Vanessa Garcia, a student at Clayton County's Pointe South Middle School, recently won first place in a regional art competition that earned her and her school's principal all-expenses-paid trips to Istanbul, Turkey, according to a Clayton County Public Schools news release.
"Vanessa was very surprised when she learned that she had won first place for the entire Southeastern region," said Dean Lillard, the principal at Pointe South Middle School. "However, her [art] teacher, Ms. Denge, was not surprised at all."
He added that Garcia's art teacher –– Denge –– noted that Garcia worked tirelessly on her project, to make sure it was the best possible entry for the competition.
The contest, according to school officials, is sponsored the Istanbul Center in the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, and the Georgia Department of Education. It was open to all middle-and high-school-age students in five Southeastern states, including: Georgia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
School officials said the theme for the competition was, "Empathy: Walking in Another's Shoes."
Garcia's project visualized the image of a young women thinking about how each person must learn to walk in someone's else's shoes, when it comes to being bullied, according to Lillard.
He said Garcia's artwork showed how tormentors must always see the results of negative actions from another person's perspective, in order to understand how that person feels.
"Judges were astonished Garcia's work," said Lillard. "They were impressed the intricate patterns she utilized to express her art, as well as the fact that she drew in pencil and used a great a deal of shades in the project."
He added that the judges said Garcia's project was well-planned and created with purpose and care.
Thanks to Garcia's hard work and dedication, her first-place reward was an all-expenses-paid trip for 10 days to Istanbul, Turkey. Lillard, who accompanied Garcia on her trip, said their journey allowed them to explore art and culture, in Turkey.
Garcia said she was filled with excitement throughout the trip, as she was able to learn and discover much of what Turkey had to offer. She added that she was particularly struck the country's common religious practices and selection of food.
"The Muslim religion is practiced the people," she said, "and they attend Mosques to pray five times a day."
The food, she said, was very different for her. "There is no pork, but lamb and chicken are served regularly, with vegetables and fruit," she said. "I like the vegetables, but I did not like the lamb."
Lillard, however; said the meals were quite fresh and very tasty, once he got used to eating the foods. "We ate at least three times a day," He said.
The two said they traveled from Asia, to Europe, several times during their journey, visiting many cities, and museums, many of which were filled with ancient artifacts, dating all the way back to the time of Jesus Christ.
Garcia said that during the tours of several cities they visited, she was mostly impressed the caves where Christians once lived. She said, however, the biggest thrill for her was being able to show off her artwork at local television stations in Turkey.
"I believe that Vanessa went to Istanbul as a caterpillar," said Lillard, "but after her visit and exposure to the culture in Turkey, she is more like a beautiful butterfly."
Lillard added that he believes this experience helped Garcia grow as an artist. "She saw some amazing artwork on murals in caves and museums," he said, "which intrigued her, and strengthened her concept and understanding of art."