Gilman Video Blogger Karly – A Day in the Life

Meet U.S. Department of State sponsored Gilman Scholarship recipient Karly Kahl-Placek. Karly was a Gilman Global Experience Correspondent for the Spring 2014 semester in Jaipur, India.  The Gilman Global Experience allows Gilman Scholarship recipients the opportunity to record videos around academic and cultural themes to share with other students interested in studying or interning abroad in the featured country. For more videos please visit the Gilman Scholarship’s Official YouTube page.

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From one home to another… Back in the USA.

Araca - San Jorge


The beautiful country of Guatemala had much to offer: warm weather, magnificent views, and succulent food. What I enjoyed most about Guatemala however, were the people and their kindness towards outsiders. Almost all of my encounters with Guatemalans were warm and welcoming. They acknowledged that I was a foreigner and took an interest in learning why I was there. I have learned to be more grateful for people with a welcoming personality and to take my own experiences into consideration when interacting with immigrants in the United States. I now wish to model their examples as I begin volunteering more with my local Latino community here in the United States.

Being back in America has created an unusual feeling of disorientation. It was almost as if the moment I began to feel comfortable in another country, I was on my flight back home. Reflecting on my time in Guatemala has made me appreciate all of the opportunities and privileges that I have available to me here, especially my university and campus resources. On campus, there are more than 6,000 faculty and staff members of various fields with knowledge and expertise to share with us students if we seek them out. I have been convicted with the thought that I have taken for granted my privilege to be a student at NC State University. In order to take what I have learned from my internship and experience in Guatemala, I am challenged to become more involved in a NC State founded organization called VOLAR, which provides needed services such as tutoring and clinical care.

I now cherish my time spent in Guatemala because it has taught me how to be more independent and has challenged my views about immigration law. Personally hearing the stories of ethnic discrimination forced me to confront the issue. I am now challenged to be proactive in advocating for the rights of Latino Americans and those who desire to have a better life and pursue a good education in the United States. I understand there are many complexities surrounding immigration, but I would like to help others have a more holistic understanding of Guatemalans’ side of the story. In a nut shell, that was why I was ultimately there this summer: to seek out and understand their ideas and beliefs in order to better promote social justice globally.

Araca in Guatemala

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Meet Gilman Video Blogger – Alex

Meet U.S. Department of State sponsored Gilman Scholarship recipient Alex Montoya. Alex was a Gilman Global Experience Correspondent during the summer of 2014 studying and interning in Shanghai, China.  The Gilman Global Experience allows Gilman Scholarship recipients the opportunity to record videos around academic and cultural themes to share with other students interested in studying or interning abroad in the featured country. For more videos please visit the Gilman Scholarship’s Official YouTube page.

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There and Back Again

To be honest, I think I got a little cocky after not really experiencing very much culture shock while I was abroad and assumed I would have just as easy of a time readjusting when I got home. But what I’ve learned after being home for about a week is that coming home is a whole new experience entirely. On our last night in Kyrgyzstan, we had dinner with all of the students and faculty from our program. One of the faculty members told us something that I wasn’t able to fully understand until I got home. “It might seem like people don’t care about hearing about your experience,” he said, “but they do. They just literally don’t understand what you are talking about, it’s like you’re speaking a foreign language.” He told us that we might have to hide part of ourselves for a little while, until we found someone else who understood what it was like to live abroad and how it fundamentally changes so many things about you that you sometimes aren’t fully able to understand or articulate. He was right. I got off the plane and couldn’t wait to share everything about my trip with everyone I talked to. The thing was, as I told them my stories, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated. I felt like the people around me weren’t really listening to what I was saying and were just passively letting my stories wash over them. I tried over and over to explain what I’d seen and done and how these things had changed how I saw the world, I just wanted them to get it. But they didn’t. Really though, how could they? It took me a while, but I realized that they were listening; I just wanted them to hear something more than what I was saying. I think I was trying to share more than just stories with people; I was trying to share how these stories had made me feel. I was trying to take all those changes I felt and make other people feel them too, but obviously that’s not how things work. I realized that that faculty member had been right. There were parts of what I had experienced that I was going to have to keep to myself until I met someone else who would understand without me having to explain.

There are countless articles out there that talk about wanderlust and reasons to travel. They all say things that I’ve found to be very true about having experiences that change your life and how great it is to see new places and cultures and meet new people. They also almost always talk about how, once you travel, you want to keep travelling. Most of them relate this urge back to those things I mentioned before, those exciting new experiences. But I think there’s a little more to it than that. I think it comes back to those pieces that people who have traveled have to hide when they get home. Maybe when people go back out into the world they’re not just looking for novelty, but for the familiar as well. Maybe they’re trying to find others who speak their language, people who can read between the lines of their stories and hear what they’re really trying to say.

