University of Notre Dame juniors Breanna Thomas and Brianna Leon have been named winners of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, a nationally competitive award that will provide funding for them to study abroad during the spring 2014 semester.
“I was both relieved and excited when I found out I won the scholarship,” says Thomas, a junior political science major minoring in Latin American studies and Portuguese and Brazilian studies. “This scholarship has taken some of the financial pressure away from what is going to be one of the most exciting times of my life.”
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Gilman scholarship aims to diversify the students who study abroad and the countries and regions where they go.
“Living and learning in a vastly different environment of another nation not only exposes our students to alternate views, but also adds an enriching social and cultural experience,” says Gilman, a retired congressman and former chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “It also provides our students with the opportunity to return home with a deeper understanding of their place in the world, encouraging them to be a contributor, rather than a spectator in the international community.”
Thomas will spend the spring semester in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, where she plans to conduct research for her senior thesis on Brazilian politics.
“I want my semester to be focused on Brazil; the politics, the economics, and the society,” she says. “In doing so, I also want to work to improve my Portuguese fluency and increase my understanding of the culture and people.”
Leon, a finance and Spanish major with a minor in poverty studies, will be studying in Toledo, Spain this spring.
“Being in Toledo will give me the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture and language,” she says. “All of my classes will be taught in Spanish which will be challenging, but very beneficial to my learning experience.”
Leon also plans to participate in an internship program while in Toledo.
Although it will be hard to leave Notre Dame for a whole semester, I know that this study abroad experience will be a great opportunity to see more of the world, experience a new culture, and apply what I have learned in the classroom to an international environment,” Leon says.
Both students attribute their success in the scholarship competition to the support and guidance they received from the University’s Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE). The center provides undergraduate students opportunities for research, scholarship, and creative projects; assists students in finding faculty mentors, funding, and venues for the publication or presentation of their work; and promotes applications to national fellowship programs.
“The assistance I received from CUSE was instrumental in becoming a more competitive applicant,” Thomas says.