Sharing stories through photography

GVL / Courtesy - Gabriella Patti

GVL / Courtesy - Gabriella Patti

Marissa LaPorte

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Study abroad trips provide many picture-perfect moments, giving a student vibrant and fun-filled memories.

One Grand Valley State University student may be able to take her study abroad photos and showcase them in a gallery at GVSU.

Laker student Gabriella Patti has returned from a study abroad trip to the country of Oman with photographs that she is ready to share. Patti may be sharing her photos in an on-campus photo gallery at GVSU in the beginning of the 2016 winter semester. She has been offered a space and she will be meeting with someone from the gallery in the fall.

With the help of a photography scholarship, Patti was able to make the trip to Oman and capture snapshots of local people in their natural environment.

Alissa Lane, a study abroad coordinator involved in the process of awarding the photography scholarship, encourages all study abroad students to share their photographs even if they aren’t photography majors.

The photography scholarship that Patti received through the Padnos International Center is one of two scholarships awarded each year. The international center calls out for anyone who will be studying abroad to submit an application, a portfolio of their photography, and an essay. This scholarship was created to promote GVSU student photography and to create a database for study abroad images.

“Students want to see the world at some point in their lives and I think that college is such a unique and wonderful time to experience something like that,” Lane said. “You’re growing as a person and figuring out what to do as a career and you’re figuring out your place in the world.”

Lane encourages students to participate in the study abroad program no matter their financial situation. She said that studying abroad is a social experience that simply cannot be obtained in one’s home country.

“If you haven’t met anyone that has been out of the country before, it can seem like this impossible dream,” Lane said. “But I think that having a study abroad office that is there to help you, and having financial resources and advisors, it takes something that you think might have been a dream and brings it to reality.”

Patti’s favorite photographs to take were those of people. She aimed to capture a person’s true self as well as she could in order to expose the truth through photographs. However, she had to be cautious when approaching people in Oman because of cultural and language differences.

“The pictures, for me, are very intimate in that sense because they were all taken with permission,” Patti said.

Although the civilians of Oman have a different culture and language, Patti came to the conclusion that they aren’t all that much different from Americans.

“We are all very similar,” she said. “We all have hope, we all have fears, we all have ups and downs in our lives.”

Patti wants to share her photos because not many people are familiar with that part of the Middle East and fall victim to believing stereotypes and making generalizations. Even though Patti believes that her audience can gain insight from her photographs, she doesn’t consider herself a professional.

During this study abroad trip Patti realized that Omanis aren’t identical to Saudis or Syrians, but they are their own people with their own values and culture.

The most eye-opening experience Patti had with the locals of Oman was when she was attending a language school in a conservative community. She attended these classes to enhance her Arabic skills. All of her teachers were female, and though they were teaching Arabic, their English speaking skills weren’t the best. Patti found it amazing that she was able to form meaningful and personal relationships with others at this school even though they weren’t able to understand each other completely because they were communicating in a broken language.

Bringing back these experiences to share with others through photography is exciting for Patti. She believes that visiting other countries and being immersed in another culture is something that everyone should experience. She wants others to realize that even across borders, people are the same.

For those interested in studying abroad or want to know more about the program and scholarships it has to offer, visit the Padnos International Center website at