Studying Abroad for New Adventures

The summer semester was a time for unforgettable study abroad experiences thanks to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. The Gilman Scholarship, funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, seeks to expand access to study abroad programs to students who may otherwise be underrepresented in their fields of study or are faced with financial constraints. Since 2006, UIC students have received 59 Gilman awards totaling $244,000. Four LAS undergraduate students were among the summer 2012 UIC Gilman Scholars:

Camels crossing the dessert.

Naheed Ahmad crosses the Moroccan desert at the end of the caravan.

Naheed Ahmad is a senior pursuing a biological sciences degree with a minor in psychology. Ahmad spent her summer studying Moroccan culture and modern standard Arabic in Fez, Morocco. The trip was Ahmad’s first experience studying abroad, and gave her an opportunity to fully immerse herself in Moroccan culture.

Ahmad, who is a participant in UIC’s Guaranteed Professional Admissions Pre-Dentistry program, has plans to pursue a career in dentistry. She cites Arabic studies as her passion, however, and plans to continue taking Arabic courses while in dental school. “Studying abroad allowed me to pursue my passion and explore everything about it—the people, the culture and the language,” she said. “Going abroad also enables you to apply your skills from inside the classroom to the real world. Most importantly, you grow as a person and open your eyes to the world that exists right in front of you.” In the future, Ahmad hopes to apply her knowledge learned abroad to working with Arabic-speaking refugees.

“The Gilman Program has truly offered me a wonderful opportunity by allowing me to discover and see the world,” she said. “My time in Morocco was the highlight of my college career.”

Hargraves blows a Viking horn.

Shannon Hargraves blows the horn on a Viking ship in Hækurdaler, Iceland.

Shannon Hargraves is a junior majoring in earth and environmental sciences. Her summer experience took her to Iceland, where she studied renewable energy and sustainable technology through a joint program with SIT World Learning and UIC at the University of Westfjörds in Ísafjörður, and the University of Iceland in Reykjavík.

Hargraves considered her experience abroad a vital component of her education. “If I had not had the opportunity to study abroad, specifically within the areas of sciences and languages, I feel that my education would be lacking a vital cultural and ‘real-world’ aspect,” she said. “Seeing the unique geography of Iceland with my own eyes; having the opportunity to interview an Icelandic graduate student on his research with aluminum smelting, geothermal energy and hydropower; and even conversing with the locals never would have happened if I had not been able to study in another country.”

Hargraves plans to pursue a graduate degree in environmental science and go on to a career in geologic and environmental research. The Gilman scholarship, she said, enabled her to continue pursuing her long-term goals. “We should come together and keep pushing to explore—to find new adventures. Thanks to the Gilman scholarship for giving me the resources to make this trip,” said Hargraves.

Hasan with friends in their village.

Osamah Hasan and village leader in Botswana.

Osamah Hasan spent his summer in Gaborone, Botswana—and blogged about his experience every step of the way. His studies in Community Public Health, made possible by the Gilman scholarship and the Council on International Educational Exchange, afforded him plenty of material.

In addition to coursework in environmental issues, primary health care, and Setswana language, the senior biological sciences major got hands-on medical experience as an intern in both urban and rural HIV/AIDS clinics. It was truly an eye-opening experience. “Growing up in a developed country like the U.S., students are informed about the shortages or the lack of resources in combating disease,” he said. “The U.S. itself is experiencing a lack of resources in the health sector. But witnessing these shortcomings in the context of clinics and observing it firsthand in Botswana was definitely a profound experience. Furthermore, the clinical experiences in Gaborone and Serowe were invaluable; I have come to a better understanding of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the context of a developing country.”

For Hasan, who hopes to go on to medical school after graduation, the experience in Botswana served as a reminder of his own passion for medicine. “The study abroad experience provided me with the insight and deep understanding of Botswana’s health care systems. It made me reflect on the nature and versatility of medicine and my desire to pursue a career in it. This intellectual experience wouldn’t have been possible without the Gilman Scholarship Program, which values international experience as an essential educational component for the development of Americans.”

When not in class or working at his internship, Hasan was able to experience a variety of aspects of African culture by visiting a traditional healer, going on safari, and doing plenty of hiking and sightseeing. Read more about Hasan’s travels on his blog, Dumelang from Botswana.

Gaby Reno.

Gabriela Reno in Senegal.

Gabriela Reno spent her summer studying in Dakar, Senegal. The ambitious junior is double-majoring in French and political science with a minor in Spanish. She studied as part of the Council on International Educational Exchange program, taking courses in African literature and Senegalese government and politics. “To top off my educational experience, my professor in the ‘Senegalese Government and Politics’ course was actually one of the main collaborators on the current Senegalese Constitution, and my literature professor is a well-known author,” Reno said. In addition to her coursework, Reno was involved with a community service project that provided assistance to displaced refugees living in Senegal.

During her summer abroad, Reno found a meaningful connection between her two majors. “My experience in Senegal reinforced the importance the French language still holds in the world today,” she said. “I was able to learn firsthand what it is like for a civil society to mobilize and create organizations to improve the democratic state of their country and government, all the while interacting in varied relationships in French, the language in which I am majoring.” Her language skills and international experience will serve her well—Reno hopes to earn a joint JD and MA in French and become a political officer with the U.S. State Department.

For Reno, immersion into Senegalese culture was one of the most rewarding aspects of her experience abroad. “I want to thank the Gilman Scholarship Program for giving me the opportunity to hear that I have become a true ‘Senegalaise’ from the locals in Dakar,” she said.

Photos provided by Gilman scholars