2022 Winners

Writing Contest Winners

1st Place: The Nut Guy 
by Paige Fisher

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I knew that I wanted to study abroad ever since I could remember. Experiencing and living in a different culture, I wanted to immerse myself and take advantage of this incredible opportunity. I arrived in Sevilla, Spain, not knowing what to expect. I looked all around, and it was very different than I could have imagined. On the way to school every day, I walked across a bridge built in 1852, I passed people taking pictures and admiring the view, and it was at that moment I realized I wanted to learn more about what it is like to be a local. On the far side of the bridge sat a man selling his homemade candied nuts. Every day, I would pass and not see any customers. It would just be him making candied nuts.

Every day, I gave him a quick wave as I walked by. He would look up and smile. After about a month, he greeted me with a friendly “hola” every time I saw him. I had never purchased any nuts because I was not confident in my Spanish speaking skills. I finally got the courage to buy some nuts. My speaking was not good at all, and he spoke no English. I realized that this language barrier prevented me from fully immersing myself in the culture, even though it was the most basic act of purchasing nuts. That day, I committed to persevering through these awkward interactions. From that day on, I continued having these conversations almost every day. Each interaction slowly increased, and I saw my confidence in my Spanish speaking abilities slowly emerge. We talked about my day at school, and he would share information about his life, local customs, and activities happening around us. He also told me to study hard because he did not go to college and had been running the stand for the past fourteen years.

The day before I left Sevilla, I walked across the bridge and did not see the stand. I had come to expect, anticipate and enjoy my interactions and felt disappointed if I could not say goodbye. It was evident at that moment that the cultural immersion that I had been hoping for had become a reality. I stopped by later that day, and he still was not there. On my last day, I walked across the bridge, scanning the other side, hoping to see the nut stand. I saw it as I crossed the bridge, and I can still remember the relief I felt. We shared our last conversation, a brief hug, and a photo. What had begun as merely passing by had developed into a cherished daily moment.

2nd Place (2 awards): My Time Will Come with Me 
by Shelby Ayers

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Being 4,191 miles away from home is as disorienting as it sounds. It is even more so knowing that I put myself into this situation completely voluntarily, for which I was utterly regretting as my plane flew over the Atlantic in the darkest part of the night towards Amsterdam. I was fully aware of the fact at the time that I would not be able to see my family, friends or anyone familiar for the next few months to come, so the literal thousands of miles between us did not help reassure me. This sounds fairly dramatic, but luckily for me, my time abroad would come to be one of the most memorable and fulfilling times of my life thus far.

While I was studying abroad, I ended up visiting nine countries in total, and every single one that I went to seemed like it was worlds away from the country I was in a week prior. I found myself getting lost in the wonder of each new place that I traveled to. While trying my best to live in the moment, I could never get over how much it affected me when I would be walking down the street of some cozy, idealistic European town, and mutually greet or create basic conversation with strangers. These people had no idea what I was experiencing, or that they were all a part of it by adding to my experiences.

Towards the end of my time studying abroad, we had a debrief program that helped wrap up our semester in Europe. One of the sessions included a discussion about sharing our experiences with one another, and how the program could improve for future participants. After the discussion, we ended with one final task, which included taking the entirety of our time abroad and encapsulating it into only 6 words. I instantly knew this would be a monumental task because 6 words cannot usually get an extensive point across. And, knowing myself, I intended to take this task as seriously as it came, so I therefore went about attempting to sum up the last 3 and a half months of completely new life experiences in 6 words.

I sat there and simply thought about what I would take away from this once in a lifetime opportunity. Memories will fade, photos will get lost, but my time here will stay with me. There are feelings that are invoked from my experiences when I think about specific situations, and everything I felt while abroad is what I wanted my 6 words to encompass. I thought about when I experienced the feeling of slight melancholy and a sense of peace as I looked over the surrounding foggy landscape from castle ruins that once thrived centuries ago in Northern Luxembourg, or when I watched the sun lazily set behind the Barcelona skyline as I looked on with a hint of nostalgia and longing from the steady, continuous rocking of a sailboat, or when I was unable to contain my glee as Lake Brienz noisily crashed against the shore and drowned out my voice while I stood and felt the cool breeze from the Swiss Alps. These experiences, through the feelings and emotions that I felt alongside them, will stay with me throughout my life. With all of this in the forefront of my mind, I arrived at my 6 words: “My Time Will Come with Me”. I was fairly proud of this collection of words, since I fully believed it gave my time abroad worthy justice. I was taken aback, however, when others decided to use this task as a chance to joke about mishaps while abroad. “My phone was stolen while clubbing” or “I got COVID twice while here” were amongst my favorites.

