Adventure|Humanitarian Support

The Focal Point: The Value of a Photograph

Written by Shaun Swartz

Welcome back to “The Focal Point,” the space in which we’re sharing the international travel photos and stories from our adventures abroad that left us inspired to plan our next journey. Have an image or story you want to share? Send it to us and don’t be shy! Send it via email (, Instagram DM (@GoBeyondStudentTravel), hire a sky-writer to write it in the clouds, maybe even send us a small tub of cottage cheese with a greeting card…well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. So without further ado, this week’s story comes to us from the bustling Beijing train station – Enjoy!

I’ve grown accustomed to taking road trips on my own.

In fact, my friends refuse to go on road trips with me anymore because I have a propensity to slam the brakes and turn the car around to go back for a photo opportunity. After countless cups of spilled coffee and hours of frustrating slow-downs, I can understand their frustration. In my defense, taking a few moments to slow down and appreciate the fleeting beauty of scenery often passed by at 70 miles per hour doesn’t seem like the worst way to experience life. All of this is to say that I have in my possession thousands upon thousands of photos from years of cultivating photography as a hobby.

To no surprise, I returned home this past summer from my experience as the Program Manager of our Orphans of Beijing journey with thousands of photos. In no way have I finished culling the collection to my favorites, but I knew from the start that a few were going to stand out; specifically, the above image of Mung Yi, one of the children at the Chinese orphanages with whom our group interacted on a daily basis, being one of my favorites.

Children in the China Little Flower program (our service partner in Beijing) will often travel to the Jingdu Children’s Hospital via the overnight train to receive medical services ranging from routine check-ups to any variety of surgeries. Consequently, our group was fortunate enough to help two children, Mung Yi and Jong Jong (not pictured), return from our base at the Jingdu Children’s Hospital to their orphanage home in Baotou, Inner Mongolia. Seeing Mung Yi and Jong Jong sitting in the crowded train station with wide, expectant eyes and their few worldly possessions packed into one little bag was one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever witnessed. Yet just as I was starting to digest the gravity of their circumstance we locked eyes, and for a few brief moments a familiar face was enough to dissolve a world of uncertainty.

This photo now sits framed on my wall as a daily reminder to appreciate the beauty found in the relationships we cultivate with those around us. Without taking the time to slow down and record my experience, I feel confident in saying that my memories with, and therefore connection to, Mung Yi and Jong Jong would be the lesser. What we value in a photograph is entirely subjective, but this image will remain one of my favorites and will always tie me to the little corner of the world where a piece of my heart remains.

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