Photo submitted by Brianna Osofisan.

During your time abroad, you’ll certainly want to capture and share aspects of your experience. Friends and family will ask to see and hear about what you learned. You will want to have some documentation of your experiences, reflections, and memories. And often the very process of creating and capturing can help you gain new insights and create new stories to tell.

As you go about capturing your experience, be mindful of what the act of capturing means for you and for the local community. Remember all that you’ve learned about intercultural engagement and how it changes our interaction with locals when we take pictures and videos of them. Think about what kinds of situations would make you uncomfortable—as a local here in the US—and avoid putting others in similar situations.

When you return and begin to share your experiences with others, be mindful again. The kinds of photos you choose to share and the way in which you share them will have an impact on people’s perceptions of your experience and of the world that you encountered.

You are an ambassador for CGIS, for the University of Michigan, and for the United States whether you want to be or not. The way you choose to capture your experience abroad and how you share that with others is a powerful process. We encourage you to think carefully about how you want to do this. Our ethical photography guide offers further thoughts on cultural engagement from behind the camera.


  • Journaling
  • Blogging (personal, CGIS blog)
  • Creating video footage
  • Photography (see below, photo contest)
  • Engaging CGIS social media by liking, sharing, retweeting, and tagging and by sending us interesting articles about your host culture.

A Guide to Ethical Photography

Digital photography has empowered nearly every one of us with the ability to take photos and capture video at will. With that power comes responsibility.

As you engage with communities abroad, remember all that you’ve learned about intercultural engagement and how photography changes your interactions with locals. Think about what kinds of situations would make you uncomfortable—as a local here in the US—and avoid putting others in similar situations. And remember not to assume that your own comfort with being photographed means that others are as well. Employ the Platinum Rule (treat others as they would like to be treated), and take cues from locals in this respect.

Here are some guiding principles to help you navigate the dynamic circumstances of intercultural engagement:

Dignity, Respect, Legal Concerns

  • Choose photos that represent people truthfully and show dignity, equality, support and integrity.
  • Acquire the full understanding, participation, and permission of the subjects whenever possible.
  • Always ask for permission before photographing homes, stores, religious spaces/buildings, and so on.
  • Follow local laws. Photography is banned in many places around the world.

History and Power

  • Learn about your host community and ask locals for ideas about what and how to photograph local people.
  • Abstain from using photos that potentially stereotype, sensationalize, or discriminate. Aim for complex portrayals of subjects that avoid reinforcing stereotypes.
  • Be aware that there is a long and often exploitative history of outsiders documenting what they perceive to be "exotic" subjects.

Planning and Sharing

  • Plan your photographs rather than shooting freely without thinking carefully first. This will help you avoid many of the pitfalls mentioned above.
  • When showing your photos to others, think about the implications your work will have in various communities.
  • Think about what your photo will communicate to others in light of the fact that images and even video offer only limited context and perspective and tell only a part of the story at hand.

Do have fun and be creative! These principles are meant to be inspiring, not restricting. If you can keep these things in mind, you will be able to focus on the artistic and social aspects of your capturing. And you likely will value your memories captured on film more fully if you are confident that you interacted responsibly with your host cultures. 

Photo submitted by Lyric Kleber.

CGIS Photo Contest

Nearly every photo you see in CGIS promotional materials was taken by a UM student who has returned from a study abroad experience. This gives our materials a vibrancy and authenticity that helps convey the incredible personal and academic journeys each of you has had. Each year, CGIS holds a contest in which students who participated in CGIS programs can submit photos and win prizes.

Photo Content
Photos will be judged on subject matter, quality, creativity, originality, and respect for local culture. Keep in mind that we are looking for images that capture a meaningful and respectful relationship between the photographer and the subject.

We encourage:

  • Images of students (preferably UM students) in an academic and/or intercultural setting.
  • Images of students interacting with people from the host country.
  • Images that present a unique, unusual insight about study abroad.

We discourage:

  • Images that demonstrate a lack of respect for individuals and/or local cultures.
  • Images that could be misinterpreted easily as cultural (mis)appropriation.
  • Images that depict children and minors. 

Rules of Entry

  • Photo submission requirements
  • Photo entries must be from a CGIS program that took place during the 2021-22 Academic year.
  • Entrants may submit up to five (5) photos and as few as one (1). 
  • Each file should be a jpeg named with your name plus the number 1-5.
    Example: JaneDoe1.jpg, JaneDoe2.jpg, JaneDoe3.jpgJaneDoe4.jpgJaneDoe5.jpg.
  • Photos must be at least 1MB.
  • Each photo must be accompanied with a 4-6 sentence description of the photo. This should include your reflections on your intercultural learning in the context of the photo—tell us some of the story behind the photo here.
  • Submission deadline for the Fall 2022 CGIS Photo Contest will be announced later.