When I announced mine to the class, some laughed a little at how serious I took the task, while others noted how creative it was. My time will come with me, indeed, because I am simply a reflection of my experiences, and all of the experiences that shaped me while I was overseas are now a part of me. As I grow up and move along with my life, I may forget certain things about my time in Europe; I will forget who I met or where I went, but there is no chance that I will ever be able to forget how it all made me feel.

2nd Place (2 awards): A Spoonful of Confidence 
by Lauren Doll

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“Puis-je avoir une cuillère s’il vous plaît?” I asked the server. He handed me a little wooden spoon. I squealed with delight and proclaimed, “It worked!” to my friend. This was my first day traveling in France, and I had just successfully fixed my first “problem” abroad: we didn’t have two spoons to share our mousse au chocolat. In that moment, I could not believe that my French was understood, real, and working. My entire journey to this moment where I was now–studying abroad in France–had been marked by me telling friends and family that I “barely know anything,” or that “My French is far below fluent.” I was full of feelings of doubt and unworthiness to be in France. Yet, on this day, I had been able to successfully communicate to order a meal, to get in a hotel room, and now to obtain this small spoon.

My lack of confidence and disbelief in my language ability continued throughout my time in France. I was able to have other successful interchanges in stores, restaurants, and in my classes, but these “didn’t count” to me. I thought because I didn’t know what la caisse meant or because I had an accent, it meant I simply couldn't speak French. On the other hand, I had countless interactions with French people who embarrassingly admitted that they couldn’t speak English. Of course, they all said this and every sentence after it in English. I confidently reassured them each time that they could speak quite well. After all, I could understand them without difficulty.

It wasn’t until I visited Germany that I began to notice this double standard for language ability that I and many others had in these interactions. Even though I was not studying and definitely did not speak German, I continually reassured my friend that we would be fine to explore Germany for the day without having to worry about language differences. As we walked into a bakery full of signs I couldn’t read and sounds I didn’t recognize, I was certain I’d be able to work around the language barrier. I walked up to the counter and confidently asked my most important question (the same one I had just looked up how to say on Google translate): “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” When the woman shook her head no to let us know she did not know English, my confidence evaporated. Unsure of what to do, I looked at my friend. I hadn’t expected this to happen. After a moment of thought, I went to my last resort. In some mix of German, English, and French, I asked the server if she spoke French. I was relieved when she understood my desperate attempt at communicating. She called for a woman in the back who came and asked us what we would like in French. I was able to successfully get the croissant I desired and understand how much it cost. As I walked out of the bakery, I was in disbelief. Another person and I were able to successfully communicate–in complete sentences–in our second language! Yet, the day before this interaction I still would have said that I am not fluent in French to anyone who asked.

I began to wonder about this double standard. It was like imposter syndrome with language. Why is it that unless you have native ability in both languages, it feels like you have to say that you are not fluent or can’t speak that language, but when talking to someone else who is speaking in their second language, you will always reassure them that they can speak well? I began to realize I was holding myself up to ridiculous standards. I may not have reached a native level in French, but if I know enough to survive in France for a summer, who is to say that I can’t speak French?

At first, I was determined to keep that spoon as a trophy to symbolize my language achievements, but I soon realized it wasn’t necessary. I would have the language in my head every day. I have the power to ask for une cuillère a million times in France, and still get a spoon back anywhere because I can speak French. My real trophy from my abroad experience was not that spoon but it was my new confidence in my language ability. Upon returning to the US, I finally was able to triumphantly declare to friends and strangers “I can speak French!”

3rd Place (2 awards): Life Transition
by Syntyche Ahinakwah

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Living is one thing, but life is another. Living your life to the fullest extent possible is something else entirely. It is quite simple to go on autopilot and go about your day without purpose. The holidays are over, and if you were anything like me on New Years Eve, you had that all-too-familiar debate with yourself: It's another year, how should I change? What can I do to improve? Whatever way you choose to answer these questions and choose your resolutions, all of them call for a dedication to personal development. My life has altered significantly since I traveled to the US on my own a few months ago. I received approval from Miami University to pursue my bachelor's degree in microbiology. I didn't want to go to a new country at first, but I soon realized that I wasn't doing it out of need; rather, I was doing it for my own benefit. My mother told me that I had not heard of this location and that I ought to visit in order to learn more about it. Coming from a shattered home and leaving after living after so many years was a searing agony, which was one of the reasons I did not want to go to the United States. I carried sadness in my heart as I considered leaving behind everyone and everything I loved.

