While this past year posed its challenges for travel, this didn’t stop students from submitting entertaining and adventurous entries for the 2021 Global Engagement Travel Writing Contest!
Special thanks to the Travel Writing Contest Sponsors Cross Cultural Studies, Dean of Students, 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, as well as those who played important roles in putting the contest together. Our external judge, Bonnie Nadzam provided the detailed explanations below for her selections of this year’s winners. Lastly, congratulations to the top five winners, your entries were a joy to read, thank you for sharing your adventures with us!
1st Place: “A Tourist in My Own Homeland” by Chloe Jones
This essay is a wonder of terror and panic, disorientation and loss, and of reflection and intensifying, escalating personal questions that culminate in a resolution both curiously complete and totally unsettling. I found myself reading faster and faster, amazed by the profundity of the experience this young woman is describing from her girlhood. She is a Chinese girl adopted by Americans, returned to China on a visit and suddenly lost in her own homeland, unable to speak the language of a sea of faces that for once—for the first time!—mirror her own; the resonances of the questions of personal identity with her experience in the Forbidden City are poignant, and at once breathtakingly beautiful and heartbreaking. The utter disorientation is so sharply described I almost felt vertigo. It is no wonder the experience has stayed with the writer in such a visceral way, and it is a powerful lesson accompanying her back in time to experience it with her. The descriptions of the Forbidden City in which she is lost add to the uncanny, terrifying ordeal—being in a museum, wax figures frozen in time, the utter linguistic and personal disconnect, the crowds of Chinese people she does not know, the searching and searching the horizon for her blonde mother…I hope this essay is just the beginning of a longer exploration and I encourage the writer to take up her pen again.
2nd Place: “Una Cultura Mestiza” by Kamala GhaneaBassiri
The voice in this essay is mature, intelligent, and fierce, as embodied by the writer’s consideration, then careful reconsideration of her own name, her parents’ love story, and an unusual cathedral in Spain. The writer discovers a sense of belonging, of familiar and resonant beauty in this historic landmark that is a sacred place of prayer for both Muslims and Catholics—but it offers only brittle consolation that does not hold up against her subsequent experiences in America, where she is not Iranian enough, not Muslim enough, not Mexican enough, not American enough. It is via another foray, another journey—this time into language itself—that the writer finds her space in exile itself. The writer comes to see the cathedral in Spain in a new way that is not merely “representative” or a beautiful collision of cultures, but something entirely different, something its own. This essay betrays a spirit that knows how to travel—and will do it however high the stakes and dangerous the journey—not just across geographical space, but rocky internal and linguistic landscapes too.
3rd Place: “Snapshots” by Andriana Taratsas
This essay is an experiment in form, which in itself merits some praise and attention. Brava to the writer for taking a formal risk. Even better, however, indeed quite remarkable, is how the form is so perfectly suited to the content and subject matter: a young woman making her second visit to the country of her ancestors (including her own father), 11 years after her first visit as a child. It relays joy as well as a sense of loss, and the disorientation that comes with being both intimately connected to a place and a “mere” tourist. Formally, the essay is told via the presentation of a series of “snapshots” or brief descriptions of what may indeed be a stack of old photographs on a desk somewhere. The reader is invited to shuffle through them, as it were. The descriptions of Greece in each snapshot are vivid, and seem spare (a snapshot, after all, only provides so many details, and fixed in time), but by the end of this piece, the writer has relayed that feeling both of looking back on a trip, and it’s magic, as well as some of the complexity of being connected by blood and by narrative to a place she has only visited years and years apart. The writer’s experience, like the reader’s, comes in disconnected images and moments across space and time that nevertheless tell a story.