Pharmaceutical Chemistry in Taipei – Extending Study Abroad Impact Through the Gilman Scholarship

My name is Daniel Oliveira, and I am a current Gilman alumni ambassador. I studied pharmaceutical chemistry in Taipei, Taiwan in the spring of 2018. My goal through this post is to elucidate the relevance of the Gilman program in acting as a continual formative experience. In doing so, I hope you can also reflect on how you can continue extending the benefits of the Gilman scholarship and your study abroad experience.

Spending one academic quarter in Taipei allowed me to get outside of my comfort zone; growth accompanied this discomfort. I had the opportunity to complete upper-division pharmaceutical chemistry classes whilst abroad. Classes that would normally take one academic year to be completed were condensed into a 9-week period. Some subjects included drug discovery, pharmacology, and independent research – all of which I had no prior experience with. Although the subjects were challenging, they provided me with an opportunity to take initiative regarding my education. This is because I asked guiding and clarifying questions, managed my time to meet deadlines and balance recreational activities, and prepared for written and oral presentations. In doing all of this, curiosity for the subject increased, and engagement is something I still carry as a motivating factor for my field of study to this day. After all, I cannot forget sitting in that outdoor patio at Academia Sinica in humid April weather analyzing depictions of how penicillin kills bacteria by preventing cell wall synthesis and facilitating membrane lysis!

Accounting for approximately 1% of the U.S, population, Portuguese-speaking Americans are underrepresented in minority spaces. I took matters into my own hands and decided to plan, create, moderate, and market the first-ever virtual Lusophone Connect networking event for the Gilman alumni community  as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador!

Leaving my comfort zone was not limited solely to time in Taiwan however: preparing for the program was equally a learning experience. Questions that study abroad prospective applicants often have sometimes go unanswered, and I had these too. One of the most important of these was, “How will I pay for this?” As a first-generation, STEM Latino-American student, financial logistics worried me. I was unsure I would be able to weave such experience into my curriculum while also gaining academic progress and trying to keep up with the plethora of expectations of young adulthood.

However, I am grateful because I had built a conviction since my freshman year that studying abroad was something I was interested in. This led me to act in faith and commit to the program. Interestingly, along the way my study abroad advisor told me about the Gilman Scholarship, so I applied. I chose to believe that regardless of the application outcome, studying abroad was a commitment I had and because of that, I would find a way to finance it (even if it meant taking out more of those formidable student loans!). Things did end up “falling in place”: I was accepted into the pharmaceutical chemistry abroad program, and shortly after the fall deadline, the Gilman team notified me of my award! The endorsement by the Department of State re-affirmed my commitment to be a culturally-competent student.

Now that it has been nearly 3 years since arriving from Taiwan, I help other students to also study abroad by encouraging them and answering questions about the application. This is important because the Gilman program has always extended beyond my one quarter of studying abroad. For example, upon arriving in the U.S., I created a follow-on service PowerPoint project and presented it to my high school regarding my experience. Furthermore, as a current ambassador, I have served in activities ranging from facilitating a language-focused networking event to speaking as a panelist at the We Represent Conference, which is an annual gathering of underrepresented students, faculty, and alumni who are interested in studying abroad. I also get to serve the alumni community by tapping into my creative side and writing articles such as this one and submitting photos of Taiwan for our photo competitions.

I spoke in the live Youtube event “Ask me Anything” with the Gilman team regarding traveling, food, unique accommodations, financed academic trips, and cultural immersion in Taipei.

The Gilman Scholarship also provides resources, such as the Gilman Scholar Network and social media closed-membered groups, which allow scholars and alumni to connect and provide job opportunities. In tandem with such networking, alumni have access to career resources such as Non-Competitive Eligibility, professional development workshops, and more. All of these are in line with Gilman’s purpose, which is to facilitate the representation of the U.S. and diversify the study abroad applicant pool. Many of us relate to this mission too, especially because we come from unique backgrounds.

As I enter into the fourth quarter of my term as an alumni ambassador, I am cognizant of the blessings of this program. Studying abroad is a fun experience, and although we live in unprecedented times brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, the Gilman program remains as committed as ever to providing students with the tools they need to be successful members of the international community. If you would like to take advantage of Gilman resources, consider participating in mentorship programs through the Gilman Scholar Network, or post on your LinkedIn about your abroad experience and use the hashtag #gilmanscholarship. You can also attend culture-specific and thematic networking events.

Our community is paradoxically large yet intimate. I hope to see you at one of our events. In the meantime, how will you continue the legacy of your abroad experience as you make it relevant to your life and career?

