“So! How was London?”

After four months of British accents and unique words (“rubbish” seemed to be an everyday favorite, often in reference to the local football team), I was overjoyed when I walked through the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and heard the PA system announcing the baggage carousel for London-Heathrow with a familiar Minnesotan accent: “bay-gage claim.” Smiling, I waited for my bag and met my family for the first time since January.

My last morning in London watching the sunrise over the Thames from Waterloo Bridge

Since then, I have spent a few days at home and a few days back on campus – it was finals week back at Notre Dame, so although I did get to see plenty of friends again, many of them were stressed about upcoming exams. I went through countless stories about my semester abroad, and in the process, I realized it is easy to get a bit frustrated coming home and not being fully able to explain the value of living abroad. The first question I have gotten from friends and family this past week – “how was London??” – isn’t easy to answer, because there isn’t an answer. Explaining what it was like to take a class in natural language processing with a British researcher requires four months of stories just to scratch the surface. There were awkward moments when our entire class didn’t understand a question because of a phrase or term we had never heard before, but there were also moments I realized how valuable these disparities could be – natural language includes far more than American English, and we would be at a disadvantage not being able to apply what we learned to British English, at the very least.

Outside of the academic realm, there are far more examples. I can’t fully explain the enormous social value of football to a Londoner; I didn’t understand it myself until I spent Wednesday evenings playing in a 6v6 league in London and meeting the two 60-year-old men who started the league over 20 years ago. With only the occasional substitution, they have played on the same pitch with the same core group this entire time, and if there happens to be a Tottenham game later that evening, they all go to the same pub in Islington to watch the match together. The sport is a social institution in London, more so than any activity I can think of back home.

In the same vein, when I say I will miss London – I will, but again there is far too much detail to explain exactly why. I’ll miss the small-sided football matches on Wednesday evenings, where the locals graciously welcomed me to their game; I’ll miss the casual pub culture where I could get surprisingly good food and talk with strangers about sports, politics, and everything else over a pint; mostly, though, I’ll miss the opportunities and excitement associated with living in a big city. There was far too much to see in four months, and I would be eager to go back. But first, I get to take what I’ve seen, take what I’ve learned, and try to explain it to friends back on campus and elsewhere (as long as I don’t start saying “rubbish,” I think they will welcome me back). Until next time, London.

One of Minnesota’s many lakes viewed from above – it’s good to be home!

Cheers from Minnesota,

~ Seth

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Gilman Scholar to Future Fulbrighter

I completed my Gilman Program the summer of 2017. After leaving Ecuador and returning for my final year of my undergraduate studies, I was very concerned about my “next step.” My time in Ecuador helped me to develop stronger convictions for what professional endeavors I want to pursue. I intend to continue my education, but before I dedicate more dollars and more studies, I decided to delve into these interests more. When I returned stateside, I had a difficult time resettling. Thoughts of the summer before made it hard for me to transition back home to my final year of school. I appreciated the responsibility of being a cultural ambassador for my country. I learned more from others than I learned from books, and likewise others learned from me and about me—a honey farmer from rural Montana. I thrived on challenging my comfort zones, exercising independence, and learning about the world’s rich diversity. With these considerations, I decided that my “next step” would need to balance pursuing my professional interests and what I cherished from my time abroad. Through my professors, my college’s global education department, and my own research, I found the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is a Congressional funded U.S. Department of State program that offers research, study, and teaching opportunities to recent graduates and graduate students. After much consideration, I decided to apply for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Program. The ETA program places Fulbright Scholars in classrooms abroad to assist local teachers improve students’ English language proficiency. Additionally, Fulbright Scholars will also serve as cultural ambassadors for the United States. It is very empowering to realize that, through this program, one gets the opportunity to become a crucial part in students’ education, which is pivotal to one’s own future success. In addition to helping students enhance their English language proficiency, ETA Fulbright Scholars must consider an innovative way to engage with their host country. This aspect of the award is also inspiring because it encourages one to go outside of their comfort zone and do something more. My final decision was to apply for the ETA Program to Spain for the 2019-2020 school year.

The application for the Fulbright ETA Program is extensive and requires time and effort, but understandably so. After my experience applying for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, I felt less overwhelmed and much more prepared to apply for another prestigious program like the Fulbright. In comparison, the Fulbright application requires general information about the applicant, letters of reference, transcripts, and short essays, each much shorter than what is required for the Gilman. While some may take a deep breath with a smaller character count, it is equally as challenging. One is expected to write just as much, if not more, with less. After writing essays for the Gilman, I can better write about myself and my interests. At first, personal essays were difficult for me. I found it nerve-racking to be vulnerably honest, but after much practice from multiple drafts for the Gilman, I believe my voice speaks well of me. While it is to say that I am more practiced, I still wrote—and re-wrote—my Fulbright essays. I also asked for the assistance of trusted professors and friends to strengthen the content, language and structure of the essays. After seven months, I confidently submitted my Fulbright application.

