A Reminiscent Reunion

As the new year approaches I continue to reflect on my study abroad experience that Gilman has made possible. It has been about five years since my trip to Barbados with my 2015 Winter Session classmates. Even though it’s been so long it still feels fresh and new; all the lessons and experiences that I still carry with me to this day, and the continuous opportunities that the Gilman Program continues to provide.

I see the changes that Gilman and studying abroad has made, not only in myself, but In others as well. I received the Gilman Scholarship in the Winter of 2015 along with fellow classmate Ayanna Gill. The scholarship helped fund our study abroad trip to Barbados where we participated in service learning internships and courses. Ayanna, who was a communications major with a minor in journalism and black studies, served in an elementary school on the island, while I worked closely with the HIV AIDS Commission of Barbados.

Gilman Winners: Two UD students study abroad with help of prestigious Gilman Scholarship

Ayanna enjoyed her study abroad experience so much that she made the decision to study abroad for the second time the following year (2016); this time in Johannesburg, South Africa. There, she regularly volunteered at an adoption agency.

I recently sat down with Ayanna for coffee to catch up on all of the new things that she has been up to since graduating in 2016. We reminisced on our time in Barbados; the food, the culture, and the people. Studying abroad in Barbados was especially significant for her due to her families Bajan heritage. She was excited to learn about the history of the island, but she was even more compelled to explore her family’s roots and culture. Although her family was from Barbados she had not visited the country herself. Growing up she had always heard stories from her grandfather about the island and its customs but, with the help of the Gilman Program, she was given the chance to finally experience it all in person. During her trip she got to meet family members for the first time and see so many of the landmarks and places that she has always heard about second-hand.

Ayanna also took the time out to share her experience in South Africa. The particular timing of her studies had been very unique for her. While there, she had the chance to witness the protests and elevating tensions between the students and administration of the University of Pretoria over the subjects of race and tuition fees. As a communications major with a passion for journalism, this was a very significant opportunity. She was excited and thrilled to have the chance to witness a potentially historic moment play out right before her eyes. Her time abroad had certainly fueled her love of news and journalism. Presently she works as a production associate for ABC News. She assists with content and contributes to the news stories being televised by Nightline News.

It is amazing to see how far we both have come since receiving our Gilman award, and I know that 2020 has even greater things in store for these Gilman Alumni.

2015 vs. 2019

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My Journey to Studying Aborad

In 2012, I studied abroad in Norwich, England for an academic year. I was an undergraduate student at San Francisco State University going into my senior year of studies but I knew I had to experience something before graduating. My academic journey was different than most, being that I first started college in 2001 in Los Angeles, California. After experiencing many setbacks and not having any direction, I dropped out of college to work a retail job at Home Depot to care for myself and pay rent. I continued on that path for a few years until I finally got serious once I moved out to the Bay Area. I decided to step on the edge of my goals and make my dreams of studying and living in another country become my reality.

Truth is, I had always thought about studying abroad since I was a little girl. I can remember walking on community college campuses and looking at different flyers posted across the grounds that talked about studying in another country for a semester or during the summer. I always thought that I would not be able to do something like this because of where I come from. Given the fact that I was born in South Central Los Angeles in a low-income house and not having the support of family, I didn’t understand what would happen later on in regards to having these opportunities. I always remembered those flyers on campus and knew that one day I would be somewhere living this dream. I didn’t know what country I wanted to go to, or how I would make it happen but I just knew that eventually, I would get there.

Ten years later, when I finally got serious about graduating with my associate’s degree then transferring to San Francisco State and graduating with my bachelor’s degree, these amazing opportunities were no longer a dream, but an option. It came with a lot of hard work and dedication but if I can give any advice it would be that the first step is putting yourself out there and applying. I remember walking the campus of San Francisco State University and going into the study abroad office to just get a feel for how I can include myself on what they were doing with the students there. I started going to open campus meetings to become more familiar. I would also talk to the director of the International Affairs office on campus and acquainted myself with him during his office hours. I was connected to individuals who studied abroad in other countries and have since returned to campus where they were able to share their experiences with us. With a leap of faith, I applied to study abroad in Ghana but was soon met with rejection. I wasn’t sure why I had been rejected but understood that I had a new obstacle placed in front of me. My professors advocated for me and wrote appeal letters to the board but were declined. This didn’t make me doubt myself but it made me fight even harder. My second option was England and fairly quickly they accepted me with open arms. Met with multiple scholarships including the Gilman international study abroad scholarship, I was soon preparing to live in another country for one academic year. There were many things I had to do to prepare myself, including applying for my Visa and Passport, as well as securing my housing, plane tickets, and packing.

No matter what you do in life, remember that hard work matters. If someone tells you to find another way to get to your destination. It is possible to study in another country regardless if you had some academic setbacks. The success of your goals will be determined by the effort you put behind them. It does not matter the age or circumstance because there is room for us all.

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Love vs. Anti-Humanity: The Aftermath of Communism & Nazism

The semester has come and almost passed in Romania when it’s only felt like it’s just the beginning. It’s changed my heart for the better and reshaped my motives completely from “me to we”. Romania, heavily based on community, counteracts with the individualistic achievement-driven America. Sure, I’ve learned Romanian to a conversational level and translate—something I thought wouldn’t be possible, to advocate for my own needs, become more flexible, and problem solve under pressure (like getting lost in Galați…but hey, I found the local theatre!). It will certainly be a struggle to get the English lingo back in the states.

