Tag Archives: scholarship

Meet Teejay! – Pre-Departure to Malta

Hey guys! I guess I’ll start with introductions: TJ1My names Teejay Hughes and I’m from St. Louis, MO. The University of Missouri-Kansas City is the college I attend in America, but currently I’m studying abroad in a country named Malta—a tiny island smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. You’re probably wondering why you’ve never heard of this country. It’s most likely because there are only 400,000 people that live on the island and declared independence from the UK less then 100 years ago; but don’t underestimate this little country! It’s packed with natural & cultural beauties, and they even have their own language called Maltese (and no it’s not barking).

For the 2014-2015 academic year, I was selected as a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, and thus far it’s been an experience of a lifetime. The official degree I’m pursuing in America is Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing and Finance. I’ve always had a passion for anything international, and it’s one of the main reasons I’ve chose to study aboard. That’s why if you asked me what I study, I’d shorten my degree and tell you “International Finance and Marketing.” I like to think studying aboard for a year lets me play around with the degree name. For the next few months I’ll be making a series of video blogs and written prompts. I’m going to be telling you about my ups, downs, and everything in between!

Let’s start out with a simple question: Did you feel anxious before leaving for your program? If so, what were you nervous about?

Pre-departure anxieties would seem to be a massive thought, but oddly I was cool and collected until I arrived in Europe. The University of Malta didn’t start till October 1st, so I had plenty of time to pack and prepare myself for my upcoming year. My school year ended all the way back in May, so there has really been no rush at all. The most stressful aspect to me was getting my financials in order (figures, I’m a finance major). Dealing with credit cards, scholarships, and debt cards take day to weeks to months to get tasks completed, so I made sure I started early.

Besides finances, the only other forms of pre-departure stress was fitting one years worth of clothing into two luggages and two carry-ons. There’s something you have to know about me: I love clothes. My clothes are me. So trying to fit my entire being into four bags was very complicated… The process I used to packing lasted about one week. It goes as followed:

Step 1: Wash everything

Step 2: Sort clothes into season (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer)

Step 3: Research which season will be in the country

Step 4: One-by-one go through each season making a Yes, No, and Maybe pile

Step 5: Pack up No pile, and repeat step 4 for other seasons

Step 6: Grab a friend and go through the Yes pile. (A friend that cares about clothes as much as you do)

Step 7: Together go through your maybe pile being very critical with each Yes and No.

Step 8: Try to pack all the Yes items.

Step 9: Understand you’re going to buy clothes there. So don’t cry when you have to take out the heaviest items.

Well guys, that’s the end of Blog post 1. I’ll leave you with some of the amazing views in Malta that I’ve captured.

Golden bay

Dingli cliffs


Blue window

Cheers, Teejay Hughes.


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Filed under Teejay in Malta, Western Europe

My Future Plans

Even before going abroad, I knew what I wanted to as a professional career: I want to become an international interpreter. My experience abroad will no doubt be invaluable to me as I continue to pursue that goal. They say that learning a language is easiest when you’re completely immersed in it. I lived with a Spanish family, who knew very little English, and had a Spanish class Monday to Friday from 9am to 1:30pm. This left me very little room to lose the idea of immersion. When I first arrived in Spain, I was incredibly shy and was afraid to make an error in my speaking ability, so I spoke very little. However, by the time I left Spain, I spoke fluidly, confidently, and happily. Sure, I was still slightly afraid of making an error, but that’s a fear that I’m going to have to overcome, if I’m going to achieve my goal of becoming an international interpreter.

While abroad, I also traveled to other countries via plane, bus, and train, often times going completely alone. Initially, I was also afraid of traveling alone. What if I got mugged? Could I navigate airport security on my own? Can I carry my luggage on my own? All of these questions buzzed through my head when I decided that I would be traveling. But, I’d promised myself that I’d take risks and put myself out there and try new things. My first trip traveling completely alone (from Zaragoza to London to Chester and back) was a complete success. I did my best to blend in and not act like a tourist, and it seemed to do the trick. After that, I had a lot more self-confidence and trusted myself to not get lost, or to find my way out of a difficult situation if necessary. I had a couple of close calls (getting on my train to London as the doors closed), but I made it to each place safe and sound. A tour group I met up while on Semana Santa (Spanish Easter holiday) even expressed their surprise and astonishment as I told them I’d been traveling alone for a few days before meeting the group. I don’t think I’d ever be able to acquire the skills and confidence necessary to travel alone if I hadn’t decided to study abroad in the first place.

Academically, the Spanish course I was enrolled in was definitely challenging! My professor had high expectations and would settle for nothing less. At first, it was incredibly overwhelming for me, and I thought that the professor was being especially hard on me. However, in hindsight, I realize that she was doing that because she knew my potential, and she knew that if I truly applied myself, I would be extremely successful. Now that the course is over, I’m very happy that I had her as my professor; I don’t think I would have learned as much as I did, had it not been for her. When it came time for the final exam, she spoke with me afterwards to offer any final comments and give me my grade. She gave me a 9/10 and said that I was a rare case because I actually speak Spanish better than I write it, and she offered me a few words of advice to help me in the future. Thanks to her, I now know what I need to focus on when I return to school in the fall in order to make myself successful, both academically and professionally.

