Gilman Support Creates Summer of Learning and Adventure

LAS undergraduates called Spain, China, and Poland home during summer semester 2014 as they studied subjects ranging from economics to traditional Chinese medicine. The students’ international experiences were made possible through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and seeks to expand access to study-abroad programs to students who may otherwise be underrepresented in their field of study or who are faced with financial constraints.

Cummings preps for communications career in Spain

Ashley Cummings

Ashley Cummings at Sant Jeroni, Montserrat Mountain

Ashley Cummings, who received her degree in communication this month, prepared for a career as a communications professional by interning at a marketing firm in Barcelona, Spain while honing her Spanish skills in an intensive five-week language program. As a social media and graphics intern with Gracia Work Center, Cummings redesigned a website, created brochures, and updated social media sites. The eight-week IES Abroad program also gathered students in a weekly internship seminar where learning focused on interpersonal and organizational cultural literacy.

“Study abroad experiences enrich the lives of undergrads because they foster personal growth through cultural awareness,” said Cummings, who hopes to pursue a graduate degree in health communication. “Growing up in America, one can be sheltered and unaware of the larger world and its issues. Studying abroad allows the student to witness different cultures up close rather than from a biased distance. I am really grateful to the Gilman program and their devotion to serving students who are often left out of the study abroad equation.”

Cummings, who grew up in the northwest suburbs, chose UIC because of its diversity and urban environment. “While it is only 20 minutes away from my home, it feels like a different world,” she said. “There is always something to do and places to go and it is where I truly feel like I can live up to my full potential. I am always inspired and strive to do my best because I am surrounded by hardworking, motivated people in a fast-paced environment and I revel in the fact that UIC has one of the country’s most diverse college populations.”

Hu examines economics and environmental science in China

Students ride elephants

Kimberly Hu (front) enjoys an elephant ride.

Kimberly Hu, a senior double majoring in biological sciences and mathematics, participated in IES’s “Kunming Summer: Southeast Asian and Chinese Development in the Greater Mekong Subregion.” Focusing on the Golden Triangle region, coursework included economics, environmental science, and Chinese language classes. This was Hu’s second study abroad in China. She spent the summer of 2013 in Kunming studying traditional Chinese medicine and community health with a focus on HIV/AIDS. Her work this summer allowed her to delve deeper into examining the intersection of economics and healthcare among those living with HIV/AIDS.

“Study abroad the past two summers has allowed me to learn firsthand about another culture and has taught me to adapt to new surroundings,” said Hu. “My experiences abroad have given me the opportunity to study subjects outside of my two majors, and to work towards a minor in Asian studies. My classes in economics this past summer opened my eyes to the interconnectedness of government, economics, and healthcare. I am a premed student in the GPPA program, and this program provided me with important tools to view medicine from an economic standpoint—tools that will be invaluable as economics continue to permeate the practice of medicine.”

After completing her undergraduate degree, Hu will work toward a master’s in public heath with a focus on health policy and administration. She then intends to complete medical school and become a clinical professor. “My goal is to continue my global health research, practice abroad, and facilitate opportunities for service abroad for medical students,” she said. “Eventually, I would like to work in medical school administration.”

Hu rides a yak

Kimberly Hu in Tibet.

Hu chose UIC because of the GPPA program curriculum which has, she said, “taught me about professionalism, history, policy, and the art and science of medicine while fostering my critical thinking skills so that I may become the best physician that I can be.” Hu, who calls UIC “the best of both worlds: a large diverse university that still provides interaction with faculty and a sense of community,” is a member of the sailing team and took advantage of her travels to southeast Asia to have some non-academic adventures including riding elephants, eating a tarantula, and camping in Tibet.

“I cannot thank the Gilman program enough for their outstanding generosity and continued support of students who wish to study abroad and enhance their cultural awareness” said Hu. “As our society becomes increasingly global through improvements in travel, communication, and cultural awareness, the ability to adapt to new surroundings and knowledge of foreign languages will be crucial.” 

Mastalerz expands cultural awareness in Poland


Magdalena Mastalerz on the Charles Bridge in Prague.

Magdalena Mastalerz pursued her interest in Eastern European history this summer as one of the participants in Professor Keely Stauter-Halsted’s program on Polish history, culture, and language at Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Coursework and field trips focused on studying the interwar, World War II, and postwar legacy of the historic/geographic region of Galacia, which currently straddles the border between Poland and Ukraine.

Mastalerz, who will go on to UIC’s College of Pharmacy after completing her undergraduate studies in history, values the study abroad experience because it removes one from their comfort zone. “You are immersed into the daily culture and habits of your host country and must adapt to behaviors and norms that are very different than your own,” she said. “This is not knowledge that can be gained from a textbook or in a classroom setting. For example, in Kraków people will generally make conversation with strangers while riding the tram and it is not a creepy phenomenon as it would be in Chicago if a stranger would approach you on the CTA. By learning how cultural identity develops through an accumulation of historical experiences large and small, you become less judgmental and capable of developing deeper insights into individuals and societies. I thank the Gilman program for providing me with this opportunity.”

Montero studies community health and traditional medicine in China

Carlos Montero

Carlos Montero above Kunming.

Carlos Montero, a biological sciences major with plans for a career as a primary care physician, spent his 2014 summer in Kunming studying community health and traditional Chinese medicine. While learning basic Mandarin, he took coursework in public health issues and worked in the field in both urban and rural settings.

Prior to his Gilman summer, Montero had been part of volunteer trips to Costa Rica and Peru, during which he and other UIC students gave presentations on topics including nutrition and sexual health.

cupping treatment

Montero experiences cupping.

“As a biology major, I enjoyed studying Traditional Chinese Medicine,” Montero said. “It helped me understand that one should never focus on just one side of a problem. Be curious. Be open-minded. Things aren’t always what they seem to be and one must understand the overall picture first. I think this way of thinking is important especially since many times people may show up sick to a hospital with many symptoms that could correspond to numerous conditions.”

Montero, who chose UIC because of its excellent science program, urban location, and diversity, feels he became a more confident and globally-minded person through his Gilman-supported study abroad experience. “Living in China forced me out of my comfort zone,” he said. “It helped me develop listening and critical thinking skills while navigating and learning a foreign language. I also learned to be independent, something I believe is important as an undergraduate.”

Also receiving Gilman support for summer study abroad were biological sciences major Minah Dao, who spent her summer in South Korea, and anthropology major Meaghan Pope, who studied in Botswana.

Photos courtesy of Gilman scholars