Gilman Scholarships Enable Global Studies

LAS undergraduates built their language skills and enhanced their knowledge in the fields of psychology and neuroscience in the context of other cultures during spring semester 2014. The students’ international experiences were made possible through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. The program is funded by the U.S. State Department’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.

Marcus employs art and psych skills in Fiji

Shira Marcus, a senior in the Department of Psychology, studied at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. “I chose Fiji because they are at the front line of cultural change regarding opinion of, and treatment approach for, mental illness and women’s issues,” said Marcus, who chose UIC for her undergraduate work because she was able to major in psychology and minor in art. At UIC she is a founding member of Healing Arts, a student volunteer organization that provides art enhancement programs for elementary school children. 

Shira Marcus and child

Shira Marcus and a young friend in Fiji.

After graduating from UIC, Marcus will pursue a graduate degree in counseling/art therapy. She hopes to join Doctors Without Borders and be involved in other avenues of social change.

“It is fascinating to see the way the educational system in Fiji is attempting to incorporate traditional values into a modern approach,” she explained. As part of her study-abroad program in psychology, Marcus worked with the organization Youth Champs for Mental Health and a government-supported outreach program in which she taught art in a post-hospitalization rehabilitation program.

“I want to become an art therapist, a career in which I will need to interact with people of many different backgrounds, and study abroad has been great in this regard,” said Marcus. “The opportunity to work directly with patients is amazing, and not something I could have done in the U.S. I have also been fortunate to see first-hand the process behind massive social changes. I know this experience will aid me in my career, and as a social activist.

“Study abroad is an amazing opportunity to expand your horizons,” she said of her first international experience. “I always thought of myself as a tolerant person, able to blend in to any group. But when immersed in a completely new culture, I realized I had been too isolated in my home culture to fully challenge myself to open my heart to differences. This journey has led me to challenge my assumptions, to understand that everyone runs on their own clock, and to appreciate that the way I am used to may not be the best way for everyone.

“The challenges of studying abroad also require the ability to adapt,” continued Marcus. “I know the elasticity I have cultivated will serve me well for the rest of my life. Lastly, I find I value all the more what I have at home: air conditioning and warm showers of course, close friendships that will last a lifetime, and loved ones whom I dearly missed.

“But I have not a single regret in the choice to study abroad. If you travel later in life, it will not be the same as getting the chance to become part of the culture around you, and letting that culture become part of you. I am myself and I am a citizen of the world. There is no better tool for the future in any career. Thank you to the Gilman Scholarship, I would not be here without your aid.”

Sosinska hones language skills and cultural perspective in Sweden

Magda Sosinska

Magdalena Sosinksa in Stockholm.

Magdalena Sosinska, a junior in psychology, spent her Gilman semester at Uppsala University in Sweden where she took coursework in psychology and holocaust history, as well as a Swedish language course. “I was interested in learning Swedish, so I’m very glad I got into this program,” she said. After graduating, Sosinska intends to study in Spain in order to learn that language. She then will return to the U.S. to pursue graduate school.

“Study abroad experiences introduce us to greater diversity, connect us to other cultures and people, and provide us with an education. It was important for me to take psychology courses abroad and be able to learn the subject from a different perspective,” she said. “I believe that studying in a cross-cultural setting has deepened my understanding of the subject, which will be very beneficial in my future career. This experience helped me grow as a person and broadened my world understanding. I want to stand out from other graduates and future colleagues by possessing skills that can only be gained through an international experience. I am very thankful to UIC and the Gilman Scholarship for helping me to achieve my goals.”

Struk furthers neuroscience knowledge in Sydney

Biochemistry sophomore Paulina Struk spent her Gilman semester at Australia’s University of Sydney where she studied psychology and statistics, psychology of the brain and behavior, and philosophy and psychiatry. She also volunteered with the Rotaract [Rotary] Club and conducted gene research on Parkinson’s disease with Professor Bernard Balleine.

Paulina Struk

Paulina Struk relaxes overlooking the Sydney Opera House.

In addition to honing her research skills with the renowned neuroscientist, Struk notes that the Gilman program provided her with the opportunity to make new discoveries culturally, professionally, socially, and personally.

This is not Struk’s first international experience. She previously completed two volunteer trips to Honduras with the Global Brigades national student organization. Struk said that these trips were life changing, breaking down stereotypes and allowing her to learn first-hand how a community of individuals can be happy despite extreme poverty.

“The people from the rural Honduran community strive to survive from day to day, but they are happier than many of the people I know,” she said. “That is because they value family, friendship, and religion over the materialistic things.” With what she learned from her Honduran experiences, Struk started Medicine Without Borders, a UIC-based chapter of Global Brigades.

The dedicated young scholar and activist has been selected as a leader for a volunteer trip to Thailand to work at the Sing Buri Orphanage. “The orphanage houses 250 children, grades 1-6. The children come from families along the Thai-Myanmar border in the Tak province,” she said. “These ‘Hill Tribes’ are typically subsistence farmers, stateless, and may be considered refugees by our standards. My plan is to provide the children with basic dental care, educate them about common disease prevention in Thailand, and teach them how to grow vegetable gardens. This opportunity will provide me with international leadership skills as well as medical experience.”

After completing her undergraduate study, Struk hopes to return to Australia to earn her PhD in neuroscience.

Wells engages with Japanese culture in Tokyo

For her first trip outside the U.S., English major Raven Wells is studying Japanese language at Kanda University of International Studies in Tokyo, Japan.

Raven Wells

Raven Wells in Narita, Japan.

“I have also been spending one day a week at a publishing company, learning about the composition, publication, and distribution of literature in a Japanese setting,” said Wells. Now a junior, she was sold on attending UIC when she learned of the English department’s excellent internship placement program.

“As an English major, this study abroad was a good opportunity to explore another career option in addition to my goal of working for a major public relations firm,” she said. “It also enabled me to observe work interactions in a foreign country.

“Getting access to a corporation can be dependent on the program you choose, but there is always an opportunity to delve deeper into your area of research from another country’s perspective. You may even learn you like the host country’s methods of operation better than back home, or you may gain greater insight regarding the direction you want to go in your studies.” Wells is now considering returning to Japan for work after graduation.

“Study abroad is an opportunity to see the world without a filter. You can read about another culture, take a class, or watch something on National Geographic but it is not the same as living it,” she said. “As diverse as a campus might be, you don’t truly get to see how different or similar your life in America is compared to another country until you leave your comfort zone and immerse yourself into that country’s culture and habits and see how others live. Coming to Japan has been a dream of mine since middle school. To finally be there, waking up every day with so many new things to learn, and friendships to form, was unbelievable. I truly cherish this time and urge others to study abroad and have their own once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

In addition, Gilman scholar Irving Zamudio, a junior in history, spent his study-abroad term in Fez, Morocco.