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Filed under Tyler in Spain, Western Europe

Meet Gilman Video Blogger – Karly

Meet U.S. Department of State sponsored Gilman Scholarship recipient Karly Kahl-Placek. Karly was a Gilman Global Experience Correspondent for the Spring 2013 semester in Jaipur, India.  The Gilman Global Experience allows Gilman Scholarship recipients the opportunity to record videos around academic and cultural themes to share with other students interested in studying or interning abroad in the featured country. For more videos please visit the Gilman Scholarship’s Official YouTube page.

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Filed under Karly in India, South & Central Asia, Video Bloggers

Anything but Graduate School

Before my study abroad semester in Morocco, I was seriously considering going to graduate school. But after this semester, I realized that what I desire to learn I won’t be able to find in a classroom (more on this later).

Specifically, I calculated the economic cost of going to graduate school. I estimated that graduate school would cost between $25,000 to $45,000 per year, and after three years of graduate school, I am about $75,000 to $135,000 in debt.

Of course that estimate doesn’t take into account the income lost for not working during that period, but also, it doesn’t take into account the time I would lose and never regain: my early 20’s, when I am free from all commitments and obligations.

Personally, it isn’t worth it. With a graduate degree diminishing in value every year in the US (more graduate students in the work force and the current stagnation of jobs), the costs exceed the benefits.

But in the wise words of Mark Twain, “Don’t let your schooling interfere with your education.” Even though I will not be attending graduate school, it doesn’t mean I will stop learning. On the contrary, my education is a life long journey and mine is not ending when I graduate next spring.

When I take into account the free-online courses that are being offered by Ivy schools, the  infinite information thanks to the internet that is available, and access to public libraries, museums and so forth; we are at the forefront of a shift in how education is acquired.

Furthermore, what I truly desire to learn about, I won’t be able to find in a classroom. These last five months in Morocco taught me that traveling teaches you about the world, about history and society, but it also teaches you about yourself. I realized, that in a world where so few people know who they are, where so many people follow the mindless herd — knowing who I am as a person is far more important to me than hanging a diploma on a wall.

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Filed under Kevin in Morocco, middle east

Food and Culture in Kyrgyzstan

Food is a rich and important part of Kyrgyz culture. The staple ingredients of meals tend to be meat, vegetables, and rice. Ган-Фан (gan-fan) and манты(manti) are two of my favorite dishes so far. I would describe Ган-фанas a type of thick sauce with chunks of meat and vegetables over rice. Манты are dumplings with meat, potatoes, and onion inside and are usually steamed but I’ve also had fried ones in restaurants and they are quite delicious as well. I tried the other day to learn how to fold мантыinto in its dumpling shape, but most of what I accomplished was proving that I am not cut out to work in a Kyrgyz kitchen. My host family assured me that I folded them perfectly but I have learned that, when it comes to my cooking skills, they lie to me out of love a lot. The fruit here is also absolutely delicious. The first thing I ate when I arrived in Bishkek was a plate of fresh strawberries. They are smaller than the strawberries I am used to but the flavor is amazing. I have developed a slight obsession and I get irrationally excited when I see them being sold on the side of the road by the bucketful.

One thing I’ve noticed here is that food is not wasted to the extent that it sometimes is at home. My host family makes many dishes that reuse ingredients from the previous night’s meal so as to make the most out of the food they have. This has definitely made me think about the attitude toward food in the US and the amount of times I have seen leftovers tossed out instead of being reused to create another meal. Another thing I have noticed, with my host family but even more so at restaurants, is how popular tea is. My tea consumption at this point is off the charts because pots of tea seem to be equivalent with complementary glasses of water one gets at restaurants in the US. Any time I have a meal here, I can be sure that there will be some type of tea on the table.

Hospitality is a very important part of Kyrgyz culture and it is believed that a big part of being hospitable is making sure that guests are well fed. I have noticed that this mentality about food and hospitality reaches into the professional world here as well. I am interning with the Soros Foundation in Kyrgyzstan and have been to a few meetings and a conference so far. At each of these events, I can always be sure to find a spread of tea, jam, cookies, and bread at the very least and on various occasions I have seen four-course meals laid out.

Food is also used to bring the family together and is a way to show that you care about someone. I share my host family with another girl from my program and the phrase we hear the most from our grandmother is most definitely “кушатькушать!” (eat eat!). It seems to be her constant mission to make sure that we are either drinking tea or eating bread at all times. I have stumbled sleepily out of my room at midnight to go to the bathroom only to find my grandmother waiting for me with a fresh cup of tea when I come out. Our host sister Aychurek, or Chuci, told us that this is because cooking and providing food for members of your family is a way to show affection and that you care about them. Meals with my host family are one of my  favorite parts of the day because it is a time when we are all together talking about our days and other random things. The mentality of eating as a thing to be enjoyed and savored and not just a process to get through as fast as possible, is something I really love about this culture and something that I want to bring back with me when I leave here.

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Filed under Gabby in Kyrgyzstan, South & Central Asia

Culture Shock… What’s that?

