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Notre Dame International Senior Fellows host photography contest celebrating cultural identity

| Friday, April 16, 2021

The Notre Dame International (NDI) Senior Fellows are holding a photography competition “Show Your Culture,” which is accepting submissions until Sunday. Entries can be submitted via a Google Form on NDI’s website.

The competition challenges students to submit an original photo along with a caption explaining how it represents the ways in which they incorporate their cultural identity into their life at Notre Dame.

Hand-crafted prizes from Irish Woodworks will be awarded to winners in each of three categories: Most True to the Theme, Most Creative/Unique and Most Aesthetically Pleasing. The overall Grand Prize Winner will receive a larger prize pack, also from Irish Woodworks. 

NDI Senior Fellow Sophia Koo, a resident of Lyons Hall, was in charge of organizing the competition and said she selected the theme with the goal of spreading NDI’s mission of internationalism and cultural awareness in mind.

“We always talk about this cliche ND bubble,” Koo said. “But there’s so many people of different backgrounds here, and it’s kind of a shame that we don’t necessarily know about other cultures. So, I thought it would be really cool to be able to really see where everybody comes from and all the different cultures that make up Notre Dame.” 

Koo felt that the photo competition, which will occur entirely virtually, would be the perfect way to accomplish this within the unique challenges of this academic year.

“I was trying to come up with different projects to spread our message because I knew in-person events would be more difficult with COVID restrictions,” Koo said. “It’s hard to get people to show up and participate this year, so I felt like a photo competition would be a good way to keep everything convenient because everything can be sent through emails and forms.”

The event was also inspired by Koo’s own passion for photography which she said drove her interest in seeing the creative ways that students come up with to share their cultures. 

Another NDI Senior Fellow Mairead Dillon feels confident that the photo competition — though she was not directly involved in planning it — will engage the campus community in NDI’s mission despite COVID restrictions preventing virtually all international experiences.

“It’s a good way to reach out to the whole campus that is safe and everybody can be a part of,” Dillon said. “It also promotes the goals of NDI which are internationalization, making international students feel welcome and promoting study abroad. So this kind of combines those things … getting people interested in other cultures and allowing international students to share their homes with us.”

Dillon added that NDI had originally planned to restrict participation in the competition to international students, but decided instead to opened it up to all undergrads after further consideration. Domestic students are encouraged to highlight the unique cultures of their hometowns, families and communities.

“On a campus like this, it can seem like we’re all the same because we maybe do the same things and we all live together,” Dillon said. “But we all come from these really diverse backgrounds. I think it’s really important to understand the backgrounds other people come from when trying to understand diversity.”

Student engagement program director at NDI Judy Hutchinson agreed that fostering an environment of cultural awareness and acceptance is of the upmost importance in today’s world.

“I used to say, kind of tongue-in-cheek, but not really, that the whole idea of living with people from other places is to create world peace,” Hutchinson said. “It’s a lot more difficult to despise somebody or to go to war with somebody or to just automatically discount somebody or their country or their culture when you’ve lived with them … and you’ve come to be friends with them and cherish them.”

Hutchinson, who oversees the NDI Senior Fellows program — which is currently in its first year — added that this is precisely why she had hoped for the Senior Fellows to facilitate programming within their residence halls this year. 

But while COVID restrictions complicated the Fellows’ plans for residence hall events — like cultural food-sharing nights — Hutchinson is proud of the work the Fellows have done in organizing alternative programming to safely spread awareness of issues of internationalism on campus.

At the beginning of the semester, Hutchinson challenged each Fellow to complete a project that would engage students on campus with NDI’s mission. Projects this semester have included handing out St. Patrick’s Day goodie bags during midterms and a multi-night international film festival at the Debartolo Performing Arts Center.

The photo competition was Koo’s project and Hutchinson said it exemplifies NDI’s goal of cultural awareness.

“Most everybody at this institution is international in some way,” Hutchinson said. “Most of us … trace our ancestry back to a country other than the United States, expect for those who are Native American. Everybody has a culture, everybody has traditions … so the photo contest draws attention to that. At NDI, we’re all about showing culture and the photography contest is all about sharing our culture with each other.”

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