Author Archives: Gilman Scholarship

About Gilman Scholarship

The Gilman International Scholarship provides grants for U.S. undergraduate students who are receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university to participate in study abroad programs worldwide. The Gilman Scholarship Program seeks to diversify the kinds of students who study abroad & the countries and regions where they go. Such international study is intended to better prepare U.S. students to assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world. The program aims to encourage students to choose non-traditional study abroad destinations, especially those outside of Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The Gilman Scholarship Program aims to support students who have been traditionally under-represented in study abroad, including but not limited to, students with high financial need, community college students, students in under-represented fields such as the sciences and engineering, students with diverse ethnic backgrounds, and students with disabilities. The program seeks to assist students from a diverse range of public and private institutions from all 50 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico.

Living with the Maasai

The Maasai are an incredibly fascinating people, living off the land as pastoralists. They have managed to tightly hold on to their culture, despite the western influence constantly pushed upon them. It wasn’t until the last 15 years that the Maasai have begun to feel the changes that development brings. Clothing that was once goat and cow skin has now transitioned into the brightly-colored cloth shukas that Maasai clad themselves in. Where once Maasai spent their entire lives living as pastoralists in bomas, now many move to cities and are employed as guards or in the tourism industry. And for many years Maasai people went uneducated, until the local government imposed a law requiring all children to attend primary school. However, in spite of all this, they each still maintain many of the cultural customs that make them Maasai. From their clothing and facial piercings to their rituals and ceremonies, Maasai culture is very much thriving.

After spending several days living in a Maasai village near the edge of Lake Natron in northern Tanzania, I was able to get a glimpse into the culture and lifestyles of this fascinating tribe. Over the course of 4 days I lived side by side with the Maasai, sleeping in dung/stick huts known as bomas or outside under the stars atop a cowhide, all while being taught the Maasai way of life by my home-stay family. I learned to bathe in the river and collect firewood in the forest while carrying the load back on my head. I battled bedbugs, an endless swarm of flies, and the equatorial sun. I felt like a child as my mama and sister would have to dress me each day, as I was too incompetent to tie the Maasai cloth robes onto myself. I spent my nights sandwiched on a single cowhide bed by my sister, mama, and a 4 year old child. I was also welcomed by the kindest hearts and biggest helpings of food I could ever imagine. All of this I would never trade for the world.

My little Maasai brother Naayo

My little Maasai brother Naayo

The lessons I learned about the Maasai way of life during my short stay were far greater than any book or documentary could ever show me. And I still don’t even know the half of it! But from what I did learn and witness, it is worth sharing to those who may never get a chance to meet a Maasai.


Cows are the world to the Maasai, and some even believe that all the worlds cattle were gifts of god to the Maasai people. They are usually only slaughtered for large celebratory events, such as weddings. Otherwise, cows are used for their milk and their blood, both forms of sustenance which can be taken without needing to have the cow killed. Cows are also a form of currency, used for settling disagreements or as dowry for wives. It is possible to judge a Maasai man’s richness by the amount of cattle he possesses.

A Maasai boma

A Maasai boma


The boma (the name for both the individual mud huts and the overall fenced in cluster of huts belonging to the patriarch) is constructed of cow dung and sticks, and is a surprisingly sturdy structure. The Maasai women are responsible for building their own boma after they are married. A single Maasai man may have upwards of 10 wives, meaning there will be 10 of these bomas in a single area. The lifestyle here is incredibly community oriented, with all the women looking after one another’s children. It feels like one big family, which extends to the idea of personal property. I discovered that if I wasn’t using my shoes or my flashlight, or really any of my belongings at any given moment, they then became fair game to anyone in the area. I would wake up one morning with my shoes missing, only to find my Maasai sister wearing them while she fetched water. I would see my headlamp being worn by little children and my Maasai mama alike. I soon came to realize that there really is no such thing as personal property, and much like everything else in the community, most things are shared.

A young boy at the entrance of the boma I stayed in during my time in Maasai land

A young boy at the entrance of the boma I stayed in during my time in Maasai land


Circumcisions and child births are the most celebrated events in Maasai culture, with elaborate ceremonies taking place for each. A boy can not transition into warrior-hood until he has undergone the circumcision process with his age class. Female circumcision is also a continuing custom, and most girls undergo this process shortly after puberty.

My pictured with Jackson, a warrior in my boma

Me pictured with Jackson, a warrior in my boma


Women spend their days cooking, beading and jewelry crafting, or gathering firewood and water. Maasai warriors, the Morani, spend their days hiking long miles herding cattle or goats, often napping in the shade of trees during the heat of the day.


