Tag Archives: gilman scholarship

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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Back in the Homeland: Both of Us Different?

“Ta…” I responded to my sister when she told me we would go grab lunch. The word is a response Brazilians say after agreeing with somebody – in full it’s ‘esta,’ meaning alright. I’ve been repeatedly saying it over the past weeks along with others, yet that’s not the only thing. I genuinely miss Brazil. I’ve really been readjusting back to life in California. I didn’t originally believe in reverse culture shock, but I adamantly admit it now. The feeling of remembering the country and the lifestyle, from the beaches to the acai.

When I first arrived in Brazil last year I felt homesick not weeks after my arrival, but months. It took me a good few months to adjust to my new lifestyle there in Rio, with new friends from town and foreigners. Now here in Los Angeles the same is true. The food is not the same as in Brazil, my routine is totally different, I am now driving after one year of busing, and am reconnecting with old friends and especially making new ones. Also, I missed In-N-Out.

I’m also back living at home, home, not in Davis where I was a student, but with my family in Los Angeles and searching for jobs – that has been an experience. The study abroad program was my last project I completed during my undergraduate career. I therefore came directly to my hometown in Los Angeles and haven’t been in Davis for a long time. I’m currently working part-time and hoping to find an internship while I continue my search for a career job in Los Angeles or Washington D.C. I’ve got to add that it has been very difficult finding a job but the experience in Brazil most pointedly stands out during job interviews. I’m now trilingual and can confidently speak of my fluency in Portuguese.

Moreover, I learned this sort of awareness about American materialism and values and certain attitudes. Now a 300ml soda drink is more than enough for me, for example – I did tell some about 7-Eleven’s massive Big Gulp cups. I’m also much more direct and open now than when I left, which is difficult to grasp because Brazilians are often known to foreigners as very laid back and relaxed. There’s plenty of stress now given the job hunt, but its healthy stress after a year of exploring and been adventurous in a foreign country and not really knowing anybody.

Home is also different. I’m back but busy and not in my most recent home, Davis. The city of Davis had been my home for a very long time now. Friends I saw regularly are far and away, with some in a different country altogether. I’m back in my family home, not in the new home I made where new and fond relationships were created. Plus, the country too has changed. Values and traditions seem upside-down, with old ideas at the forefront of political debates. The homeland has changed, my home has changed, I have changed, yet for the better we will only know tomorrow.

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343 Days Later: The Return to the U.S.

The year I spent in Japan was one of, if not the best, year of my life. I learned and experienced more than I ever thought was possible in that amount of time. I met a lot of great people and formed many wonderful connections. Despite all this, I was excited to return back the the U.S. It had been nearly an entire year since I left, and I was ready to get back to my roots. There was a lot of stuff I missed about America while I was in Japan and I was really looking forward to all of it.

I’ve been back in the U.S. for almost four days now and there are a ton of differences that I have noticed. No matter what I’m doing or where I am, I constantly compare Japan and America. The very first thing I noticed, after arriving in Dallas for my connecting flight, was the size of the people. I mean, Americans are huge. I was average size/height in Japan at 5 feet and 6 inches, but over here in the states, I’m tiny. I then flew to Cincinnati and while on my way home, realized how spacious America is. There are fields that go on and on, and a lot of it isn’t being used at all, not for farming, housing, anything. This was surprising to see since, due to how mountainous Japan is, all arable land is put to use whether it be housing or agriculture.

Not only are the people bigger and the country more spacious, but just about everything in America is bigger and more spacious than in Japan: houses, cars, supermarkets, portion sizes, everything. I went to Walmart with my mother and it was the biggest supermarket I’ve ever seen. I mean it was actually almost unbelievable. Coming from the tiny supermarkets with narrow aisles in Japan to this super Walmart in America, I had a huge moment of culture shock. Not only this, but all the signs and product information was in English. I could actually read all of it! We went to a restaurant too, and I was surprised to be able to understand all the conversations around me. In Japan, I couldn’t fully comprehend all the speaking around me, especially when it was all jumbled together, so it was easy to ignore it; however, I found it difficult to ignore all the chatter around me at the restaurant. That’s something I never thought I’d experience.

Now that I’m back home, I will be finishing my final year of university. I plan to continue studying Japanese in my free time and while I’m not completely sure what I will do after I graduate, applying to graduate school in Japan is one option. I have also considered teaching English there as well. I’ve gained a lot of experience and abilities since my time in Japan and I feel that it has better prepared me for the real world. I grew a lot and am very grateful for everything I learned. I had a wonderful time and Japan and I am ready to finish up my schooling in America. Both culture shock and reverse culture shock affected me, and I recommend to anyone else experiencing these to fully embrace it and run with it, don’t try to fight it.

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The People I’ve Met

When I left England at the conclusion of my study abroad program in August I had no plans to return. If you had told me then that I would be back in a month’s time, I would have laughed in disbelief.

