After Gilman: Finding strength and comfort in community

My name is Rachel Wong and I am a 2021 Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellow. I studied abroad at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea as a Fall 2017 Gilman Scholar. I also served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Yunlin County, Taiwan from 2019 to 2020. 

The vast network of Gilman scholars surprised me for the first time halfway across the world. Less than 24 hours after settling into my dorm room at Ewha Womans University, I learned that my roommate was coincidentally also a Gilman scholar. As the semester continued, I quickly became close friends with my roommate, Darlene, over late night chats about languages and politics. Seeing our friendship bud, I was eager to find other Gilman scholars studying in Seoul during the same semester. After a short post on the Gilman Scholars Facebook group, I made plans for a day trip outside of Seoul with Jacqueline, a Gilman scholar studying at Korea University. Over three years later, I still keep in touch with both of them and am so excited for the different career paths that we are all taking. 

Even after studying abroad and graduating from college, I continue to seek out Gilman alumni time and time again. Gilman alumni are very passionate about their work and values and often go out of their way to help Gilman scholars succeed. Besides bonding over a shared academic or regional interest, I find comfort in knowing that Gilman scholars share similar socioeconomic backgrounds. For many of us, we are the first in our families to navigate college, study abroad, and life after graduation. In every conversation I have with another Gilman alum, I have always felt seen and validated in my personal and professional struggles. I am continually grateful for this community and will pay it forward to future Gilman scholars.   

How did I network and meet others within the Gilman alumni community? 

Members of the Gilman alumni community are extremely accomplished. While I have not met all 33,000 plus Gilman scholars and alumni, I can say with confidence that there are successful Gilman alumni in every single career field. While many people use their college’s alumni network for networking, I really enjoyed connecting with others via the Gilman scholarship’s alumni network. I use the Gilman Scholar Network and LinkedIn regularly to find alumni pursuing careers that I find interesting and reach out for informational interviews. I love hearing about their different career paths and life lessons that they learned along the way. Gilman alumni have inspired me to consider various job positions, exposed me to new ideas, and gave me advice on graduate schools. 

My friends and I decided to hold an impromptu photoshoot on Ewha’s beautiful campus.

How did Gilman cause me to apply to Fulbright? 

My positive experiences with the overall Gilman community in addition to my academic interests led me to apply for another Department of State opportunity: Fulbright. While four months abroad in Seoul was an unforgettable experience, I felt that one semester was not enough to understand the culture and history that one place can offer. I wanted to build meaningful connections with locals and find a community abroad.

And I did. I spent one year living in a small township in Taiwan. During that time, I co-taught at two elementary schools, shared my identity as an Asian American, and learned about the agricultural lives that many local residents lead. I also witnessed Taiwan’s presidential election and its rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While Fulbright experiences can differ greatly by country, I am confident that every Fulbrighter returns to the U.S. with a greater understanding of the country and themselves. 

Ask yourself these questions if you are considering Fulbright

  • Am I interested in immersing myself in another country and culture for a long duration of time?
  • Am I willing to dedicate time to educate myself on the local culture, language, and history before and during my Fulbright?
  • Will I thrive in an environment where I need to be flexible and go with the flow?
  • Will I make an effort to recognize my privilege as a foreigner and use it for intercultural dialogue?

At Fulbright Taiwan’s Midyear Conference, I represented my site, Yunlin County, and showed off our creative poster of the eight Fulbrighters posted there.

The Gilman Scholarship is only the first step towards understanding the world. Even after your time abroad, I hope you will continue to be an advocate for cultural exchange and share the importance of global citizenship.

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