A film by Hope College senior Ismael Byers of Grand Blanc about spending the spring semester in Santiago, Chile, is one of only three finalists in the fourth-annual IES Abroad Study Abroad Film Festival.

The grand prize winner will be chosen by the public, who can vote for their favorite film on the IES Abroad Facebook page, through Monday, Oct. 30, at noon CDT.  The winner will be announced at the first-ever IES Abroad Film Festival event on Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the Museum of Contemporary Chicago and will receive a cash prize of $1,500.

Byers’ film, “Solitude: A Companion Abroad,” explores the way that quiet moments in solitude were themselves valuable, providing opportunities to reflect on his other experiences and their impact.  Features of the six-minute, 44-second short film include scenes of travel in Santiago and elsewhere in Chile as well as everyday activity such as breakfast, and brief interviews with several students who have studied abroad.

IES Abroad is a leading not-for-profit organization that provides access to study-abroad and internship opportunities in more than 20 countries and 34 locations around the world.  The film festival provides students a platform to voice their global journey through their own words and video footage, capturing unique views into their study-abroad experiences.  For this year’s competition, 93 films were submitted by IES Abroad students, nearly double the number of submissions from the festival’s first year, bringing the total since 2014 to 262 submissions representing 113 colleges and universities.

The three finalists were selected by a jury of directors, editors, producers and screenwriters who are either IES Abroad film studies faculty from their international centers or IES Abroad alumni.  The other two entries are by students from Penn State University and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities who studied in Tokyo, Japan.

Byers co-directed “Solitude: A Companion Abroad” with Kyle Arnold, a student from Ithaca College who was also in Santiago this past spring.  Byers produced the film, and Arnold wrote the script.

Byers, who is majoring in biology and Spanish, participated in IES Abroad’s Santiago-Health Studies program from February to July.  Designed for advanced Spanish students in health-related majors, the program included a Spanish course geared toward aspiring health-care providers, a health studies seminar, clinical observation opportunities and a field placement (the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile’s School of Nursing for Byers).

Byers hopes to attend medical school and pursue a dual degree in medicine and public health after graduating from Hope, and IES Abroad’s Santiago program combined his two majors and his career goals ideally.  He especially appreciated, though, the lessons that weren’t as obvious from an academic perspective.

“The medical experience was outstanding, but I think I learned more from the actual life experience of being abroad,” he said.

As explored in the video, for example, he noted that there were times, particularly at first, that he felt isolated while in Santiago, where he didn’t know many people when he arrived and everything was initially unfamiliar.  With time that changed, but along the way he also recognized that solitude itself could be valuable.

“The video aims to show that solitude can be a teacher because it allows you to reflect, and gives you space to see opportunities and lessons even in the mundane,” he said.  “That’s not even something you have to go abroad to learn, because it isn’t unique to being in a foreign country.”

In addition to developing the video with Arnold, Byers wrote several blog entries for the Off-Campus Study program about his experiences.  They are available online, and include the video.