2017 International Photo Contest Tournament: Round 1

It’s time once again for the SDSU International Photo contest, featuring photos submitted by SDSU students! This year we’re choosing our People’s Choice Award through a 40-photo tournament, with winners decided by online voting right here on the Be International blog. Voting is now open for Round 1 below, so pick your favorites! (NOTE: VOTING IS NOW CLOSED)

The theme of this year’s contest is “Defying Imagination: Images that depict something that you did not expect, or that helped you imagine life in another context during your international experience.”

The contest was open to domestic students on study abroad programs and international students studying at SDSU. For more information on the contest and to view past years’ winners visit this website.

You will vote on images head-to-head, with the winners of each vote advancing on to the next round. Voting in each round will be open for one day.

Please note: voting for the first place, second place, third place and honorable mention will be done by a panel of judges. The People’s Choice Award is… less scientific. SO VOTE EARLY AND VOTE OFTEN.

And now, the voting:

Berber Music vs. Plaza De España

Berber Music

Location: Marrakech, Morocco
Narrative: Walking the streets of Marrakech, I felt uneasy. I found myself spinning in circles trying to avoid motorcycles and pestering salesmen. Suddenly, I heard one sound above all. It was unlike any sound I had heard before, but somehow it was familiar to me. I followed the noise which led to this man. I was nervous to be in a new place, perhaps even afraid, but his music and his smile brought me comfort.

Plaza De España

Location: Seville, Spain
Narrative: The Plaza De España in Seville, Spain, is a building of indescribable beauty. As I marveled at its elegance and pondered its creation, a boy began blowing bubbles into the evening sky, creating a surreal moment in an already otherworldly place.

Street Art by Bordalo II vs. Through the Castle Door

Street Art by Bordalo II

Location: Lisbon, Portugal
Narrative: This photo showcases extraordinary street art by Bordalo II, who was born in Lisbon in 1987. I was astonished by this giant raccoon installation made from tires, damaged car parts, appliances and other trashed objects. This artwork helped me understand that there is no limit to creativity. It also opened my eyes to the amount of waste production which could lead to serious ecological problems if we stop recycling.

Through the Castle Door

Location: Malahide, Ireland
Narrative: Just as doors are ​physical portals, ​they can (and often do, in literary fiction) serve as a way to enter into entirely new spaces, both literal and metaphorical. This doorway at Malahide Castle served as a reminder of times past, and ignited my imagination, wondering who had passed through it before.

Ideal Home vs. Pinwheel Dreams

Ideal Home

Location: Somewhere over the Alps
Narrative: Throughout my study abroad year I took the opportunity to travel around Europe. This photo was taken when I was making my way back to England after visiting Greece. When I was looking out the plane’s window, I noticed that this was the first time that I appreciated the plane ride. From that moment on, I no longer take for granted the chance to see the world through a different angle.

Pinwheel Dreams

Location: Kawagoe, Japan
Narrative: Every summer at the Kawagoe Shrine people gather to celebrate, and write their dreams and wishes on wind chimes. This picture shows a woman wearing her traditional yukata, standing in the middle of her dreams, and the dreams of others, wondering how many will come true.

Fascinating Fireworks vs. Flip flip, hooray!

Fascinating Fireworks

Location: Tokyo, Japan
Narrative: This photo was taken my last night in the suburbs of Tokyo. I wanted to take photos of passing trains’ reflections in the river; however nothing came of it. While walking home, I noticed kids playing with fireworks under a unique bridge and was able to capture the moment. I believe this shows that even if you cannot find what you are looking for, if you keep your head up you can find something even better.

Flip flip, hooray!

Location: Manenberg Tambo Village, Khayelitsha, South Africa
Narrative: Some kids want to be doctors, teachers or movie stars when they grow up. This energetic Cape Town character not only wanted wanted to be a superhero, but he wanted to defy the rules of gravity entirely. I think he succeeded.

Playtime vs. Fleeting Sakura


Location: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Narrative: This fluffy ball of cuteness is the youngest member of the Kiryama mountain gorilla family. He’s quite the curious gorilla and loves munching on wild celery, exploring the jungle and annoying his older brother. Do baby gorillas have dreams and imaginations? There is no doubt in my mind that they do.

