Gilman Scholarships Offer UM Students Chance to See the World

Applications for 2020 awards, open to students of limited financial means, accepted through March 3

University of Mississippi student Kennedy Frain visits Inverness Castle in Scotland, where the senior is studying this spring as a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholar. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – A front row seat at the European Union, a visit to a Holocaust memorial in Germany and learning at one of the world’s most prestigious universities all were made possible for three University of Mississippi students this semester, thanks to the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

The students secured the scholarships for those with limited financial means to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences while earning college credits. While they study overseas, the March 3 deadline for the next set of Gilman scholars approaches. 

The lucrative scholarships, which don’t have a grade-point average requirement, enable American students to gain proficiency in diverse languages and cultures, skills that are critically important to their academic and career development.

Gilman Scholars are models for any college student who wants to study abroad, but perhaps thinks it’s not affordable, said Blair McElroy, UM senior international officer and director of the Study Abroad Office

“More students need to know that studying abroad is within reach financially and that studying abroad is for everyone: every major, every age, every class level,” McElroy said. “There are so many scholarships available for study abroad that all students should explore how it can work for them.

“In addition, most financial aid and scholarships apply to UM study abroad program costs. Additional scholarships, like the Gilman, offset additional costs and allow students to travel and pay for living expenses.”

Study Abroad also has scholarships to cover the cost of passports for students with financial need, even if they aren’t studying abroad.

For information on more Study Abroad opportunities, a “National and Study Abroad Scholarship” workshop is scheduled for noon-1 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 13) in the Ole Miss Student Union, Room 321. It’s part of the Global Engagement Workshops series.

The session will include information on the Gilman Scholarship, Critical Language Scholarship, Study Abroad Office Scholarships, Gilman-McCain Scholarship, Fulbright, Freeman Asia Scholarship, DAAD, JASSO, Bridging Scholarship and Watanabe Scholarship, McElroy said.

Studying in Scotland

Ole Miss senior Kennedy Frain (right) is studying in Scotland as a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholar. She’s made many friends while there and has seen lots of the country, including taking in Glasgow. Submitted photo

Kennedy Frain, who is spending the semester studying at the University of Edinburgh, has found many differences between Europe and the United States, which has kindled a fire in her to pursue a career involved in the political side of education. 

The senior elementary education major from New Albany is taking English, history and sustainability courses. She is finding her education both challenging and rewarding, as she compares Edinburgh to Harvard or Yale with the level of academic rigor. 

“I picked it because it’s in the top 20 schools in the world,” Frain said. “In some rankings, it’s right next to Harvard and Yale. So, I was like ‘yeah,’ I’m going to go to this awesome school.”

There, classes each count for six hours, so she will return with 18 hours credit. But, it’s definitely not all work. She’s had a great time with the friends she’s made in Scotland, who are from all over the world. 

“Luckily I found a group of friends with the same accommodations,” Frain said. “I found these two Texans and another girl from Ole Miss. We didn’t know each other before this and now we are friends, and then three Canadians and an Australian. I just have this awesome mixture of friends.”

They’ve been to Derry, Northern Ireland, where the popular Netflix show “Derry Girls” is filmed. Plane rides there take less than an hour and cost as little as $13 U.S. They’ve also walked the Royal Mile and visited the Museum of Edinburgh, and they’re planning to take in the National Museum of Scotland, which are all free.

She hasn’t needed to plan anything, thanks to the outgoing friends she’s made. 

“It is new to me,” Frain said. “One girl has been abroad and has done this before, so it is really her who understands how to balance everything and figure out. I haven’t really gotten together anything.

“It’s really all been because of the friends I’ve made. I’m really happy I found them.”

She also has free health insurance while she studies in the United Kingdom. 

Studying abroad has long been a dream for Frain, but she didn’t think she could afford to do it until she walked into the Study Abroad Office. She doesn’t regret that. 

“I got three scholarships and I did not expect to get one,” she said. “I think the hardest part is to go to the Study Abroad Office. When you go, they will tell you everything.”

Front row in Brussels 

UM junior Thomas Bleeker is studying this semester in Belgium as a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholar. Submitted photo

Thomas Bleeker, a junior international studies major from Effingham, Illinois, chose to use his Gilman Scholarship to study at Vesalius College in Brussels. 

