A photo of a woman standing on ancient roman ruins
Gina Chan took a course this summer at the American College of Greece, which was founded in 1875 and is the oldest American-accredited college in Europe. (Contributed photo)

For VCU psychology major, studying abroad was time well-spent – and money well-saved

To wrap up her three-year degree, Gina Chan studied in Greece with a Gilman Scholarship facilitated by VCU’s Global Education Office.

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The cost of college was never far from Gina Chan’s mind. To save, the recent Virginia Commonwealth University graduate earned her psychology degree from the College of Humanities and Sciences after only three years instead of the usual four. And certainly, studying abroad wouldn’t be “money-savvy,” she said.

But Chan traveled to Athens, Greece, this past summer as part of her undergraduate capstone class – an experience that is shaping her dream of graduate school.

Chan’s outlook changed when she connected with VCU’s Global Education Office, where she learned about the Gilman Scholarship, a nationally competitive federal program through the State Department that supports Pell Grant recipients who want to study abroad.

“I went to an information session about it and I heard they gave up to $5,000, so that pretty much sold me on applying to it,” Chan said.

In addition to the Gilman scholarship, she received money from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Endowed Fund, an airplane voucher, as well as a $500 voucher from GEO. This meant study abroad was entirely covered through scholarships.

Her application essays touched on more than potential destinations and her responsibility as a cultural ambassador. “For my personal statement, I talked about how this is an opportunity to have a more diverse perspective rather than just a Westernized perspective of psychology,” Chan said.

She took her capstone course at the American College of Greece, which was founded in 1875 and is the oldest American-accredited college in Europe. The class was taught by VCU psychology professor Maureen Mathews, Ph.D. As Chan’s first international experience, the opportunity to live and study in the area went far beyond a more typical vacationer’s visit.

“I really like the lifestyle, and I liked the people. I wish I could still be there right now,” Chan said.

Her Athens neighborhood was the launching point for travel near and far. The historic Acropolis made an impression – and so did the cats throughout Greece.

“It was so fun seeing cats everywhere because I love cats and I missed my cat, too,” Chan said.

She also took personal trips to the Hungarian capital of Budapest as well as Albania and the United Kingdom.

“It was so nice flying from Athens because it was so much cheaper than flying from the U.S. to those countries,” she said.

After getting a taste of traveling abroad, Chan wants more. She plans to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship this year to further explore psychology as a field.

“I'm planning on going to graduate school. The trajectory of that is unknown depending on what happens with Fulbright. But within the next few years, I plan to get my master's,” Chan said.

Her mindset from her Gilman Scholarship experience will serve her well. Chan almost didn’t apply because the process felt daunting. What convinced her was some advice she heard – “if you don't apply for a scholarship, you have a 0% chance of winning it.”

“Once I was able to start working on it and just push myself to do it, whether or not I was going to win it or not, that really helped me,” Chan said.

For more information about VCU’s study abroad opportunities, visit global.vcu.edu/abroad.