By: Lora Doughty

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Staff Post

2020 SFS Photo Contest Winners!


This year has challenged all of us in many different ways. For SFS, this has meant canceling programs, pausing our student-driven environmental research, and having to say goodbye to many cherished colleagues. Our smaller team is working hard to ensure a future for SFS!

Enter this ray of light – the annual SFS Photo Contest. This year’s photo contest means something a little different. It’s a moment to reflect on the impact that SFS programs have had, to remind us that our larger global community is still out there, and to fill our day with a little magic that comes from a moment in time captured by our ever-inspiring students.

Today we’re announcing the winners of our 2020 photo contest, which includes submissions from our Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 semesters. This year’s contest saw strong submissions in every category, and it was hard to select our winners. One grand prize winner, four category winners, and eight category runners-up are shared below along with a short story about their photo. Help us in congratulating these students on their accomplishment!

Congratulations to our Grand Prize Winner, Emmett Orgass (SFS Chile | Hamilton College)!


Emmett took this photo while watching the sunset over the fjord with a couple of friends right in the town of Puerto Natales, where the SFS Chile Center is located. As he recounts, “It was one of our first sunsets in the city – we were exploring the area when we came across this beautiful field of flowers on a cliff overlooking the water.”


Category Winners & Runners Up

The following students are winners and runners-up in each of the contest’s four categories – Community, Flora and Fauna, In the Field, and Landscape.

Winner: Ben Grundy (SFS Tanzania | Santa Clara University)


During the SFS Tanzania semester program, students will spend a day with the Hadza people to learn more about their community and way of life. Ben shares a bit about his day, “This day allowed us to engage in activities such as learning how to make fire, using bows and arrows, interviewing Hadza about their interactions with wildlife (hunting and tracking), and learning about the history of the Hadza people in general. We also learned a traditional Hadza dance! I remember feeling lucky that I had the opportunity to interview one of the Hadza men (with the help of our Swahili instructor Frank) and amazed by how the Hadza people were able to maintain their traditional hunting traditions. Through this experience, I gained an understanding of a culture that I would have never been exposed to and felt a genuine connection with the man I interviewed. The archery experience was both enjoyable and hilarious. I didn’t expect it to be as difficult as it was, but you really need some muscle to pull that bowstring back. As all of us students struggled to hit the target, the Hadza men would step up, draw the bow and arrow, and hit the target what seemed like every single time. The Hadzabe cultural experience introduced me to a way of life that was so different than my own. However, the experience was valuable not because I was able to compare my lifestyle to the lifestyle of the Hadza tribe but because I was able to immerse myself in their culture and experience its beauty.”

Second Place: Matteo Moretti (SFS Bhutan | Middlebury College)


During the Bhutan program, students do a homestay during the week-long trip to Punakha and Phobjikha Valley. Matteo took this photo during his homestay and the woman photographed is his homestay host mom Lhakpa. Matteo shares the moment when he took this picture, “I awoke to our host mother, Lhakpa, splitting firewood every morning at 5:00AM. While still groggy, I was curious about what her morning routine looked like. I crossed my legs and sat next her as she prepared the woodfire stove and pulled out a plate lined with chilis, coriander and scallions. Although she didn’t know English and my Dzongkha was sparse at best, she showed me how she makes “ezay,” a Bhutanese chili sauce. In this picture, she was cleaning one of the chilis before placing it on the top of the wood stove to roast. We shared many laughs, and I was grateful to have witnessed such an artful process and especially tasty product.”

Third Place: Taylor Furrh (SFS Peru | University of Colorado, Boulder)


During the SFS Peru semester program, students take a weeklong trip to the Cusco region to experience different ecosystems from the lowland Amazon rainforest. Taylor’s photo was taken during a tour of Parque de la Papa which is near Cusco. As she shares, “We visited multiple parts of the park and learned about the six Indigenous Quechua communities that joined together to protect their land and the 1,367 different kinds of native potato species that their ancestors grew and that they still rely on. The last stop of the tour was to learn about handicrafts and how the local women naturally dye the wool and weave the beautiful designs captured in my picture. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the area and fascinated by the work the communities have done to protect their culture.”

Winner: Cameron Markovsky (SFS Chile | Bowdoin College)


During a week-long trip to Northern Patagonia, students on the SFS Chile program study geological and environmental impacts of volcanoes, explore Valdivian forests, and visit the magical island of Chiloé where Cameron captured this amazing photo. He shares his story, “This photo of a pelican was taken during a boat ride off the coast of the island Chiloé during one of our field trips. We saw a plethora of different animals during this ride including penguins, dolphins, sea lions, and many more. I thought that the drama of the bird taking off in the wake of the crashing waves in combination with the incredible color of the water was truly breathtaking.”

Second Place: Luke Stover (SFS Chile | North Carolina State University)


It’s not just all charismatic megafauna and huge landscapes, in his photo, Luke found the beauty in something a bit smaller. Something many of us might have walked right by without noticing. He shares the moment when he took the photo, “We had just taken a plane to the Los Lagos region in Northern Chile and drove to Chiloé Island. It had been raining all day and all night and the next morning we went out into the field to measure the growth of different tree leaves native to that part of Chile. My friend Barb and I were walking through the dense forest when the rain had started to clear up a little. At that moment I saw the water droplets on this leaf sitting so perfect. It made me feel content and pure in response to the water being so calm and relaxed sitting on all the leaves surrounding us. Just one of those times where you look around to admire the beauty of nature (even the simplest of things). These are the moments where you really love being in the field and the science that goes on behind all the research that is currently being done all across the world.”

