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Cultural Connections: International students share their views through the camera lens

May 16, 2005
By Katie Brandt

During Amelia Hapsari's first grocery shopping trip in the United States, she hesitated when deciding which shopping cart to use. "I thought they were too big for me," she says, laughing about her initial uncertainty. Hapsari, an Ohio University graduate student in telecommunications, was accustomed to using hand baskets at the local markets in her home country of Indonesia. Here, she opted for a child-size shopping cart, unaware of its intended user, and spent her first time in an American grocery store hunched over a two-foot tall cart.

Camera SpeaksToday, Hapsari is working with other international students and communication graduate students on a project she developed called Camera Speaks. Nearly 30 students from countries around the world had until April 20 to shoot photos with 35-millimeter disposable cameras to show what they find different about Athens as compared to their home countries.

Hapsari wanted to give the students their own medium through which to communicate their feelings about life in the United States. Americans produce so much of the media here - even the small portion aimed at foreign students, she says. "I hope to create more dialogue about the Athens community and Ohio University with the photos and their stories," Hapsari says. She also plans to archive the project on a CD-ROM that will feature the photos, students' voices and text.

About half of the students involved gathered in a small Baker Center room in late April so each could present five of their favorite photos, sharing the stories behind them with the group. The rain falling outside failed to dampen the students' spirits as they laughed and discussed the challenges in adjusting to a different culture.

Indu Sharma, from India, faced the group with a photograph of a "don't walk" sign she took on Court Street. She says that when the pedestrian light flashed to the outline of a white body, she began walking. Seconds later, the orange hand returned, blinking a warning to pedestrians that traffic from the other direction would soon resume. A perplexed Sharma found herself standing in the middle of the street. "I actually did a U-turn back," she says, her eyes wide.

Camera SpeaksThe spaces between stall doors in the public bathrooms on campus also alarmed Sharma. She says she spent her first time in the bathroom telling the people on the other side of the stall door to get out. "Back home it's sealed business," she says.

A sticker on the door of Baker Center featuring a gun with a large red line through it caught the eye of Delizia Flaccavento, from Sicily. She thought some "funny student" had put the sticker up as a joke, and did not realize it was a "no concealed weapons" warning.

Roshan Noorzai, from Afghanistan, stopped with his camera before a group of students protesting the war in Iraq at the College Gate. In Afghanistan, he says, everything stops when protestors demonstrate. However, people passed the protestors on their way to classes and work as if nothing were out of the ordinary.

Noorzai snapped another photo in Alden Library at 5 a.m. as the employees behind the resource desk slept. The employees' fatigue reflects the busy schedules many Americans keep and their acclimation to constantly available technology, Noorzai says. At the workers' motionless fingertips were computers with endless amounts of information, yet the workers chose to sleep, accustomed to technology's perpetual presence, he adds.

The students involved with Camera Speaks have selected the 30 best photos from the project, which will be on display at the International Street Fair from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, and on Alden Library's second floor.


Katie Brandt is a magazine writing intern in the Office of Research Communications. 

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