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Meet the Jury – Alexa Penton

We are excited to introduce you to Alexa Penton, IES Abroad Beijing alumna and 2014 Study Abroad Film Festival winner. Read on to hear how she felt about winning the first-ever Study Abroad Film Festival and what advice she would give to students aiming to document their semester abroad.

Alexa Penton
2014 Study Abroad Film Festival Winner
IES Abroad Beijing Alumnus, 2014

Q: Your film, East of Here, won first place in our first Study Abroad Film Festival—tell us what that experience was like.

A: It sounds cheesy, but I was truly honored to be chosen as the first Study Abroad Film Festival winner. I felt like IES Abroad had already given me so much by facilitating the awesome experience I had in Beijing, so I was almost in disbelief when I found out that on top of it all, they had chosen my film as a finalist! But the coolest part was that winning the first annual Study Abroad Film Festival gave me a platform to share my experience with others. I was less interested in debuting my filmmaking skills (which are amateur, at best) than communicating to people how important and impactful studying abroad can be in a young person’s life.

Q: What advice do you have for students when it comes to documenting their study abroad experience?

A: Just like each person experiences study abroad differently, each person chooses to remember his/her experience in different ways. Personally, I’m an obsessive documentarian, so I’ve got piles upon piles of film, photographs, journals, leaves, rocks, tea bags, you name it. When I went to China, I brought four cameras with me! But one thing I noticed was that sometimes I got so caught up in getting a good shot that I forgot to experience the actual moment I was trying to document. My best advice to students is to have a good camera or camera phone on hand for those people and places you want to revisit later, but don’t let the task of documenting distract you from totally immersing yourself in the experience.

Q: Why did you feel it was important to document your study abroad experience through film instead of another medium?

A: Well, to be honest, I documented my study abroad experience through just about every medium I had available to me. But I knew I wanted to create a film for the Film Festival because film can communicate so much more than photos or even writing. Using film also allowed me to introduce different perspectives on studying abroad by showing interviews with some of my classmates in Beijing. Simply put, film was the most accessible and attractive medium for sharing my experience with others.

Q: What is your favorite documentary? And why?

A: I’m a sucker for any film about animals, nature, or the environment. The “Planet Earth” miniseries that the BBC aired in 2005 was one of the most incredible nature/wildlife documentaries that I have ever seen. It really leaves you awestruck by the natural world and the interconnectedness of life on planet Earth—and it makes you want to get out there and see it all for yourself!

Q: How would you condense the spirit of study abroad into one word?

A: Transformative.

Visit our Film Festival Jury page to read additional bios and interviews!

Feeling inspired? Submit your film today.