For me, it was finances. For years on and off again, I couldn’t bring myself to apply because I knew how expensive it would be. I stopped at every single study abroad sign hoping each time my positivity would get the best of me and I would just apply because my happiness shouldn’t depend on finances, right? Okay….back to reality, I needed funds to go study abroad and not just a couple of thousands, approximately $15,000 even after financial aid paid for my tuition. I also had no direction on how to get that much money and it was not until I went to a study abroad info session that I discovered the Gilman Scholarship. For those of you who do not know what the Gilman Scholarship is, let me explain: if you are currently receiving college financial aid, the Gilman Scholarship are actively looking for you, students who do not have the financial means to study abroad. The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship encourages “U.S. citizen undergraduate students of limited financial means to pursue academic studies or credit-bearing, career-oriented internships abroad”. That is how I was able to study abroad in Tokyo for one semester!
The Gilman Scholarship can award an individual up to $5000 to study abroad and $8000 if you are planning to learn a “critical need language while abroad in a country in which the language is predominantly spoken”. Since I was basically finished with my degree at SFSU, I wanted to study Japanese and thus, I was awarded with $8000 for Spring of 2016 to live in Tokyo! The application process for the scholarship is almost the same as the SFSU study abroad application process in which you have to upload documents (i.e. transcripts, passport photo, and acceptance letter from study abroad school), write a personal statement, fill out general information, etc. All of this must be done by a certain deadline which almost coincides with the study abroad application deadline. During this time, it was a little stressful juggling full time classes and doing both applications. But believe me when I say, it was all worth it.
Here are some recommendations for your Gilman personal statement:
- Sell yourself as an atypical college student. Although the Gilman Scholarship helps any student who is struggling financially, Gilman really loves to find students who are not your average college student such as minorities, older college students, immigrant families, etc and let them know that they do have the same opportunities as their counterpart peers. Being different can be rewarding, literally.
- Revise your personal statement from your study abroad application and make it into your Gilman personal statement. I used my personal statement from the study abroad application and revised to cater to the Gilman questions while explaining my financial needs. This was possible because I honestly spoke about my situation and goals in my study abroad application which was also applicable to the Gilman questions. I’m more than positive you can reuse at least one paragraph from your study abroad personal statement.
- Have a study abroad advisor review your personal statement. The personal statement like any other application is one of the most important part and gives you the space to tell others about you what a standard college transcript cannot tell about you. The personal statement was actually the reason why I got $8000 instead of $5000. My advisor, Janelle Waldrep, was incredibly helpful and I can safely say I probably wouldn’t have had been awarded the grant without her help. Listen to the advice they give you, they are there to help you succeed.
After you’ve submitted everything, all there is left to do is to wait.