A film by Hope College senior Ismael Byers of Grand Blanc about spending the spring semester in Santiago, Chile, has won the grand prize in the 2017 IES Abroad Study Abroad Film Festival.

The announcement was made during the IES Abroad Study Abroad Film Festival, held on Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago.  The film, “Solitude: A Companion Abroad,” was selected through an online public vote during October from among three finalists that a jury had previously chosen out of 93 submissions.

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.

Watch the video, "Solitude: A Companion Abroad"

The November 1 film festival was hosted by Kate Flannery, who was Meredith on the television show “The Office,” and included a question-and-answer session with all of the finalists.  Byers and Arnold received a $1,500 cash prize and a one-year distribution deal with INDISTRY TV, and the next day were interviewed with Flannery on Chicago morning talk shows.

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 competition, first held in 2014, provides students a platform to voice their global journey through their own words and video footage, capturing unique views into their study-abroad experiences.

The jury that selected the three finalists consisted of directors, editors, producers and screenwriters who are either IES Abroad film studies faculty from their international centers or IES Abroad alumni.  According to IES Study Abroad, more than 2,000 votes were cast during the open voting in October.

“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.

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 film, 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 film with Arnold, Byers wrote several blog entries for the Off-Campus Study program about his experiences.  They are available online.