Developing Life Long Skills Abroad

My name is Ayyad Algabyali and I am currently a Gilman Ambassador for 2020-2021. I received the Gilman Scholarship for my internship at the US Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for the year of 2018.

While interning abroad at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia, I learned many skills including: time management, multitasking, adaptability, teamwork, and strengthening my Arabic skills (and practicing the Saudi dialect.) These skills and my experience helped shape the person I am today; I was able to confirm my interest in pursuing a career in diplomacy. For instance, upon returning to the United States after I successfully completed my internship, I continued my undergraduate studies while taking on a role with a prominent community organization called the Yemeni-American Merchants Association as Advocacy Director. I managed both schoolwork and the nonprofit world. I was able to deliver and complete tasks successfully. 

Another skill I learned while interning abroad through the Gilman International Scholarship was adaptability. I was able to adjust to a new culture and setting. I was able to try new foods, travel, communicate in a different language and dialect (I speak Yemeni dialect) and most importantly follow embassy guidance with regards to work and safety. In addition, I had to adapt to a work schedule that I was not used to. I also had to take on different roles and responsibilities in different sections such as the Consular, Political and Management sections. These responsibilities helped me strengthen my adaptability to work in different settings and teams. 

Moreover, I had the opportunity to exercise my professional language skills with Arabic speaking individuals, especially in the Consular section. I also gained experience by working directly with people, which significantly improved my communication skills. 

In conclusion, interning abroad through the State Department Internship Program at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia, with the generous support of the Gilman International Scholarship, gave me the opportunity to learn effective skills needed for professional development and a deeper understanding and passion for foreign policy and international relations. 

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Becoming a Writer Again

I’m Robert Lares and I’m a Gilman Alumni Ambassador. I studied abroad in the United Kingdom in 2018 with the support of the Gilman Scholarship.

One of the greatest experiences in my life was studying abroad as a Gilman Scholar in the summer of 2018.  I graduated at a much higher age than my fellow graduates, owing to a 19 ½ break from school during which I participated, among other things, in working as an extra—and later a production assistant—in the entertainment industry in Hollywood, something I definitely want to go back to.  But I want to return as a writer, someone who is, as they say, “Above the Line,” which is to say the people who get mentioned in the opening credits.  I did a lot of writing in high school and in my spare time, but I thought the opportunity to return to school could greatly assist my career trajectory.  And I was right.

I feel one problem that writers in Hollywood have is a lack of perspective.  If a show needs to take place in Paris, or Rome, or London, or even Tijuana, the makers of the show shoot it on sets built for some other production and do no real research at all.  Growing up in the 1980s, I wondered why Mexicans in movies still walked around in sarapes and wore huge sombreros and rode burros at the hacienda.  Answer: lazy writers, lazy art directors, lazy costumers.  By contrast, one can usually tell when something is authentic (even if filmed in the United States) because research was done to make the story details more accurate.  As a writer, I have come to accept that I have a responsibility to depict people and places accurately and not stereotypically.  I have a responsibility to my friends that live in those countries to show their world as it actually is.

Thanks to the Gilman International Scholarship Program, I have some new tools at my disposal.  If I write a story set in London, I have met people in London.  They are people I call friends.  I have now seen the functioning of a country that is not like my own.  People in the United States and Great Britain have a shared language and a shared history, but all the events that have happened since 1776 have resulted in the two places being very different.  As a historian (History was my major), I can appreciate the differences even more, because can determine their origin.  Studying history has already affected my career trajectory, and the best opportunity I had was the study abroad program at my university, and it all started with Jessica at the University of Southern Mississippi Office of Study Abroad asking if I knew anything about the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.  She said it would be something good for me.  She was right.

What I learned most about the United Kingdom was not how to block out a chase scene on the streets of London or conceive in my mind footage of 007 sliding down the side of the Shard (the tallest building in Europe). It was something more valuable.  I got to know the British as my fellow human beings.  We have a culture in the United States that we largely take for granted.  Seeing a foreign culture, even one with many things in common with the United States, gave me, more than anything, a greater awareness that things we “know” to be true are often just cultural stereotypes we are too lazy to get rid of.

I would encourage everyone receiving Pell Grant assistance to look into a study abroad opportunity while in college, and apply for the Gilman International Scholarship.  While you may not have actual residency in your host country, you can consider yourself “living” there.  And that means you have an advantage and opportunity you may never have again.  To consider a foreign country “home.”

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Opportunity and Community: Why the Gilman is not “just a scholarship”

Hi! My name is Veronica Tuazon, and I am a 2020-21 Gilman Alumni Ambassador. I was awarded the Gilman Scholarship for the Fall 2018 semester, which I spent studying abroad in the rainforest of Madagascar. I graduated with a BS in Geology from Stony Brook University in 2019, and I was a 2020 Fulbright ETA in Malaysia.

