For University of Tennessee senior Philip Baites, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that counts. 

“I was really looking forward to the adventure and the opportunity to be in a new place,” Baites said.

His eye for travel and adventure led him to the experience of a lifetime when he spent an entire school year abroad in Morocco. For nine months, he studied Arabic, explored the countryside and lived with a Moroccan host family. He captured his memories through a camera lens, strumming along to an original song in a five-minute short film, titled “Tangier to Casablanca.” It’s since become a top finalist in a national film competition through the IES Abroad Film Festival.

The film opens and ends with a train, symbolic of Baites’s experience overseas.

“When I wanted to write the song and the lyrics, as well as the film, I realized that the train was the best symbol of the journey I was on,” he said. “Not just the sights and the people I was seeing but the people I was meeting, interacting with and all the experiences I was having.”

Baites said though he appreciated the places he visited and the lessons he learned in Morocco, it was the human connection that left the greatest impact. He credits the relationships he built for making his trip most memorable.

When his foster mother endured a loss during his stay, Baites said he felt the pain, too. Her story, paired with the UT student’s self-written lyrics and melody, became the subject of his now award-contending video.

“Two months into my journey, her father passed away and when I thought about doing the film, I really wanted to honor her, feature her, and tell her story,” Baites said. “And when I thought about the lyrics I had written for my song, I realized when taken from her perspective, they really take on a deeper meaning.”

Baites wrote the story and produced the music showcased in the film, even directing the cast, shooting the video, and editing the final product. He said the short-film serves as a tribute to the people he met along his journey and offers an important message to audiences around the world.

“I really want people to take away that in the end, it’s not the places or the sights seen that have the lasting impact on us, it’s the people,” Baites said. “That was certainly my case.”

Film critics narrowed the nearly 100 film submissions down to the top three, one of which being Baites’ project: “Tangier to Casablanca.” Now, his fate is left in the hands of the public.

To help Baites’ film win the national competition, you can vote for his video here. The winner will receive a $1,500 prize.