Category Archives: Gilman Alumni Ambassadors

Promises Worth Keeping

Hey there! My name is Jeydelyn Martinez and I’m a proud first-generation, low-income graduate from Marquette University who was awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship in 2015. In the fall semester of my senior year, I embarked on my study abroad at Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain. Following graduation in 2016, I worked as an ESL educator in Spain, as well as China, and took every opportunity to continue my travels. This 2020-2021 school year, I am serving as one of the Gilman Scholarship’s Alumni Ambassadors.

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           Studying abroad and experiencing life and all its complexities in another country was a promise I made to myself that I would accomplish during my undergraduate career. However, taking on multiple leadership roles throughout the years and navigating the higher education system as the first in my family, in the busyness I lost sight of that promise. I was selected as a student participant and interpreter for my university delegation to go to San Salvador, El Salvador to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the UCA martyrs. It wasn’t until I was presented with this opportunity to engage in international dialogue surrounding this history, that it reignited the necessity I felt to experience international education. Shortly after returning from El Salvador in the fall of 2014, I set up a meeting with a study abroad advisor and discussed my options to finish my degree on time, as well as what financial aid I could seek to make this a reality. She mentioned I would be a great candidate for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, and little did I know that my life would transform because of it the following year.

  Taken on the rooftop at Círculo de Bellas Artes, in Madrid, Spain.

Promises turned into reality

           Arriving at Madrid felt like a rush of adrenaline, with a mix of anxiety. It wasn’t until I roamed Puerta de Sol and walked endlessly in Retiro Park, it set in that this would be my home for the next four months! I had made it and I was going to make the most of my time spent in this amazing, international city. As I attend an American institution, I knew I had to go out of my way to not get trapped in the American bubble. As part of my service learning for my Global Health class (the only class I took in English during my time at SLU-Madrid), I signed up to volunteer weekly at a local food pantry that primarily served newly arrived immigrants from Latin America. It was great to connect and hear the stories of what brought these families and individuals to Madrid. I scoured the university boards for locals who wanted to do language exchange (and still keep in contact with two of my exchange buddies until this day!) and on that board, I came across a flyer that noted the university hosted free Community ESL classes to locals in the area. They were looking for teachers! After convincing one of my friends from my home institution to co-teach with me, shortly thereafter we began every Tuesday and Thursday teaching Advanced English to a group of adults. I enjoyed every single class and grew so close with our students, going out often for a bite and drinks. This experience would prove to be transformative because as the weeks went by, I realized I wouldn’t be ready to leave. So, I began to ask myself “What would it look like if I stayed? What other opportunities available to me?”

Christmas Market in Plaza Mayor, Madrid Spain

When one door closes…

          As we know, all good things come to an end and I shed more than a few tears when I left my beloved Madrid. However, I knew that it wouldn’t be the end. Just before leaving, I set up an appointment with Career Services at my host institution. I explained how much I wanted to come back, but wasn’t sure how to navigate that process if I wasn’t a student. The advisor recommended me various programs, one notably run by the Spanish Ministry that had Language and Culture Assistants positions to teach ESL in public schools in Spain. She walked me through the application process, and there a seed was planted. For three years I worked as a Language and Culture Assistant, working with all age levels in Valladolid, Aranjuez, and Malaga. Later, I made the transition to Shenzhen, China to teach ESL at an International Kindergarten. I am certain, had I not been awarded the Gilman, this wouldn’t have been my trajectory. For that, I will always be grateful and also proud of myself, for keeping that promise and making such bold leaps.

My group of close friends and we (still call ourselves) Las Nuevas Madrileñas, taken in at Plaza España in Seville, Spain.

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Acquiring and Furthering Foreign Language Skills: German Edition

My Friday mornings begin at 6:30 a.m. to meet with my language tutor online, where we work on improving my legal German. Two years ago, however, I could barely construct elementary sentences in German. I credit where my language skills are today to my time studying abroad at Freie Universität Berlin (FU).

When I started studying at FU, I was barely at intermediate German (B2) but by the end of the year I reached advanced German (C1). While at FU we had twelve hours of German classes a week and opportunities to continue developing our German language skills outside of the classroom setting. Living with a host family, for example, was a major catalyst towards learning German because my host family and I spoke exclusively in German at home. In addition to my host family, I also made many friends in the city with whom I could speak German. I felt I was spoiled rotten with the sheer amount of opportunities I had to learn German while living in Berlin.

