By Autumn Chavez

Guest Writer

Autumn on a Victorian cemetery bridge in Glasgow Necropolis in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Autumn Chavez

I had initially decided that traveling wouldn’t be something I’d ever be able to do. I grew up in a household that was regularly hard-up for money and spending frivolous amounts of money on leaving the country didn’t seem like a realistic idea that I could pursue. 

In high school, I learned about the idea of a program called “studying abroad” for students in college. For those who are unaware, study abroad programs are programs that are created to take university students to other countries – generally on the schools’ dime – to study whatever program they would like while experiencing the cultures of places other than home. I wasn’t sure at the time how or when I would be able to take advantage of such a program but I told myself that if anything I would for sure be able to do this. 

Thus I began my journey to leave the state of Wyoming, to leave Riverton, to see a bigger part of the world that I had never experienced before. I chose to attend the University of Wyoming because I had the financial aid support from the state to go, and enrolled to be an international studies major in order to better my chances of leaving the country. After coming to campus and reaching out to the study abroad department I found out that I still. Needed. Money. Turns out that even with the school’s scholarship for studying abroad, traveling is actually rather expensive. 

I had also come to learn with my time on campus that studying abroad can be beneficial in so many ways other than just allowing me to experience other countries and the cultures they have to offer. Studying abroad and traveling to different parts of the world can allow you to learn a new language, improve intercultural communication, and expand your worldview and how you interpret the world around you. Traveling offers life experiences that not everyone has on a regular basis, as well as allowing you to become a global citizen who understands the cultures, societies, and even plights of one another on a deeper level. 

These opportunities for new experiences gave me even more motivation than before to find a way to provide the funds to go. 

Did you know that the United States government is inclined to send students abroad on their dime too? 

This is true! I found this scholarship, and an interesting one called the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship that the government funds in order to help broke college students like myself to travel abroad with their schools to gain all the experiences

I mentioned and more! To pull a direct quote from their website – “The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is a grant program that enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad.” This was something that I needed, a saving grace for the funds to send me to different countries with the vindication to take classes that allowed me to broaden my knowledge. Through scholarship programs like this, I’ve managed to visit three different countries without breaking the bank while also gaining new insights into varying cultures and bringing my own heritage to other cultures that are not familiar with mine. 

Having the opportunity to study abroad and to visit new parts of the world has changed my outlook on how I see things. Traveling is actually pretty easy once you have the funds to go, and meeting new people even if you speak a different language can be just as life-altering. I’ve come to see ancient buildings that are old and rich with history which can hardly compare to those of the same caliber at home. I’ve met people who themselves have never left their own countries and gained just as much experience by meeting me as I do them. I’ve learned of stories and folklore that have helped build ancient cultures and have passed on into modern society, all in another language. Truly the experience is life-changing and indescribable. 

Leaving the country has taught me that I want to continue to do so for the better part of my career post-university. Changing the scenery in such an extreme way, by taking my education abroad through the help of my school and different forms of funding such as the Gilman Scholarship, has allowed me to achieve a dream that I‘ve had since childhood that I never thought I’d accomplish. 

Continuing my last year of school, I now work in the University of Wyoming study abroad department to help promote outreach about studying abroad. Many students like myself, underfunded and underrepresented who have grown up in rural Wyoming, never even dream of having the means to travel. I consider myself an excellent example of how untrue that is. It is possible to leave, and it is well worth the effort. The world is so big and so full of different cultures and people, filled to the brim with opportunities to change your life. I recommend checking it out.