Tag Archives: travel

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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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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A Day in the Life in Canterbury, England

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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.

-Ashley

 

 

 

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