Part 1: “Just a scholarship”

I was on my way home from another day at my internship in Washington DC when I received an email notification on my phone. “Congratulations! You have been awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship,” the email began. I went on to read that within a few business days, the State Department would wire funds to my bank account to cover the costs of my study abroad program in Madagascar for the upcoming semester. After reading the email, I was mainly relieved that I didn’t have to save a portion of my internship stipend, which was already stretched thin (DC rent is no joke), to cover the program costs.

Considering that my Gilman experience has been the catalyst for most of the academic and professional opportunities that have since come my way, I now consider my initial reaction to my Gilman Scholarship a bit naïve. My understanding of Gilman at the time was more transactional; I write the application essays, they give me money, and we all move on with our lives. Through my study abroad experience and the following years after my return, I found that being a Gilman Scholar granted me access to a wealth of opportunities and an incredible community that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Visiting the House of Representatives during my internship in DC! Little did I know how my life was about to change…

The main appeal of getting the Gilman is, of course, having the means to fund a life-changing international education experience. I know everyone says studying abroad “changed their lives,” but the cliché definitely holds true. My study abroad program in Madagascar was an incredible experiential learning opportunity. I gained hands-on experience in conservation field work, and I observed endangered animals in their (dwindling) natural habitats. I also had the invaluable opportunity to form friendships with local people working as experts in the field. Through these connections, I got to experience the rich and diverse culture of Malagasy people and learn more about community initiatives in sustainability, conservation, and public health.

Part 2: Opportunity

It’s not just studying abroad that changed my life, it was studying abroad as a Gilman Scholar. My Gilman scholarship was already opening doors to exciting opportunities before I got back to the States. Within my first month in Madagascar, I was selected for a virtual internship with the State Department through the Virtual Student Federal Service program. My new bosses at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs explained that they selected me for the position specifically because I was a Gilman Scholar. I was excited for the opportunity to intern with the State Department, because I aspire to work as a Foreign Service Officer someday. My internship lasted the duration of my time abroad, and I created social media content highlighting achievements of U.S. International Exchange Alumni in an effort to build community. My favorite piece of content that I created was a video celebrating International Education week that featured my study abroad cohort in Madagascar.

My video for International Education Week!

I was working on my application to the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program in Malaysia at the same time. I hear that a fair amount of Gilman Scholars go on to become Fulbrighters, and I’m not surprised! Creating a strong application for such a prestigious program can be daunting, but my previous experience applying to Gilman made me feel more confident and equipped. I found out I was selected for Fulbright the following March, and I had the incredible opportunity to teach English at a Malaysian high school. As an English Teaching Assistant, and the only foreigner at my school, I was fully immersed in the day-to-day life of a culture that was entirely different from my own. Working abroad comes with it’s challenges (language barriers, different cultural norms, etc.), but my previous experience studying abroad gave me the tools to adapt and thrive as a new member of the community. Unfortunately, my grant year in Malaysia was cut short due to the pandemic, but the friendships I made, beautiful places I visited, and delicious food I ate made the experience rich and worthwhile. I am so grateful for my time in Malaysia, and I can’t wait to go back someday.

In the classroom and posing for a picture with some of my students in Kelantan, Malaysia!

Part 3: Community

In my opinion, one of the best parts of being a Gilman Scholar is becoming part of the alumni community. Upon my return to the United States, I was amazed at how many unique events and networking opportunities were held specifically for Gilman Scholars. One of my favorite opportunities of this kind are the U.S. Future Leaders Seminars. These seminars bring Gilman Scholars from all over the country together for a weekend of panels and events pertaining to a certain topic or field of interest. I attended a U.S. Future Leaders Seminar on Energy and Natural Resources, and it was such a fun and fulfilling experience. I was flown out to the University of Wyoming for a weekend to connect with about 100 other Gilman Scholars. I was in a room full of like minded peers that also had the invaluable global perspective that comes from spending time in a different country. It was exhilarating. We bonded over our experiences abroad, discussed and debated current events, and networked with professionals in our fields of interest. We also had a lot of fun exploring the tiny college town of Laramie! I am still connected with the people I met during the seminar via social media, and it’s so inspiring to see what great things other Gilman alumni are up to.

Visiting a wind turbine farm in Wyoming with other Gilman Scholars!

The past year has been isolating for all of us, but even though in-person Gilman opportunities have disappeared for now, serving as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador has kept me connected to the community throughout the pandemic. As an Alumni Ambassador, I’ve conducted outreach at universities for potential Gilman applicants, advised students on their applications, and organized alumni networking events, all from the safety of my apartment in Texas! Finding new ways to adapt and maintain the vibrant Gilman community has given me a lot of hope for better things to come, and I can’t wait to go to my next in-person Gilman event as soon as I can!

As I explain in my outreach presentations, getting the Gilman is not “just a scholarship.” It’s not a one-time transaction to study abroad. Instead, being a Gilman Scholar means you are part of a community that invests in their members far beyond their study abroad program end date. One of the most important tenets of the Gilman Scholarship is giving back to your community once you return from studying abroad. As I continue on my professional and personal journey, I’ve found that Gilman continues to give back to me too.

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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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