My parents instilled in me the value of independence and self-motivation by providing me with opportunities to learn through trial and error, so I never gave up. When I arrived at Miami University, I planned to become self-sufficient, or "on my own two feet," as some would put it. Time has taught me the importance of making quick decisions. Some were bad decisions, while others were wise. It was a difficult time for me because I had to fight against time, stress, hidden emotions, and, most importantly, I had to decide which path to take with my career. The final exam was a difficult test. I had to rebuild my life from scratch after moving to the United States but this time without my family and friends' continuous support, it would be impossible. I was solely responsible for my academic success or failure. When I was weak and turned to a cigarette for solace without considering how it may make me dependent, I thought I would give up. During these times, I was actually imparting a valuable lesson: adulthood. I came to the realization that I was no longer a child and that just one choice may affect the course of my life. This familiarity taught me the true meaning of what it means to make sacrifices in order to accomplish my objectives. I sacrificed my free time for long hours of work, exhaustion, and meditation. When I haven't had a lot of life experience, thinking about my own future is difficult and I could go in a lot of different directions. I'm unsure of my plans for tomorrow, as well as if they will remain the same or change over the course of the following days. It's important to learn this lesson in life both here at Miami University and throughout the United States.

To go into further detail about the difficulties I encountered would make me cry uncontrollably. I can only hope that I decide on my future in a thoughtful and wise manner. I know I have a great future ahead of me and that I am moving in the correct direction towards a better life. People gain knowledge from their life experiences. Having a lot of good and bad experiences helps us improve our way of thinking; it opens our minds and teaches us unforgettable life lessons that we must apply in the future. Without a doubt, life is beautiful, and every moment is a celebration of being alive, but one must always be prepared to face adversity and challenges. A person who has never faced difficulties in life will never achieve success. Life is lovely, but it's not always simple; it has problems, too. The task is to face these problems head-on with courage while allowing life's beauty to serve as a soother, relieving suffering and restoring hope in difficult times. Desperation sometimes spoke for itself, making the sacrifice difficult. However, what matters most is the lesson I learned from it, which is to never give up fighting no matter what, because there is always hope in life, and giving up on it does not get you any closer to your objectives. I have lost some of my friends as a result of my ability to rise to the top, and this experience taught me the true meaning of friendship and how some people we think of as friends can change to be our deadliest critics.

You go through changes throughout your life, and to me, transition is something new. But I've come to realize that disclosing every aspect of your life can only be detrimental because you never know how much a connection may develop between two individuals. I didn't have a silver spoon in my mouth growing up. I had to go above and beyond to accomplish my objectives, and I am grateful for those I met at Miami University. I feel as though my journey at Miami University helped me rediscover who I am and my desire and enthusiasm for what I do. I am appreciative of their love, support, and concern from the time prior I left Ghana to the present, in the United States. They are my second family, and I am thankful to have them in my life.

3rd Place (2 awards): Distinct Academic Experience 
by Rencheng Dong

The author has requested the essay remain unpublished.

Literary London Prize

1st Place: Rosa 
by Hannah Sroka

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London is chilly in June, apparently, something I never would have guessed from the last time I was here. I was seventeen, about two months out of high school, and on vacation with my family in the middle of a massive heat wave. My sister and I spent many afternoons laying on our Airbnb’s tiled bathroom floor with the shower running ice cold, while my parents found solace in nearby pubs. But now, a little less than three years later, I’m spending almost every day just a bit too cold to be comfortable. The single pair of jeans I packed for the entire six-week trip is sure getting a lot of use, along with my raincoat, which is the closest thing I have to a jacket. Every morning, I check the weather, and I have to tap the number on the screen to get it to change from celsius to fahrenheit. It’s just another reminder of how things are slightly different over here.

London is chilly in June, except for today, for some reason. It’s in the 90s—a solid twenty degrees hotter than usual (in fahrenheit, that is; I never learned how to convert it to celsius)—and the bumbling metropolis that is Kensington feels even hotter with its constant traffic and lack of trees to provide shade. My hair hangs long and thick down my neck and back, preventing what little breeze there is from offering any comfort. I’m wearing a tank top and skirt combo that I hope is casual enough for the West End show my friends and I are going to later (because that’s just something we can do here if we have 30 pounds or so and a free evening) but cool enough to beat the heat.

I’m walking to the Kensington Library for my internship at Age UK, a charity that works with elderly people. It helps them use technology and connect with each other to avoid social isolation. Today, I’m going to a session in the library where we work one-on-one with clients and teach them how to use their phones.

I hope the library is air conditioned, I think. But I know it probably won’t be—something about Europe not having a lot of central heating and cooling, another reminder that I’m in somewhere that’s different from home.

As I wait at a crosswalk, I can’t help but glance down at myself self-consciously. Am I underdressed? My stomach is showing. But then another memory pops into my head, of walking into Age UK in a dress and heels (because the website said business casual) and seeing Tom, another intern a few years older, lounging at a desk in gray sweatpants and a deep blue Champion shirt. Sweatpants and an old shirt are a lazy Sunday outfit, or something I change into if I get caught in the rain on the walk home from classes, or something I wear during finals week when I’m otherwise dead to the world. The other people in the Age UK office don’t quite wear sweatpants, but they do wear jeans and sneakers—not quite what I thought when I read “business casual”. Yet another difference that leaves me twisting my hands and wishing I had just googled “what is business casual in the UK”.