Fleeting Sakura

Location: Kawagoe, Japan
Narrative: While I was wandering the backstreets of Kawagoe, a sudden gust of wind blew against a single tree, sending cherry blossoms into the air for a fleeting moment like a scene out of a drama and unlike anything I could ever imagine. The split second during which petals filled the alleyway highlighted how Sakura to many Japanese are a metaphor for the fleeting, bittersweet nature of youth; similar to how my time abroad flew by.

Speechless vs. Tradition Speaks Volumes


Location: Mt. Fuji, Japan
Narrative: There were no words that could be said as my friend and I watched the sun rise in silence along the distant horizon from the ninth station on Mt. Fuji after a long arduous night climb. He later mentioned that it felt religious in a way for him as a Japanese. In a similar manner though, I felt the same, this imagination defying moment left me in awe of the might that Mt. Fuji is.

Tradition Speaks Volumes

Location: Beijing, China
Narrative: This photo captures the life and pure serenity of China. There is a greater meaning in traditional buildings as it reflects the respect and appreciation of Chinese history and culture. Walking along these unpaved paths, so close to the water, I was able to be in tune with the beauty that surrounds me.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling vs. Golden Slumbers

Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Location: Rome, Italy
Narrative: The Sistine Chapel ceiling is one of the most iconic frescos painted by Michelangelo. The beauty of it lies not in the individual paintings, but in being surrounded by all the beautiful artwork that has survived for over five centuries. While the most iconic image is that of God creating Adam, one must not ignore the rest: the nine center panels together depicting the book of Genesis and the 12 Prophets/Sibyls on either side.

Golden Slumbers

Location: Lima, Peru
Narrative: This photo was captured in a park that uses fountains as art displays and as ways to celebrate the Peruvian Culture. The water droplets appear as if gold pieces floating in space or streamers falling down from the sky. The gold color symbolizes one of the country’s greatest resources.

Where Worlds Collide vs. Uneven Balance

Where Worlds Collide

Location: The Andes Mountains, Ecuador
Narrative: The Andean galaxy. Apparently, passed mankind’s blanket of smog and pollution, our celestial nebula is brimming with these things called stars. As I took this shot a wild realization slapped me awake — this is the glorious spectacle we should all be taking in every night. Stargazing should be a commonality for us all, not a rarity. No contamination, no blockage. Just a pure, untainted cornucopia of distant worlds.

Uneven Balance

Location: Vienna, Austria
Narrative: Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s Kunst Haus Wein strongly contrasts the architecture throughout Vienna and the entirety of Austria. Nature is embedded in his art. Asymmetry defines the building and what it means to be human. Kunst Haus Wein was created with the intention to represent humans instead of imprisoning them with sterile and symmetrical architecture. The artist built something that makes a statement, but more importantly feels like home. He built a place for humans to thrive.

Spaceship vs. Tranquil Imagination


Location: Liverpool, United Kingdom
Narrative: Shocked with the amazing architecture and the reigning silence in the Central Library of Liverpool, surrounded by books and letters … I imagined myself in a spaceship traveling out to explore new worlds. Reminds me of my first days in England realizing that I was out of my comfort zone trying to adapt to a new culture and environment. Represents the beginning of my experience abroad.

Tranquil Imagination

Location: Lisbon, Portugal
Narrative: There were a lot of things to expect upon my arrival in Europe, but a best friend was not one of them. Five months in a new home doesn’t seem like sufficient amount time to make a strong connection, but that’s the beauty in the unknown. This girl (Laureen from Germany) quickly became my best friend, one that would travel all over Europe with me and would share so many memorable moments with.

Pastel Fairytale vs. Snow Struck

Pastel Fairytale

Location: Cinque Terre, Italy
Narrative: Cinque Terre was a city beyond my imagination. The pastel buildings, colorful murals and crystal clear water made this beautiful city a fairytale. The steep mountains that engulf the town make it a hidden beauty. The simplicity of the town made me realize the abundant amount of distractions we have that prevent us from admiring the unimaginable in reality.

