Your Impact

My name is Sarah Geilman. I graduated from Brigham Young University in 2019 with a degree in Mandarin Chinese after spending 18 months in Taipei, Taiwan learning Mandarin as a missionary for my church. I also lived in China for 10 months while studying abroad at Nanjing University and completing an internship in Shanghai teaching underprivileged children as part of The Language Flagship Program. I was a Gilman scholar during my school year abroad in China from the fall of 2017 to the summer of 2018. 

One of the most common things I heard before studying abroad in China was the misconception that China was underdeveloped or developed. We see pictures of people living in the Chinese countryside with their conical hats tending their rice fields and think of it as underdeveloped. But with China’s booming economy and presence on the world stage, many believe it is a fully developed country, while in fact, China is still considered developing. While living in China for 10 months, I found this balance fascinating. I could go from city to city relatively inexpensively while traveling between 100-200 mph on a bullet train. I could rent a bike through an app on my phone and ride it around the city for under 1USD per ride. At the same time, many streets were filled with elderly people who made their living selling vegetables in little baskets on the side of the road, yet to pay for the vegetables, you could scan a QR code printed on a piece of paper that was stuck to a pole behind them. China is such a unique country with its immense technological advancements and social, economic, and other struggles. After living in China, the status of its development was much clearer.

Aside from correcting misconceptions, I have realized since returning home just how much my time abroad has impacted those around me. There have been little things (like translating random Chinese lines for friends that appear in TV shows and movies) but there have also been major things that have affected my family and those I interact with each day.

One of the biggest things I’ve been able to do is help teach my family, especially my husband and son, all about a language and culture that they knew very little about. I’ve been able to incorporate homemade Chinese food into the meals we eat. At bedtime, we sing songs and read books in English and Chinese. Although he is still young, I am doing my best to teach my son how to treat all people, and especially those who look and act differently than he does, with respect and kindness.

I have also been shocked by how many times my experience abroad has come into play in my everyday interactions. There have been numerous times while going about my daily life that I will come across people who either only speaks Chinese, or speak very little English, and I am able to translate for them or help them find what they need. For instance, at the grocery store about a year ago, I overheard a lady speaking with her daughter and noted that she was confused about how to purchase her produce. In China, most grocery stores have a stand in the produce section where a worker will weigh and bag up your produce for you so that the cashier only has to scan them and not weigh the items or type in the numerical code as we do here in the States. Because I had experienced this myself in China (and had been very confused the first time I tried to buy fruit in the check-out line only to be told I had to go back to the produce section), from the little bit of the conversation I overheard I immediately understood her confusion and was able to not only help her with what to do but do so in her own native tongue! I have also been surprised in our college town how many people I have met in our apartment complex who are from either Taiwan or China. I have not only been able to assist them through language and cultural barriers but also have had the opportunity to be their friend in a land that is so foreign to them. What a blessing it has been to help someone else simply by having an understanding of their language and culture. Do not underestimate what your time abroad can mean not only to you and your life but also to the many people you will come across now and in the future!

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Más allá: More than Studying Abroad

¡Hola! Hello, my name is Madeline and I am honored to serve as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador for the 2020-21 Academic Year. I studied and interned abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand, during the summer of 2019. There I learned conversational Thai, taught English at the Northern School for the Blind, and engaged in Organizational Behavior and Leadership courses.


Activity time with my third-grade class at the Northern School for the Blind.

Let’s be a little cliché: Studying abroad changed my life and it’ll change yours, too. 

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive into the why. I spent 10 weeks teaching, learning, growing, exploring, and adapting in a country 8,000 miles from my home. I left the States with enough space in my suitcase, literally and metaphorically, to return with more than I arrived with. I wanted to remain open-minded to this new chapter, so I said yes to almost everything. Insect on a stick as a snack? Sure. Climb up a sticky waterfall? Yes. Chat with a Monk? Why not? Visit a food market on train tracks? I’m there. This mentality helped my experience be that much more remarkable.

However, it’s not exactly what I experienced abroad that changed my life, but rather how I applied my experiences when I returned. See, you can learn a new language, new skills, and meet new people, but if you don’t apply it, you won’t grow. Now, a year after my program ended, I am a Gilman Alumni Ambassador, graduating senior at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Talent Acquisition intern at Ball Aerospace. I owe it to my study abroad program, USAC, and the continuous support from the Gilman Scholarship Program for guiding me here. If you’ve thought about studying abroad, think more about what comes after than what happens during your program. Be prepared to change your path or be reassured of where you’re headed. Remain curious and say yes to learning opportunities.

The important note to make about studying abroad is: there is no right way to do it. Sure, there are suggestions and recommendations, but every single experience is different. Your journey with studying abroad could land you your dream job or maybe just a job in the middle of a global pandemic. It could challenge your cultural beliefs or strengthen your values. It could lead you to relocate or at least consider the option. The possibilities are endless and that is the reason why studying or interning abroad is so important.


Activity time with my third-grade class at the Northern School for the Blind.

