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Gilman scholars share stories from their summer adventures

Social work major Alexandra Habib studied in Alicante, Spain. (Courtesy photo)
Social work major Alexandra Habib studied in Alicante, Spain. (Courtesy photo)

Seven Virginia Commonwealth University students studied abroad this summer after receiving the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Gilman scholars received up to $5,000 to apply toward their study abroad or internship program costs.

With summer ending, we checked in with a few of these students who shared why they chose their locations, the lessons they learned through their experience, and how receiving the scholarship affected their ability to study abroad. 

Alexandra Habib
School of Social Work | Study abroad location: Alicante, Spain

Why did you choose this location to study abroad?

I have always wanted to travel and learn about different cultures. Alicante, Spain, was a unique location because it allowed me to learn about a new culture without being in a super touristy area. I could really see what it would be like to live in a city in Spain. It also helped me further my Spanish studies and expand my knowledge of the language.

How did receiving the Gilman scholarship impact your opportunity to study abroad?

Before hearing about the Gilman scholarship, I thought studying abroad would be impossible for me. The entire thing sounded too expensive and out of my reach, so I put it off throughout most of my college career. That was until one day I came across the Gilman scholarship. I then realized that if I started applying for scholarships, especially the Gilman, studying abroad was in my reach. With the Gilman behind me, I was able to study abroad almost debt-free and it made the finances needed to study abroad stress free.

 

Kristina Brandveen
School of World Studies, College of Humanities and Sciences | Study abroad location: Oaxaca and Mexico City, Mexico

Kristina Brandveen studies Spanish language and literature and history in the College of Humanities and Sciences. (Courtesy photo)
Kristina Brandveen studies Spanish language and literature and history in the College of Humanities and Sciences. (Courtesy photo)

Why did you choose this location to study abroad?

I chose this location because I liked the idea that my study abroad trip wasn't all about studying; it also incorporated a service component, which was teaching English in indigenous communities. I also wanted to go because I have a deep love for [Mexican artist] Frida Kahlo, as well as Mexican food and drinks, like agua fresca, elotes and tacos.

What is the biggest lesson you’ll bring back to your studies at VCU?  

My biggest lesson would definitely be that it is OK to try new and different things. I went hiking and camping, and although I hate being outside and climbing things, I tried it. I thoroughly enjoyed the camping when we went to Sierra Norte, a mountain in Oaxaca, for the weekend.

How did receiving the Gilman scholarship impact your opportunity to study abroad?

Receiving the Gilman scholarship impacted me before, during and even after my study abroad experience. I did not know how I would be able to fund my trip without additional funds because I work as well as study full time. During my time abroad, I was assured that I would not have to worry about my financial situation because I had the scholarship. It has provided me the opportunity to study abroad and has also opened many doors for any future Department of State fellowships that I pursue. I believe it has further prepared me to interact with citizens of the world.

 

International studies student Joy Joyner studied in Grenoble, France. (Courtesy photo)
International studies student Joy Joyner studied in Grenoble, France. (Courtesy photo)

Joy Joyner
School of World Studies, College of Humanities and Sciences | Study abroad location: Grenoble, France

What is the biggest lesson you’ll bring back to your studies at VCU?  

The biggest lesson that I learned is that throughout life you are bound to go through lots of challenges and setbacks, but you shouldn’t let them stop you. No matter what you do in life, challenges will come. So you might as well be working toward what you want when it does. Never give up and seek to accomplish whatever you started.

How did receiving the Gilman scholarship impact your opportunity to study abroad?

Without the Gilman scholarship, I simply would not have been able to go to France. I am so very grateful for the opportunity to have experienced studying abroad as a Gilman scholar. The world is open to me and I have learned and experienced so much.

 

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program supports undergraduate study abroad and was established by the International Academic Opportunity Act of 2000. It provides awards for U.S. undergraduate students who are receiving federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university to participate in study abroad programs worldwide. The scholarship program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Institute of International Education. The VCU Education Abroad office and National Scholarship Office work with students to develop competitive scholarship applications.