Eight Georgetown students received the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for their spring 2014 semesters abroad last month.

Established by the International Academic Opportunity Act of 2000, the Gilman Scholarship offers awards for American undergraduates who are traditionally underrepresented in U.S. study abroad programs, including students with high financial need and non-traditional students.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State sponsors the scholarship, which emphasizes fostering relationships between the United States and the peoples of other countries.

The number of Georgetown scholarship recipients marks a slight increase from the number of scholarship winners in recent years, which Georgetown Overseas Studies Advisor Tineka Lebrun attributes to the work of Lauren Tuckley, associate director of the Office of Fellowships, Awards and Research.

“The Gilman Scholarship’s goal of providing accessibility to study abroad matches well with our own goals as a university by providing additional funds that supplement a student’s financial aid package,” Lebrun said.

After returning to the United States, Gilman scholars are required to complete Follow-on Service Projects within their home institutions or communities, with the intent to promote international education and the scholarship. Examples of potential projects include presenting the country of study to young students or organizing a pen-pal program between classrooms at home and abroad. The service project proposal is a key part of the scholarship application and is heavily evaluated during the selection process.

Study abroad locations for the eight Georgetown recipients this year include South Africa, Portugal, Brazil, Japan, India, Italy and Jordan. In total, over 2,300 scholarships of up to $5,000 each will be awarded nationwide this academic year.

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Daisy Franco (SFS ’15)

Destination: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Why did you apply for the scholarship?

Study abroad is very expensive and flights to Brazil even more so. The scholarship is a huge financial help. Also, there is a proposal needed for the scholarship, and that allows me to showcase what I did in Rio. My proposal involves my internship in a women’s rights [nongovernmental organization].

Why do you want to travel to Rio de Janeiro?

I am studying Portuguese and Latin American Studies, so it is the perfect place. It is also the opposite of D.C. and will force me out of my comfort zone.

How do you think this scholarship will help your future goals or ambitions?

It is making studying abroad possible, and now I have the opportunity to live what I am studying, which is very important. School is more about sitting in a classroom; you have to live what you learn.

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Mary Byrne (NHS ’15)

Destination: Cape Town, South Africa

Why did you choose to travel to Cape Town?

I have been to Rwanda twice before, I went once this past spring break with other Georgetown students and two Georgetown professors to examine development in the country, and then I had an internship working at the Rwandan National Reference Laboratory in the summer. These experiences in Rwanda really sparked my interest in learning more about other parts of Africa, especially in terms of health development. I have a significant interest in women’s health. I hope to be an OB-GYN. South Africa has one of the world’s worst maternal mortality rates, and many campaigns and programs have been launched to combat this issue. I hope that while studying abroad in South Africa I could either set up an internship or do volunteer work with some of these organizations.

Is there anything specific you’re looking forward to next semester abroad?

Learning more about South African culture, volunteer experience, exploring a new place, everything!

How do you think this scholarship will help your future goals or ambitions?

Between graduating from Georgetown and going to med school, I hope to take a gap year to work in some sector of health and development, ideally in a location in Africa. Studying abroad in Cape Town will help me solidify this interest and also provide me with a greater likelihood of getting a job in Africa, as I will have significant experience and knowledge of African culture.

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Alberto Gallegos (COL ’15)

Destination: Tokyo, Japan

Why do you want to travel there?

I want to travel in Japan because I’m very interested in the Japanese culture, and this semester I’m taking intensive Japanese and so integrating myself in Japan would help to develop my language skills. Sophia [University], in particular, because you didn’t have to take all the classes in Japanese; I’m a beginner so I’m still developing my Japanese, so I could take an intensive Japanese course there while still taking my other classes in English.

Is there anything specific you’re looking forward to next semester abroad?

Just getting a chance to travel. I’ve never been anywhere outside the United States except for a little state in Mexico in the upper north of Mexico, so I’ve never really traveled anywhere else so this is very exciting.

How do you think this scholarship will help your future goals or ambitions?

In the future, I plan to take part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, which is basically I go to Japan for two years to help high school students to learn English. I don’t really teach, but I help a teacher there while I’m there, like a student aide. That’s what I want to do in the future for about two years and being able to travel to Japan first to see if I really do want to do that would be great, and the scholarship gives me $3,000 that I can use to accomplish my goal.

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Christina McGrath (COL ’15)

Destination: Florence, Italy

Why did you apply for the scholarship? 