Third Place: Michael Trouman (SFS Australia | DePauw University)


Michael took this photo during a multi-day excursion to Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of North Queensland in Australia. This curious caterpillar is from the Eudocima genus (fruit piercing moths). When asked about the day that he took the photo, Michael shared, “I went on a walk with one of my best friends on the program. We went out along the coast looking for wildlife and came upon a multitude of butterfly species. Since we both only had our phones, we tried to take photos of the butterflies, but they would not stay still. All we got of the scene were blurry photos. We stayed there for about 20 minutes, being bit by mosquitoes the entire time, and we failed to get a single decent photo. After the mosquitoes took too much of a toll, we gave up and walked back toward the field station. Near the field station we happened upon this magnificent caterpillar where I was finally able to capture a fragment of its beauty.”

Winner: Jenna Shea (SFS Panama | University of Massachusetts, Amherst)


Students on the SFS Panama program get the benefit of studying both terrestrial and marine environments. Jenna captured a moment in the field when they were doing a forest walk with a guest lecturer through Isla Solarte, an island adjacent to Isla Colon (where the SFS Panama Center is located). She recalls the moment, “We had come to an overlook at the top of a hill. There was a fallen tree where you could sit and take in a view of the blue waters and the shores of neighboring islands, and the hillside itself was dotted with stilted walking trees. We stayed here for a bit, and the closer we looked at the forest around us, the more beauty there was to see. There was a Planthopper nymph with an iridescent tail, a silvery spider with its legs splayed over its elaborate web-decoration, blaze orange Poison dart frogs hiding in the leaf litter, and this female Golden orb weaver tending to her prey, with a tiny potential mate perched just above her. I remember that day being filled with a lot of “guys come look at this!” as we discovered and appreciated the intricacies of the ecosystem we found ourselves in.”

Second Place: Cayley DeLancey (SFS Chile | Mount Holyoke College)


Students on certain programs have the opportunity to schedule weekends away. On an impromptu backpacking trip with about half of her student group, Cayley found a magical campsite on a hillside at Patagonia Bagual just outside the border of Torres del Paine national park. She shares her memory of that day, “In this picture is my friend Dayla. This was just after watching the sun rise over the towers. It was finally warming up and I was packing my bag (hence the mess on the ground) and my buddy Dayla came over to see how I was doing, and I snapped this picture! Such a joyful, cold, but serene morning.”

Third Place: Matteo Moretti (SFS Bhutan | Middlebury College)


Taken in Drukgyel, Paro Valley near the SFS Bhutan Center just days before the group had to leave Bhutan due to the beginning of the global pandemic. The entire group headed out on this camping trip to capture a couple more days of beauty before saying goodbye. Matteo recounts the moment, “The area, like the rest of Bhutan, was stunning — from frosted mountain peaks, to a glacial blue river and the beginnings of green paddies scattering the landscape. Our final night around the fire was a time for reflection and to fully enjoy each other’s company one last time. People sung songs, roasted marshmallows and told silly stories. While being a part of that moment brought me incredible joy, taking a step back, setting up my camera and capturing the blurred faces, peaking stars and bright light from the nearby monastery seemed to perfectly encompass my gratitude for the time with my classmates and the wonders of Bhutan.”

Winner: Cameron Markovsky (SFS Chile | Bowdoin College)


During his mid-semester break, Cameron and several of his classmates headed to Argentina. Here’s what he recalls from the day, “This photo is a view of the Southern Patagonia Icefield taken from the top of Paso del Viento when a group of friends and I did the Huemul Trek. The trek is in El Chaltén, Argentina but the photo was taken looking onto the ill-defined border between the two countries. We had just reached the top of a grueling climb and turned the corner to be greeted with the most amazing landscape I have ever seen. This moment still comes to mind as one of the most defining and impactful moments throughout my time with SFS.”

Second Place: Taylor Furrh (SFS Peru | University of Colorado, Boulder)


During her mid-semester break, Taylor joined a few of her classmates to explore the Cusco region. She recounts the day she snapped this photo, “The bird photo was taken on top of Rainbow Mountain near Cusco, Peru. The hike started at around 4,000m and the trek took about 3hrs to summit at 5,200m (which is slightly lower than the Mount Everest Base Camp!) The view was so beautiful, and I was so excited that we made it to the top! It was amazing to be at the same height as the birds flying around us.”

Second Runner Up: Gabrielle Gundry (SFS Kenya | Iowa State University)


During the SFS Kenya semester program, students spend time exploring Tanzania to compare ecosystems, wildlife management, and the challenges faced by communities. During their trip to Tanzania, the group visited Lake Manyara National Park just outside of Mto Wa Mbu. Flamingoes are attracted to the soda ash lake and Gabrielle recounts the day she took this photo, “I decided to capture this photo simply because it evoked an emotional response of humbling beauty in me that represents my entire experience in Kenya and Tanzania. My study abroad experience reached beyond the boundaries of ordinary through its quintessential vibrancy and intimacy between humans and nature, as is being harbored in all of the students that chose to adventitiously partake in an SFS program. While I appreciate the recognition for capturing this scene, my thanks goes to the Earth and all its treasures, and to SFS for opening my eyes to it. It is my hope that breathtaking sights like these, captured through tales and photos, can bring society to get back to the elemental necessity to protect this planet.”

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners!


Want to help ensure that SFS can continue to offer life-changing study abroad programs? Consider donating to our Bridge to the Future fund which directly supports SFS’ efforts to survive the pandemic, send students to the field, and support the communities where we’re based!

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