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Navigating Different Dialects in the Spanish Language

Hello! My name is Christal Juarez and I was a Benjamin Gilman scholarship recipient in 2019 when I studied human rights in Chile and Argentina. I later became a Gilman Alumni Ambassador in 2020, and am currently continuing with that role as I seek to help other students meet their global academic, personal, and professional goals! 

In the following excerpt, I will be discussing my relationship with the Spanish language, and how I improved those skills while I was abroad. I’ll further be reflecting on why language immersion was so significant to the appreciation of my own culture and background, and hopefully, provide helpful advice to future Gilman scholars hoping to maintain their newly acquired language skills upon returning home. Stay tuned!

Cerro San Cristobal, Chile (I ziplined for the first time here!)

Spanish has always been a significant part of my life and upbringing. Despite being born in the United States, Spanish was my first language until I learned English in school. I struggled with both languages for years, while I became familiar with the significance of tone and body language, and learned that not every word directly translates to another language in meaning, despite the similarity in wording. Many of my peers in school did not speak Spanish fluently, as not all descendants from Spanish-speaking countries speak the language primarily at home. I further struggled with a disconnect of explaining my home life to my peers and my school life to my family. Despite taking Spanish language classes in high school, I had difficulty with grammatical skills that I was never taught through my colloquial knowledge of the language. At my alma mater, UC Davis, I strived to deepen my knowledge but found that I couldn’t quite fit extra Spanish into my already busy schedule. Then I decided to study abroad. 

Parque Arauco, Chile (5-10 minute walk from my homestay location!)

I first studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland for one month in the summer of 2017. Though I had not known about the Gilman scholarship at the time and therefore did not apply, I do think that the experience I had in Geneva prompted me to study abroad again–and to do so in a Latin American country(s). Switzerland as a whole has three official languages: French, German, and Italian. Nonetheless, the first time I studied abroad in Geneva I was quite surprised at how many people enthusiastically spoke Spanish to me when they overheard me speaking the language with some of my classmates. I learned that Geneva too, is a great land of opportunity for people all over the world, and many immigrants come from Spanish-speaking countries that were thrilled to hold a conversation with us. I had a great time, especially in participating in the accent game, wherein Geneva locals would attempt to guess what country I was from according to my Spanish accent. Imagine my proud elation when I revealed that I am an American citizen in our first-generation move from Mexico! 

From then on, I aspired to connect with other countries in Latin America at a deeper level, in an effort to broaden my awareness of how Spanish is used differently according to location and culture. When I embarked on my program, Human Rights & Cultural Memory in Buenos Aires & Santiago, the differences in language usage were like jumping into a pool of ice-cold water. Despite speaking Spanish all my life, I had to diligently train my ear to listen to the Argentine accent and push down an onslaught of panic when I did not understand the first time around. One way to describe the intense difference in accent between Mexico and Argentina is with the example of “chicken”. While “chicken” is written the same in both countries, (pollo), Mexican Spanish sounds the word out as po-YO, and Argentine Spanish almost sounds like po-SHO, at least to me. During the beginning of my stay, listening to a local speak quickly was quite overwhelming. Another, potentially more significant difference between the two uses of Spanish is that Argentine’s employ the word “Vos” as a second person pronoun, whereas in Mexico –or within Spanish-speaking descendants of Mexico–, it is customary to utilize “Tu” in its place. While Spanish in Chile was less of a headspin, there were words such as “avocado” and “straw” (palta & pajita) that were entirely different from the words that I was used to (aguacate & popote), among many other changes. 

Estatua Virgen, Cerro San Cristobal, Chile, with my homestay roommate Marivi Avalos.

As you can see, my fluency in Spanish within the US did not guarantee me smooth fluency of that same language elsewhere. In this way, becoming immersed in that language abroad challenged me daily while also amplifying my interest in language practice. I learned that it was plenty okay to be proud of the skills I already had while striving to become even more well-versed. I spoke it daily with my host parents, while they too, inquisitively asked me for clarification on what was saying. It became a rewarding exchange of language skills! Instead of assuming that I was already sufficiently fluent, I took a step back and decided that my goal was to become professionally fluent, fluent across any country lines. 

This leads me to how to maintain the language skills abroad while returning home. I set goals for my language practice while I was still abroad. I think doing so while still in-country is important, as we are aware of more differences and nuances that we may stop being exposed to upon returning home, and are therefore potentially subject to forget with time. I set goals to learn Spanish professionally, beginning with learning the human rights language in Spanish. I also made a note to learn how emotions are verbalized differently in other countries, as I noticed that my way of expressing my emotions in Spanish did not always make sense to locals while I was abroad. Such little details I may not have remembered if I had not taken the mental space and time to write them down. I recommend it! 

