This article was written by Madeline Aviles, a Gilman Alumni Ambassador for the 2020-21 Academic Year, and originally appeared on the Gilman Program Website here. Madeline studied abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand during the summer of 2019, where she interned teaching English at the Northern School for the Blind and engaged in Organizational Behavior and Leadership courses.
Let’s be a little cliché: Studying abroad changed my life and it’ll change yours, too.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive into the why. I spent 10 weeks teaching, learning, growing, exploring, and adapting in a country 8,000 miles from my home. I left the States with enough space in my suitcase, literally and metaphorically, to return with more than I arrived with. I wanted to remain open-minded to this new chapter, so I said yes to almost everything. Insect on a stick as a snack? Sure. Climb up a sticky waterfall? Yes. Chat with a Monk? Why not? Visit a food market on train tracks? I’m there. This mentality helped my experience be that much more remarkable.
However, it’s not exactly what I experienced abroad that changed my life, but rather how I applied my experiences when I returned. See, you can learn a new language, new skills, and meet new people, but if you don’t apply it, you won’t grow. Now, a year after my program ended, I am a Gilman Alumni Ambassador, graduating senior at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Talent Acquisition intern at Ball Aerospace. I owe it to my study abroad program, USAC, and the continuous support from the Gilman Scholarship Program for guiding me here. If you’ve thought about studying abroad, think more about what comes after than what happens during your program. Be prepared to change your path or be reassured of where you’re headed. Remain curious and say yes to learning opportunities.
The important note to make about studying abroad is: there is no right way to do it. Sure, there are suggestions and recommendations, but every single experience is different. Your journey with studying abroad could land you your dream job or maybe just a job in the middle of a global pandemic. It could challenge your cultural beliefs or strengthen your values. It could lead you to relocate or at least consider the option. The possibilities are endless and that is the reason why studying or interning abroad is so important.
Gilman: The river of everlasting resources
It’s as though the Gilman program never runs out of ways to spoil their students and alumni. Every newsletter is jam-packed with new events, opportunities, and advice. Each staff member you reach out to guides you on the right path. There’s a sense of community among the recipients, alumni, staff, and ambassadors. There are endless networking opportunities through the Gilman Scholar Network, LinkedIn, and Facebook group. The staff members are transparent and accessible.
From the outside looking in, I viewed the Gilman Program as only a way to finance my trip. Now, looking from within, I see it as much more than that. I have built amazing friendships, connected with professionals, and strengthened my communication and networking skills. The Gilman Scholarship Program is much more than a one-and-done resource, it is a lifetime supply of opportunities.
What Más Allá means to me
Más Allá means beyond, doing more than what is expected. I grew up with parents who go más allá. I grew up listening to stories of my dad leaving his violent country of El Salvador and surviving with almost no money, no knowledge of the language, and little to no connections. Now, as a self-made business owner, he continues to show me how he goes más allá. Naturally, as his firstborn, I inherited that trait.
As a first-generation, low-income student, I knew I could do more than what was expected of someone with my demographic. When I heard of the Gilman Scholarship program and its competitive nature, I was immediately drawn. Gilman is a program that has encouraged me to continue going más allá and I am incredibly humbled by the opportunity to represent it as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador.