Tag Archives: study abroad

Sharing Meals and Conversations to Make Memories

Hello, my name is Daniel Oliveira! I studied and conducted pharmaceutical research abroad at Academia Sinica during the spring quarter of 2018 in Taipei, Taiwan.

Completing a 10-mile hike at Elephant Mountain with Girish and Anant during a spring thunderstorm

One person I met through this trip, and who will remain a lifelong friend, is Girish. I met him through a lunch group which became a part of my regular routine as an exchange student. Meeting Girish was made possible through my PhD chemistry supervisor, Tushar Jadhav, who one day invited me to walk with him across a busy intersection in the Nangang District of Taipei into a small Indian restaurant that only fit about 3 tables. After ordering our lunch boxes that day, Tushar and I commenced our journey up onto the 5th floor of the Agricultural Technology Building where we met a group of about 5 international students. They all became my friends, and we met daily to share meals.

In a small 75 square-foot room, it was interesting to sit as the only westerner hearing a mix of Hindi and English – the Hinglish portmanteau. At that time, Girish stood out to me. He was courteous to show me around the city and talk about academic life as a PhD student. Girish completed his undergraduate and master’s degree in India and chose to enroll in Taiwan’s International Graduate Program – a program that recruits international students to receive stipends and conduct research at Academia Sinica. He allowed me to understand more about different career paths that interested me.

It was important for me to know him because Girish continues to stay in touch with me and offer support not just in the area of schooling and work, but also in life. What I learned during those weekday lunches with the international brothers was that Indian culture really values friendship and work-life balance. In a way, I had much in common with them, and that’s because I also grew up in a multicultural community as the son of Brazilian immigrants.

Therefore, I drew parallels between Indians and Brazilians: they used Hinglish, and we used Portenglish (or Spantuguese when conversing with our Hispanic friends); they valued interpersonal interactions, and we placed importance on family and friends; they embraced elements of nature (being that India is diverse in geography and climate), and we constantly kept in mind the shared memories of diving into the hot springs at Caldas Novas in the state of Goiás.

Girish also informed me that some of the guys were surprised that I had superseded their misconceptions regarding Americans. Reflecting on this, I now recognize that studying abroad allowed me to add to my perspective. I do love the U.S., and I am proud of living in a country that prides itself in working for the things that matter to you. But being exposed to eastern life showed me that sometimes non-Americans think we may focus too much on our guns, too much on our supersized fast-food meals, and too much on market competition.

Sitting near the Sun Yat-sen Memorial appreciating how much the environment resembled my parent’s hometown of Goiânia, Brazil

Now, I mention these small details not to be political. I merely propose that we be cognizant of how we are similar, and different, than others. And by meeting Girish, sitting in that tension of shared life experiences but also disparate paradigms on life allowed me to learn a lot! For that I am grateful.

As someone who tried to find a group to fit in growing up, going forward I plan on staying in contact with those connections made in Taiwan. It’s a plan to cherish the past and plan for the future. The Gilman scholarship was an avenue for me to leave my comfort zone and establish relationships based off of mutual interests.

Has this happened to you? If so, I encourage you to continue to benefit from intercultural experiences by recognizing the lasting impacts shared connections can have.

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Your Impact

My name is Sarah Geilman. I graduated from Brigham Young University in 2019 with a degree in Mandarin Chinese after spending 18 months in Taipei, Taiwan learning Mandarin as a missionary for my church. I also lived in China for 10 months while studying abroad at Nanjing University and completing an internship in Shanghai teaching underprivileged children as part of The Language Flagship Program. I was a Gilman scholar during my school year abroad in China from the fall of 2017 to the summer of 2018. 

One of the most common things I heard before studying abroad in China was the misconception that China was underdeveloped or developed. We see pictures of people living in the Chinese countryside with their conical hats tending their rice fields and think of it as underdeveloped. But with China’s booming economy and presence on the world stage, many believe it is a fully developed country, while in fact, China is still considered developing. While living in China for 10 months, I found this balance fascinating. I could go from city to city relatively inexpensively while traveling between 100-200 mph on a bullet train. I could rent a bike through an app on my phone and ride it around the city for under 1USD per ride. At the same time, many streets were filled with elderly people who made their living selling vegetables in little baskets on the side of the road, yet to pay for the vegetables, you could scan a QR code printed on a piece of paper that was stuck to a pole behind them. China is such a unique country with its immense technological advancements and social, economic, and other struggles. After living in China, the status of its development was much clearer.