Gilman: The river of everlasting resources

It’s as though the Gilman program never runs out of ways to spoil their students and alumni. Every newsletter is jam-packed with new events, opportunities, and advice. Each staff member you reach out to guides you on the right path. There’s a sense of community among the recipients, alumni, staff, and ambassadors. There are endless networking opportunities through the Gilman Scholar Network, LinkedIn, and Facebook group. The staff members are transparent and accessible.

From the outside looking in, I viewed the Gilman Program as only a way to finance my trip. Now, looking from within, I see it as much more than that. I have built amazing friendships, connected with professionals, and strengthened my communication and networking skills. The Gilman Scholarship Program is much more than a one-and-done resource, it is a lifetime supply of opportunities.

What Más Allá means to me

Más Allá means beyond, doing more than what is expected. I grew up with parents who go más allá. I grew up listening to stories of my dad leaving his violent country of El Salvador and surviving with almost no money, no knowledge of the language, and little to no connections. Now, as a self-made business owner, he continues to show me how he goes más allá. Naturally, as his firstborn, I inherited that trait.

Embracing the local culture through local temples was an integral part of my experience abroad.

As a first-generation, low-income student, I knew I could do more than what was expected of someone with my demographic. When I heard of the Gilman Scholarship program and its competitive nature, I was immediately drawn. Gilman is a program that has encouraged me to continue going más allá and I am incredibly humbled by the opportunity to represent it as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador.

¡Saludos!

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Why It Matters

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. 

It seems to me, and it certainly was the sentiment surrounding much of my pre-study abroad conversations with friends and family, that many think studying abroad is something that only a select group can and should plan on doing. I’ve never accepted this, and I’m willing to assume most students who sought out funding from Gilman and other scholarships hold a similar view. But I understood where the idea came from, how frivolous or self-serving it can seem to go abroad when the undergrad experience for low-income students can already be riddled with financial instability. Even those who are not broke college students still have to deal with academic and extra-curricular stresses that increase the opportunity cost of being off-campus for a semester or two. However, the truth is that study abroad is not a luxury in the age we live in but rather an important part of 21st-century education. It can be affordable for low-income students who receive scholarships and grants. It can also be a resume booster for those who take advantage of extra-curricular or internship experiences abroad. And most importantly, it can teach lessons that no classroom could ever hope to. So now, months after my time in Tokyo and several global crises later, I am using my platform to tell anyone who will listen about the importance of a study abroad experience. And I hope that as fellow Gilman alumni, current or future scholars, and human beings you will too.

Day trip to Kawagoe

There are many reasons why a study abroad experience is an important part of undergraduate education. As an Alumni Ambassador, I usually start with the basics: 

  • It’s an excellent way of learning about a culture and its language! I spent about two years studying Japanese, but most of the vocabulary I use was learned during the seven months I spent speaking the language daily. 
  • The world is getting smaller, it’s important to be a citizen of the world! Diplomatic ties between countries have always been important, but cultural competence and understanding between individuals are increasingly more so as travel and the internet bring us closer. 
  • If you want to grow as a person then navigating another country is a great way to find out what you’re made of! This is true in any travel experience but as an undergrad studying abroad, you have a safety net that won’t be present if you travel solo or later in life.

However, there is so much more to a study abroad experience. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone comes with failures and rewards of differing proportions. An internship abroad can lead to a globe-spanning career or put you in a place to advise about country-specific topics because you’ve been there. It can open doors in communities and networks halfway across the world. It can make a difference in one’s academic, personal, and professional life. Everyone’s experience is unique and it’s important to know that as you prepare to depart and as you come home and giddily share your adventures. I hope that as a Gilman alumna I can inspire others to take this leap and help them to understand its importance. Not only as an important part of the undergrad experience but as the start of what they can accomplish as Gilman Scholars. 

Tokyo Tower from Shiba Park

Part of studying abroad as a Gilman Scholar is knowing that you have a community 30,000+ strong of students who have walked a very similar path. Being part of this community can provide you with support and opportunities both during your time abroad and once you’re back home. Being a Gilman Scholar is also a responsibility to take all of those experiences, that new understanding of how the world works, and use it in a meaningful way. Whether that’s immediately after through a follow-on service project, or years down the line. 

Having lived abroad as an undergrad is a unique experience. Perhaps one day it won’t be, but for the time being it’s good to acknowledge this and work on sharing its importance. Being a Gilman Scholar is even more unique in the sense that you have space and a community that will help you embark on new adventures long after you’ve come back home. So, go forth and debunk those myths! Let people know why these experiences matter to you, to us, and to them. I know I will.

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Maintaining and Learning Language Skills

Bonjour tout le monde! My name is Van Reynolds, and I graduated in December 2019 from San Diego State University, where I studied International Business with an Emphasis in French and Western Europe. Thanks in part to the Gilman Scholarship Program, I was able to complete a yearlong (2018-2019) study abroad program in Cergy-Pontoise, France at the ESSEC Business School (l’École Supérieure des Sciences Économiques et Commerciales). Since graduation I have been studying for the LSAT and GMAT graduate school entrance exams; working on starting an online personal and home care goods business; developing a food sharing app, and I am serving as one of the Gilman Scholar Alumni Ambassador Digital Representatives for the 2020-2021 academic year. 

