Tag Archives: Reflections

Skills Beyond Your Study Abroad Program

Figuring out ways to communicate the impact of studying abroad beyond “It was AMAZING!” can be tricky. By the time I returned to the U.S. and particularly by the time I graduated, I found it difficult to articulate the skills I gained and why my experience abroad as a Gilman Scholar was so life changing.

After a few Gilman webinars, workshops, and Alumni Ambassador training, I have narrowed it down to the 5 most impactful “soft skills” that I gained from studying abroad. And to be honest, I am not a fan of the term “soft skills” because they are not something to scoff at—they are invaluable and highly marketable skills that help you thrive personally, professionally, and academically.

  1. Problem-Solving
    Studying abroad encourages you to navigate new and sometimes challenging situations on your own, and, you guessed it—problem-solving. What am I going to do now that I am lost in a country where the official language is not English? I am going to get creative and figure it out because I can’t NOT do something.
  2. Adaptability
    You learn to accept and handle change when you find yourself in a new country, new culture, with a potentially new language, and when things inevitably do not go as planned. Reflecting on my experience with culture shock was helpful in identifying and articulating what adaptability is for me.
  3. Intercultural Communication
    Immersing yourself in a different culture is eye-opening—you gain a sense of humility and awareness of different politics, lifestyles, privileges, and histories. This pushes us outside of our ethnocentric bubbles and helped me become more open and patient when communicating with people from different backgrounds.
  4. Independence & Self Reliance
    I spent a lot of time alone when studying abroad, which helped me become more comfortable with myself and confident in my abilities. I am also a firm believer that your study abroad experience is what you make of it. I pursued things that interested me by taking part in different activities that weren’t available back home, such as volunteering and traveling, which helped me realize just how well I can figure things out for myself.
  5. Curiosity
    Most of my learning while abroad happened outside of class in the form of cultural immersion, asking “why”, problem-solving, and saying “yes” to opportunities outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to learn and absorb as much as possible and I enjoy fueling my curiosity by pursuing new paths (like learning Arabic now!).

The challenge is identifying the skills you gained and figuring out how to communicate them outside of the realm of study abroad.

For me, my adaptability allows me to function with a high level of ambiguity and handle stress. My intercultural communication helps me to take on new perspectives and establish rapport quickly. My problem-solving skills enable me to learn through listening and observing, process information and organize and prioritize work.

I would encourage you to take some time to be introspective and unpack your experiences. Think about how you have grown because of your study abroad experience and how you can extend your skills beyond the scope of study abroad. And then lastly, I would challenge you to think of how you can use these skills not only to advance your education and career but to give back to your communities.

Being a Gilman Scholar is a lot more than receiving a scholarship because it connects you to a global network of ambitious students, mentors, and peers. It pushes you to think critically about your study abroad program before you even set foot on the plane. Gilman gives you the opportunity to utilize the skills you developed abroad and to pay it forward as part of this international network in your future careers, at your school and in how you grow as an individual.

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It’s about culture

I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour writing, deleting, and rewriting just the first sentence of this post. It seems nearly impossible to put my experience into words, but I am going to do my best.

My time in Slovenia was life changing. I laughed. I cried. I learned to love. I tried new things. I accomplished goals. I made life-changing relationships. I would do it again in a heart beat, and since being home there have been several times where that is all I want to do.

I loved my time abroad, not because I wanted to be away from home, but because of who I have become from my experiences while I was gone. In the time I was gone I visited eight countries and lived in two, and the most important thing that I learned from all of it was that I have culture too.

I grew up in a small, conservative town. Everyone in my family going back for generations on both sides are Caucasian.  We enjoy family time, camping, card games, eating good food, and finding good deals while shopping. Since I was a little girl I have wanted to travel the world because quite frankly, I didn’t think that I had much of a culture and what little culture I did have was boring.

So, finally, 2018 was my year. At the age of 24, I was going to experience  r e a l culture. I left in February to study abroad in Slovenia, and in June went directly to India for an internship.

I forgot to pack a hat in Iceland.

I ate the best gelato imaginable in Italy.

I fell in love in Slovenia.

I sketched in Austria.

I ate delicious halusky in Slovakia.

I stood in awe of the Parliament building in Hungary.

I explored the catacombs in Serbia.

I rode a bike in Denmark.

I swam in the sea in Croatia.

I ate with my hands in India.

It is impossible to describe everything I experienced in these countries. It was incredible, but now I’m home. Back to a small, conservative town that I used to think had no culture. But guess what? I was completely wrong.

I have a culture that is completely different than every one I experienced, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a culture. Out of the 10 countries I have now been to, none of them were the same. Each one had something a bit different whether it was the food, the currency, the language there was always something unique.