Aside from correcting misconceptions, I have realized since returning home just how much my time abroad has impacted those around me. There have been little things (like translating random Chinese lines for friends that appear in TV shows and movies) but there have also been major things that have affected my family and those I interact with each day.

One of the biggest things I’ve been able to do is help teach my family, especially my husband and son, all about a language and culture that they knew very little about. I’ve been able to incorporate homemade Chinese food into the meals we eat. At bedtime, we sing songs and read books in English and Chinese. Although he is still young, I am doing my best to teach my son how to treat all people, and especially those who look and act differently than he does, with respect and kindness.

I have also been shocked by how many times my experience abroad has come into play in my everyday interactions. There have been numerous times while going about my daily life that I will come across people who either only speaks Chinese, or speak very little English, and I am able to translate for them or help them find what they need. For instance, at the grocery store about a year ago, I overheard a lady speaking with her daughter and noted that she was confused about how to purchase her produce. In China, most grocery stores have a stand in the produce section where a worker will weigh and bag up your produce for you so that the cashier only has to scan them and not weigh the items or type in the numerical code as we do here in the States. Because I had experienced this myself in China (and had been very confused the first time I tried to buy fruit in the check-out line only to be told I had to go back to the produce section), from the little bit of the conversation I overheard I immediately understood her confusion and was able to not only help her with what to do but do so in her own native tongue! I have also been surprised in our college town how many people I have met in our apartment complex who are from either Taiwan or China. I have not only been able to assist them through language and cultural barriers but also have had the opportunity to be their friend in a land that is so foreign to them. What a blessing it has been to help someone else simply by having an understanding of their language and culture. Do not underestimate what your time abroad can mean not only to you and your life but also to the many people you will come across now and in the future!

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Más allá: More than Studying Abroad

¡Hola! Hello, my name is Madeline and I am honored to serve as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador for the 2020-21 Academic Year. I studied and interned abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand, during the summer of 2019. There I learned conversational Thai, taught English at the Northern School for the Blind, and engaged in Organizational Behavior and Leadership courses.

Activity time with my third-grade class at the Northern School for the Blind.

Let’s be a little cliché: Studying abroad changed my life and it’ll change yours, too. 

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive into the why. I spent 10 weeks teaching, learning, growing, exploring, and adapting in a country 8,000 miles from my home. I left the States with enough space in my suitcase, literally and metaphorically, to return with more than I arrived with. I wanted to remain open-minded to this new chapter, so I said yes to almost everything. Insect on a stick as a snack? Sure. Climb up a sticky waterfall? Yes. Chat with a Monk? Why not? Visit a food market on train tracks? I’m there. This mentality helped my experience be that much more remarkable.

However, it’s not exactly what I experienced abroad that changed my life, but rather how I applied my experiences when I returned. See, you can learn a new language, new skills, and meet new people, but if you don’t apply it, you won’t grow. Now, a year after my program ended, I am a Gilman Alumni Ambassador, graduating senior at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Talent Acquisition intern at Ball Aerospace. I owe it to my study abroad program, USAC, and the continuous support from the Gilman Scholarship Program for guiding me here. If you’ve thought about studying abroad, think more about what comes after than what happens during your program. Be prepared to change your path or be reassured of where you’re headed. Remain curious and say yes to learning opportunities.

The important note to make about studying abroad is: there is no right way to do it. Sure, there are suggestions and recommendations, but every single experience is different. Your journey with studying abroad could land you your dream job or maybe just a job in the middle of a global pandemic. It could challenge your cultural beliefs or strengthen your values. It could lead you to relocate or at least consider the option. The possibilities are endless and that is the reason why studying or interning abroad is so important.

Activity time with my third-grade class at the Northern School for the Blind.

Gilman: The river of everlasting resources

It’s as though the Gilman program never runs out of ways to spoil their students and alumni. Every newsletter is jam-packed with new events, opportunities, and advice. Each staff member you reach out to guides you on the right path. There’s a sense of community among the recipients, alumni, staff, and ambassadors. There are endless networking opportunities through the Gilman Scholar Network, LinkedIn, and Facebook group. The staff members are transparent and accessible.

