In Show of Hope, 2021-2022 OSU Gilman and Freeman-ASIA Scholars Make Plans to Study Abroad Despite Uncertainty

June 7, 2021 

Story by Ashley Weibel, [email protected]

Tiffany Navas, a junior in Kinesiology, applied to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship in the hopes that it would fund her study abroad to Japan. However, less than a month before her departure date, Navas pivoted her plans to pursue a study abroad program in Seoul, South Korea as a result of ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. “I knew there were going to be a lot of ‘what-ifs’ and ‘maybes,’” says Navas, “but I decided to take the opportunity anyway.” 

For the five OSU undergraduate students who were awarded the prestigious Gilman Scholarship for the 2021-2022 academic year, the decision to study abroad serves as a powerful demonstration of hope in the face of continuing uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Roberto Lizarraga, a junior studying Kinesiology, was selected for a Gilman Scholarship to fund his year abroad in Finland. Lizarraga is most excited for the opportunity to experience a new culture. “I grew up in a low-income neighborhood in San Diego and never thought that I’d see any place other than San Diego,” shares Lizarraga. “At 43, I’m an older candidate, but I still feel that I have a lot to learn. That’s my hope for my time abroad.”  

OSU’s Gilman Scholars were awarded a combined total of $20,500 for study abroad programs that start between May 1, 2021 and April 30, 2022. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gilman Program has offered expanded options to scholars, including allowing them to use the scholarship for virtual international study and internship programs. 

Christa Shipman, a junior studying Kinesiology, received a Gilman award to study in Morocco during fall 2021. Shipman chose to study in Morocco after learning more about North Africa and becoming deeply curious about Morocco’s unique culture and heritage. She is especially excited about the program’s focus on multiculturalism and human rights, as she is hoping to engage with underserved communities and work toward greater access to care and resources. According to Shipman, “I’m feeling grateful for the journey that brought me here. Before, studying abroad didn’t feel tangible, almost like a mirage. Getting the Gilman Scholarship makes it seem like it could become a reality.” 

The scholars’ advice for future applicants? “Just do it,” says Lizarraga, “Don’t be afraid of the ‘no,’ of rejection. At the end of the day, [the committee] is just reading your story.” Navas adds that being honest with the application is important. According to Navas, “as a minority student of color and a woman, my identity has changed my experiences here [at OSU] and will change my experiences abroad. In my application, I talked about both the ugly sides and the good sides of the United States. I think it is important to represent the U.S. honestly in your application, and while abroad.” The Gilman Scholarship has the mission of supporting undergraduates who might not otherwise participate due to financial constraints. By supporting undergraduate students who have high financial need, the program has been successful in supporting first-generation college students, students of color, and students with disabilities. 

As a final piece of advice, Shipman offers, “I’d encourage students to connect with previous Gilman Scholars. I used to think I would never have a chance [of receiving the scholarship], but talking to someone who got the Gilman Scholarship inspired me to apply. Be confident in who you are and what you have to offer. Know that study abroad is a journey and it is okay to not feel 100% ready for it; you’re going to learn and grow through it.”

The process of applying to nationally-competitive scholarships such as the Gilman Scholarship and the Freeman-ASIA Scholarship is valuable in-and-of-itself. This year’s scholars reported that the application process was tough, but it taught them to learn to write in a compelling way, to critically self-reflect on their own experiences and goals, and to build transferable communication, organization, and writing skills. “Even if you don’t get the scholarship,” said Rebekah Rocak, “the application process is a boost of confidence and skill.” 

Rocak, a sophomore in Ethnic Studies, was selected for a Freeman-ASIA Scholarship in Seoul, South Korea. She decided to pursue study abroad for a full academic year out of a desire to challenge herself to learn and grow in transformative ways. Rocak hopes that putting herself in an independent context will shape a strong sense of confidence in her abilities and help her to succeed in future endeavors. As an Ethnic Studies major, she is also looking forward to building mutual understanding with her host community by emphasizing the countless intersecting and complex identities prevalent in U.S. society. In this way, she hopes to cultivate a more expansive understanding of what it means to be “American,” and to develop her own sense of identity along the way. 

According to Patrick Moore, OSU GO’s Program Coordinator for Study Abroad & Internship Programs in Asia, “The Freeman-ASIA scholarship is a fantastic opportunity for anyone studying abroad or interning in Asia for a term or longer. Rebekah did her research, and started on both her study abroad application and her scholarship application early, and is now being rewarded for her efforts. She was so well prepared, and was such a pleasure to work with. As international travel opens up, opportunities like this are still available to all OSU student’s through OSU’s study abroad office, IE3 Global.” 

For more information, please contact LeAnn Adam at [email protected] or visit the National and Global Scholarships Advising Office at Read the press release here

The Congressionally funded Gilman Program aims to make study abroad, and its career advantages, more accessible and inclusive for U.S. students. The program provides scholarships to outstanding undergraduate Pell Grant recipients who, due to financial constraints, might not otherwise study abroad. Since the program’s establishment in 2001, over 1,300 U.S. institutions have sent more than 31,000 Gilman scholars who represent the rich diversity of the United States to 151 countries around the globe. The program particularly focuses on supporting first-generation college students, students in the STEM fields, ethnic and racial minority students, students with disabilities, students who are veterans, students attending community colleges and minority serving institutions, and other populations underrepresented in study abroad, as well as broadening the destinations where scholars study or intern. Please visit OSU's Gilman Scholarship page for a list of OSU students who have been recipients of the Gilman scholarship since 2012.

Freeman-ASIA is sponsored by the Freeman Foundation, a private foundation with offices in Honolulu, HI. The Freeman Foundation's major objectives include strengthening the bonds of friendship between the United States and countries of East Asia. Through education and educational institutes, the Foundation hopes to develop a greater appreciation of Asian cultures, histories, and economies in the United States and a better understanding of the American people and of American institutions and purposes by the peoples of East Asia.