Rodriguez’ ‘It’s Okay’ wins study abroad film fest

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Author: Andrea Tuemmler

The montage at the beginning of Kyle Rodriguez’s (senior) film “It’s Okay” condenses a semester’s worth of hiking, kayaking, alpaca petting, exploring local towns, enjoying live music and relaxing on Argentine beaches into a few minutes of video set to upbeat music. Eventually, the music slows as the images turn to ones of routine: a bedroom, a subway station, a classroom. The film ultimately examines a more melancholy part of the study abroad experience as Rodriguez shares moments of malaise during his semester studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Rodriguez’s film was chosen from over 45 submissions to win the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) 2015 Study Abroad Film Festival for its artistic and honest portrayal of his experiences. The final product explores a side of living abroad that is seldom discussed: the feelings of loneliness, disappointment and routine.

“Kyle’s film stood out because it was so open and honest,” said Amy Ruhter McMillan, associate vice president of marketing for IES. “As much as there are so many highs to study abroad, there are also lows. Kyle’s film very poignantly showed that with these challenges comes a great responsibility to make the best of what you’ve learned, good and bad, and that it’s okay if everything isn’t perfect and happy all the time. In fact, you’ll learn and grow more if it isn’t.”

The contest was judged by a panel of jurors from IES, who chose the top three candidates based on their video’s ability to capture the spirit of study abroad, the quality of the production, its entertainment value and its originality. The general public then voted for the finalist videos on Facebook; ultimately, over 1,000 people cast their votes.

Rodriguez had experience creating films with his friends prior to going abroad and planned to produce a film chronicling his experience from the start, though he did not know what themes it would cover.

According to Rodriguez, he found himself in a deep depression halfway through his semester in Buenos Aires, which later drove the subject matter of his film.

“I felt like I hadn’t accomplished the goals that I wanted to or maybe I wasn’t having as much of a cultural experience as I wanted to,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a lot of pressure. It’s strange, like we’re trying to live there but we’re also a tourist at the same time.”

Rodriguez became increasingly withdrawn, worrying that he was not accomplishing enough during his time abroad. What was supposed to be exciting had begun to feel mundane. Eventually he decided he needed to leave his room and he went to an open mic by himself. While at the event, he found himself making friends with a group of locals.

“It was like the first time I felt like someone actually wanted me there,” Rodriguez said.

From there, his outlook began to change, eventually spurring him to reach out to other students and make the film.

“I felt like I needed to encapsulate what I went through,” Rodriguez said.

Using his GoPro, Rodriguez began to capture more footage of his experiences, focusing less on trying to film the buildings and sites of Buenos Aires in order to capture his experiences and life there. Rodriguez also filmed interviews with other students on his program, finding that many of them had experienced similar challenges.

Despite the fact that many study abroad brochures, stories and Facebook albums only depict the exciting adventures that students experience, this initial sense of disappointment is common, according to Robin Craggs, executive director of the International Programs Office (IPO). An image in the IPO Student Handbook charts the stages of studying abroad, featuring a trough of initial stress and culture shock that come after the honeymoon phase of excitement when students first arrive. IES strives to support students through this transition through their Comprehensive Orientation and Re-entry Experience, and many other study abroad programs offer similar services, Craggs said.

“The process that he describes in the film, how everything is so exciting and engaging and wonderful, and then how you get to this point where you can get sad and homesick and melancholy and withdrawn — that’s what he describes and it’s such a beautiful visual,” said Craggs. “We think that it’s so honest and important.”

IPO plans to incorporate Rodriguez’s film into the study abroad orientation sessions that help prepare students to go abroad.

As recognition for winning the contest, Rodriguez will be flown to the annual meeting of international programs staff from the offices of schools in the IES Consortium (including Occidental) in mid-October, where he will present his film.

“It feels really good that his film is being recognized,” Craggs said. “We’re so proud of him.”

Rodriguez is thankful for his experience, reflecting that he was able to learn a lot about himself in a short period of time. He now gives weekly information sessions for IPO. Despite, or perhaps because of his journey, Rodriguez said he would encourage other students to study abroad.

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