Marriage occurs at a very young age, and children are revered, so having as many babies as possible is both desired and respected. Courting occurs between young women and warriors during night gatherings called asothos. Here, warriors dance and make a display of jumping as high as they can, shaking their hair at women that catch their eye. Women respond with a shoulder-shaking dance move, shimmying at the men. Both parties are chanting and singing all the while–females with their occasional high pitched additions to the men’s guttural growls and barking sounds. These gatherings last far into the night, with ours starting around 10 pm and lasting past midnight. The Maasai were very excited to have a few of us students attempt their dance moves!

Me and another student, Dan, with our Maasai families

Me and another student, Dan, with our Maasai families


Overall, the Maasai way of life is hard, monotonous, and sweaty. It would certainly be an incredible struggle for me to take to this way of life permanently. The Maasai however, flourish in maintaining the old ways of life. The only obvious modernized aspects of Maasai life include their use of cellphones and their going to the local town store to buy rice or a treat of soda. Time will only tell how development and modernization will affect the Maasai in the coming years, but for now, life remains simple. Beautiful, fierce, soft and kind, the Maasai are a people to be reckoned with.

Me with my Maasai mama and little brother Naayo

Me with my Maasai mama and little brother Naayo

My Maasai father, Matthew, and me

My Maasai father, Matthew, and me

My Maasai sister and her friend

My Maasai sister and her friend


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Beograđani: The Real MVP

Beograd is my first real city. I grew up on a farm in rural Nebraska and later moved to a seeming metropolis of 150 people, so living among 2 million (but probably more like 3, unofficially) is quite the change. But I found that taking it all in stride has—rather unexpectedly—made the difference an easy adjustment.

I made a short list of “downsides” to city life in Belgrade, but when revising my post I thought they were too forced.  There are no downsides, honestly, or at least none that are worth mentioning. I have decided that the upsides of this city—and the source of its charm—are a result of the unique blend of civilizational differences and geographical positioning as is expressed through the people, the city’s real MVP (to borrow the meme-making colloquial sensation from Kevin Durant’s emotional nod to his supportive mother in an NBA MVP acceptance speech):AnlanCheney_RealMVPMeme

Belgrade inhabitants (literally translated to “beograđani” in Serbian) are a beautiful mix of ethnicities, opinions, persuasions, and etc. They walk everywhere, they are incredibly hospitable, they eat well and they party hard, they love fast and with abandon (but then also get heartbroken and sing about it in kafana, they are loud and opinionated and will tell you off when you’re out of line (intentional or not), but then they are also extremely polite.

And, perhaps because a truly overwhelming tourist force has not yet overtaken the city completely, beograđani are—at least in my experience—very cordial to foreigners. Our presence gives them a chance to practice their English, of which nearly everyone is at least learning or can speak a little. But the absolute best thing is to learn several words and phrases in Serbian so you can see a local’s face light up when you speak (or indicate you are interested in learning) in their own tongue.

I love my commutes because this is where you see them: briefcase in hand on the way to work in the morning, little ones with their mama, a baba (grandma) feeding pigeons in the park and the dede (grandpas) playing chess and sitting on benches discussing the weather, or the young and fashionable lovers walking arm in arm on their way to watch the sunset at Kalemegdan (historic fort and original Belgrade).

Beograđani gather at their city’s first inhabited spot, a fort named Kalemegdan, at the convergence of the Danube and Sava rivers. Image by author.

Beograđani gather at their city’s first inhabited spot, a fort named Kalemegdan, at the convergence of the Danube and Sava rivers. Image by author.

My idealistic view of beograđani was born out of the reason I came here in the first place. Serbia, due to the fascinating geographic and historical roles of the Balkan peninsula, is basically in the middle of this colossal exchange of civilizational values that has been ripping our world apart for the greater part of the last millennium. As an American, I vastly misunderstood the role and significance of the Balkans, one that Vjekoslav Perica emphasized in “Balkan Idols” was incredibly multifaceted:

  • the land over which Rome and Byzantium and later Ottoman Turkey and Habsburg Austria “challenged each other and vied for souls and loyalties of the local peoples”;
  • Where the notorious “Eastern Question” originated;
  • Where “the first large heresy within the Communist block was born”;
  • where “the first large-scale post-Cold War conflict took place”;

There are things about Belgrade, about Serbia, and about the Balkans in general that are mystifying and inspirational, but there are also things that are not beautiful, aesthetically, ideologically, and otherwise. Some pasts are very hard to confront, and to deny so would be truly out of sync of the region’s character.  Indeed, the history here is fluid and alive; it is still being articulated in some instances (World War II, for example) because of the very nature in which it developed in the region.