From the outside looking in, I viewed the Gilman Program as only a way to finance my trip. Now, looking from within, I see it as much more than that. I have built amazing friendships, connected with professionals, and strengthened my communication and networking skills. The Gilman Scholarship Program is much more than a one-and-done resource, it is a lifetime supply of opportunities.

What Más Allá means to me

Más Allá means beyond, doing more than what is expected. I grew up with parents who go más allá. I grew up listening to stories of my dad leaving his violent country of El Salvador and surviving with almost no money, no knowledge of the language, and little to no connections. Now, as a self-made business owner, he continues to show me how he goes más allá. Naturally, as his firstborn, I inherited that trait.

Embracing the local culture through local temples was an integral part of my experience abroad.

As a first-generation, low-income student, I knew I could do more than what was expected of someone with my demographic. When I heard of the Gilman Scholarship program and its competitive nature, I was immediately drawn. Gilman is a program that has encouraged me to continue going más allá and I am incredibly humbled by the opportunity to represent it as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador.


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Mastering Cultural Fluency

Hi everyone, my name is Katherine Cabrera and I am a senior at Florida International University majoring in Psychology. The Gilman Scholarship provided me with the means to study abroad in Surabaya, Indonesia last summer, 2019, hosted by Airlangga University. I am proud to be serving as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador for 2020-21.


Katherine Cabrera in Surabaya, Indonesia

I always emphasize cultural fluency whenever I mention my experience studying abroad in Indonesia. My professor, Dr. Lenaghan introduction to the skill of cultural fluency, and since then I have been working on mastering it. I remember having to rely on the universal language of smiling at people. Even with the language barrier, a smile can show respect, mutual understanding, and happiness to be in their company. Cultural fluency has so many levels and I just scratched the surface. I have invested in my skills coming back from my experience and incorporating them into everything I commit to. For example, mental health awareness while being culturally fluent has been a great way of learning how to be culturally competent. Living in the multicultural, multilingual, multi-religious city of Miami requires an open mind and respecting everyone. I knew I wanted to specialize in Community Psychology and work directly with the people in my community. I love working alongside people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

While in Indonesia, I learned that psychology has many different applications around the world. This inspired me to look into Community Psychology when I came back because I thought I would have more of an impact working with people in need. Studying/internship abroad allows students like me to explore these options while still in undergrad. I learned that so many universities around the world have international programs open to U.S students who are interested in studying or working in other countries. I have career goals of establishing my career in another country when I eventually pursue a Ph.D. in Community Psychology. Maybe I will be a Peer Specialist or something equivalent to that globally. A great part about the Gilman Scholarship is the community of Gilman Scholars all across the world, sharing their stories, opportunities available, and advice. It really made me look into options I had not thought about such as a Fulbright. I love being able to reach out to my Gilman Community and seeing how their experience with Gilman shaped their entire life.

Gilman Scholars have the resources to enhance their study abroad experience into whatever they shape it to. There is no need to limit yourself to your area of study, so go for that culinary study abroad program, an architecture program even if you are a biology major. My program was focused on multicultural communication and relations and I had the opportunity to integrate psychology into all of my projects for the course. I met students in Indonesia majoring in psychology and shared those moments with them which have stuck with me even after a year later. As an undergrad, I really wanted to explore what was beyond my core classes, so taking an anthropology or sociology course really helped me mature my learning. I knew I wanted to take advantage of all my undergrad was offering and the Gilman community encourages the idea of always learning in all disciplines. I am grateful for the Gilman Scholarship which was my introduction to becoming a global citizen. I plan on pursuing more study abroad programs and hopefully working on my Ph.D in another country!

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Not Like Riding a Bike

My name is Sarah Geilman. I graduated from Brigham Young University in 2019 with a degree in Mandarin Chinese after spending 18 months in Taipei, Taiwan learning Mandarin as a missionary for my church, and living in China for 10 months while studying abroad at Nanjing University and completing an internship in Shanghai teaching underprivileged children as part of The Language Flagship Program. I was a Gilman scholar during my school year abroad in China from the fall of 2017 to the summer of 2018. 

