Leading up to my study abroad experience, I have not had enough time to truly relish in excitement. In the week approaching my departure, I had three final exams, two lab practicals, one final paper, one final presentation, I moved out of the house I was renting on south campus, attended my step-sister’s graduation, and went to a concert with my mom. With so much going on, studying abroad has never been absent from my thoughts, but it has not been my focus. As I write from my gate at the airport, I now allow my emotions of excitement and nervousness, anticipation and exhilaration, uncertainty and curiosity, to wash over me. For every aspect of the journey that lies ahead of me, there is a form of this duality. I can’t wait to meet my host family and my fellow students, get back into studying French, explore Lyon and the surrounding area, and start my classes. Yet, I worry I will not connect with my host family and peers. I worry I will feel alone and trapped. I worry about getting lost or taken advantage of in an unfamiliar city. I worry I will flounder in a foreign classroom setting. It is easy to lose confidence and succumb to related what-ifs, but what can you gain from such a negative outlook? Even if the worst-case scenario does not occur, in expecting it, you are blinded from the good. I have traveled on my own (without family and separate from a program) in the past, and while I enjoyed many parts of it, I also let anxiety and homesickness weigh me down. But I learned and grew from that experience and it brought me here. This time around, I want to prove to myself that I truly have grown. I want to appreciate every moment of this experience, even the ones that are hard because I know they will make me stronger. In reflecting on my past experience, re-re-reading the description of my host family and learning about Lyon’s history and culture via its Wikipedia page, my worries grow quieter. I know that through expecting to have fun, allowing myself to struggle, and recognizing how incredibly lucky I am to be given this opportunity, I will be able to make the most of my time in Lyon.
8 Tips for Making Your Gilman Scholarship Essays Stronger
As part of your Gilman Scholarship application, you will write two essays. The first is a statement of purpose where you have the chance to explain why you need the scholarship and how it will impact you. This is where you get to let your personality shine though so the scholarship committee gets to know you.
The second essay is a follow-on service proposal. As a Gilman Scholar, you get the opportunity to give back to the community, promote study abroad and the Gilman Scholarship, and make an impact on others who may be in situations similar to you. This is a really unique and personal way for you to pay it forward.
These essays will take some time and are the most important pieces of your application. Here are my top tips for making your essay stronger:
- Tell a story
The scholarship committee is going to read thousands of applications. You need to let a bunch of strangers get to know you, leave a lasting impression, explain where you want to go and why you need this scholarship in less than 7,000 characters. Show, don’t tell, a personal anecdote that gives background on who you are and why you should get this scholarship. Leading your essay with a story is way more interesting than blabbering on about “me, myself and I” the whole time. Your creativity will make you stand out.
- Do your research
Research the location where you want to study. Discuss what you can learn in the location you have chosen that you can’t learn at home because of the country’s politics, history, location, and so on. Try and settle on a few specific points that you can thoroughly discuss.
- Take your time
Start your essays early — I worked on mine for almost two months! You don’t want to start late, realize the deadline is closer than you thought and not have the time to give it your all.
- Read your essays out loud
When you read out loud, you will stumble over any sentences that don’t make sense. This is my favorite way to make sure my sentences flow and to catch grammar or spelling errors. It will help your writing become more conversational and readable.
- Have others read your essays
I annoyed all of my friends into reading my essays and giving me feedback. A new set of eyes will help catch any small mistakes you miss from staring at your essay for too long. As a good rule of thumb: if someone else doesn’t understand what you are talking about in your essay, you need to revise it because neither will the scholarship committee.
- Choose a personal service project
Ultimately, the goal of the service project is to promote the Gilman Scholarship. If you propose a service project that is important to you, that will passion will be a lot easier to convey in your essay and you will enjoy your time following up on your proposal. I chose a project that would reach out to students who may be in similar positions as I was because study abroad and the Gilman Scholarships are opportunities that I wish I had known about early on. They made a huge difference in my life and I wanted to pass this knowledge and opportunity on.
- Really hash out your service project
A large part of the selection process revolves around your follow-on service proposal and how well you can promote the Gilman Scholarship. The scholarship committee wants to see that you have really thought through your service project. If you can state the names of people you plan to work with, dates and other specifics, it shows you’ve actually planned out what you are going to do. Also, if you have any special skills or talents that you can use to promote the Gilman Scholarship, use them! This is another opportunity for you to get creative and propose a unique project.