Members of the Serbian military participate in a ceremony celebrating Dan državnosti (Statehood day) held each February 15th. The holiday is celebrated in remembrance of the beginning of the Serbian revolution that resulted in formal Ottoman recognition of Serbian statehood in 1817 (de jure in 1830).

Members of the Serbian military participate in a ceremony celebrating Dan državnosti (Statehood day) held each February 15th. The holiday is celebrated in remembrance of the beginning of the Serbian revolution that resulted in formal Ottoman recognition of Serbian statehood in 1817 (de jure in 1830).


Even through an exorbitant amount of unpleasantries, they have endured and even succeeded in preserving (in good humor, no less) the resilient approach to life that is characteristically their own. I love the title of Slavonia Drakulic’s book, How We Survived Communism & Even Laughed because that’s what this is, through communism or otherwise. And that’s why I think they’re the real MVP. Here’s to you and a fantastic rest of the semester, Beograd: thank you for the beautiful welcome.

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Gilman Scholar Dustin Ellis’ Daily Life – Homestay

Meet U.S. Department of State sponsored Gilman Scholarship recipient Dustin Ellis. Dustin is serving as a Gilman Global Experience Correspondent during the academic year 2014-2015 studying in Barcelona, Spain. The Gilman Global Experience allows Gilman Scholarship recipients the opportunity to record videos around academic and cultural themes to share with other students interested in studying or interning abroad in the featured country. For more videos please visit the Gilman Scholarship’s Official YouTube page.


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Meet Teejay! – Pre-Departure to Malta

Hey guys! I guess I’ll start with introductions: TJ1My names Teejay Hughes and I’m from St. Louis, MO. The University of Missouri-Kansas City is the college I attend in America, but currently I’m studying abroad in a country named Malta—a tiny island smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. You’re probably wondering why you’ve never heard of this country. It’s most likely because there are only 400,000 people that live on the island and declared independence from the UK less then 100 years ago; but don’t underestimate this little country! It’s packed with natural & cultural beauties, and they even have their own language called Maltese (and no it’s not barking).

For the 2014-2015 academic year, I was selected as a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, and thus far it’s been an experience of a lifetime. The official degree I’m pursuing in America is Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing and Finance. I’ve always had a passion for anything international, and it’s one of the main reasons I’ve chose to study aboard. That’s why if you asked me what I study, I’d shorten my degree and tell you “International Finance and Marketing.” I like to think studying aboard for a year lets me play around with the degree name. For the next few months I’ll be making a series of video blogs and written prompts. I’m going to be telling you about my ups, downs, and everything in between!

Let’s start out with a simple question: Did you feel anxious before leaving for your program? If so, what were you nervous about?

Pre-departure anxieties would seem to be a massive thought, but oddly I was cool and collected until I arrived in Europe. The University of Malta didn’t start till October 1st, so I had plenty of time to pack and prepare myself for my upcoming year. My school year ended all the way back in May, so there has really been no rush at all. The most stressful aspect to me was getting my financials in order (figures, I’m a finance major). Dealing with credit cards, scholarships, and debt cards take day to weeks to months to get tasks completed, so I made sure I started early.

Besides finances, the only other forms of pre-departure stress was fitting one years worth of clothing into two luggages and two carry-ons. There’s something you have to know about me: I love clothes. My clothes are me. So trying to fit my entire being into four bags was very complicated… The process I used to packing lasted about one week. It goes as followed:

Step 1: Wash everything

Step 2: Sort clothes into season (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer)

Step 3: Research which season will be in the country

Step 4: One-by-one go through each season making a Yes, No, and Maybe pile

Step 5: Pack up No pile, and repeat step 4 for other seasons

Step 6: Grab a friend and go through the Yes pile. (A friend that cares about clothes as much as you do)

Step 7: Together go through your maybe pile being very critical with each Yes and No.

Step 8: Try to pack all the Yes items.

Step 9: Understand you’re going to buy clothes there. So don’t cry when you have to take out the heaviest items.

Well guys, that’s the end of Blog post 1. I’ll leave you with some of the amazing views in Malta that I’ve captured.

Golden bay

Dingli cliffs


Blue window

Cheers, Teejay Hughes.


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Meet Gilman Video Blogger – Karly

Meet U.S. Department of State sponsored Gilman Scholarship recipient Karly Kahl-Placek. Karly was a Gilman Global Experience Correspondent for the Spring 2013 semester in Jaipur, India.  The Gilman Global Experience allows Gilman Scholarship recipients the opportunity to record videos around academic and cultural themes to share with other students interested in studying or interning abroad in the featured country. For more videos please visit the Gilman Scholarship’s Official YouTube page.