Snow Struck

Location: Yokote, Japan
Narrative: “It’s snowing!” As a kid born and raised in southern California I would never thought I have the opportunity to say those words. I never imagined leaving home and not knowing how beautiful the world could be under a blanket of snow. Japan with its beautiful scenery knows how to display its beauty and it only made my inner child only want to scream that much more as my fantasy was reality.

Das Märchen vs. Typical Tourist

Das Märchen

Location: Marburg, Germany
Narrative: “Das Märchen” is German for “fairy tale” – which is a perfect description of my time in Marburg. Cobblestones paved my way through the village that inspired the Brothers Grimm to collect stories for future generations to read and marvel at. This charming little town became my second home, transporting me back to a time where magic might be found just around the corner.

Typical Tourist

Location: San Diego, United States (submitted by international student)
Narrative: I was typically taking one of those touristy photographs at Ocean Beach (of a lifeguard hut numbered 2 ) when I noticed a couple’s reflection in the window. It was a beautiful coincidence, to catch with the sun setting, and I couldn’t help but feel a connection between the number two and this couple.

The Land of Lavender vs. It Takes a Village

The Land of Lavender

Location: Greoux-Les-Bains, France
Narrative: Already exhausted from our morning excursions, I was honestly not going to get off the bus when it pulled off the side of the road. But as soon as my feet touched the edge of the sweetly scented lavender bush, I suddenly felt so overwhelmed with this vast sea of purple in front of me. My favorite quote rang true in that moment … “How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist.”

It Takes a Village

Location: Phuket, Thailand
Narrative: Life as they know it is always swaying with movements of the sea. The inhabitants of this small fishing village do not have many interactions with other people living on the mainland, except for the intrigued tourists. Not only is their way of life almost unimaginable for a San Diego resident, they feel the same about us!

Grand Buddha vs. Above the Clouds

Grand Buddha

Location: Wuxi, China
Narrative: Early on this year I would never have imagined that I would have the chance to see the Grand Buddha that stands at more than 88 meters high. Being able to see and take in the Chinese culture and religion was a humbling experience to a part of.

Above the Clouds

Location: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Narrative: Who knew that the cheapest plane ticket would lead to the most rewarding experience of my life. Although you needed to reserve a spot a month prior to climb Mt. Kinabalu, an ad in my hostel advertised one extra spot so I took it. After a 6 kilometer hike to base camp and waking up at 2 a.m. to climb the last 3 kilometers, I found myself 13,435 feetabove the clouds, watching a glorious sunrise.

Catedral de Leon vs. Volcano Surfing for the First Time

Catedral de Leon

Location: Leon, Nicaragua
Narrative: Studying in Managua, Nicaragua, I was surrounded by tall city buildings, fast cars and so many people. When I traveled north of the city I came upon Leon, Nicaragua, and I found myself surprised by how different it was from the capital. The European culture mixed with Nicaraguan culture was seen in this city. The Catedral de Leon is the centerpiece of the city and on the top of the church people can walk and see views of the landscape.

Volcano Surfing for the First Time

Location: Leon, Nicaragua
Narrative: Nicaragua is one of the few places in the world where you can surf down a volcano. Me and my friends decided to take on this feat and, after an hour hike up Cerro Negro, we suited up to “volcano surf” down this 2,388 foot volcano. This was something I never thought I would ever do in my life. I was able to surf down at 75 mph, and I saw the beauty of Nicaragua’s landscape.

Bo-Kaap Houses in front of Lion’s Head vs. Mindlessly Grazing

Bo-Kaap Houses in front of Lion’s Head

Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Narrative: Cape Town was absolutely breathtaking. Its diverse geological features and vibrant architecture made it seem unreal. I never expected to see so many amazing sites in one country, let alone one city. However, it was not Cape Town’s aesthetic grandeur alone that made the city so remarkable; it was also the people. The people who live in the Bo-Kaap and whose smiles were so warm and welcoming. This is what made Cape Town so extraordinary.