Teatrul Dramatic, Galați, Romania

Beyond these traits for self-advancement…I experienced what love looks like within community, and even moreso, the contrast of hatred from post-communist context. One of my classes compares and contrasts the way communism flourished as well as how each country recovered with its fall. Though communism in Romania looked like the Ceausescu dictatorship, the majority of the Balkan countries and Baltic states were oppressed by the Soviet Union and/or Russian tsars; all sharing the grueling commonality of anti-humanity. I felt evil’s eerie presence while stepping on the grounds of Sachsenhausen Concentration Memorial in Berlin, saw the tears of those separated by the Berlin Wall & the gates at the Palace of Tears, entered in reconstructed prison cells in Budapest’s House of Terror, stood with the strong Shoes on the Danube, and witnessed a replica of Warsaw’s “City of Ruins” in the Uprising Museum. With these experiences, I became heavy hearted and questioned why such evil could happen in the world. Remembering the day center, these moments gave my work new meaning. Human lives are priceless and were never meant to be segregated, isolated, and exterminated. People were created to love and be loved, live in community, and thrive. Every encounter with people—the children I work with, staff I serve alongside, Romanian community and host family—became more valuable. This is not to say I didn’t feel the same before, but even moreso.

East Side of the final Berlin Wall.
Shoes on the Danube Memorial, Budapest, Hungary.

Nonetheless, these memorials are much needed to remember, learn, and prevent this history from repeating itself in the future, as famously quoted by George Santayana.

With having the privilege of travelling and learning about communism in Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Prague, Poland, and Moldova, I’ve built more self-confidence as a person and developed a love for travelling. In addition, a stronger sense of discernment also developed in terms of “helpful people”. Depending on the person, Romanians can either be reclusive or eagerly want to help, but their help may not always be the help you need. When I asked a lady on the bus where the “Universitate” bus station was, she told me of all of the universities she knew and asked which one I was looking for (another lady told me later on that I missed it by a couple blocks, which turned out to be the case).

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A Day in the Life

A day in Mexico is never the same for me. There’s always something interesting going on throughout my days here in Mexico. Every weekend you can catch me traveling to another state, town, or city to experience more of the culture. Throughout the weekdays there’s much to do. You can catch me running around to all of my different classes or attending my CrossFit class. Their exercise programs are incredible, so I always look forward to going to CrossFit every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I also go to tutoring every Tuesday to get more practice with my Spanish, as well as attend my Chocolate Mexicano club for speaking enrichment. There’s so many class field trips and activities to do throughout the day, so I am always enthusiastic about everyday. You can also catch me eating around campus with friends or simply eating the food I meal prep at times. All this to say, my days are full of adventure in Mexico.

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The Beach Has All The Answers

Studying abroad in Barbados in 2015 has helped shape my professional journey and my world today. As an undergraduate student at the University of Delaware, I had no clue what I wanted to do after undergraduate degree. The only thing that I did know was that working closely with people and helping others would be something that would interest me. I decided to pursue a degree as a Human Services major and Psychology minor because that was my best bet. While taking my classes I learned so much about all of the possibilities and paths that Human and Social Services could take you. It almost felt overwhelming. Do I want to work in HR? Or as a school counselor? What about a career in family law? I had made it to my senior year and still didn’t know which way I wanted to go.

A professor of mine shared with me and other students a study abroad opportunity geared directly towards Human Services majors. Studying abroad has always been a dream of mine but, like most people, I was apprehensive about the idea because of financial reasons. Thank God for the Gilman Program because otherwise, my chance to study abroad would not have been possible. The program was in Barbados and it had a strong service-learning component, immersing students into the culture and community through internships and volunteer opportunities. Students had the chance to work in an elementary school, psychiatric hospital, or with the HIV/AIDS Commission of Barbados. There were so many different paths to take; a perfect chance to explore the different avenues that my major could provide.

My placement was working with the HIV/AIDS Commission of Barbados. Working with them I explored the world of social work and health and the role that they played in the small island country as apposed to the U.S. I shadowed an HIV/AIDS Social Worker and watched her provide sexual health counseling to patients and help execute community outreach events that promoted sexual health and wellness. I got to meet the people of Barbados who kindly shared their stories with me; stories about the families and the history of the island as they know it. I learned so much about sex culture and its impact on the citizens of Barbados. Furthermore, I learned about the Social Work profession while getting hands-on experience.

Looking back I see how my time abroad had changed my professional goals and had set me on the career path that I’m on today. It had helped me find my passion for social work. Since then I’ve worked as a social work assistant, a school mentor, and most recently as a case planner for a foster care agency here in NYC. In every job I continued to grow my skills and foundations that I first built in Barbados, furthering my exploration of social work. It also cultivated a love for experiencing and exploring new places and cultures. Currently, I am a flight attendant and I am pursuing a graduate degree in Social Work with a health concentration. Now I get to continue to pursue my professional passions as well as fulfill my love of travel and exploration that Gilman has helped me develop.

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