Language skills abroad

When I first lived abroad in 2013, I was learning Mandarin Chinese for the very first time. Being fully immersed in a different culture was daunting, but extremely helpful as it pertained to my language development. When I returned overseas in 2017 for a study abroad and internship experience in China, I used the time to improve upon language skills that I had already developed. After working so hard to learn Mandarin, it has been sad to me how easy it is to lose the knowledge I have if I don’t put in the time and effort to keep it up. Over the last 7 years, I have found some tips and tricks to keeping language skills intact once returning home.

Maintaining your skills

If upon your return you are still a college student, the absolute easiest way to maintain your newfound language skills is by enrolling in classes at your college or university. Going to lectures throughout the week, completing homework assignments, and studying for tests will allow you to study your language while automatically carving out time for it in your busy schedule. The majority of these classes will allow you to simultaneously improve upon your reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in your chosen language. You will also be meeting at least weekly with students and professors in your area that speak your language and can provide tips for learning and study groups for support. When I returned home from Taiwan and took a few Chinese classes, I realized how much I loved the language and switched my major to Chinese. Doing so allowed me to learn about the Language Flagship Program which is what provided the opportunity to study abroad in China. I will be forever grateful I chose to take those classes!! If classes in your language are not offered, don’t be afraid to speak to an advisor to see if it is possible to create a course (many universities are willing to do this if there is a large enough group of students interested). Even if you are unable to get a class created, be sure to check out the clubs and other resources your school has for students. Many campuses have language-related extracurricular activities that would be a great way to maintain your language abilities while interacting with others and forming new friendships.

Another way I have maintained my language skills is by teaching it to others. As the Roman philosopher Seneca said, “while we teach, we learn.” Preparing simple lessons or using your language abilities to explain things to others is a great way to keep your skills sharp. My husband recently expressed interest in learning Mandarin so I have started tutoring him. Although he is starting with the very basics, teaching him more about tones and pronunciation is helping me refine and improve my speech. I also love to read books and sing songs in Mandarin to my son. Teaching him in ways that he enjoys while also sneaking in my language practice helps keep Chinese fresh in my mind without having to set aside too much time for language study.


There are three things I would advise language learners to do upon returning home:

First, find out how to get your language certificate! Did you know that according to the U.S. Census, only 20% of Americans can converse in two or more languages? Being proficient in another language is unique! For future employers to fully understand the extent of your knowledge, ask a foreign language professor or college advisor for help getting your language certificate. This will require taking a few tests (some of which your study abroad may have already required), but most of the hard work you have already completed by becoming proficient in another language.

Second, find ways to incorporate this language into your daily life. While you are abroad, see if you can find some of your favorite books in this new language, or look for other books that may interest you. Once you have returned home, check out your local library to find books and reading material in this second language. Watch, listen or read news reports from the country you lived in to keep up your skills and stay in touch with what is going on abroad. Find TV shows, movies, and music in this other language that you can listen to while exercising, or choose a day each week to put them on instead of your favorite Netflix series. Pay attention when you’re out and about and you’ll be surprised how often you hear someone speaking the language you now know. Multiple times I have been able to help someone out at a grocery store when I have overheard them speaking Chinese and needing some help. This doesn’t have to take up large portions of your time, but every minute counts!

Third, take something you love and find a way to tie your language skills to it. If you love to bake, find a recipe from that country written in that language and try it out! If you love to talk, keep in touch with friends you made. If you love to sew, woodwork, play sports, write, etc, find a way to tie your new language skills into that activity! You will be much more likely to practice this second language if you find a way to make it something you love. For example, I LOVE teaching and I LOVE kids, so when I got back from China I found a job as a teacher’s aide at a local Chinese Dual language immersion school. Not only was I able to keep practicing my Chinese, but I got paid to do it! I also volunteered through an outreach program at our university to tutor local students in Chinese. It felt great to use skills I had worked hard to develop to give back to the community and help those around me.

Not like riding a bike

Unfortunately, language learning is a lot more like being on a large escalator heading in the opposite direction than it is like riding a bike. You can’t just stop practicing for a few years, pick it back up, and ride away with ease. Just as you struggled to learn every word and phrase, grammar principle, and pronunciation, you have to work to keep it up. The good news is, it does get easier! As you use these methods to work language practice into your daily life, pretty soon you’re keeping up your skills without having to think twice. You have worked so hard to get where you are, so put it to good use and find ways to enjoy it!

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