I’ll be honest, I used to laugh at the idea of culture shock and reverse culture shock.

Now for me, I do not think I have had culture shock in any of the countries I have gone to. I am more like a sponge that wants to soak in as much of every culture and environment as I possibly can. Added to this, I live a hyphenated life. I am a Nigerian-American and I recognize with both. There are a lot of little parts of American culture that I do not identify with. Usually, they are replaced with some aspect of Nigerian culture. In fact, I’ve learned that my body prefers foreign foods more than American foods! At the same time, I am a true southern Texas girl with a homecoming mum as big as the state still hanging in my bedroom. Since I have always lived in essentially two worlds, I am never too surprised by differing cultures. I enjoy learning the differences between Korean culture and both American culture and Nigerian culture. Culture shock has not been an issue for this reason.


Reverse culture shock is another beast entirely. Even after my shorter 3 to 5 week trips all I wanted to do is to go back. It seems like no one is really interested in my trip and even if they are and I explain everything, it is not the same. I am convinced that it will only be worse when I get home this time. Four months of memories will be hard to express to friends and family when I get home. I have noticed that I spend quite a long time at stage 8. Usually the start of school and work snap me back to my normal mode, however most of the annoyance I have gotten post-trips is when people have discussions about events that you were not there for and they forget that. You are thinking I have been gone for two months, why would I know what you are talking about? At the end of the day, you just have to remember that during the time you are gone, their life still exists. Eventually you get back to your regular routine and everything becomes a wonderful memory.

I basically go from scale 1-7 my entire trip. Even now, when I talk to my family, I tell them I am not ready to come home. I did not have frustrations with the culture and the differences. I noticed that cultural aspects that are different from American culture are very similar to Nigerian culture. It’s been amazing to see how things that I thought would different are actually quite similar.

I wonder how other people deal with their cultural shock.


Filed under Chinazo in South Korea, East Asia

The Oscillations of Life Abroad


While this graph certainly describes many of the joys and struggles of studying abroad, my experiences would look a bit more like the oscillations of an EEG.  When I arrived, everything was incredibly exciting and invigorating.  I was thrilled that my Spanish was functioning well enough for basic conversation.  Every experience, from figuring out what a specific paper was used for in the clinic, to visiting the famous Incan ruins, to buying something at the local grocery store, was an adventure.   My being was prickling with anticipation for what was to come in the following 4 months.

Within about 2 weeks, I was beginning to feel the pains and difficulties of living in a foreign culture.  I believe the main reason for those struggles to be a lack of people from my home culture and language to interact with.  I also had difficulties making friends outside the familiar college context; the clinic was not the easiest place to meet an abundant amount of people, and my Spanish was only functioning on a basic level.  There were only a handful of native speakers who were willing to struggle through communication with me.

Eventually a few other Americans arrived in the clinic, and we became friends.  At this stage, I was able to reengage with the culture and become excited once more, because I now had a home-base where I could recharge.  We explored several regions of the country, and it was beautiful to see the unique nature and culture of the various regions of Peru.

A little over 2 months into the trip, a situation beyond my control caused me to lose contact with my group of friends.  It was hard for me to lose the only people who understood the culture I came from.  In addition to this, I received bad news on several other fronts, not the least of which was my 3-year-old host sister being diagnosed with a very serious medical condition.  Cuzco did not have the required specialists or machinery, so she and both parents traveled to Lima to continue her hospitalization.  To me, I have become a part of this family during my 3 months here.  Seeing them go through this turmoil and hardship affected me on a deep level.

Most recently, my time has been committed to my senior thesis for my university back home.  While I immensely enjoyed learning about the healthcare system in Peru, it sucked away time that I could have been investing in more relationships.  My host family has also stayed in Lima, although extended family has come to take care of my host brother and me.  Unfortunately, I do not have the relationship with them that I had with the parents of the family.  As at the start of my trip, I felt alone.

I now find myself on yet another up with finishing my thesis and other good news from back home.  My final few weeks here look very promising in terms of excitement and diverse experiences, so I have no doubt I will be leaving Peru on a good note.  I cannot yet speak to what will happen when I return home, but I am flying away to Guatemala for June and July so I suspect I will have some irregularities in that portion of the curve as well.

Lastly, I want to make sure that you understand everything I have learned through the good and the bad times here.  This trip has truly been full of some of the best and worst times in my recent past.  It would be easy for me to want to magnify the good and simply forget the bad, but such an action would be me throwing away some of the most formative experiences of the trip.  I can now say that I know who I am when everything around me is falling apart around me and all my support systems are 4,000 miles away.  My passion for including those who feel out-of-place has grown even more; I hope that many people back in the states, especially those from international backgrounds, will benefit from this lesson I have learned.  Teachings like these are every bit as important as the tremendously joyous experiences I have been blessed with.  If you fear experiences like this in an experience abroad, I beg you to not let that fear stop you from adventuring away from home.  Cherish the ups and the downs; if you are able to continue pressing into the culture through it all, I promise you that you will not regret taking a risk and experiencing something new.

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Filed under Michael in Peru, south america