Iguazu Falls, Argentina (this is one of the much smaller waterfalls there)

Other processes I built to sustain my language improvement was by making an effort to meet people of varying ages while abroad, and if appropriate, connecting with them on social media. Doing so is a great way to connect yourself to the environment that you are immersed in, while also building bridges for yourself to learn from these people for years to come! I still send happy birthday notes on Facebook to my host parents and friends I made abroad, or ask for book/magazine recommendations in the language I was practicing. This is also a great way to stay informed about new stories from your country of destination, as many of the locals I met (particularly of my age), often post current event news from their country on social media. 

Other ways to engage your language skills verbally after coming home are to teach other consenting friends and family of yours what you learned! Personally, my family was very intrigued to learn about how Spanish differed in Chile and Argentina. Don’t have loved ones who already know the language? Find a pal interested in learning new languages! I also try to watch materials of that language on platforms such as Youtube or TikTok, which has a search feature for you to do so. 

La Vaca Loca, Argentina (first dinner with my entire program!)

Most of all, be patient with yourself. Coming back home after a period abroad is already an adjustment! Give yourself time to rest if needed, before diving into your action plan. If you find yourself lacking a community to practice your language skills with, remember that you have a Gilman community located on the Gilman Scholar Network, filled with individuals who are equally as excited to engage with others as well. Good luck, and happy learning!

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Building Upon My Gilman Journey

“…my Gilman experience is far from complete.”

Hello! My name is Quincy Yangh and I am a 2020-2021 Gilman Alumni Ambassador from the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and a Geography and Political Science student at Gustavus Adolphus College. Additionally, I am a Doris Duke Conservation Research Fellow at the University of Washington-Seattle and a Midwest Organizing Fellow for Power Shift Network, a national climate justice organization. I was awarded a Gilman Scholarship in the fall of 2019, where I studied abroad in Kathmandu, Nepal, and interned at iProbono, an international humanitarian NGO in Delhi, India.

Enjoying a meal and milk tea made by my host mother.

With the final chapter of my undergraduate journey coming to an end, my life has become quite hectic and tense as I try to balance my academic, professional, and social life. Last week in the midst of my busy schedule, a good friend of mine introduced me to Sudikshya Karki, a first-year international student from the country of Nepal. In typical Nepali manner, she invited me to have tea with her after our introduction. I stopped what I was doing and joined her for tea. For the next several hours we talked about the vibrant city of Kathmandu, our favorite street foods (we both agreed that panipori and laphing are the best), Nepal’s natural beauty, the people, the tea culture, and so much more. We spent a great deal of time talking about the tourist industry in Nepal and how foreigners often come to Nepal for its natural wonder, the Himalayas, and not for the rich diversity of cultures, religions, and languages practiced. Nepal is also home to Mount Everest, the highest mountain and point on earth, it only makes sense why people are drawn to the country. Yet, when people are so focused on the Himalayas, especially Mount Everest, they forget about the stewards and occupants of the land. This is a stereotype that Sudikshya has actively dismantled since her arrival to the United States, and one I’ve been actively aiming to dismantle in my daily conversations as well. To honor a place includes honoring its people. Nonetheless, my encounter with Sudikshya, who is now a friend, reminded me that life is about the little moments that arrive out of the blue. She carries a piece of Nepal and reminds me that I carry a piece of it as well. Together we play a role in composing the image of Nepal to our own communities, one that looks beyond tourism and romanticism.

Snippets of my Gilman experience are still seen in several aspects of my life today, my senior capstone research project is a testament to that. When I was abroad as a Gilman scholar, I had the opportunity to be a guest of Tsum Valley, a Himalayan valley that is over 12,000 feet above sea level. During my time there, I ascertained the relationship between storytelling, climate change, and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (or Indigenous Knowledge) in the valley. Over a year later, I’m working on a research project that builds upon the initial research I conducted as a Gilman Scholar. My capstone research project aims to illuminate the unique Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Tsum Valley by assessing its relationship with the global academic literature on Indigenous Geographies. This will be done by rekindling the relationships I made while abroad. I look forward to engaging with my friends from Tsum Valley again. 

As the Teaching Assistant (TA) for the courses World Geography and Climate Change I draw upon my Gilman journey to expand the class learning environment by offering a field-based experience to present-day issues such as climate change, geopolitics, and human rights abroad.

