- By Morgan Whithaus, Contributing Writer -
As a student who is on her own with paying for college, my dream of studying abroad seemed too far out of reach. Between not having personal savings I could rely on to help me fund a trip and my family being unable to financially assist me, I tried not to let my expectations and hopes get too high. Early on in my freshman year, and even before I came to Meredith, I constantly was intrigued by the idea of studying abroad, whether through visiting Meredith’s study abroad location in Italy, learning Spanish in Costa Rica or Spain, or going somewhere different altogether. If you have struggled with an unquenchable desire to step foot on non-American soil, take part in an incredible adventure, and challenge yourself to mature and grow, but studying abroad just doesn’t seem to fit your circumstances, I encourage you not to give up. If there was hope for me, there’s hope for you too.
With my desire to study abroad continuing to nag me, I knew I had to at least look at my options to see if this was even a feasible opportunity for me. I talked with the Office of International Programs in Joyner 124, the Office of Financial Assistance, and the professor who was leading the trip I had my sights set on. Before bed some nights, I would also spend time searching the internet to see if there were any scholarships out there that I was eligible for. I knew that if I was able to receive funding from one or two of these scholarships, I could make studying abroad work. When I came to this realization, I knew I couldn’t give up on my goal. I sent in multiple scholarship applications, hoping and praying that I would embark on an extraordinary journey that coming summer.
On Feb. 7, 2017, I was driving back to Meredith from my internship when I stopped at a red light before turning onto Hillsborough Street. An email popped up on my phone saying “Congratulations on your Gilman Scholarship!”, and I immediately began to cry before I even read the whole message. I knew that because of this scholarship and because of some other financial assistance I received, my dream of studying abroad was becoming a reality. I was going to Costa Rica!
My expectations for the month I spent in Costa Rica were easily surpassed within hours of touching down in San José. I hoped I would learn about a new culture and improve my Spanish, but the trip was even more than that for me. I was pushed out of my comfort zone plenty of times, which caused my confidence to grow, both in myself and in my Spanish abilities. I learned how I adapted to situations that were (literally) foreign to me, and I became fascinated with the similarities and differences between my American lifestyle and the Costa Rican lifestyle. I finally made it further off of American soil than Niagara Falls, Canada, and I officially have a stamp in my passport certifying that I visited Costa Rica. Meredith’s program to Costa Rica was the perfect fit for me — I could still gain all of the benefits of studying abroad, but I still had most of the summer to work and earn money to continue paying for college.
I know firsthand that it can be difficult to find ways to afford studying abroad, but I want to encourage you not to give up on the possibility of participating in a phenomenal experience until you’ve exhausted every resource out there. The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which funded the majority of my trip, is accepting applications for Summer 2018 and Fall 2018/Academic Year 2018-2019 until March 6, 2018. Besides that, Meredith offers a plethora of financial assistance through the Office of International Programs, the Honors Program, the Teaching Fellows program, and more. And even if you don’t think you could win a scholarship, don’t give up hope. Start planning now — maybe you could pick up an extra job over the summer to fund your trip or take out an extra student loan.
I know it might sound cliché, but studying abroad truly is a life-changing experience. Knowing what I know now since my trip to Costa Rica, I would have completely regretted giving up on my dream to experience a new culture if I hadn’t explored all of my options. I didn’t think it was possible for me to study abroad until I found the right resources, so don’t give up. I promise you, you won’t regret it.