I’m snapped out of my thoughts when I reach the library, and then I spend the next five minutes figuring out where the right entrance is, because the building is huge. Once I find it, I come to the unfortunate realization that the library is indeed not air-conditioned, so I’m left to sweat the next hour or so out.

Tom is already there, and so are three women, all looking very confused as they clutch their Android phones and tablets. Tom is helping one of them, hunched over the table and tapping furiously at her phone, while she tells him that maybe using the stylus will help. Another intern is helping another woman, waiting for her tablet to connect to the library’s wifi. Tom takes a brief rest from his tapping and motions for me to each help the third woman.

This woman is short—shorter than I am, which is hard to be—with brown skin and curly black hair. She’s got deep hazel eyes that have sunken into her skin ever so slightly with age. She’s got a notebook in front of her, with pieces of paper stuffed between the pages. “You are helping me,” she says. (It’s not a question.)

I sit down, and the woman says her name is Rosa. I introduce myself right back. She asks where I’m from, and I say, “New York.” I’m technically from Connecticut, but no one outside the US knows where that is. (Neither do some people inside the US, for that matter.)

I tell Rosa that I’m twenty, and she says, “You cannot have a drink, then. In America, you cannot have a drink. But here, you can. Do you like that?” She doesn’t sound accusatory, but rather genuinely curious.

Truthfully, it’s been nice being able to get a drink with dinner. I don’t get one every time, because alcohol is expensive and I’m a college student with no income at the moment, but it’s nice to know I can. One thing that caught me the most off-guard about the UK is how its drinking culture isn’t too different from the US’s. Back home, it’s normal for someone my age to drink with the purpose of not remembering how the night ends. And here, if we’re anywhere in the city between 5 and 8 PM, we’ll see tons of people, still in their work clothes, sitting at rickety pub tables with cups of beer in front of them. They’ll be talking and laughing, perfectly content to sit there for hours on end. But they’re drinking the entire time, and they’ll start to get louder and louder as the evening progresses. I can’t help but wonder who drinks more—a British office worker who goes to the pubs every day after work for a few drinks, or an American college student who binge drinks every weekend.

I’m pulled back into the real world when Rosa asks me to help her use WhatsApp. That’s another thing that’s different over here—everyone uses WhatsApp. I want to tell Rosa I don’t know how to use it (because I don’t really), but she looks so hopeful and ready to learn how to use it that I lie through my teeth. I’m a big girl, I think, and I know how to use a phone, so I mentally roll up my sleeves and prepare to figure this out as I go.

“I want to send a picture,” Rosa says. She’s got an accent I can’t quite figure out. I know it’s definitely not British. “How do I do that? How do I send a picture?”

I move her phone closer to me—it’s heavier than I thought—and it’s locked. I ask her for her password, and she lights up. “I know it! It is a very important date.” And she types it out, pressing on the screen just a bit harder than she needs to, but she unlocks the phone, and then I start to walk her though sending a picture. As I do, she writes down what I’m saying in a notebook, marking the pearly white pages with perfect cursive, the pen producing a stark black ink. Above where she’s writing are instructions for how to log into WhatsApp.

As I show her how to send pictures, and as we take some pictures to send, Rosa talks about her life, and asks me about mine. She’s originally from Beirut, Lebanon, but moved to Paris to give her children a better life, then settled London because, as she put it, “I just got sick of the French people. They were too snooty. Is that how you say it? ‘Snooty?’ I think so. And Paris was not for me. It is too young. You might like it. Have you been?”

I have been—I went a few weekends ago—but only for a day, and I tell her that. I tell her the story of how my friends and I got to Paris: we took an overnight bus from Amsterdam that was about 20 pounds, but we didn’t get off at the right stop, so we spent about half an hour sitting on the coach bus, running on barely any sleep, wondering where in the world we’d end up. (The bus dropped us off right in the city center.) Rosa laughs, a deep, rich sound, and tells me a story about how she once hitchhiked across almost all of Lebanon by just convincing the bus driver to let her stay on the bus. A few years later, they’d be married.

For a while, the heat of the library, and the chatter from the other interns, and even the awkwardness from our generational and cultural differences fade away. It’s just Rosa and me, swapping stories and walking through how to text someone on WhatsApp. I’m awed at how easily the conversation is flowing, at how effortlessly we’re connecting. It’s like I’ve been spending the past few weeks working with her; it’s not at all like we just met less than an hour ago.

