POLAHS Travel Diaries #6: National Geographic Photography Expedition - TOKYO!

A remarkable student, Christopher made a lasting impression on his POLAHS teachers and community. He was featured in the June issue of San Pedro Today, in an article titled, “Determination.” Christopher shares with us how the Nat Geo program allowed him to hone his photography skills, expand his artistic vision, and explore the world with unexpected independence, following the loss of his mother.
“Tokyo is hurtling into the future at a rapid pace. This is a city where the cutting edge is boldly displayed in eccentric fashion, pop-culture icons, and avant-garde architecture. Learn how to capture the city’s creativity— and the enduring symbols of centuries-old Japanese culture. THIS IS NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – TOKYO!”
Hi, my name is Christopher Magana, and I graduated from POLAHS in June 2019. I’m currently enrolled at UC Berkeley, working toward a Bachelor of Arts degree in Computer Science. I plan to work at Walt Disney Imagineering as a creative designerfor the Disney Parks and attractions.



A part of earning my Eagle Scout award was creating a reading center for students on campus. Two years ago, our school’s library was closed and turned into a classroom. My AP English teacher, Ms. Lindsey, took the books into her classroom and allowed me to build a comfortable environment for students to read. I connected with many businesses in San Pedro to fundraise for my design, and worked with my Boy Scout troop to construct benches and shelving. I hope that my contributions will benefit a new age group of intellectuals who will continue to help the community. 

Meanwhile, I followed my passion for creativity by becoming the first POLAHS student to simultaneously enroll in two Career Technical Education (CTE) pathways: Digital Photography and Graphic Design with Mr. Miseroy.I earned professional Adobe certifications in Photoshop and Illustrator, while maintaining an overall GPA of 4.25.


 Mr. Miseroy, Mr. Gutierrez, and Mr. Aspinwall attending Christopher’s Eagle Scout Ceremony


My mom was my sole supporter for the past eight years, but struggled with constant medical issues. I remained by her side in the hospital and at home, which affected my grades. I began to develop time management and placed school as a priority, like she would want. A few weeks before achieving Eagle Scout, earning the National Geographic scholarship, and graduating, my mother passed away suddenly. I can only think of one thing – I cannot stop and waste everything we work toward, together. I will earn my college degree and make her proud. I received a few scholarships at the POLAHS Scholarship Banquet, including $22,000 from the Gogian Foundation, which will help me achieve that goal. 



The National Geographic Student Expeditions Scholarship is held once a year for Photography students at POLAHS, made possible by a private donor. I applied in the spring, but wasn’t selected. However, I soon found another scholarship directly from National Geographic that covered the trip. I applied with the support of my teachers, and received an email that I was chosen! Hearing the news of my determination, the POLAHS donor decided to award me the same technology package as the other POLAHS recipient! I received all of the computer, camera, and travel equipment that I would need for the trip, and for future work in photography. The trip and equipment totaled nearly $15,000.




There were about 40 students in total, from the continental US, Puerto Rico, Panama, and the Philippines. In the morning we would receive a one-hour lecture from one of the trip leaders, teaching us how certain aspects of our images could be improved. We explored countryside landscape photography, portraits and more. One of the lectures I remember most was how one National Geographic photographer spent over 30 years at the US-Mexico border to create a cohesive story of border patrol. 

On most days, we would head straight to shooting. We would board the Tokyo public transit for about 40 minutes before arriving at our destination. We visited Tokyo’s unique neighborhoods - the bustling Ginza district and Harajuku. We also traveled to an anime neighborhood, the Shinjuku Gyoen garden, and the Gion district. We would usually have an hour to explore the area and take photos, similar to Mr. Miseroy’s teaching style. We would do this throughout the day until 7pm, when we would have dinner and enjoy a night time activity with the group, ranging from more shooting, to museums, to enjoying a geisha show. At the end of the day, we went back to the hotels to upload and critique photos within our groups. More often, this would become a personal reflection. 

I learned new techniques with long exposures, and how to take better portraits with a moving subject. I also learned how to trust my intuition, both in photography and in traveling alone. Leading up to the trip was an adjustment time in my life, learning to be independent.

On one of our final evenings, our work was displayed in a private National Geographic gallery show, which was very special.


Japan and the US are oddly different from one another. Japan can have a serene garden right across from a nightclub and a Buddhist shrine. Some people in Japan have a minimalist lifestyle and others are cramming anime merchandise into their apartments. Japan seems to be filled with exaggerated differences, making it a unique place to visit. 

Small customary laws are also different from the US. You can never hand a cashier money directly, instead you place it into a tray on the counter. People drive on the other side of the road, but most people end up using public transportation. Any currency under $10 USD ends up being in coins rather than bills. 

The weather in Japan was also a surprise for me. When I went, it was the record hottest week of the year. My favorite surprise was the integration of pop culture in downtown Tokyo, seeing the variety of TV shows and movies mixed with simple advertisements for food and diners.


I am truly grateful for the opportunities that my donor has provided. I will continue using my photography equipment through college and my journey in life. This was a rare opportunity for me, and I know it will play a critical role in my future!


I would strongly encourage students to apply for the National Geographic scholarships. For student travelers, I would recommend focusing on the photography and especially the culture. Understanding your environment when shooting can make an extraordinary photograph!