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It’s About the Journey, not the Destination

After so much uncertainty and anticipation — I am in Morocco. This semester, I will be studying in Al Akhawayn University, AUI, a school tucked away in the Middle Atlas Mountains of North Africa.

My journey began on January 14th at 5 a.m. in Miami, Florida. After 4 or 5 hours of sleep (I am a habitual late packer) I was both nervous and excited for what laid ahead. My mom came to check on me to make sure I was awake and kindly made me two sandwiches: one for breakfast and one for lunch for when I landed in New York. Without delay, we drove 40 minutes to Fort Lauderdale to catch my 8 a.m. flight to JFK Airport. I embarked on the plane and slept from take-off to landing.

(Travel tip: Whenever you are traveling to or from Miami, fly from Fort Lauderdale Airport. Not only are prices a lot cheaper, but the airport is usually on time, and if you are from South Florida, you know that is a blessing).

I had a 7 hour layover at JFK so I reread ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho, one of my favorite books that coincidentally takes place in Tangier, Morocco. While I waited for the Moroccan booth to open, 104 Peace Corps volunteers showed up and were all in the same flight as me to Casablanca!

And so, our plane took off at 6 p.m.– a 7 hour flight across 5 time zones and one Atlantic ocean. As faith would have it, the two people sitting next to me were also headed to AUI. Thomas, a graduate student was returning for his second semester and Sasha was doing her first study abroad semester.

When we arrived at Casablanca at around 6 a.m. (1 a.m. Eastern Time) Sasha and I decided to stick together since we both had the same flight to Fes at 10:35 p.m. later that night. We bought a train ticket for 40 dirhams (around $5) to get closer to the center of Casablanca which conveniently departed from within the airport.  We planned on booking a hotel for the afternoon so that we could do some quick sight-seeing before heading back to the airport.

The train station at the airport.

Most people here speak Moroccan Darija, which is a combination of Arabic and French with some words in Berber, Spanish and English. Surprisingly I managed to communicate with our taxi driver– he spoke French and I spoke Spanish but I added ‘eh’ at the end of every word to make it sound a little more French.

Once at the hotel, we had a complementary breakfast of bread, yogurt, and my first delicious encounter with a staple of Moroccan cuisine — Moroccan Mint tea.  Up until this point, I can’t say I had experienced culture shock, but as Sasha and I waited for the elevator to head back to our room, I had my first experience of culture shock. Culture shock in the sense that my core, the foundation that I felt was stable enough to endure anything, was literally shaken and crumbled underneath my weight.

A dark, ghastly figured appeared from the corner of my eyes as she walked down the stairs behind her husband. She was completely covered in black cloth– not a square inch of skin exposed. I thought I was prepared– the streets, the crowd, the traffic, was nothing unlike what you would find in any major city in a developing country. But nothing in my life could have prepared me for that moment: the first time I saw a woman in a burqa. It was right then and there that it finally hit me — I am in Morocco.

We went back to our room with a newly discovered perspective and took a quick nap before going out to see the city. We grabbed lunch at a local café and headed to the Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in the country and the 7th largest in the world.

The Hassan II





We toured around the mosque, took our touristy pictures and head back to the hotel before sunset to make our way back to the airport for our final flight to Fes, the Spiritual Capital of Morocco.

The Mosque borders the Atlantic Ocean.

Back at the Casablanca Airport, we met with three other students that were also studying abroad at AUI: Paloma, Toz, and Ayla. With our newly formed crew, all five of us embarked on a 40 minute flight to Fes.  Once at Fes, we were greeted by two student ambassadors from AUI — Ijlal and Sofia, two incredibly friendly Moroccan girls that would soon enough become two of my best friends here.  However, the journey wasn’t over, not yet. We still had an hour car ride to get to Ifrane. We had to wait for the AUI van to pick up a sixth exchange student that had decided to take the train from Fes to Ifrane. After some fact checking, Ijlal realized that we were waiting for me! We all laughed it off and the van eventually came to pick us up.

As we arrived, the gates of AUI opened in front of us — around 1 a.m. GMT at this point — and I had absolutely no idea of what lay ahead. I looked out the window, a full moon illuminating the road, the stars, brighter than I ever seen them before, and I thought to myself: this is only the beginning.

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Writing Prompt #6: Culture Shock & Reverse Culture Shock

Below is a graph describing culture shock and reverse culture shock. Have you identified with any of these stages? Describe certain situations or stages of your study abroad experience and how they relate to the graph.

Diagram of Culture Shock

Diagram of Culture Shock

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