Senior Shereen Ali’s fall semester hasn’t been like past ones. Instead of watching the leaves change colors on TCNJ’s campus, Ali is in Cairo at The American University, taking courses in Arabic and history, thanks to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.
Many students like Ali have been awarded the opportunity to study abroad thanks to the Gilman scholarship, which is granted to US students who are receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university. According to the Gilman Web site, the program encourages students to select non-traditional study-abroad destinations, especially those outside of Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
“Students who are receiving Pell grants are eligible to apply for additional financial assistance, up to $5,000 for most students and up to $8,000 for students studying critical languages, to use on a semester study abroad program,” Jon Stauff, director of the College’s Center for Global Engagement, said. “The idea is to make it possible for these students to have a study abroad experience in college.”
For Angy Plata, a senior clinical psychology major who went to Costa Rica thanks to the Gilman scholarship, having the opportunity to study and explore another country was life changing.
“Being in another country was out of this world,” she said. “I entered Costa Rica a nervous wreck and afraid that I was making a big mistake. Four months later I didn’t want to come back…because Costa Rica had become my home.”
All the students who are given the opportunity to study abroad through the Gilman scholarship have to take part in a follow-up project, which is a requirement set up through the program.
Stauff sees the follow-up project as a way to inspire others to take part in global opportunities.
“They need to have a plan to spread the word about study abroad to people on their campuses and in their home communities,” Stauff said. “Each applicant writes an essay explaining how he or she will share his or her study abroad adventure with others, through panel presentations on campus or at home, through a blog, through community service projects, or special programs and activities.”
Carolina Chica, a junior communications studies and women’s and gender studies double major who also studied in Cairo at The American University, looked to Stauff for guidance.
“He played a part in my application process,” Chica said. “He was very encouraging on how to go about my follow-up project required by the scholarship program.”
Those who have experienced another country through the scholarship come away with stories and ideas that shape who they are.
“Studying abroad opens one’s eyes to a different culture, lifestyle, [and] way of thinking,” Chica said. “As for me, I got a completely different experience of the Middle East—not the Middle East we see in the media. Now that I am back, I advocate for people to look at all sides of a story. I had a conversation with a friend and they told me that it was hard for them to picture Egypt being anything but desert and military personnel. I could definitely see myself prior to my experience thinking the same thing.”