My name is Daniel Oliveira, and I am a current Gilman alumni ambassador. I studied pharmaceutical chemistry in Taipei, Taiwan in the spring of 2018. My goal through this post is to elucidate the relevance of the Gilman program in acting as a continual formative experience. In doing so, I hope you can also reflect on how you can continue extending the benefits of the Gilman scholarship and your study abroad experience.
Spending one academic quarter in Taipei allowed me to get outside of my comfort zone; growth accompanied this discomfort. I had the opportunity to complete upper-division pharmaceutical chemistry classes whilst abroad. Classes that would normally take one academic year to be completed were condensed into a 9-week period. Some subjects included drug discovery, pharmacology, and independent research – all of which I had no prior experience with. Although the subjects were challenging, they provided me with an opportunity to take initiative regarding my education. This is because I asked guiding and clarifying questions, managed my time to meet deadlines and balance recreational activities, and prepared for written and oral presentations. In doing all of this, curiosity for the subject increased, and engagement is something I still carry as a motivating factor for my field of study to this day. After all, I cannot forget sitting in that outdoor patio at Academia Sinica in humid April weather analyzing depictions of how penicillin kills bacteria by preventing cell wall synthesis and facilitating membrane lysis!
Leaving my comfort zone was not limited solely to time in Taiwan however: preparing for the program was equally a learning experience. Questions that study abroad prospective applicants often have sometimes go unanswered, and I had these too. One of the most important of these was, “How will I pay for this?” As a first-generation, STEM Latino-American student, financial logistics worried me. I was unsure I would be able to weave such experience into my curriculum while also gaining academic progress and trying to keep up with the plethora of expectations of young adulthood.
However, I am grateful because I had built a conviction since my freshman year that studying abroad was something I was interested in. This led me to act in faith and commit to the program. Interestingly, along the way my study abroad advisor told me about the Gilman Scholarship, so I applied. I chose to believe that regardless of the application outcome, studying abroad was a commitment I had and because of that, I would find a way to finance it (even if it meant taking out more of those formidable student loans!). Things did end up “falling in place”: I was accepted into the pharmaceutical chemistry abroad program, and shortly after the fall deadline, the Gilman team notified me of my award! The endorsement by the Department of State re-affirmed my commitment to be a culturally-competent student.
Now that it has been nearly 3 years since arriving from Taiwan, I help other students to also study abroad by encouraging them and answering questions about the application. This is important because the Gilman program has always extended beyond my one quarter of studying abroad. For example, upon arriving in the U.S., I created a follow-on service PowerPoint project and presented it to my high school regarding my experience. Furthermore, as a current ambassador, I have served in activities ranging from facilitating a language-focused networking event to speaking as a panelist at the We Represent Conference, which is an annual gathering of underrepresented students, faculty, and alumni who are interested in studying abroad. I also get to serve the alumni community by tapping into my creative side and writing articles such as this one and submitting photos of Taiwan for our photo competitions.
The Gilman Scholarship also provides resources, such as the Gilman Scholar Network and social media closed-membered groups, which allow scholars and alumni to connect and provide job opportunities. In tandem with such networking, alumni have access to career resources such as Non-Competitive Eligibility, professional development workshops, and more. All of these are in line with Gilman’s purpose, which is to facilitate the representation of the U.S. and diversify the study abroad applicant pool. Many of us relate to this mission too, especially because we come from unique backgrounds.
As I enter into the fourth quarter of my term as an alumni ambassador, I am cognizant of the blessings of this program. Studying abroad is a fun experience, and although we live in unprecedented times brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, the Gilman program remains as committed as ever to providing students with the tools they need to be successful members of the international community. If you would like to take advantage of Gilman resources, consider participating in mentorship programs through the Gilman Scholar Network, or post on your LinkedIn about your abroad experience and use the hashtag #gilmanscholarship. You can also attend culture-specific and thematic networking events.
Our community is paradoxically large yet intimate. I hope to see you at one of our events. In the meantime, how will you continue the legacy of your abroad experience as you make it relevant to your life and career?