Watertown High School sophomore Carina Taufiq won first place in an essay-writing contest hosted by travelforteens.com, earning her a free summer community service trip to Cinque Terre, Italy worth $3,885.
Taufiq beat out 200 contestants from 10 countries to come out on top, penning her opinion that international friendships are invaluable.
In her essay, Taufiq described an ethnographic map of her school cafeteria, where Middle Eastern students, Asian students and Hispanic students all sit in their own secluded areas.
“There are no actual physical boundaries between the tables, but there might as well be,” she wrote. “We are in the United States, but we don’t always act united.”
Taufiq, American-born with an Indian father and Italian mother, wrote that if she won the trip to Italy, she would help shape Italian opinions of Americans as well as gain a new understanding of a foreign country herself.
“Most of what we learn about people and customs outside the United States comes from lectures given in a classroom far away from the actual country discussed and the realities of the lives of people who live in it,” she wrote. “Even a classroom with all of the resources available, it is impossible to re-create an actual experience of talking and listening to people and understanding why they do and think what they think.”
On her trip to Italy, Taufiq will work 20 hours of community service, as well as hike, swim and boat along the Italian coast.
“I can’t wait to go; this is going to be such an amazing experience,” Taufiq said. “This is the first time anything like this has ever happened to me. I’m so pumped about being able to meet new people from other cultures and learning about my own culture. Five years of Italian has finally paid off!”
Ned Clark, program director for travelforteens.com, said Taufiq’s essay deserved to win.
“We are thrilled that Carina is our grand prize winner,” he said. “That is quite an accomplishment considering that we received submissions from young people all around the world. Carina’s essay moved the judges and told the story of what true international friendship is all about.”
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