There was an email that was sent out through GOFAR and [the Georgetown Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program] that was about the Gilman, encouraging people to look it up and apply. I did some research and found out that it was not a very huge application. I fit all the qualifications for it. The idea that interested me was that it was more than just saying, this is why I deserve money to go abroad. There’s a service component to it, which was appealing to me in a sense that it was a little different from the other grants that one might apply for.

Why do you want to travel there?

I am an Italian and art history double major. Florence, to me, is the epitome of everything that has ever appealed to me about Italian and art history. Florence is basically the cradle of the Renaissance, which might sound cliche but is my biggest interest. The Renaissance, the Baroque period, these all have a center in Florence. Between all the excellent Renaissance art that’s there, not to mention all literary traditions that arose out of Florence, you can think of Machiavelli, Boccaccio, Petrarch — all of these authors had very strong ties to Florence. To me, I feel that Italian culture, as we know it, definitely was formed in a great degree in Florence. And one tiny little fact: Italian, as it is spoken today, standard Italian that is not dialectal, grew out of the Florentine dialect; it was formed mainly by Dante, Boccaccio, various authors who wrote in the vernacular of Florence, which is now standardized Italian.

How do you think this scholarship will help your future goals or ambitions?

My hope for after graduating is to enter directly into a Ph.D. program in Italian. I hope to ultimately become an Italian professor. For me, I feel that this scholarship is enabling me to get more out of my time in Florence, and I feel that this time in Florence will be integral not only to my personal development, but to my professional development as I discover more about Italy and the aspects of Italian culture, language and art that interest me and will inform my career as a professor.

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Juan Gonzalez (COL ’15)

Destination: Pune, India

Why do you want to travel there?

I am incredibly passionate about economics, as of this semester actually. India is booming economically. It’s facing a plethora of social issues, and I believe that it’s a good place to study development, economics and to witness the growth of a country first hand.

Is there anything specific you’re looking forward to next semester abroad?

From the people that I’ve talked to that have been to India, they have nothing but good and crazy things to say, so I’m looking forward to just immersing in this completely different world to ours — just a different culture, different system, different everything.

How do you think this scholarship will help your future goals or ambitions?

For the future, I want to be or eventually become a United States congressman, and I feel that by studying abroad and studying the economic issues faced by India, the United States can learn a lot from that, especially since they have three times the people. I just feel like there’s something to learn there about how to go about implementing economic equity.

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Elyssa Skeirik (SFS ’15)

Destination: Amman, Jordan

What are you studying?

My course of study is I am a culture and politics major with a focus on identity politics, but my regional specialty is the Middle East, so I’m also taking Arabic.

What was your reaction upon learning that you earned this scholarship?

I was super excited because I have been saving money for this for basically my whole life to be able to travel there, but now because I can use the scholarship for my basic travel expenses like a plane ticket, I can use money that I was saving to do extra stuff. For example, I can travel more while I’m there.

How do you think that this scholarship will help further your future goals and aspirations?

It’s going to enable me to travel instead of just staying in Jordan — going to other places in the region, hopefully Israel, hopefully Cairo if it’s safe — and so having that experience will really help me with my future studies, to be able to see different places.

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Keegan Terek (COL ’15)

Destination: Lisbon, Portugal

Why do you wish to travel there?

I’m required to study abroad for my Spanish and Portuguese Studies major, and I wanted to go somewhere where I wouldn’t be surrounded by English-speaking Georgetown students. So, I applied with Independent Status to the CIEE Program in Lisbon. I’m also interested in traveling to Lusophone Africa some day, and Portugal has a stronger connection to those countries than does Brazil.

How do you think that this scholarship will help further your future goals and ambitions?

The scholarship gives me the opportunity to study Portuguese intensively and exclusively, an experience I have never had. As I hope to use foreign languages in my future career, advanced proficiency in Portuguese will be undoubtedly beneficial to me.

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Colleen Roberts (COL ’15)

Destination: Cape Town, South Africa

Why do you wish to travel there in particular?

I was really interested in going to a place I haven’t been before, going to a new continent and also going to a location that I didn’t think I might get up and go to on my own. I figured that later in life, if I wanted to go to Europe, I could like easily go, so I was really interested in going somewhere kind of distant, so I decided on the continent of Africa. South Africa in particular I chose because I was really interested in the history. I took a comparative history course on South Africa and the United States during my sophomore year, which really solidified my interest in going.

How do you think that this scholarship in particular is going to further your goals and aspirations?

I think that the scholarship’s really helpful because it means, for one, that I don’t have to take out an additional loan for study abroad to cover those extra costs, and the study abroad experience I expect to be something that’s really formative and really unique in my undergraduate career, so I’m really glad that it’s allowing me to further that opportunity.

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