer, but immediately shows the tension between them symbolized by the writer’s refusal to root for Team USA. He realizes that he and his father have radically different views of the U.S. His dad considers it the best country in the world because it gave him the chance to restart his life, but for the writer, it’s a place he feels he’s never belonged.
Through a brief family history we learn what his father had to sacrifice to immigrate from Colombia, and the guilt the writer feels for wanting to get out of the country, anywhere, to someplace he’ll feel at home. Through his travels and work in Europe, where he feels comfortable, he gains perspective, coming to understand that everyone needs to follow their dreams, and his guilt falls away. He recognizes that he will always be a product of his past, and his path is not his father’s.
Throughout the story the writer retains the tension he’s holding inside, and as a result keeps the reader with him until he resolves his experience for himself and for us.
3rd Place: “Silent Gun” by Wenlai Han
The writer of “Silent Gun” almost lost me with his fluctuating timeline structure, but I can see why he chose to tell her story this way. The storyline of a robbery and its aftermath is served well by beginning at the end so we know that things worked out, and the last sentence of the lead paragraph is a good hook as it establishes that something traumatic had just transpired. The surprise pulls us right in.
He handles the incident, spooling backwards in time, with clear, dispassionate storytelling that allows the action to carry the plot, and the use of dialogue heightens the intensity. In his return to the present he underscores the theme of kindness, and the lessons he’s learned, especially about family. He comes away from this experience not with judgment but with an appreciation of how compassionate most people are, having his faith in humanity strengthened.