By Breeda-Bennett Jones
Two students were recently awarded the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, a U.S. State Department-funded grant for undergraduate students.
Once recipient, Scott Borton, a sophomore international studies major, travelled across the globe to Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata City, Japan, according to the College’s website.
His time overseas has already begun, and will continue through the entire academic year. While Borton studies at Kansai Gaidai, he will stay with a Japanese family. His award, totaling $5,000, will fund the majority of his trip.
Julie Scesney, a senior international studies major, has already begun her journey in Viña del Mar, Chile. She is currently studying at the Universidad Adolfo Ibañéz.
The Benjamin A. Gilman scholarship was created in 2001 by the Institute of International Education and is currently congressionally funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department, according to the Gilman Scholarship website.
Benjamin Gilman, a retired congressman from New York, believes “study abroad (provides) our students with the opportunity to return home with a deeper understanding of their place in the world,” according to the scholarship’s website.
This is true for Scesney, who is pursuing a career as a professor of literature, according to the College’s website. She is currently studying Latin American poetry.
“I could have gone to Spain,” she said on the College’s website. “I figured that I will have many opportunities to travel to Europe, but would have significantly less opportunities to live in South America for four months.”
According to Scesney, part of her motivation in choosing to study in Chile was to practice speaking Spanish.
As written on the Gilman Scholarship’s website, the award aims “to encourage students to study and intern in a diverse array of countries and world regions (and) to study languages.”
Borton is currently studying international business, Japanese language and Japanese religion.
“I chose Japan mainly for its language,” Borton said. “Languages are not just code. They are living entities that allow the brain to think in ways that do not exist in another language.”
Borton hopes to use his experience to network in foreign markets and “enhance his cultural and political expertise of the Far East,” according to the College’s website.
Jennifer Margherito, the College’s Study Abroad Advisor, emphasized the value of the Gilman award.
“Certainly, receiving an amount of money that can defer the cost of study abroad takes a weight off their shoulders,” she said. “That can pay for airfare, some of their housing cost, or meals abroad. It can take off some of that burden.”
The Gilman Scholarship took care of his first semester housing costs, according to Borton.
Studying abroad is a highly encouraged option for students at the College. According to Margherito, students at the College have particular success with winning Gilman Scholarship Awards. In the spring 2017 semester, one student was awarded a grant to study abroad.
Dr. Christa Olson, the executive director of Global Engagement, described what exactly study abroad teaches students: intercultural competence.
“The most valuable thing one can learn while studying abroad is how to adapt your behaviors to be able to engage productively with people who are culturally different from you and function well in another cultural context,” she said.
As Borton and Scesney experience other cultures, along with many abroad students at the College, they bring back their experiences, knowledge and worldly awareness. Borton shared his experience with intercultural competence.
“One of the most profound experiences since coming here is experiencing what it feels like to be a minority. … I think this (has) opened my eyes to what I can only call micro-prejudice,” Borton said.
The upfront cost of studying abroad may be a reason why many students choose not to study abroad. According to the Association of International Educators, under 10 percent of all American college graduates have studied abroad.
“It doesn’t hurt to ask questions about scholarship opportunities,” Margherito said. “We’re always encouraging students to come and talk to our office, even if they want some more information.”
The College’s study abroad resource center, the Center for Global Engagement, has an active list of opportunities on its website in addition to bi-weekly meetings on Wednesdays.