But I’m not here forever; the technology help session is only supposed to last about an hour. And as that hour comes to an end, Rosa asks me how to add someone to her contacts. I start to show her how, and I click on the little contact icon on the phone’s home screen.

And then I pause.

Because there are only four contacts in her phone.

In training for this internship, my bosses had told me that the people Age UK works with are struggling with social isolation. They often lack substantial support systems—in Rosa’s case, her children are in the US and busy with their own families—and find it difficult to stay connected with people, as doing so increasingly involves being tech savvy.

But it’s one thing to hear about this social isolation; it’s another to see it.

I have dozens upon dozens of contacts in my phone. College classmates, high school classmates, friends, members of a group project from freshman year, relatives, roommates, random people I gave my number to after a night out with a promise that they text me when they’re home safe, and everything in between. If I need to talk to someone, I can find them in my contacts.

Rosa has just four: her two children, Tom, and a friend she met at a Bible study.

I show her how to add another contact, but my mind is elsewhere. I find myself hoping that these aren’t the only four people Rosa is in somewhat regular contact with; I hope she is friends with the other Age UK clients; I hope she writes letters to friends back in Paris or Beirut; I hope she knows her neighbors. I feel sad for her, that such a friendly person only has four contacts in her phone.

Rosa pulls me out of my thoughts yet again by asking me for my number. It takes me a second to process what she’s said, and then I say, “What?”

“Put your phone number in,” she says, slowly, like she’s talking to a child. She’s smiling. “So I can message you.”

I do, putting the +1 in front like I’ve learned to do, and as I do, I wonder if this is allowed. Then again, she had Tom’s number, so who knows. I’m also leaving in a few weeks—what’s the worst that could happen?

At this point, the hour is up, and I leave to go meet my friends for an early dinner. As I say goodbye to Rosa, she says, “Thank you. May God bless you. I will message you whenever I have a problem.” (At the look on my fae, she laughs again and says, “I kid, I kid.”)

It isn’t until much later—as I’m going to bed that night—that I realize that Rosa has an Android phone, and I have an Apple iPhone that’s been on airplane mode the entire trip because I forgot to purchase an international data plan before leaving for the UK. So I won’t get her texts until I land back in the US, something that’s still a few weeks away.

It’s this thought that bugs me. Because I wonder if she’ll remember who I am by then, or if I’ll just be a distant memory, or if she’ll keep texting me and think I abandoned her when I don’t reply. I wonder if she’ll forget by tomorrow morning. In a way, I wish that would happen, because then she wouldn’t wonder why the young American girl from the library couldn’t be bothered to simply message her back.

But there’s not much I can do, and Rosa slips to the back of my mind as the trip wraps up and I start preparing to go home. She gets lost in the flight check-ins, the packing, the goodbyes and farewell dinners and terrible airplane meals.

When I finally land in New York, hot and hungry and tired, and not at all ready for the three hour car ride that’s facing me, I turn my phone off airplane mode for the first time since getting on the plane back in May. I immediately get a bunch of texts, from friends who didn’t know I was unreachable, from my dad saying he’s here to pick me up from the airport, from my classmates wishing me a safe flight.

There’s one in particular that stands out, from a number that’s clearly not American. “Hello, thank you for your help today. God bless,” it says. And then another one, a day later: “How are you? I am good. It is still hot here. I hope you are enjoying London.” And then nothing.

I stop dead in the middle of the plane aisle, drawing grumbles from the person behind me, when I realize that these are from Rosa.

I don’t know what to do. Do I bother replying? Do I try and explain why I was radio silent for weeks? Does she even remember me?

But I can’t leave her hanging. So, as I wait in line for passport check-in, I type a response back. “Hi Rosa! I’m doing great. I left London and am back in America. I hope you’re well!” I add a smiley face at the end of the message, just for good measure.

One minute passes with no response.

Five minutes.

Ten.

Thirty.

Sixty.

And about an hour and a half later, as I’m stuck in traffic with my dad, still hot and hungry and tired, my phone lights up, and I look down to see a text from Rosa.

It’s an American flag, a British flag, and a heart.

(Tom must have taught her how to use emojis.)

I smile. So she hadn’t forgotten me after all.

2nd Place: How Richard III Made Me Not Hate Shakespeare 
by Abbey Elizondo

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Like every other American student, I was forced to read Shakespeare in high school. Romeo and Juliette was my first play. There’s no worse place to start with his plays than a tragedy about two teenagers who kill themselves after knowing each other for only three days. This tragedy angered me more knowing how classic authors have gotten away with arrestable plot offenses. Next was Macbeth, and I blame my negative experience on my sophomore English teacher. I watched the adaptation with Sir Patrick Stewart, along with reading haphazard packets of each act. The last play was King Lear. Had my senior year AP Literature teacher not forced us to read this play in class, I would have remembered none of it. I even wrote an impressive essay about the madness of King Lear, but I couldn’t tell you anything about my argument. I wish I could.