A few days after my program ended I boarded a plane to Venice, Italy where I began three (delicious) weeks of travel in northern and central Italy. Many pizzas later, I flew to Athens and spent a few glorious days on the island of Santorini, Greece where we lounged on the warm black sand beaches. Continuing east, I arrived in Armenia where I met an incredible group of friends with whom I explored the natural beauty and the blossoming art scene of Yerevan. I was originally supposed to return home at this point, but sometimes things don’t quite go as planned.

A delicious bowl of gnocchi in Sorrento Italy, the stunning Path of the Gods in Amalfi Italy with my college roommate, a church on Santorini Greece, and new friends in Armenia playing games and eating snacks.

In Bologna I was trying to enjoy my first week in Italy, but my heart was still in Cambridge. I couldn’t stop thinking about the friends I had made through the program and with the locals. Feeling rather blue, I did what any late-blooming millennial would do: I called my mom. After expressing my feelings she asked, why don’t you just go back? 

I was floored. It was such a simple solution, but the idea of extending my trip had not occurred to me. After hanging up I found that it was indeed possible to change my flights and my friend Ignacio, an Argentinian expat, said he was happy to host me. So I changed my flights in my tiny hostel room and my forlornness was replaced with excitement about the prospect of returning to England after Armenia.

Textiles from the outdoor market in Yerevan and me and one of my best friends at the Symphony of Rocks in Garni, Armenia.

After an exhausting fifteen hour trip from Armenia, I finally arrived in Cambridge long after I should have been asleep. Being back in Cambridge without my peers was a bit weird at first. In summer I ran into familiar faces all day long and now I was relatively alone in the swarms of returning Cambridge students. However, everyday I spend here I meet new people and my connection to Cambridge deepens in a more permanent way than is possible in a six week summer session.

My friend Ignacio lives in graduate student accommodations and shares a kitchen with four other people. One of the floor mates, Danny, is Ignacio’s best friend and a wonderful person. A couple days ago I walked into the kitchen and found Danny with his computer at the dining table. As I set out the ingredients for a lemon pound cake, he told me he was feeling rather anxious and was playing one of his favorite childhood video games as a distraction. At this point Ignacio walked in playing Billie Holiday, and Danny opened a bottle of wine. I set the boys to zesting the lemons and smiled as Danny, a Spaniard, and Ignacio broke into boisterous Spanish as they raced to be the first to finish their citrus-y task. As we sipped from our glasses, our attempts to convert cups and tablespoons into metric units became more and more disastrous. With mascarpone in my hair and lemon juice on their hands we all toasted as our haphazard cake entered the oven.

After a few surprisingly-good slices of cake, Danny went to bed in much higher spirits. Later Ignacio told me that it was good for Danny to have some family time. It filled me with happiness to think that the simple act of sharing a meal has the same heartwarming effects halfway across the world as it does back in California. Home can be anywhere in the world if you are with the right people. From my study abroad program and my travels I have made new friends in Singapore, Taiwan, China, Spain, France, Armenia and many more countries. Knowing that I have friends in so many countries makes the world feel simultaneously smaller and larger. Learning from my friends about their various home countries makes those cultures feel more relatable and accessible, while simultaneously deepening my appreciation for the variety of people and lifestyles that exist in our global community.

Studying and traveling abroad has provided me with so many marvelous moments and opportunities for reflection and growth, but one of the most important aspects of this program was the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people. The friends I have made on this trip, and the memories I have shared with them, will always have a special place in my heart regardless if I am living in California or Cambridge. Sometimes life requires changing plane tickets and baking a cake with new friends.

Ignacio with the local wildlife and my friends from the program.

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I’ll Never Stop Learning

Embarking on a journey to Shanghai, China as my first abroad experience has changed the way I travel. Not only have I become more intrigued by traveling out of the country, I have changed the way I experience travel overall.

Since traveling to China, I have gone abroad twice more, and both times I have been more open and eager to experience the countries on a local level. When I studied abroad in Shanghai, I felt like I was a part of the community, as I lived in an apartment with local Shanghainese people. Although I was there for a short period of time, six weeks, I genuinely felt as though I had lived there my whole life. I got to know the local store owners and people that I saw on a daily basis. Having this experience made me stray away from staying in hotels when traveling. I found that hotels offer a very distant feel from the various communities they inhabit.

The summer following my study abroad to Shanghai, I spent a week in Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico. When planning this trip, I completely avoided the “typical” Cancun experience and stayed in a local Airbnb away from the Hotel Zone. I strongly desired the local experience and stayed with a family that welcomed my friend and I with open arms. The home owner felt much like a “host-mom”, offering tips for local adventures and overall safety in the community. I highly doubt that I would have had as great of an experience without her direction and genuine concern.

When reflecting on all my experiences abroad, I am most grateful that my first time out of the country was in China, where I was forcibly immersed in the culture and surrounding community. Without that experience, I would not have learned the value of a local perspective. In my opinion, that is how you truly learn about the culture, the hidden gems in the community, and the authentic feel for the people. I am now dedicated to taking the road less traveled for all future adventures abroad and that would not be the case without my life-changing experience in Shanghai, China.

 

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