Almost 2 years ago, I bundled up all of my excitement, nervousness, and courage to board a plane to Shanghai, China. I had been anxiously awaiting the big day that I would travel out of the country for the first time and it had finally arrived. Ever since I can remember, I had always wanted to travel. In high school, I got on a plane for the first time for a summer program in Massachusetts, but once I got to college, it was time to up the ante and take a bigger step out of my comfort zone. Becoming a Gilman scholar allowed for that step to take place and for immense growth to follow.
After spending 6 weeks abroad in a country where I had never learned the language nor ever been out of the country was one of the most exhilarating, overwhelming and life-changing experiences I have ever encountered. I still think about life in China on a daily basis. Being able to articulate my experience abroad is also a reason I have become who I am today. When I got back to America, I applied for a job as an ambassador for the company I studied abroad through and had the opportunity to speak with many students at my undergraduate institution, highlighting the feasibility of studying abroad. This led to a few public speaking opportunities as well as professional development. With each moment I spent talking about my experience, I increased my communication skills and learned how to tailor my message based on my audience. Additionally, my confidence in myself has sky-rocketed since living in China. I have no reason to fear much of anything any longer because I conquered my fears. Each day in China brought a new challenge and each day, I overcame them. There is nothing that I cannot do and I have only become sure of that due to my experience abroad.
Whenever I am given the opportunity to speak with someone who has just an inkling of interest in studying abroad, I am confident that I can sway them to continue with the process. Having one on one conversations with students about my accomplishments since becoming a Gilman scholar is often more than enough to influence others to take a chance on themselves and pursue what they were always afraid of doing. That’s really all it is about. People need validation and some sort of security. I believe that when students see someone similar to them light up when they talk about their experience abroad, it lights up that doorway that was once so dim. Studying abroad no longer seems like an impossible dream to never come true. It’s about much more than the opportunity I was provided for me to go abroad. It is about how I have grown and elevated myself since then. Developing into a more conscious person only started with studying abroad; it continues in my daily life and my hope is that one day every student can experience how that feels.