My trek alongside the Budhi Gandaki river during my research in Tsum Valley

I share these experiences to show that one’s (in this case mine) Gilman journey never really ends. It builds upon itself in subtle ways. One of the greatest gifts that the Gilman program provided me was a new interdisciplinary lens through which I now use to influence actions. The spirit of the Gilman program is to strengthen and harness the power of diplomacy. An imperative part of this is through community and civic engagement. Through numerous collaborative projects with others abroad, whether that be research or volunteering, fueled my commitment to bridge communities across different cultural backgrounds. My Gilman experience ignited my will to inspire other students to pursue their study or intern abroad aspirations. As a Gilman Alumni Ambassador and an active member of my institution’s Global Engagement Committee, I am passionate about connecting historically underrepresented students with study abroad resources and mentors. To say the Gilman Scholarship Program is more than a scholarship would be an understatement. My Gilman experience allowed me to build upon my capacities as a leader, public servant, and budding academic. Furthermore, it introduced me to a network of like-minded individuals who are trailblazers within their professional careers. I can affirm to you all that my Gilman experience is far from complete.

p.s. For those who read my last article, I shared with you that I applied for a Fulbright ETA grant to Taiwan. I’m thrilled to share with you all that I’m a semi-finalist!

I am humbled to share that I met the 14th Dalai Lama while studying abroad as a Gilman Scholar.

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Slow down and find your (learning) style

Hello! I’m Nancy Tumbarell, a senior at Michigan State University and current Gilman Alumni Ambassador. This past academic year I studied abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan as a Gilman Scholar. 

Learning a new language is hard and retaining it even more so. That may be a given, but it was a lesson I only learned after returning home. Learning a new language is extremely hard when the environment around you is not constantly pushing new interactions and vocabulary your way. I can say with all honesty that I learned and spoke more Japanese in my seven months abroad than in the three years I took classes and self-studied. Going back to the books and trying to keep up with the me from a few months ago was daunting and somewhat demoralizing. Not only did I have to find motivation to continue learning on my own, but I also had to find ways to use the language in challenging ways.

The first thing I did was let go of all the guilt I felt for not practicing, not watching enough content or having enough interactions in Japanese. This part was the hardest and it helped to reach out the friends I made while abroad. People who were going through a similar situation as me or had figured out how to keep up with their studies. Finding both solace and motivation from friends helped put things into perspective. Study abroad may be over but the memories and skills we picked up while in Japan would stick around. Then I got to work, slowly but surely, I began to assess what I knew. Assessing your language ability can be hard considering the vagueness of words such as beginner, intermediate, and so on, but it helps to start at the beginning. I looked back at tests, quizzes, and notes from previous classes and tried to make sense of them. And not all of them made sense. I made sure to note which ones I had simply forgotten, and which ones weren’t relevant for daily life. The distinction between the classroom and “real life” version of a language is one of the most useful things studying abroad taught me.

Knowing where I stood and where I wanted to go (fluency!) was great, but I still needed some idea of how to get there without leaving my house. I confess that this is when I realized that learning a language is hard and there isn’t always a narrow path. Just because you know A doesn’t mean you’ll understand B. I found myself with bits and pieces of knowledge gathered from books and conversations that didn’t fit neatly together. 

As a kid I moved to the U.S. and was placed in an ESL class. My teachers taught me vocabulary, grammar, and let my peers do the rest. Within a year or so I was fluent in English and devoured books. As an adult learner I am far slower and yet more impatient. So, I decided to go against every single one of my instincts and slow down. No binging movies without subtitles or trying to have Japanese-only conversations over Zoom. I started reading and writing in Japanese. It has been a very slow and sometimes time-consuming endeavor but that’s the beauty of studying a language outside of the classroom. You have all the time in the world. Going at your own pace and making sure you’re actually retaining the information is more important than setting an arbitrary deadline for fluency. 

Writing has been a great way for me to practice Japanese because I can use (and learn) grammar and vocabulary more on a consistent basis. It has helped me see the gaps in my knowledge that people would usually fill with hand movements or English during conversations to get the point across. Meanwhile reading has helped me write and has been a great way to learn vocabulary organically. I would recommend focusing on these two things if you don’t have access to many speakers of your target language or need to re-familiarize yourself with the language.

I don’t have it all figured out and some days I don’t pick up the pen to write or open up a story to read. On such days I will usually find myself listening to bilingual news podcasts to work on pronunciation and the like. I find it important to have a mix of mostly proactive learning (such as using grammar and vocabulary when I read and write) and a bit of passive learning (such as podcasts sand youtube vlogs). The most important part of retaining those skills after coming back from study abroad is knowing just how much your language ability improved and where it falls short. Only then can you map out a study regimen that works for you. 