I miss Kyrgyzstan. I miss the part of myself that I left there and I’m not totally sure I’ll be able to find it again. I’m also extremely happy to be home, mostly because of burritos and the lack of marshrutkas in the public transportation system. I’ve always loved the saying “home is where the heart is,” despite my aversion to clichés. I always think it is a beautiful and comforting concept that your home isn’t dependent on a physical thing, like a house or an apartment, but is where you feel complete. When you travel though, I think it becomes a little more complex. I feel like I’ve left parts of me with people in so many places and I don’t know if it’s possible to feel totally complete in one place anymore. I know I want to keep travelling and I know this means I’ll be leaving parts of myself in places that I might never get to go back to, but I think it’s worth it. It’s extremely hard to travel and not experience some kind of growth. Maybe you give up having one place in the world where you feel like you belong completely, but you also gain this amazing sense of freedom. Whatever pieces you leave behind are replaced by new thoughts, beliefs, and friendships that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. My time in Kyrgyzstan honestly changed my life, and it changed me. I’m figuring out how to make these changes fit into my life here in the States, but soon I hope I can venture out into the world again, and maybe find people who speak the same language.

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Ravenna, Italy: It’s a matter of sink or swim.

During my first week of classes on the Bologna University campus, I realized that my study abroad program left very little time to acclimate to my new surroundings. Everything felt new, fresh, chaotic, exciting and overwhelming and it was the exact kind of adventure I wanted in a study abroad program. Back in the States, home and school life can sometimes feel monotonous and boring as we execute our routines as the days, weeks and months seem to slip by. For me, my time in Italy seemed to pass by more slowly. I think I accounted for time more consciously as I became overly aware and stimulated by my new surroundings. The mornings consisted of “survival” Italian classes. We were taught basic commands of the language so we could navigate through Bologna and interact with the local people. In the afternoon, our time was split and merged between the literary and film production portions of the program. We screened two films (“S.O.S Submarine” and “Rome, Open City”). The subsequent class discussions allowed us to critically analyze the narrative structures and production values of each film. Learning world history in a classroom setting is one thing, but when it is physically possible for me to occupy the same historical spaces being portrayed on the big screen, I walked out of each class with a profound understanding of how World War II affected Italy, its people and the world. The way Italian filmmakers realistically dramatized historical events made me feel, at times, like I was watching a documentary film.

By the fourth day of classes, I was able to politely ask for “this” or “that” from the nearby café at lunch. As I sat there eating my panino (a sandwich made with non-sliced bread, salami and mozzarella), I started to feel like I was living the Italian life instead of observing it. My confidence was at an all-time high when I pronounced “Ciao” to the café owner as I headed back to campus for my afternoon class.

My well-earned confidence was put to the test when we were given our first film production assignment. The next morning, the entire class boarded a train and traveled about fifty miles east of Bologna to the ancient city of Ravenna. We were divided into groups of three and we were instructed to produce a three-minute documentary film exploring the reality and imagination of Ravenna.

Ravenna, Italy

Ravenna: Città Amica Delle Donne (Friend of Women)

We were told Ravenna was once a thriving port along the Adriatic Sea but the water has since receded about seven miles. Like Venice, Ravenna is slowly sinking into the marshes. Each group was given a camera, a boom pole with a microphone and we were set free to roam Ravenna. My team quickly headed for the nearest café and we started to strategize. We each pulled out our cell phones and connected to the café’s free Wifi. We quickly learned that Ravenna was known for its colorful mosaics and it was the capital of the Roman Empire between 402 and 476. We decided that a three-minute documentary about Ravenna would not do the city justice, so we decided to capture the “feeling” of Ravenna through her natural environments, her buildings and her people. Unlike some of our fellow students groups, it was going to be a little harder for us to insert ourselves into the city without being noticed. Our team was comprised of an American Indian (me), an Indian from India and an African-American. Our recordings included visits to Dante’s tomb, the churches, and the newer port of Ravenna along the Adriatic. Any trepidation we had about our Ravenna adventures was only in our heads. We found the people of Ravenna to be modest and polite, even when we spoke Italian with our American accents.

Before I visited Italy, my impression of this country consisted of mental images of the canals of Venice, Vatican City in Rome or Santa Maria del Fiore (the domed church in Florence). At the end of the day, I was extremely happy with my visit to Ravenna.

Ravenna, Italy (SU Abroad) from Cornsoupman on Vimeo.