And that is the summary of my experience with Shakespeare before this summer. I was never taught how to read it, understand the historical significance, or even understand the characters he loved to create in his plays. So when I signed up for the Shakespeare class in London, I was nervous to say the least.

I doubted that my abilities for analyzing literature were limited because of the fact that I hadn’t taken one of those classes since my senior year of high school. I thought, how am I supposed to remember how to analyze complex texts, let alone Shakespeare, while also experiencing my first time abroad? I continued to ask myself this question until I decided the study abroad trip that made me want to attend Miami was more important. Whatever fears I had about succeeding in my classes abroad needed to be put to the side. This was an opportunity I would never have again.

For many students, myself included, studying abroad is their only chance to be immersed in a culture for more than a regular vacation. These six weeks felt like the longest and shortest ones of my life. I soaked up information like a sponge during the first week, listening to all our tour guides detail the rich history of different parts of the city. The pre-planned itinerary may have felt hectic at the time, but I appreciated how they introduced us to the many areas we would frequent during our program, including the Globe theater and places Shakespeare spent time during his active years in London. Stratford was also one of the places we visited, a trip that I will discuss in depth because I wouldn’t have enjoyed Richard III as much had we not seen it at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Each experience l had watching Shakespeare’s work, regardless of the production value, enhanced my understanding of his playwriting. But the one that changed my opinion of Shakespeare was Richard III.

After spending four weeks walking the busy streets of London, I was desperate for the fresh air of the English countryside. Growing up in an urban-suburban neighborhood made me miss the trips to the Ohio countryside filled with corn. Stratford-Upon-Avon wasn’t exactly the trip outside of London I envisioned, but I could have stayed there much longer than two days. The city is situated on a river, hence the name upon-Avon, meaning upon a river. The 1500s-style buildings give the city a charm like no other; the white and deep umber caressing the city corners. I loved how our tour guides tested us on which buildings were original and which ones had been built in the antique style of Shakespeare’s age. The city was also very quiet, something I didn’t realize I needed after listening to police sirens and loud patrons at night or in the early morning London hours. We trailed the city for the majority of the day, had a family-style dinner with our peers, and then it was time to see our third production of the program at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

For context, I loved watching Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theatre. The 1940s production aesthetic positioned the gender roles in an interesting light, and I’m a lover of 40s jazz, so I thought the production value was fabulous. But Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s comedies, which I find hard to dislike. It’s light and fun and plays with the cultural expectations of its time.

The Tempest was the play I could have done without seeing, mainly because the original play is a hot mess of colonialism and gender expectations, but I don’t want to make this an analysis of Shakespeare’s works. The production value of this play was limited because of the small cast and location—a beautiful one, yet it didn’t capture the essence of Shakespeare’s writing as much as I’d hoped.

Anyway, back to my favorite play. The Royal Shakespeare Company building is gorgeous with red brick similar to the buildings on Miami’s campus. A tall column stands to the side of the entrance, allowing people to see the city from a bird’s eye view at their leisure. The acronym “RSC” is boldly placed above the entrance. I beamed at this when I picked up my ticket for the night’s performance. Unlike the Globe, which was an amazing experience, don’t misunderstand me, I didn’t have to stand for three and a half hours while holding my copy of the play in my tired hands. I’m thankful I was persuaded to be a “groundling” at the Globe, gaining the authentic experience of the audience in Shakespeare’s time. But Richard III was much better watching it in a traditional theatre seat.

The people I sat with also made the performance that much more enjoyable. It was the time in the program when everyone had chosen their groups of friends, the people they regularly spent time with, ate dinner with, and even made additional travel plans around other parts of England. We shared many laughs about the production and shocked glances when the actors deviated even slightly from the original script. I have fond memories of asking those sitting next to me which line we were at, rapidly scanning the lines of text while trying to listen to the performance.

But this could have happened during any of these productions. What made it so special for me was how I could sense people’s attention on the actor who played Richard. I knew our professor told us before the play started that this actor was disabled, just like Richard’s character, but I did some research afterward to see if there was a story behind his choice to become an actor who could represent the disabled community. As it turns out I was right. Arthur Hughes is the first actor in the RSC’s history to play Richard and also be a disabled actor. He has radial dysplasia, a birth defect that causes malformation of the forearm, wrist, and hand. In Hughes’ case, his right arm was much short than his left, and it seemed like he was missing his right thumb. It was amazing to see his performance of Richard compared to how Shakespeare wrote the character, giving him a shortened figure due to scoliosis. Hughes did a fantastic job representing the character’s struggles with a disability even though it wasn’t the same as the original. In most other instances I would have complained about the misrepresentation of the main character in the story, but because it was a Shakespeare play and not an adaptation of a novel or other media, I was okay with this casting decision. Hughes made me realize how interpretive Shakespeare’s plays can be. I had been told dozens of times how versatile his plays were, but being told something and seeing it in action make all the difference. I could finally understand the importance of Shakespeare’s work in the modern age, and why so many writers take inspiration from him.