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Valentine’s Day Weekend Dedication

Howdy! My name is Daniela Castro, and I am a ’20 Gilman Alumni Ambassador. I studied abroad on the Gilman in Paris, France summer of 2017. I studied Intensive French for a month at the Catholic Institute of Paris with other students from my America university, FSU and from all over the world. With it being Valentine’s Day weekend, I would like to dedicate today’s blog post on the meaningful relationships I created while abroad.

Leaving to study abroad in Paris was my first time leaving the United States. I needed to arrive a couple days early for my program because of flight prices, so I stayed with another student from my program, Kelsey, at a hotel just 5 minutes away from where our lodgings for the program would be. After we dropped our bags off and had dinner at a local restaurant, we made our way back to have a long sleep and finally adjust to the 6-hour time difference. The receptionist overheard our English and asked us where we are from. In my head I thought “oh no, how much information should I share? We are just two girls in a completely new place alone…”, I decided to say the truth, since he already heard my accent, and I knew that lying would make matters worse. He told us his name was Massi, and we ended up talking the entire night. He talked to both Kesley and I about his home in Algeria and how he was in Paris studying for an engineering degree. He also shared how he worked the night shifts for the hotel we stayed at to afford his living expenses. Massi gave us dates and explained how they are a common delicacy in North Africa. It was the first time I had consumed a date and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I ended up visiting him at the hotel after my program began as I wanted to hear more about his life. We still communicate via WhatsApp today.

The next relationship that holds near and dear to my heart is with a young woman from Taiwan who was studying with me at L’institute Catholique de Paris. After the first 3 days of studying with each other in school, we hit it off. Each day after school, we explored all of Paris together. We went to see the National Ballet of Cuba perform, ate falafel at L’As Du Falafel, walked under the Eiffel Tower and more throughout our month of completing the Intensive French program. She shared delicious chocolate from her country with me and we still talk with each other today.

This last relationship I want to share with you all was the most special of all relationships I made that summer. It is July 14, which is Bastille Day in Paris. This is France’s Independence Day. On this day, Paris shuts down some of its firefighter stations to hold “Bal des Pompiers,” aka parties. My American friend, Talia, and I went to a few fire stations but near the end of the night, I had to go to the bathroom bad. I am sure you heard the rumors about paying for bathrooms in Europe. While not totally true, finding a public restroom is near impossible or the public ones have a line that extends a mile long. I could not hold it anymore, so there I am, running as fast as I can to find the nearest restaurant to use their facilities while Talia is struggling to keep up with me. Not totally paying attention to where I was going since it was dark out, I end up running into a random guy that was with his friends. He ends up speaking in French, bad French I may add, saying that I have his same watch. I explained how I really have to use the restroom and he said he will stop bothering me if I just give him my number. I said fine whatever, it’s just a number, and he was certain I had given him a fake number and tested it out just to be sure. I was able to break free with Talia and relieve the gallons of water I drank earlier that evening.

The next day, I decide to text him and ask if he was alright because he was very intoxicated. He responded, confirming that he is alive and decided to call me. Turns out he was from London with a heavy cockney accent. We chatted in English for almost an hour as he shared his background with me and how he is in Paris after just graduating from Uni to work for BNP Paribas. His name is Tristan, and it turns out our watches were not the same. Go figure. He and I became best friends in the 3 weeks we had to get to know each other. We ate gelato at Amorino (you have to eat their ice cream roses), visited the Pantheon, saw the premier of Dunkirk and so much more. It was hard to leave him and go back to the states.

Once I did make it back to Florida State to finish my studies in math, Tristan and I talked every other day. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that I should visit him and his family in London that winter break. Sure enough, I was able to pull together just enough money for the cheapest roundtrip flight to London. Of course, just like the first encounter with Massi, I was concerned for my safety, after all, I only knew Tristan in person for 3 weeks. Making sure my location was shared indefinitely with family members I made it out to London and continued to deepen the friendship with Tristan as I explored the English culture and learn about where he grew up. He is still one of my best friends to this day and I look forward to visiting him in Paris when I am in Europe this upcoming year.

If you are reading this and have aspirations to study, research or work abroad, I highly encourage you to do so and take advantage of the life-long friendships you will make. If you are an undergrad and fulfill the requirements to apply for the Gilman, please do so as well! In addition to providing funding for a credit-bearing program abroad, you will join an incredible network of people that will give you an opportunity to make even more meaningful relationships beyond your study abroad program. Thank you all. Have a great Valentine’s Day and President’s Day.

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