A few months after submission, I received confirmation via email that I received the status of Semi-finalist. A few months following, I received the status of Alternate. Prior to this status, my professors informed me that it is always important to consider other plans and look at other opportunities just in case. Once I received this status, I frantically began searching for my “Plan B.” I began researching ways that I could pursue my academic and professional interests in balance with my desire to go abroad: international organizations and programs abroad (governmental and non-governmental), summer camps abroad, schools and universities abroad, au pair abroad, and volunteer opportunities like the Red Cross and the United Nations. To be frank, it helps to have a ‘Plan B,” just in case. A few weeks after receiving the status Alternate, I received confirmation via email that I had been selected as a Finalist. My advice is to believe in your potential. Allow yourself time to apply and seek help. Also, remember that you qualify for countless opportunities, you have much to gain by simply applying.

I am confident in my capabilities to assist local Spanish teachers to enhance students’ English language learning and to be a proper cultural ambassador for the United States.My experience as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador helped me to build a competitive application. Gilman Program works hard to ensure Gilman Scholars and Alumni have the necessary tools to be competitive among a large group of ambitious and driven peers. My experience as a Gilman Scholar strengthened my ability to live abroad and embrace other cultures, regardless of how socially or politically different from my own. As a Gilman Scholar in Ecuador, I became adaptable to new surroundings. I also became comfortable exercising more independence and responsibility for myself. I improved my ability to break down communication barriers, and I made many friends that I call family in doing so. Finally, after being lost many times, I learned how to properly read maps and transportation routes to make it to any destination on time. For anyone interested in applying for another prestigious scholarship, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so; Gilman will ensure that you are more than prepared in this endeavor.

Do yourself justice.

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Top 10 Things to See and Do in Melbourne, Australia

Before traveling to a new place, I like to do some research on where I am going and what there is to do. This can reveal a lot about a place’s unique culture, its people, and its values. Melbourne is a historical city full of people from all over the world with values ranging from the environment, artistic expression in all its forms, and diverse cultures. So, here is my list of the top 10 things to see and do in Melbourne!

Top 10 Things to See and Do in Melbourne, Australia:

  1. Queen Victoria Night Market: seasonal; displays the different cultures of Melbourne https://thenightmarket.com.au/
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2. Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI): or any of the other art galleries throughout Melbourne such as the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) International which displays some beautiful indigenous art pieces

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3. Explore “Little Italy” and get some of the world’s best coffee at Brunetti (there is huge coffee culture in Melbourne): http://brunetti.com.au/our-story/

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4. Check out street art: You will find art all over the streets of Melbourne, but start off with the most popular laneway, Hosier Lane (you may even come across a Banksy piece!)

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5. Check out a Australian Football League (AFL), or “footy”, game: Melbourne has a huge sports culture. You can find anything from footy to rugby to cricket! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaUoDPEyohE

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6. Go shopping! Chapel Street is known for its high-end fashion while suburbs like Fitzroy and Brunswick are known for vintage finds.

7. Visit Old Melbourne Gaol: (pronounced “jail”) Learn about Melbourne’s history and convict past at this gaol turned museum (https://www.oldmelbournegaol.com.au/.) There is also the Melbourne Museum: https://museumsvictoria.com.au/melbournemuseum/

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8. See the penguins at St. Kilda Beach or Phillip’s Beach: At sunset you can watch a colony of penguins walk / swim to their shelter, otherwise known as the “Penguin Walk”.

9. Go “bushwalking”! Hiking and camping is popular throughout Melbourne with one of the more popular spots being the Dandenong Ranges https://visitdandenongranges.com.au/

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10. Attend a festival: Melbourne has a huge festival culture. You can find festivals here for nearly anything — music, comedy, film, and more!

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Home-Cooked Meals and Further Opportunities Abroad

In some ways, the last 14-weeks abroad (!) have flown by far too quickly to notice any significant changes. With finals approaching, I am fully expecting these last two weeks to pass in a heartbeat, leaving me to reflect on my semester in detail only when the dust settles. But even in the midst of such a busy week, several changes stick out from when I first left for London.