The performance still had a few issues that didn’t sit well with me—don’t think I’d let Shakespeare off the hook because I enjoyed one of his plays. Because of Shakespeare’s lack of stage directions, he allows the director to make unconventional choices to surprise the audience. This includes the random kiss that happens between Richard and one of the ladies of the House of York. It felt very unnecessary and uncomfortable. And in regards to Richard’s representation in the production, I felt the complex issue of his disability wasn’t addressed enough for Hughes’ sake. It gave me a great paper to write for my Shakespeare class, but I would have rather had a better understanding of Hughes’ perspective rather than assuming that he thought villainizing people with disabilities was a correct choice.

I would never trade the experience of seeing Richard III in Stratford-upon-Avon this summer. When the theatre lights lowered, and the audience waited attentively for the actors to come on stage, the air in the room felt ecstatic, sitting in anticipation for who they would see walk out onto the stage. Then we were dazzled by beautiful costume designs, perfect reciting of Shakespeare’s lines, dramatic music, and solemn imagery reminiscent of World War I. It will be like no other production I see in my life and not because I doubt I’ll see many play productions in the future.

These four hours taught me the value of performed plays. Like I said earlier, my high school rarely showed us performed versions of Shakespeare while we read the plays, and if there was a live version, it was Americanized in ways that lacked clarity. It took me over four years to understand the importance of watching each character perform in a scene, speak their lines, and spill their soliloquies to the audience. Why did it take so long for me to learn this? Out of all his plays, Richard III taught me more than any of his others ever could. It successfully traveled through time to match the struggles of a modern person. It created a character who people can resonate with even if they are scared to do so. It helped me bond with people I’d only known for a couple of weeks. No other play had done the same thing for me. It took a four-hour trip into the English countryside for me to feel like my time in Britain had been fulfilled. I would hesitate to return to London’s bustling streets for a second time, but I would give anything to walk the streets of Stratford again.

Digital Storytelling Winner

When Life Gives You Lemons
by Lindsay Douglass

Seville, Spain, Fall 2021
CEA Seville

Transcript

0:01 | I originally packed my bags and set off
0:04 | to Sevilla, Spain, imagining all of the
0:06 | special moments, delicious food, and new
0:09 | relationships I would fill my four-month
0:11 | study abroad program.
0:13 | I pictured traveling,
0:16 | eating.
0:18 | dancing,
0:20 | speaking Spanish,
0:22 | and living a pretty typical study abroad
0:25 | experience.
0:26 | However, as the days wound down, I
0:28 | realized it just wasn't my time to leave.
0:31 | So after hours of paperwork and
0:34 | deliberation, and with the support of
0:36 | Miami and my program,
0:38 | I was miraculously able to extend my
0:40 | stay for another six months so I could
0:42 | participate in an internship at an NGO
0:45 | that works with resettling and
0:46 | integrating refugees and immigrants.
0:49 | At the beginning of my program, I thought
0:51 | all my friends would be students around
0:53 | my age who looked like this.
0:55 | But I ended up spending most of my time
0:58 | with people like Esteban, Nasma, Katarina,
1:01 | my co-workers and people who invited me
1:04 | into their homes and their families.
1:06 | I thought my nights would be illuminated
1:09 | by the light of terrazas in discothecas
1:12 | but I actually spent more time at
1:14 | festivals, parades, and gathered around a
1:17 | table with friends.
1:19 | I thought my days would be filled with
1:21 | classes, assigned readings, and homework,
1:23 | but my real work at schools, community
1:26 | centers, and parks turned out to be so
1:28 | much more valuable and informative.
1:32 | I thought every Saturday would be spent
1:35 | jet-setting to another European country,
1:37 | but I found that I loved using my
1:40 | weekends to explore the rincones of my
1:42 | own city and its surrounding towns.
1:46 | I thought a lot of things going into
1:48 | study abroad but I still never could
1:50 | have expected all that I was going to
1:52 | experience. I took a risk and it paid off
1:55 | big time. Miami has always taught me to
1:58 | unashamedly go after my dreams, and I'm
2:00 | eternally grateful that they stuck to
2:02 | their word and supported me while I
2:04 | followed mine.