The Belgian capital is an interesting place to study international relations, Bleeker said. Brussels also is the capital of the European Union, which allows him a front-row seat to huge political discussions with global implications. 

“One of my political science classes is taught by a diplomat directly responsible for implementing the policies we are discussing,” Bleeker said. “I think this experience will be beneficial for me as I start my career because I will have a fairly robust understanding of how the EU functions, which not every candidate can say.

“Being constantly immersed in a foreign environment and foreign language also forces one to develop strong critical thinking skills.”

He felt a little lost the first week, he said, but those feelings have subsided. 

“I would compare it a lot to freshman year, actually,” Bleeker said. “I didn’t know where anything was, or who I needed to talk to about books or whatever it may be.

“On top of all of that stress is the additional layer of doing everything in a different language than I am used to, which is frightening in a really exciting way, I think.” 

The experience can’t be measured for him, Bleeker said. 

“Studying abroad is obviously a very enjoyable experience, but it also does so much to prepare you for the rest of your life,” he said. “I would urge any student to at least look into studying abroad, and I would recommend the Gilman Scholarship for anyone unsure about funding.”

He’s spending a lot of his time outside the classroom exploring the region, thanks to ample free time, proximity and cheap transportation. 

“Brussels has so many neighborhoods that it can feel like an entirely different city just two streets over,” he said. “The architecture will shift from a gothic church to, like, a turn of the century town house to the huge steel-and-glass EU buildings. I try to go to one new place a day, maybe try something new to eat.”

He recently took in the Bruges Beer Festival, which was quite the experience. 

“The Belgians take beer very seriously,” Bleeker said. 

His schedule is set up so he has Thursday mornings through Monday afternoon off from class. He has big plans for his semester to maximize the freedom to roam. 

“I am going to fit in as much of the rest of Europe as I can manage,” he said. “There is an amazing train and public transport system here, so I could be in Paris in about an hour or Amsterdam in about the same amount of time.

“I have an amazing opportunity here with the Gilman and I definitely do not plan on wasting it.”

Winter break in Berlin

UM junior Katie Howell takes in the sights of Berlin on her winter break in Germany at the CIEE Global Institute, where she learned about the Holocaust. Howell is a Benjamin A. Gilman Scholar. Submitted photo

Katie Howell, a junior sociology major from Olive Branch, works full time as a bartender and server at City Grocery in Oxford. She wanted to find the right study abroad opportunity that fit into her schedule, and she couldn’t afford to take an entire semester away from her work.

The Gilman Scholarship allowed her to spend winter break in Berlin learning about the Holocaust. Her coursework was based at the CIEE Global Institute, an academic consortium with sites around the world.

Howell, a Pell Grant recipient, as are all who receive the Gilman, had felt like studying abroad was out of her financial reach. 

“I just knew I was never going to be able to study abroad for a full semester,” Howell said. “I found out about the Gilman scholarships, which allowed me to go aboard for a shorter period. I would recommend it to anyone.” 

The class made a sobering trip to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which opened in 1936 and is the site of a memorial to the prisoners of Nazis who died there. About 200,000 were held in the camp and an estimated 100,000 died there, having been either executed or killed during brutal, torturous “medical experiments.” 

“We were able to see it all firsthand,” Howell said. “I can’t even describe it. That’s one of the amazing things about studying abroad.

“It’s one thing to see something in pictures or in books, but being able to see it, to witness the critical sites inside the concentration camp, just really brings everything to the surface. It was very sobering.”

Though she wasn’t there long, Howell made the most of her time abroad. 

“I went to five countries,” she said. “Once you are over there, everything is cheap and close together. I got a flight to Copenhagen for $20. I was able to go to Copenhagen, but also Budapest, Prague and Paris, in addition to being in Germany. I’m so happy I was able to do that.” 

Besides the learning opportunities, it was one big adventure for her. 

“I learned so much in the class I took, but there were also valuable life lessons,” Howell said. “There are so many things you don’t realize you don’t know until you are put in a position to have to know them, like how to unlock a window or a door. They do it differently.

“You have to figure out how to navigate it all. Everyone was friendly and every day was a new day.” 

She encourages all students to apply for the Gilman or a scholarship that allows them to study abroad. 

“There are so many great opportunities out there,” Howell said.