Mindlessly Grazing

Location: Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
Narrative: While hiking through Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, my program and I stumbled upon a herd of grazing cows. They were seemingly oblivious to the beauty of the cascading waterfall behind them. The scene called for a moment of introspection, as we questioned what sights we often took for granted while going through mundane, daily routines and brought a new appreciation for everyday beauty.

The Children of Zojo-ji Temple vs. Kindness of the Heart

The Children of Zojo-ji Temple

Location: Tokyo, Japan
Narrative: Japan is a country that largely identifies as “not religious”, yet living in Japan it is hard to ignore the religious charms hanging from purses and schoolbags, the businesses with miniature shrines for a deity of wealth, and the shrines and temples that serve as community centers. Although Zojo-ji Temple was founded in 1393, modern Japan continues to make offerings to its deity Jizo, to watch over the spirits of miscarried and unborn children.

Kindness of the Heart

Location: Ludian, China
Narrative: One student I taught surprised me with her kindness and gifted me with a purple elephant named Elly. She wrote me a note that said, “As the saying goes, to have friends from far away is a joy and I now have a friend from America, such a joy. Elly will keep you safe during your journey abroad.” Throughout my travels in China Elly accompanied me, reminding me of the unexpected kindness from my student.

Ponte Vecchio at Night vs. The Alleys

Ponte Vecchio at Night

Location: Florence, Italy
Narrative: Absolutely breathtaking and defying all of the scenes in my wildest dreams, the lights twinkle along the Ponte Vecchio at dark. I would stroll by this picturesque scene nightly to take in the serene sights and ponder life in this magical city.

The Alleys

Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Narrative: As I wandered through Stockholm, I found myself jumping through time. Every building around me was built before America was even America. On these walks through Old Town, I imagined life in 17th century Sweden; wooden carts being hauled down the bumpy cobblestone, carrying breads and cheeses, clothes drying out on wires across the buildings, a simpler life. When I look back at this photo of the alleys, I time travel all over again.

Venice of the North vs. Gateway

Venice of the North

Stockholm, Sweden
Narrative: I never expected to see a major city, such as Stockholm, broken up into islands — 14 islands to be exact. Long, wooden pedestrian bridges connected each little island, and greatly enhanced my experience. I soon realized I could see so much more by walking, and quickly found “photo spots” to display the glory of this city. This photo is from my favorite spot, Södermalm, as it overlooks Riddarholm and Gamla Stan.


Location: Dornie, Scotland
Narrative: Observing the Eilean Donan Castle of the Scottish Highlands in such a docile state made my imagination run wild, back to a time when this castle was the western gate to the country. I thought of the families who occupied the castle and defended the region for over 700 years. This imposing monument was a gateway into the past, and was a standout among many highlights from this program.

Integration vs. A Queen’s View


Location: Seoul, South Korea
Narrative: Hongdae, an exuberant neighborhood located in Seoul, is where the distinct Korean culture and customs are uniquely exhibited in a modernized fashion. Hongdae houses numerous restaurants, galleries, markets, and performance stages, allowing people like me to not only see but, altogether, live the unimaginably integrated life and culture.

A Queen’s View

Location: Sintra, Portugal
Narrative: The tall golden arches outline the vast Atlantic Ocean which is at the base of the mountain this castle stands on. A queen once lived here and she saw this view every day. When looking through these windows to the small cities and beaches below it looks similar to where I grew up. Maybe that means I am a queen too.

My Moment of Awe vs. The American Dream

My Moment of Awe

Location: Barcelona, Spain
Narrative: During my travels as an international student one of the first place I went was Spain. While there I visited one of the most famous attractions the Sagrada Familia. I was humbled by the Sagrada due to its scale and detail and while there I felt for the first time in my life true awe: the feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder.

The American Dream

Location: Cinque Terre, Italy
Narrative: As a first generation minority woman, reaching the American Dream has been more challenging than I anticipated. Friends would always tell me to enjoy my youth and reward myself for the obstacles I faced in my childhood as a former foster youth. It wasn’t until I went abroad and observed how Europeans rewarded themselves for their hard work/accomplishments that I understood the importance of self-care. This picture represents that learning experience.

See more student-submitted international photos by following SDSU Be International on Instagram.

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