The Catholic University of America

October 18, 2013

Volcano Photo Wins First Prize

  "Pura Vida" by Maria Docal

"Pura Vida" by Maria Docal

When Maria Docal, a junior nursing major from Glenwood, Md., studied abroad with an immersion program in Costa Rica, she found the Arenal Volcano was one of her favorite spots. “Pura Vida,” the photograph which won first place for this year’s CUAbroad Photo Contest, features the volcano in the background. When Docal’s family visited her during her time abroad, she took them to the volcano.

Her brother and her mother are both featured in the photograph, which added a personal touch.

Initially, Docal did not think to submit the photo to the contest, but the CUAbroad office suggested that she enter it. When Docal found out that she won the photo contest, she said she was very surprised.

“I was pretty excited. My roommate texted me but I was working at the abroad fair and could not even see the contest board, so I did not even see my photo,” Docal said. “But, I guess I got lucky.”

Not an avid photographer, Docal was glad she could share her experience with her family and with her friends through the photograph.

The photo contest, sponsored by the CUAbroad office, is in its fourth year, and according to Ella Sweigert, director of education abroad, the photos have become increasingly sophisticated. The contest rules are modeled after those of The Washington Post. This year, CUAbroad received around 90 submissions from the 300 students who studied abroad in the contest time-frame.

The photos serve as a way for students to relive and share their experiences with others, said Grace Schneider, the education abroad adviser who helped organize and run the contest.

“We’re trying to raise awareness even before students study abroad,” said Schneider. She hopes students who go abroad will use the contest as inspiration to shape the way they take their photos.

Third place winner, Jakub Deptula, a senior media studies and history major from Haskell, N.J., studied in Cracow, Poland. While there, he visited Auschwitz with other study abroad students. His photo, “Dying Rose in Auschwitz,” was taken during the visit.

“On top of [a] tower was this haunting, yet beautiful view of the concentration camp. Right out the window, there were two roses hanging where a flag post used to be. I decided to take the picture of the rose with Auschwitz Birkenau in the background.”

Though a lot of the photographs were taken to remember significant times at the students’ study abroad countries, others were taken at other locales that students visited on the occasion of their semester abroad.

Second place winner Rebecca Teter, a junior nursing major from West Chester, Pa., studied abroad in Australia but took the “Prayers at Sunset” photograph while travelling in Bali. The picture was taken at the Pura Tanah Lot, a temple on a rock formation off the island.

“When I turned to get my glimpse of the sunset everything just seemed to slow down as the people standing on that ledge patiently waited for the sun to set. The most memorable part of this photo was that it was from our last trip before coming home to the U.S. only a few days later. It was the bittersweet figurative and literal sunset of our experience,” said Teter.

For all photos submitted to the CUAbroad Photo Contest, visit:



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