So now I am learning to notice and appreciate my culture, and I think that by doing that I will be better equipped to appreciate other cultures. I think that traveling isn’t really about going and seeing other places, but it is a way to teach each of us to appreciate what we have. We are all unique and a bit odd, but that’s what makes us great.

Traveling taught me that our cultures are all very different, but most importantly, we’re all human. And it is that similarity that bonds us together.

Cultures will differ, but humans are humans. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, how you eat your food, or what you wear. We all need companionship and acceptance. So where ever you may be reading this, take a look around and remember that we’re all trying our best in the way that we know how to. So let’s just smile and appreciate the differences, because they really don’t matter.





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Initial Thoughts from Distrito Federal

The passage from home to foreign land is more than just a change of geography, it’s a change of mode. It’s a shift from the relaxing yet somewhat dull confines of a lonely summer break to the exciting yet slightly frightening experience of foreign study. Hi, my name is Alex and today marks my sixth day in Ciudad de Mexico. I’m a genderqueer identifying, Interdisciplinary Honors student at the University of Washington and during this trip I will be studying queer communities, public health and migration throughout our southern neighbor.


Me at the National Autonomous University of Mexico standing in front of the Central Library

Coming into my program, I had one expectation, to learn. I wanted a blank slate and knew that too many expectations sets one up for disappointment. Surely enough, by day one, I knew I would not be let down. The culture here is so peculiar to someone who is so accustomed to the Seattle freeze*. The people are immensely more social in ways that can be interpreted as both good and bad. It’s the small things I notice most. People walking tight corridors, pushing past each other rather than waiting, street vendors both in the form of stands and standing salesman walking person to person requesting purchase. In the taxi from the airport, I noticed an interesting phenomenon I dubbed reverse window shopping. At a red light, vendors carrying boxes of goods would walk window to window between cars for potential customers. I should also note that it was barely 7:00 AM! Greetings are much more active with all the face kissing, hugging and ‘buenos dias’es you could hope for. Meal times shift from 8:00 am, noon, and 6:00 pm for breakfast through dinner respectively to 8:00 am (no problem) 3:00 pm (okay a little late now) and 10:00 pm (I’m starving).

Yet almost none of this registered as a cultural shock as it was defined in all my orientations and pre departure meetings. Besides the meal times, I enjoy many of these changes. I’m already thinking about how I can bring back the lessons I’ve learned in activism and population health. One of the most impactful projects I learned about were the Las Patronas. This was a group who lived near a train network often used by migrants known as ‘The Beast.’ When these railway adjacent residents found migrants who hadn’t eaten in four days, they jumped at the opportunity to provide them sustenance. Since then, they’ve formed a group that constantly makes food for the passing travellers.

What astounds me with these people’s work is their dedication to charity without return. In the United States, we always have such a focus on some return as if charity is an investment. The return comes in many forms, both physical and psychological. It can be a T-shirt, keychain, virtual adoption of an animal, etc.  It can even be as simple as getting an update letter on how your money was used. Yet these people would give up large portions of their wealth and time to feed these people for the simple reason of it being the right thing to do. They never found out if these migrants made it to their destination or what they thought of the food’s quality. Yet Las Patronas will go as far as to say they’ll be doing this work the rest of their lives.


My class discussing reflection exercises at Casa de Los Amigos, the hostel we are staying in

It’s so inspiring as to make me wonder about the nature of the exchange in our country, the hyper emphasis on “the art of the deal,” so to speak. How selfish must we be to expect a return on charity? It has left me wondering…

How do I integrate these practices in my own life?

How can I bring these lessons back home?

How much more knowledge can I absorb during this month when this is just a small inkling of my many experiences over the past five days?

More to come in further writings.


*Seattle Freeze is a term used to describe the antisocial and often introverted nature of many residents in the city.

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A Semester of Wonder

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

-Mary Anne Radmacher

It has been a week since I returned to the States and felt my feet settle on solid ground. It has been a week of me readjusting to America and my home university. During this week I’ve felt a flurry of emotions- sadness from missing the friends I made abroad, eagerness to see my old friends again, thankfulness for the experience I was able to have- which all mix together to a strange mix-mosh of feelings inside of me. I didn’t know how to react to being back in the States. After my semester in Belgium, I made a short trip to Vietnam to see family I haven’t seen in 12 years, and then flew back home where I had 4 days to adjust and move back to my college campus. When I returned home, it felt like everything stayed constant, but changed at the same time. I was struggling with how to adjust back to my old life in America and then I realized I’m not the same person I was when I left for Belgium. I’m coming back to the States more assured of who I am, more aware of the world, and eager to experience more of it. I’m eager to implement and utilize everything I’ve learned and move forward as a more aware citizen.