Precisely because I had so many opportunities in Berlin, returning to the States was a challenging adjustment as I sought similar opportunities to continue improving my German. What I realized is that there is no substitute for living abroad, there simply is not. However, because the world is increasingly digitalized and globalized it is entirely possible to further language skills even while not living in the target country where the language is spoken.

Currently, I maintain contact with friends from Berlin, meet with language tutors online, watch TV in German through online streaming services, listen to German podcasts, attend German meetups to practice speaking, and have befriended a few German friends here in D.C. I think the trick is to love the language one is learning and with that, it becomes natural to involve it as a part of daily life.

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A New Five-Year Plan: Gilman’s Lasting Impact

If you had asked me three years ago what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said a journalist. My five-year plan was to graduate, get a job at a local news organization, and to seek the truth and report it.

Receiving the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship changed almost all of that by allowing me to study abroad in the Czech Republic in 2017. I studied mass media, politics, and diplomacy at Charles University in Prague where I learned how to translate my passion for journalism into public diplomacy and global communications.

In class I studied the impacts of authoritarian regimes and censorship, visited the Radio Free Europe headquarters, met with Czech diplomats, and studied the political history of Central and Eastern Europe. These experiences helped to shape my academic interests, but it was the time I spent studying diplomacy with a former diplomat and at the U.S. Embassy’s American Center that completely reshaped my career goals.

As a Gilman Scholar – a participant in a federally-funded program that sends Americans abroad as part of public and cultural diplomatic efforts – I received invitations to participate in cultural events hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Prague.

I had the opportunity to meet U.S. foreign service officers, ask them my questions and experience public diplomacy in action. I shared my culture and language with Czech citizens, and learn about theirs in turn, at events like Coffee and American English, and as a volunteer “student ambassador” with the American Student Association.

This is where I began to see diplomacy as more than just political negotiations. At its core, diplomacy is a about intercultural communication and as a journalist, someone who is passionate about communication, learning, and sharing stories, that is right up my alley.

The experiences I had as a Gilman Scholar opened my eyes to new interests and career paths that I would never have previously considered. My new five-year plan is to get a Fulbright, earn a master’s degree in international relations and global communications, and join the Foreign Service.

Since graduating, I have begun to volunteer as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador because I want to encourage more students to apply for the Gilman Scholarship, and to connect with alumni and to hear how the Gilman Scholarship has changed or shaped their goals. I am continuing my education by learning Arabic in order to apply for a Fulbright to study the visual representations of war and conflict in the Middle East. From there, my sights are set on applying to two additional federal fellowships – the Rangel and Pickering Fellowships – for graduate school.

So, for those of you looking to apply for the Gilman Scholarship, my advice for you is to ask yourself, “why?” Really think about why you want to study abroad and the impact it will have on you. Be open to new paths. And for those of you currently abroad, attend cultural events, accept invitations to events with the local Embassy, be open to new opportunities, and connect with people from different backgrounds. Studying abroad is whatever you choose to make of it and your experiences could change what you want to do in life.

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Why Giving Back to Your Community is Important

I recently had the opportunity to promote the Gilman Scholarship at my alma mater’s annual study abroad fair. It was my first time promoting the scholarship as a Gilman Ambassador with generous support from the organization. Furthermore, it was an opportunity to use my time to present students with an option to lessen the cost of studying or interning abroad.

Compared to last year when I volunteered at the university, more students came to my table to ask about the scholarship, requirements, or both. Additionally, I had help from another Gilman recipient who could talk about her internship in Belgium. Some students heard of the scholarship beforehand, while others were in the process of finishing the application before the deadline of the Spring and Summer 2019 cycle. I was able to assist a student at the table when he pulled out his laptop to discuss an issue with his application. I was able to resolve this issue with him. It was also a nice gesture when the international education vendors who were inside the room suggested that students talk with the Gilman booth about financial aid – this showed me the importance of how much exposure the scholarship had gained. The most heartfelt moments were with students whose faces would light up when I asked about their region or country of interest. It brought me back to the time when I was excited about the possibility of studying abroad in South Korea for a year. They thanked us for our time and some said they would contact me about applying for the scholarship. A couple of days later I also helped a student by sharing information on the scholarship and application process.

Relaying information is essential to promote awareness of international education, especially in the aspect of funding. What I learned from my time at the study abroad fair was that sometimes students need information about funding and a face that can say, “I did it and so can you!” To know someone from your neighborhood, organization, or university who has been in your spot beforehand and who has lived the opportunity you also seek shows students that it is possible. Without the opportunity of the Gilman scholarship, I would not have had the assistance to give back to my community in such a profound way.

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