Photo Contest Winners

A man holds firestarter material in his hands

"I-pirói" by Anastasia Dorenbusch

The son of the chief of the Maasai village taught us how the men start fires to protect the village and livestock come nightfall. They use the l-pirói, two types of acacia woods rubbed together until they form small embers which then are brushed into a handful of grass and nurtured until it is strong enough to be transferred to the wood. This method of fire starting is as practical as it is sacred, with the flame being the element connecting to the color of warriors and the blood on which the tribe relies. (Rhotia, Tanzania, Summer 2022. School For Field Studies: Tanzania)

A flamenco dancer is seen in silhouette

"Flamenco en la Plaza" by Kasey Hunt

This photo was taken during a flamenco street performance in La Plaza de España in Sevilla, Spain. Flamenco is the national dance of Spain and it was such and honor to experience it. (Sevilla, Spain, Spring 2022, AIFS)

Megan wears traditional middle eastern garb and looks back at sunset

"Arabian Nights" by Megan Foster

There are many stigmas, negative connotations, and beliefs held about the Middle Eastern region. However, I experienced nothing other than joy, kindness, and a beautiful country filled with beautiful souls. I truly found my peace in the Middle East, and I cannot wait to return. (Wahiba Sands, Oman, Winter 2021-22. Miami University in Oman and the UAE.)

Smiling, Evelyn holds an echidna and faces the camera

"The Incredible Echidna" by Evelyn Holman

While learning about native Australian animals, I had the opportunity to interact with the incredible echidna. I learned about this egg-laying mammal that only exists in Australia. Environmental conservation is extremely important to Australians. The echidna is essential for the environment, providing critical soil turnover through their digging habits, aiding in plant and soil diversity. This is why so many Australians work to protect the echidna and many other vulnerable and endangered animals. (Calga, Australia, Summer 2022. Loop Abroad Australia.)

cows lounge in the grass. One stands and faces the camera

"Happy Cows" by Marina Nesbitt

In Switzerland, we had lots of time to explore the town and immerse ourselves in the culture. During a chocolate making class we learned that Swiss chocolate is the best because the milk comes from Switzerland's "happy cows". They're called this because of their stress-free lifestyle in the Swiss alps. The cows and the ringing of their bells are definitely a core memory of my time abroad and a symbol of the day-to-day, slow living lifestyle we experienced in Lauterbrunnen. (Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, Summer 2022. Comparing U.S. and European Education Systems.)

First Place

A man holds firestarter material in his hands

"I-pirói" by Anastasia Dorenbusch

The son of the chief of the Maasai village taught us how the men start fires to protect the village and livestock come nightfall. They use the l-pirói, two types of acacia woods rubbed together until they form small embers which then are brushed into a handful of grass and nurtured until it is strong enough to be transferred to the wood. This method of fire starting is as practical as it is sacred, with the flame being the element connecting to the color of warriors and the blood on which the tribe relies. (Rhotia, Tanzania, Summer 2022. School For Field Studies: Tanzania)

Second Place

A flamenco dancer is seen in silhouette

"Flamenco en la Plaza" by Kasey Hunt

This photo was taken during a flamenco street performance in La Plaza de España in Sevilla, Spain. Flamenco is the national dance of Spain and it was such and honor to experience it. (Sevilla, Spain, Spring 2022, AIFS)

Third Place

Megan wears traditional middle eastern garb and looks back at sunset

"Arabian Nights" by Megan Foster

There are many stigmas, negative connotations, and beliefs held about the Middle Eastern region. However, I experienced nothing other than joy, kindness, and a beautiful country filled with beautiful souls. I truly found my peace in the Middle East, and I cannot wait to return. (Wahiba Sands, Oman, Winter 2021-22. Miami University in Oman and the UAE.)

Third Place

Smiling, Evelyn holds an echidna and faces the camera

"The Incredible Echidna" by Evelyn Holman

While learning about native Australian animals, I had the opportunity to interact with the incredible echidna. I learned about this egg-laying mammal that only exists in Australia. Environmental conservation is extremely important to Australians. The echidna is essential for the environment, providing critical soil turnover through their digging habits, aiding in plant and soil diversity. This is why so many Australians work to protect the echidna and many other vulnerable and endangered animals. (Calga, Australia, Summer 2022. Loop Abroad Australia.)

Third Place

cows lounge in the grass. One stands and faces the camera

"Happy Cows" by Marina Nesbitt

In Switzerland, we had lots of time to explore the town and immerse ourselves in the culture. During a chocolate making class we learned that Swiss chocolate is the best because the milk comes from Switzerland's "happy cows". They're called this because of their stress-free lifestyle in the Swiss alps. The cows and the ringing of their bells are definitely a core memory of my time abroad and a symbol of the day-to-day, slow living lifestyle we experienced in Lauterbrunnen. (Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, Summer 2022. Comparing U.S. and European Education Systems.)