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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