Author Archives: Daniel, Alumni Ambassador

About Daniel, Alumni Ambassador

A 1st-generation PharmD student doing life in the era of COVID-19. I'm trying!

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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Sharing Meals and Conversations to Make Memories

Hello, my name is Daniel Oliveira! I studied and conducted pharmaceutical research abroad at Academia Sinica during the spring quarter of 2018 in Taipei, Taiwan.

Completing a 10-mile hike at Elephant Mountain with Girish and Anant during a spring thunderstorm

One person I met through this trip, and who will remain a lifelong friend, is Girish. I met him through a lunch group which became a part of my regular routine as an exchange student. Meeting Girish was made possible through my PhD chemistry supervisor, Tushar Jadhav, who one day invited me to walk with him across a busy intersection in the Nangang District of Taipei into a small Indian restaurant that only fit about 3 tables. After ordering our lunch boxes that day, Tushar and I commenced our journey up onto the 5th floor of the Agricultural Technology Building where we met a group of about 5 international students. They all became my friends, and we met daily to share meals.

In a small 75 square-foot room, it was interesting to sit as the only westerner hearing a mix of Hindi and English – the Hinglish portmanteau. At that time, Girish stood out to me. He was courteous to show me around the city and talk about academic life as a PhD student. Girish completed his undergraduate and master’s degree in India and chose to enroll in Taiwan’s International Graduate Program – a program that recruits international students to receive stipends and conduct research at Academia Sinica. He allowed me to understand more about different career paths that interested me.

It was important for me to know him because Girish continues to stay in touch with me and offer support not just in the area of schooling and work, but also in life. What I learned during those weekday lunches with the international brothers was that Indian culture really values friendship and work-life balance. In a way, I had much in common with them, and that’s because I also grew up in a multicultural community as the son of Brazilian immigrants.

Therefore, I drew parallels between Indians and Brazilians: they used Hinglish, and we used Portenglish (or Spantuguese when conversing with our Hispanic friends); they valued interpersonal interactions, and we placed importance on family and friends; they embraced elements of nature (being that India is diverse in geography and climate), and we constantly kept in mind the shared memories of diving into the hot springs at Caldas Novas in the state of Goiás.

Girish also informed me that some of the guys were surprised that I had superseded their misconceptions regarding Americans. Reflecting on this, I now recognize that studying abroad allowed me to add to my perspective. I do love the U.S., and I am proud of living in a country that prides itself in working for the things that matter to you. But being exposed to eastern life showed me that sometimes non-Americans think we may focus too much on our guns, too much on our supersized fast-food meals, and too much on market competition.

Sitting near the Sun Yat-sen Memorial appreciating how much the environment resembled my parent’s hometown of Goiânia, Brazil

Now, I mention these small details not to be political. I merely propose that we be cognizant of how we are similar, and different, than others. And by meeting Girish, sitting in that tension of shared life experiences but also disparate paradigms on life allowed me to learn a lot! For that I am grateful.

As someone who tried to find a group to fit in growing up, going forward I plan on staying in contact with those connections made in Taiwan. It’s a plan to cherish the past and plan for the future. The Gilman scholarship was an avenue for me to leave my comfort zone and establish relationships based off of mutual interests.

Has this happened to you? If so, I encourage you to continue to benefit from intercultural experiences by recognizing the lasting impacts shared connections can have.

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