Student spotlight

Student spotlight: William discovers the importance of storytelling

via William

Meet William: A Brooklyn-based video journalist and documentary photographer with a passion for storytelling. Since traveling to Peru with EF in high school, William has been exploring the world, connecting with new cultures, and giving a voice to the people he meets along the way.

Recently, we caught up with William about the ways travel has impacted his life, and the ways he’s been pursuing his passion. Here’s what he had to say:

His story
“Photography has always served as a creative outlet for me. And I enjoy sharing the photographs I discover when out shooting on my own. Perhaps most exciting about photography was the idea that I could share a powerful story or feeling with just one image.

Seven years ago, I discovered a new passion while on tour with EF in Peru. I had spent the day at a local school and was able to see the day-to-day lives of Peruvian families. I found myself in a very simple classroom with a group of energetic kids playing a game of heads, shoulders, knees, and toes, and despite the language barrier, we were having a great time. Furthermore, they loved being at school. Feeling inspired, I took a few photos in hopes of telling their story.

During the trip I was photographing non-stop, which is nothing out of the ordinary for me. But this time it was different; I was feeling challenged to not just take aesthetically pleasing photos but also photos that told the stories of the locals I was meeting. I had begun to become emotionally invested with the students I was traveling with and the Peruvians I was meeting. The activities we participated in while in Peru challenged us to be more than just tourists. EF gave me the opportunity to not just sightsee and learn about a new culture, but to also connect to a place and to people on an emotional level.

In college, I participated in a journalism course in Accra, Ghana. It was in Agbogbloshie, Ghana’s largest slum, that I met Awal Mohammed. In telling his story, I want others to feel a connection to Awal, and hopefully begin to understand the struggles of an undocumented worker. I was lucky enough to walk away with an emotional connection to the people I met and the culture I was welcomed into.

If I hadn’t traveled at the age of 17—when I was just starting to consider colleges and career choices—I probably wouldn’t have thought of relocating from my small town in rural Oregon to New York City to attend NYU, or considered photojournalism as a career. I also probably would not have had the self-assured confidence to study abroad in four different countries—a choice that came from my passion to make documentaries.

My time abroad with EF gave me the opportunity to discover that I have more than just a passion for photography, but also a passion for documentary storytelling; that I have a drive to get out and connect with people and to tell their stories. The group of students I was traveling with were also able to tap into their own passions during our time in Peru. Ceri was using her high school Spanish with local Peruvians, Axel was sketching modern architecture mixed with ancient ruins, and Allison’s interest for health studies was just blooming. Every day we were pushing ourselves to try things outside of our comfort zone.

My trip to Peru was my first cross-cultural experience, and over the course of four years, this initial spark grew and developed into the rewarding project that is my experience with Awal in Agbogbloshie. I’m amazed that EF is able to change students’ lives in such unique and tangible ways. Outside of the incredible experience that is traveling the world, they also support students in finding their passions. I’m here today to tell you that those passions can have a positive impact on the world—and and in my case, that passion provides a voice to stories that so often remain silenced.”

Check out William’s Agbogbloshie photojournalism project

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