Did you learn a foreign language while abroad or improve skills in a foreign language that you already knew?

Growing up Franco-American, my grandmother taught me a handful of French words, greetings, and expressions. I later took 4 years of French in high school and wouldn’t return to studying, or speaking, the language for over a decade. When I returned to school in 2014 I knew I wanted to study business mostly for the versatility such a degree would afford me. After all, you can do just about anything with a business degree right? However, as one of the most common Bachelor’s degrees, I also needed to stand out, which brought me back to the French language and is ultimately why I chose the focus and emphasis that I did.

All things considered, studying in France was indispensable for my language acquisition. While I continued to take courses taught in French to solidify my understanding of the formal language, it was essential to continue developing my conversational, or informal, French, which I experienced in my daily interactions outside of the classroom. In summation, formal French instruction combined with daily informal conversations is key to language acquisition!

How have you maintained your language skills since returning from abroad?

Since returning to the U.S. I have maintained my language skills through French podcasts, music, books, articles, and movies, and via conversations with French-speaking friends. I believe a combination of listening to and speaking, thinking, and reading in the desired language is vital to maintain as well as continue to build new language skills. Additionally, on occasion, I review my grammar and vocabulary and practice drills online.

What advice do you have for Gilman Scholars who are returning to the U.S. and hoping to keep up their newly acquired language skills?

My advice for anyone trying to maintain and/or continue to build their language skills is to read articles and books; listen to music, podcasts, and news emissions. Perhaps watch some movies and shows; and perhaps most importantly, have conversations in the language which you are trying to learn!

Thanks for reading! Suivez-moi pour des conversations en Français!

IG: van_tvyl

Twitter: _the_Van

LinkedIn: ReynoldsVanessa

FB: snatam.kwazahar

Below are a list of French language resources:

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“Beyond these Four-Walls”–an Unconventional Approach to Education

–Even though many study abroad programs are grounded for the time being (reverting to virtual platforms for engagement), upon reflecting on my exchange experience, why is it important for Asian Americans to study abroad?      

“I want to study abroad.” My parents cringe. From my personal experience, it’s a ‘foreign’ topic in most Asian American middle and low-income immigrant/2nd-generation families. Like most first-generation and minority college students, most of us tend to gravitate towards more practical vocations and majors—nursing, accounting, and medicine, to name a few.

While it’s uncommon for the average American college student to study abroad (only about 3% do so), it’s even more uncommon for Asian Americans. As an Asian American first-generation college student who majored in International Studies from CSU Long Beach (Go Beach!) and studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France (Aix-Marseille University ’17/’18!), here are my insights and reflections on the importance of studying abroad for Asian Americans:

  1. Reclaiming Our Culture: Multicultural and ethnic studies are often not mandatory courses in the United States. Thus, when I immersed myself in a completely different culture away from my Asian American community back in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, I became more keenly aware that I was Asian American–the history, traditions, food, and customs. For instance, when I shared with others (e.g. ex-pats, French classmates) about what it means to be Asian American, those moments caused me to desire to understand the AAPI identity deeper. I started to develop my appreciation and desire for comprehending more about our history through documentaries and discussions with like-minded peers, and this I believe can happen on many levels for other AAPI too.
  2. Building Skills for Stronger Global Citizens: From my experience as a 3rd/4th generation Chinese American (my grandfather was processed through SF Angel Island, and my parents were born and raised in San Francisco Chinatown), oftentimes I find that my community has a very strict sense of what a classroom is–textbooks, exams, and four walls. In a global classroom, however, the walls come down. Studying abroad forced me to learn to be more adaptable in my host country and build stronger interpersonal and intercultural skills–all things needed today to become more well-rounded 21st-century global citizens.
  3. A Chance to Share Our Stories: “What’s the United States like?” I, an Asian American, was often asked this by my classmates (fellow ex-pats from around the world — Syria, Senegal, parts of Asia, etc.) and French peers. Being able to share Asian American experiences and stories with others is empowering and also helps show a broader and more multicultural picture of the U.S. to the international community.

Back home, I continue to share stories about my language exchange experience in hopes to support more of my community to go abroad. For my high school’s alumni association newsletter (Abraham Lincoln High School in SF, go Mustangs!), I wrote an article about my study abroad experience. My Gilman re-entry project was about exposing my peers to STEM career perspectives from CleanTech Start-ups of the French Provencal region (retrospectively, I wish the audio production was better haha). And lastly, for my college alumni association (CSULB), I shared some peer advice about staying on track for planning and considering studying abroad during this era of COVID-19. I have also submitted to other Asian American organizations (e.g. Chinese Historical Society of America in SF).

Currently based in San Francisco, CA, I often approach my art and work with my international, interdisciplinary experiences in mind. As many who dared say, be the change you envision. Thank you for reading. A bientôt mes amis~

Ringing in the New Year in Marseille, France 2018 with the city’s Annual Lunar New Year Parade.

San Francisco’s Lunar New Year Parade 2019, one of the largest and oldest in the United States.

Guest Piece by Christina Wong (Gilman Scholar, 2017)

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