One of the more superficial changes – I can cook now! I won’t claim to be an expert, but I can survive on my own for an entire semester, at the very least. I live in a flat with five other college students – most of the flats in our building are filled with college kids as well – so a cooking endeavor gone wrong has been a common cause for the fire alarm to evacuate our building. This past Sunday, one of my flatmates and I made a traditional Easter lunch of roast chicken, green been casserole, fruit, and potatoes (traditional in the Midwest, at least!) and I had to laugh at the significant improvement over our first several home-cooked meals in London. To be fair, we didn’t have many other options; food in London is expensive, and we tried not to eat out for too many meals.

A Minnesotan and an Iowan cook a traditional Midwestern Easter lunch

The more substantial changes – I have become a lot more independent, both as a traveler and as a student. Back on campus, it is easy to become dependent on friends and the campus community. The dining hall provides meals, different groups organize a time to work on group projects, and day-to-day life is very structured. Living abroad is much different as everyone has their own schedule and generally their own agenda. When it comes time to travel, there’s a very similar feel: whether you’re traveling alone or with a group, you have to know exactly which bus to catch to get to the correct airport and terminal with enough time to catch a flight. If you sleep in and miss a connection? You’re likely out of luck – and I heard about plenty of horror stories these past several months. Learning to plan across different time zones, countries, cultures and languages is a valuable skill, one that is difficult to replicate back on campus.

Catching five different trains to get to the coast was a pain, but it was worth it to see the ocean for the first time!

I have also had a chance to consider my academic and career goals to a much greater extent. A recent trip to Seville, Spain gave me the opportunity to speak Spanish again – for the first time since high school! This reminded me of the value of studying a language. Realistically, it would be tough to continue Spanish classes during my senior year, but I hope to pick up the language at some point in the near future; it was a huge advantage to have some familiarity with the language while I was traveling, and I know it would be even more advantageous in a professional setting. I also had a chance to meet several international students who attend graduate school in London – London School of Economics, London Business School, and King’s College, to name a few – and they have offered several pros and cons of attending an international graduate school. London would be one of the few places I would seriously consider studying outside of the U.S. on a permanent basis, mostly due to the lack of a language barrier, and hearing their perspectives has sparked my interest in further international study.

Recent trip to Seville, Spain where I tried to use what little Spanish I could still remember from high school!

Here’s to hoping for a memorable end to a wonderful semester abroad thanks to the Gilman Scholarship!

Cheers from London,

~ Seth

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Finding Myself in Korea: How Did I Get Here?

Almost four years ago, I boarded a 14-hour flight to Korea. I never thought that my first flight would be to a foreign country. I was a first generation college student from a low socioeconomic background. I never thought that studying abroad would be attainable for someone in my position. Until one of my peers discussed their study abroad experience to our scholars program. They mentioned that they had received the Gilman Scholarship. After hearing that there was a funding opportunity designed for students like me, I knew that I was going to study abroad. From there I began researching programs in South Korea as I have always been intrigued with Korea and some of its policies toward mental health.

Under the Gilman Scholarship, I had the opportunity to go to Seoul, South Korea to attend the International Summer Campus at Korea University (KU). At first I found it difficult to adjust because while at KU, I participated in the KU Buddy Program in which I was paired with a native student. The KU student helped me adjust and learn to navigate through Korea. Being a part of this program allowed me to learn more about the language, cultural norms, and history through a different lens. My time abroad enhanced my curiosity about Korea, and helped me find a way to bridge my interest in psychology and Korean studies. Upon my return home, I was able to take classes related to Korean history and wrote a research paper on the effects of their very rigorous educational system and its effects on student mental health.

Honestly, as a freshman I never would have thought I would have found intersectionality between my interests in Korean culture and my passion for raising awareness of mental health concerns for students. I currently work at a national center that promotes the advancement of student mental health while pursuing my masters in applied psychology. I have been able to present at various conferences and make connections with stakeholders both in national and international scale. The co-director of the center, has even introduced me to her colleague in Seoul who is currently conducting research that aligns with my interests.  

If you are on the fence about whether or not to study abroad, I encourage you to go for it! The experience will be like no other and will have a lasting impact on you. You will be able to broaden your perspective and journey outside of your comfort zone. More specifically, if you are looking into Gilman as an option to help fund your trip know that it’s more than someone sending you a check. Gilman allows you to share your story and experiences abroad with your peers, alumni, and other scholars. It also presents you with an opportunity to have an impact on your community through your follow-on service project or becoming an Alumni Ambassador like myself.

Some final words of advice: Do not believe that studying abroad is not a possibility for you; it is possible! So go create memories that will last a lifetime!

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