America is in a time of immense change and I’m at a place where I am trying to figure out what I can do to enact positive change in a country that desperately needs it. I felt so far removed from American politics when I was abroad, even if it was a hot topic of discussion. I guess this is a part of the culture shock of being back in America. While in Belgium, as political events unraveled I was able to keep a certain distance from it all. But here, I returned just as the inauguration was happening. I returned as America was on the precipice of making history and I’m trying to figure out how to help fight against repeating some not so nice parts of that American history.

As America is on the forefront of the fight for human rights, I’m also struggling on how to slide back into my old life. I feel myself missing and yearning for my life in Leuven. I miss the little quirks of Belgian life, and more than anything I miss the friends I made abroad. My hall-mates and I still talk on a daily basis, all of us finding it hard to get used to life without each other. But this leads to promises of future meet-ups, which I’m excited to see follow through! But this doesn’t mean I’m not excited to be back in America and on my home campus. It’s nice to be back and be surrounded by what I’m familiar with. It’s nice to go back to all my favorite coffee shops and go the library that was my dorm away from dorm.



A friend from my college visited me in Leuven and we took a trip to Bruges to visit the Christmas Markets!


The first thing I felt when I returned to America was a mix of familiarity and newness. Everything felt the same, the ground was still the same solid concrete I was used to, my small college felt comfortable, and I reunited with my friends in a seamless fashion which felt like I never left. But something was different. The concrete was different than the brick road I grew accustomed to, it feels weird to not walk 30 minutes to get to class, and I miss the mix of languages that occurred over dinner in Belgium. It was definitely reverse culture shock and after a week of being home, I feel myself getting over that shock. I’m enjoying being back home and also having the time to reflect on the amazing three months I had in Belgium.

Before studying abroad, I definitely was a lot more wary of traveling and going to new places. But now I can’t imagine being stagnant for too long. I’m now yearning to see more of the world, even if it is just going to a different state in the U.S. I’m determined to see and experience more, which means I’ll be able to visit some of my American hall-mates! I feel significantly more comfortable and confident being in unknown places and adjusting to the unfamiliar. Being in Leuven gave me the chance to fully embrace life and get everything I can out of it. I credit this to my hall-mates. Living with a hall of international students has taught me so much. I’ve been able to learn about different cultures, but more importantly I’ve been able to experience how each of them see the world. A friend wrote me a letter and a line of it said, “Nhi, the world is a beautiful place, take a chance to see it.” That’s something I will remember for the rest of my days and I really credit my hall-mates for my newly found desire to take the world on.



Last picture of the hall! (Had to edit the boys in since they never wanted to take a picture with us!)


Studying abroad also made me become strong in my beliefs, while simultaneously making me more open to exchange and conversations between differing ideals. I’ve learned to learn from the differences between people and how engaging in thoughtful conversations can really make me develop and strengthen my own thoughts and ideas. I thought I had a strong handle on these types of conversations, but I definitely learned and grew so much as I was abroad.

The past three months were the most transformative of my life and are memories that will never fade from my memory. I’ve made unbreakable friendships, created unforgettable moments, and have grown tremendously as a person. I’ll always be thankful for the opportunity to study abroad, especially to Gilman for helping fund my experience. I will take what I experienced and learned, and use it as I continue with my educational pursuits and as I grow and live.

Leuven gave me a taste of the world and for that I will always be grateful and have a special place in my heart for the small Belgian town that welcomed me and gave me so much more than what I bargained for.



Ostende, a Belgiun coastal city.

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I Feel Ready

Ready to take on the world after my study abroad journey. I feel more prepared to look a potential employer square in the face and tell them I am a globally-minded individual that can work with an assortment of personalities. I have had the opportunity to take a long, honest look at what I believe and how I think and actually question my beliefs. I believe that this is something everyone should do a few times throughout their lifetime in order to be open to new ideas and possibilities.



Learned so much about Spanish and European architecture here in Salamanca!


I also feel prepared to raise children that are more globally-minded and can think beyond the “us and no more” mentality and begin to feel compassion for their world and beyond. Before I could only give them vague guidance on how they should approach interacting with new cultures and personalities, but now I can give them advice based on solid experience. My experiences. How cool is that?



This is the most magical food in all the world: paella.


Working with the people of Spain in their homes, in their schools, in the grocery stores and beyond has given me insight into how other people think about things like managing a home, teaching, and customer service. I have learned to be a bit more patient. Not only for other people and learning to allow others’ ideas to come up against my own, but patience for myself to allow some of these ideas to take root and change me.



Climbing Monte Urgull in St. Sebastian.


Hasta luego.

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