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From China to Texas

Stepping off the plane from China I know that I will have some problems adjusting being back in good ‘ole Texas. Flying in, all I see in every direction is flat lands and plenty of empty lots compared to towers and skyscrapers filling the sky. I knew being back home I no longer have to walk anywhere, but instead have to drive to get anything done. My story remains the same but the amount of information I give out varies from person to person. Everyone is so excited to hear about my story about being abroad, but the hardest thing for me to share is the moments that I experienced. I always end with the same line, “You have to experience it in order to understand what happened.”

The most I miss about being in the city is how easy it was to get around at any point in time. Meeting with other interns or friends I made along the way, we always had a new spot to discover while being in Shanghai or traveling on the weekends. Having a solid group of friends really helped me enrich my experience abroad. We literally did everything together after work. As soon as we got off work we were already arranging a table for dinner and an evening activity for us to unwind.

Being back in the States does have its perks like seeing family, friends and the opportunity to develop new friendships by getting the chance to share my story. Unfortunately, I do miss strangers taking my picture and wanting to practice their English everywhere I go. While in China one thing that I noticed that I really enjoyed was how open people were when bringing people into their group. No matter where you were from or what you looked like, people embraced you with open arms and never doubted their decisions. Here in the States I feel as if it is a bit of a process trying to break into a group of friends especially if you don’t match their thoughts, clothing styles, patterns, etc.

Starting my last year in college I am beyond excited to venture into the world of graduate studies. This experience really influenced me to focus more on a dual program that offers classes both in the U.S. and abroad. Having such a short time to take in the culture, I find that studying abroad long-term will allow for more personal and professional development. When applying to global programs, I know during individual interviews the Gilman Scholarship and my personal story will help me start a solid conversation.


AlexAlex Montoya in China

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Intern Life in Bishkek

During my time here in Kyrgyzstan, I have been interning at the Soros Foundation. The Soros Foundation operates around the world, including in the U.S. though it is known as the Open Society Foundations in other parts of the world. When I applied for my program, we chose whether we wanted to work with human rights and peace building or environment and sustainability. I chose the human rights track and was assigned an internship when I arrived in Bishkek. The Soros Foundation works with a variety of issues including education and youth, governance and accountability, health, rights and justice, and media and information. I am working in the media and information sector with the Freedom of Information Program. My work has mostly been focused on the Encouraging Diversity Through Media Project. This project is focused primarily on the development of media content about the cultural and ethnic diversity of Kyrgyzstan, strengthening the role of Kyrgyz media in constructive inter-ethnic dialogues, and providing improved access to information in different, especially minority, languages. Typically, I arrive at Soros at 2 pm and go over my assignment for the day with my supervisor. I then do my research and put what I find into a file for my supervisors to use in their work. My latest research was used during a training that Soros was involved in for journalists to educate them on how to report in a way that did not escalate conflicts and helped to diffuse them and promote peace instead.

The first project I worked on when I arrived in Kyrgyzstan was regarding the approaching switchover from analog to digital television. My first assignment was proof reading a document that provided recommendations for the promotion of a transparent, inclusive, and timely transition to digital broadcasting that respected the rights of citizens and current broadcasters. I found this very interesting because I can pretty vividly remember when the U.S. transitioned to digital broadcasting and the campaigns that were run on TV and on other forms of media to promote the change. Proofreading this document was also very educational for me because, although I had been through a switchover, I had never really understood the details of why it was happening or even necessary in the first place.

My other project has been researching the best practices for using media in post conflict resolution and to promote peace and diversity. In 2010, there were violent ethnic clashes between the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the south of Kyrgyzstan primarily in the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad. The Soros Foundation has been doing work in different areas to help repair relations between these two ethnic groups. During my second week at my internship I attended a conference that my supervisors were participating in. The conference was titled “Civil Identity: Unity in Diversity. The Role of Media, Government and Society.” The conference had presenters from different NGOs who were working on media projects to promote diversity. These projects included funding local independent stations, running youth groups, and putting out different publications espousing peace. I am possibly the most technologically challenged person I know, so up until this point, I had never really acknowledged the benefits that media programs can have. I have come to find this topic fascinating and I am doing my final research paper for my seminar class here in Kyrgyzstan on it as well. Since I am starting my senior year this fall, I have been thinking more and more about what I am passionate about and what I find interesting and how I can make a living from it. Before this internship, I would have classified working in any sort of media related job as boring and constraining. Because of my experience at Soros, I have realized that there is a very human element to media relations that I find fascinating. It is all about learning how people think and figuring out the best way to reach them. I have no idea what the future has in store for me after I graduate, but I now have a whole new path that I can follow.

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