For most college students, studying abroad is always a dream. The thought of studying different cultures, visiting beautiful places, learning new languages and meeting new people can be such a humbling yet challenging experience.
Evelyn Lopez, a sociology major, is making the dream of traveling abroad become a reality with the help of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program
The Gilman Scholarship was established in 2001, and according to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program website, is designed to help undergraduate students travel abroad.
The website states, “The Gilman Scholarship Program aims to support students who have been traditionally underrepresented in study abroad, including, but not limited to, students with high financial need, community college students, students in underrepresented fields such as the sciences and engineering, students with diverse ethnic backgrounds and students with disabilities.”
Lopez heard about the program through the study abroad office on campus. On a whim and last-minute decision, she decided to apply for the Gilman Scholarship.
That random decision to apply for the scholarship turned into a life-changing journey for Lopez when she found out that she was the recipient of the Gilman Scholarship for spring 2012.
Lopez said, “It was all thanks to the Gilman Scholarship that I was able to fulfill this dream of being able to travel around different European countries. The Gilman (Scholarship) offered me great help, financially, that persuaded me to travel while living in London when I had the opportunity to do so.
With the honor of receiving the Gilman Scholarship under her belt, Lopez was able to study in the United Kingdom.
As amazing as the experience was going to be for her, it also meant that Lopez would be leaving her family for three months.
“Coming from a Hispanic family who tends to have closer ties with their children, it was very difficult for my mother to let go of her third child to live away for three months,” Lopez said. “With time, they felt it was a reward for myself for all the hard work I have accomplished. My parents are extremely proud of the scholarships I received and of the traveling I have been blessed with. But most of all, they are proud of my educational accomplishments.”
On her free time from her studies in the UK, Lopez also took time to visit to other countries in Europe. The places she has visited are places that most people will never see in their lifetime.
Living in another country can be intimidating. Lopez found that the hardest adjustment while traveling was the language barrier.
“When traveling to Italy, for example, my traveling friends and I found it somewhat difficult to get around because many local Italians could not understand us,” Lopez said. “It was the same situation for when we visited Geneva, Switzerland.”
Gearing up to study abroad is a process for anyone. Kathryn Morrissey, study abroad adviser at Cal State Fullerton, said the process to study abroad is about making that “big decision.”
“Once students decide they are interested in studying abroad, they can come to the Office of International Education and Exchange to attend an information session,” said Morrissey. “We have about three a week. At the session we will go over the different kinds of study abroad programs, where to find information, a little info on scholarships and financial aid, and then lay out the next steps. There are over 10,000 different study abroad programs. So many times, choosing the right program can be the most difficult part of the planning.”
According to Morrissey, studying abroad can do so much for students even if they don’t notice it at first.
“Most students who study abroad become more independent, develop critical thinking skills, budget, confidence, language ability, adaptability, there is so much that students get out of it, personally and academically,” Morrissey said. “Also, a recent study came out saying that 60 percent of recruiters actively seek students with international experiences for positions, so it also helps professionally in terms of standing out when trying to find jobs.”
Lopez said that studying abroad has made her more culturally aware.
“Learning, visiting and observing other cultures and languages makes one step out of their own culture and observe everything around you with a different, more open perspective,” Lopez said.
Michele Johnson, a history major, said she would like to travel abroad, but knows she can’t afford it.
“I want to go to Italy and I saw that it costs over $3,000 — maybe even more. I can’t afford that,” said Johnson.
According to Johnson, she has seen different programs that could possibly help her, but she said, in the long run, she just can’t pick up her bags and leave for a few months.
“I do want to travel, but when I really think about it, it’s a big jump for me. I really think it’s great that students can leave to study in another country. For me … I guess I’m just not ready mentally, I guess,” Johnson said.