- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

MANDAN, N.D. (AP) - A Peace Corps volunteer from Mandan has won a global photography contest with an image of two young Buddhist monks in Cambodia.

Westen Thomas was chosen as a second-place winner of the Peace Corps’ photo contest while serving as a community health education volunteer in Battambang Province, Cambodia, the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1wJUHpO ) reported. His photo was showcased in a public service announcement on YouTube’s landing page last month.

“Winning second place in this contest is really important to me because I would love to pursue a career in photography,” Thomas said. “Taking photos is a way for me to remember important moments in time that I experience while traveling, and I love to share those images with others.”

Thomas took the winning photo while he was visiting the district town’s local Buddhist pagoda, which Thomas said is a temple where Buddhist ceremonies are held and practiced.

“When I saw these two young monks sitting together, I recognized that even though I was living in a very different culture, these two young monks were just being ordinary kids and enjoying each other’s company,” Thomas said. “It was something that I instantly related with, and it inspired me to take the photo.”

Thomas expects to stay in Cambodia for three more years. He said one of the most memorable experiences so far was meeting his host family.

“My host mom was sitting on a flat wooden table structure under our stilted house, smiling. Probably just as nervous as I was,” Thomas said. “There were a couple of minutes of awkward staring at each other and sharing the universal language of smiling, while I coped with the racing thoughts of how I’m going to communicate with her and the rest of my family only knowing a little bit of basic language.”

Thomas has also traveled to Costa Rica, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Cambodia and Canada. Visiting other countries allows Thomas to gain new perspectives about life, he said.

He said his experiences in Cambodia have been some of the most rewarding of his life.

“Being able to learn a second language, live with people in my community and really immerse myself in another culture has changed my life in ways that are hard to fully convey,” Thomas said. “It’s made me more aware of my own culture and appreciate the people and relationships I have in my life, both American and Cambodian.”


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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