- It’s better to write too much than too little
7,000 characters sounds like a lot, but with the amount of information that you need to get across, it ends up being challenging. In the end, it’s a lot easier to write too much and have to cut your essays down than to realize you need to add more substance. Also, I find that the more I write, the better ideas I have and it’s easier to get creative.
Make Studying Abroad a Reality: The Gilman Scholarship and Some Personal Advice
I think I annoyed almost all my friends into reviewing my Gilman Scholarship essays before I finally submitted my application. Like the other 68 percent of Gilman Scholars, I was applying for the scholarship that would make or break my ability to afford studying in the Czech Republic.
I have a passion for communication and global cultural understanding, which is why I chose to take my education abroad. If we’re getting philosophical here, my dream is to help make our world feel less divided by helping people appreciate, connect with and learn from people from different walks of life. However, the question I faced was how I was going to afford all of this.
I am the first person in my family to graduate from college and I come from a low-income household. So, when I was deciding on a follow-on service project for the Gilman Scholarship, as a way to pay it forward, I wanted to connect with students who think studying abroad is unattainable. It isn’t – you can make it happen. I hope I can help inspire even a few of you reading to take the next step in studying abroad.
The Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship is a federal grant program that enables low-income students (like me!) to study abroad and supports students who “have been historically underrepresented in education abroad,” according to their website.
The scholarship is named after congressman Benjamin A. Gilman who helped to establish the program. He believed “living and learning in a vastly different environment of another nation not only exposes our students to alternate views, but also adds an enriching social and cultural experience.” Like Gilman, I believe that studying abroad gives us a deeper understanding of the world we live in, an awareness of challenges the world faces and helps us establish international connections that challenge the way we see things.
Study abroad and the Gilman Scholarship are opportunities that I want more Western students to know about and take advantage of, so here is some personal advice:
- Start thinking about study abroad early on.
This will give you time to really figure out how to make studying abroad possible. I started researching different programs a year before I studied abroad.
- Choose a program that fits what you want and need.
Think about why you want to study abroad, what sort of skills you want to learn and where you want to go. I chose to study in the Czech Republic because I wanted to learn a new language and study media in a country where freedoms that we take for granted have not always existed with the rise and fall of communism. Bonus: the Czech Republic is also a non-traditional study abroad location with a rather low cost of living.
You’ll need to consider what is most important to you. Is it cost? Location? A semester or a year long program? Field of study? Then, do your research and choose a program that balances what you want with what you can realistically afford. You will probably have to make some compromises.
My biggest concern was cost, but I also wanted a more structured, traditional study abroad program. I chose a program with University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) that cost $13,000 for the semester, which is on the lower end of the spectrum (I know… but hear me out).
- Take your time and really figure out how you are going to pay for your program.
Go chat with the Financial Aid Services Center, Scholarship Center and Education Abroad Office about your options. They have some great resources.
Price tags on these programs are high, but there are so many funding resources on the Education Abroad Office’s website and the rest of the internet. Think about it like this: I spent around 35 hours applying for 15 scholarships. I received four, totaling $6,300. I made $180 a hour. In addition to my federal and state financial aid, I only had about $1,500 that I needed to cover outside of scholarships and grants.
Beyond financial aid and scholarships, I put a certain amount of money from my job into savings each month, sold old clothes and did odd jobs to save extra money. Where there is a will there is a way.
- Apply for the Gilman Scholarship and use my Gilman Scholarship Essay Tips.
Scholarship awards can be as high as $5,000 (or $8,000 if you are studying a high needs language). They favor non-traditional destinations and one in two students who apply and are studying in Asia is awarded the scholarship. So, with that in mind, get creative.
Looking back on my study abroad experience, I see how the Gilman Scholarship made me think hard about what studying abroad means. I chose my program thoughtfully because I wanted to learn and experience things that I could not learn at home. And I did. There is a lot of introspection that goes into studying abroad, especially as a Gilman Scholar.
I love to write and to tell stories (part of the reason I majored in journalism). Drawing on my experience as a writer and an editor at The Western Front, Klipsun Magazine and now professionally post-college, I have compiled a list of my best 8 pieces of advice for writing your personal essay and follow-on service proposal. Please use them and reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions – I would love to help you achieve your goal of studying abroad.