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Six students receive early summer Gilman scholarships award

Six University of North Georgia (UNG) students learned in December they were Early Summer awardees of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships.

Gabriella "Gabi" Fleck could barely believe her eyes when she saw the email stating that she received one of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships in early December.

"I called my parents and laughingly said, 'It can't be true,'" the University of North Georgia (UNG) senior from Cumming, Georgia, said.

On the same day, Naomy Huaman sat in her class on East Asian politics when an email notified her that she also earned a Gilman scholarship.

"I was baffled," the UNG junior from Athens, Georgia, said. "I thought that we didn't get the results until February. I wasn't expecting this at all."

Similar scenes played out in early December as six UNG students learned they were the Gilman Early Summer awardees. They were:

  • Fleck, majoring in Spanish on the Dahlonega campus, will study in Spain.
  • Elias Keif, majoring in strategic and security studies with a concentration in cybersecurity and East Asian studies with a concentration in Chinese and in the ROTC Chinese Flagship on the Dahlonega Campus, will study in Taiwan.
  • Alexa Hernandez-Lopez, majoring in visual arts on the Gainesville Campus, will study in Japan.
  • Gabe Holder, majoring in Spanish and minoring in Arabic on the Dahlonega Campus, will study in Jordan.
  • Huaman, majoring in international affairs on the Dahlonega Campus after transferring from the Oconee Campus, will study in Japan.
  • Melissa Silva, majoring in Spanish and in the RISE program on the Gainesville Campus, will study in Spain.

"I'm excited that this group reflects UNG's diversity of programs, majors and campuses," said Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant vice president of research and engagement and associate professor of English at UNG.

Of the nearly 4,500 students who applied, more than 1,200 American students — 844 for spring 2019 and 395 for early summer decision 2019 — were selected to receive scholarships to participate in credit-bearing study abroad programs and career-oriented internships in countries around the world.

Holder, a senior from Toccoa, Georgia, is looking forward to earning nine credit hours of upper level Arabic when he studies in Jordan this summer. The 22-year-old said this opportunity would not have been possible for him without the Gilman scholarship.

"I came from a financially strapped household," Holder said. "The thought of international travel was unattainable. When I saw I got the scholarship it made my day, week and my whole year."

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented by the Institute of International Education, the Gilman program offers scholarships of up to $5,000 to outstanding U.S. undergraduate Pell grant recipients. Students studying a critical need language could be eligible to receive a scholarship of up to $8,000.

The funds, no matter the amount, offer relief to students in myriad ways.

"I was genuinely concerned about my financial ability to fulfill the study abroad requirements of my major and Chinese Flagship until I learned that I had been selected," said Keif, a senior from Cumming, Georgia. "As a recipient, I believe that my academic goals are now attainable."

Hernandez-Lopez, sophomore from Norcross, Georgia, said her trip to Japan will let her fulfill her minor in Japanese and improve her language skills "100 percent."

Of course, she and the other students are looking forward to becoming immersed in the language and culture they will study this summer.

"I can expand my knowledge of Japanese and practice it there," Huaman said, adding she has been studying the language for two years at UNG. "And I really want to work in Japan one day."

Silva, a senior scheduled to graduate in summer 2019, hopes living with a host family will increase her awareness of the cultural differences between Mexico and Spain.

"Spain colonized Mexico, and the Mexican language and culture is a mix of the indigenous people and Spain," the native of Gainesville, Ga., said. "By spending five weeks living with a family in Spain, I think I will find links to my Mexican culture."

For Fleck, she views the experience as a rite of passage.

"I have never been anywhere but college without my parents, let alone outside of the country," the 21-year-old said. "This is a really big deal for me."

Keif plans to use his time in Taiwan as a way to really learn Mandarin.

"Taiwan is a very exciting place to study Chinese because unlike mainland China, the Taiwanese use the traditional form of Mandarin," the 20-year-old said. "Being able to read traditional characters is critical to the success of a student of Chinese."

Applications for summer 2019 and fall 2019/academic year 2019-2020 programs will open in mid-January. Student applications are due March 5, 2019. Students interested in learning more about nationally competitive scholarships including Gilman should contact for more information. Students interested in learning about study abroad opportunities through various programs may visit UNG’s Center for Global Engagement online.

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