Amanda Wright, Amherst’s education abroad coordinator, has a favorite among the 234 entries for the international photo contest this year, but it’s not the most stunning. It’s not even among the 21 finalists, which went up on display in Frost Library on Monday as part of a week-long voting contest to determine this year’s winners.

Rather, her favorite shows a man in a red and white striped shirt, standing proudly in the middle of a stone circle. Taylor Hallowell ’17, who submitted the photo, wrote in the caption that it was her host grandfather who built the arch.

man standing in a circular arch of stones

“He proudly stood in front of it and asked, ‘Do you have something to take a picture? I want people to see.’” Hallowell wrote. “He built the arch in just a few weeks with the help of my other host family members. They live in a tiny town in the mountains of Costa Rica with limited resources, so very few people have been able to see this work of art.”

For Wright, the photo and caption sum up the power of the international photo contest, now in its second year. Stories such as that one make foreign places relatable, she said.

The contest not only provides publicity for the study abroad program, and for the student photographers who see their work on display; it also provides a small, illuminating window into the people, places and things that Amherst students encounter while abroad. The captions, too, are stories in miniature, containing the same type of power that has made websites such as Humans of New York so popular.

This year’s contest was open to Amherst students who took part in any international experience, whether during the summer or through a formal study abroad program. Some submissions are photos of the United States taken by international Amherst students. 

This semester, Amherst letters of intent to study abroad have surged to 160 from a previous average of 100. Although she can’t draw a direct correlation, Wright tends to see applications jump every fall, when the photo contest is underway. 

“Once you get a photo, you get people talking,” Wright said. “It gets them talking about other stories from study abroad.”