Senior Says "Oui, Oui!" to Education Abroad
Kent State University senior Torrance Gaskins looks out her window every day to a view of the snow-covered mountaintops of the French Alps.
A resident of Ravenna, Ohio, Gaskins, 21, has lived at home throughout her college career and commuted to the Kent Campus. So when the opportunity to study abroad presented itself, she was a little nervous having her first away-from-home experience in a student housing apartment at the Université Savoie Mont Blanc in Chambéry in southeastern France.
“It’s my first semester abroad and it’s been kind of a plunge into the deep end,” she said.
After a few days, however, Gaskins said she already had gotten over her away-from-home jitters and had settled into her semester in France, where she is immersing herself in French language classes with the hopes of becoming fluent by semester’s end.
“My class is a full load of courses, but it’s really only one class, French language,” she said.
Gaskins already had a strong start with the language and qualified for courses at Université Savoie Mont Blanc that placed her just one level below fluent speaker.
“Ever since I was very young, I always wanted to be fluent in another language,” Gaskins said, “I think that is an important skill that is undervalued in America.”
A senior who is pursuing a double major in anthropology and French, with a minor in creative writing, Gaskins is a recipient of the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, funded through the U.S. Department of State.
The Gilman program was designed to aid students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, providing them with skills critical to U.S. national security and economic prosperity.
Gaskins selected Université Savoie Mont Blanc in Chambéry for her education abroad because of its location near Switzerland and the Alps for hiking and to avoid a large city.
She arrived in France on Jan. 2, and, despite not having internet service or data for the first week, Gaskins said she quickly found a family among her fellow students.
Another student, for example, was able to help her convert her phone SIM card to one that will work in France, in exchange for her helping translate French for him.
“I thought I would be more overwhelmed,” she said. “It was such a big change. But by day two, I was feeling comfortable and perfectly fine.”
For Gaskins, having the chance to spread her wings and submerge herself in the French language and culture is something she has been planning and saving money for over the past several years.
Gaskins has been able to attend Kent State affordably. Her mother, Stephanie Gaskins, is the manager of reserve services for University Libraries, and Gaskins has been able to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement benefit for children of employees.
Still, her research on education abroad indicated to her that she would need about $10,000 to pay for the cost of housing, food, airfare and other travel expenses for the semester.
“For me, money was going to be tight,” she said, “The $3,500 amount of the scholarship really will help cover a lot of the costs and fees.”
Molly Papay, M.Ed., MBA, a senior education abroad advisor for Kent State’s Office of Global Education, said Gaskins is “a diligent student who jumped at the opportunity to apply for the Gilman Scholarship.”
Receiving a Gilman, however, is no easy task. The application process, Papay said, involves writing several essays and submitting a follow-up service project proposal, which can be challenging to complete alongside competing priorities with courses, employment and personal life.
“The Education Abroad team is deeply impressed with Torrance’s commitment to her academics and desire to make the most of her time abroad through this language learning program in France. We wish her a successful and transformative adventure abroad this spring. Being selected as a Gilman Scholar is a huge honor and Torrance should be proud of this accomplishment,” Papay said.
Gaskins also was invited to apply for a selective three-day, expense-paid study tour of Belgium in March through the Gilman program and should learn later this semester whether she was chosen as a participant.
Gaskins said she recommends an education abroad experience to all students, even those like her who may have never lived away from home.
“I found a family,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of not having a support system.”
The experience is not unlike her past four years at Kent State.
Gaskins said she never considered a university other than Kent State, due to the tuition benefit, but has been happy with her choice for many reasons.
“I’m so glad I went to Kent. I absolutely love it,” she said. “I love the landscape and all the attention they pay to trees. It’s not a huge overwhelming campus, but it’s not too small either. All my experiences with my professors have been amazing and the professors are very inspiring.”
She also found a ready supply of student jobs, which have helped her save for her study abroad. She has worked four years as a writing tutor, a few semesters as a supplemental instructor at the Academic Success Center and a weekend job as a technical assistant in the recital hall.
Papay, who works to help students find ways to have a study abroad experience, said the Gilman program has no minimum GPA requirement or program length to apply.
“Students who are studying abroad for one week, one month, one semester, or one academic year are eligible to receive full funding, which typically ranges from $3,000 to $5,000,” she said. “The scholarship is paid directly to students, so they can determine how the money should be budgeted; it can go towards tuition expenses or weekend travel while in the host country.”
The Gilman program also provides networking opportunities for students upon completion of their program abroad through the Gilman Scholar Network, as well as Noncompetitive Eligibility (NCE) for federal employment.
“Overall, students who typically may not consider education abroad opportunities due to limited financial means can benefit from this scholarship opportunity,” Papay said.
Gaskins expects to graduate later this year and hopes to continue her education by studying for a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate. She still hasn’t decided on a particular career path but is hoping for a job that allows for travel and the study of other cultures, or perhaps teaching.
“I have so many interests. I can see myself filling a lot of roles,” she said.
For now, Gaskins continues to enjoy her French immersion, which includes morning pastries and lots of French baguettes, which cost just 80 cents.
“I’m eating very well,” she said.
Visit Gilman Scholarship to learn more about the program, or Kent State’s Office of Global Education to learn more about education abroad opportunities.
The Gilman Scholarship is a congressionally funded program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department and is named after the late congressman Benjamin A. Gilman from New York. With his support, the program was established by the International Academic Opportunity Act of 2000. Shortly thereafter, in 2002, Congressman Gilman retired after serving in the House of Representatives for 30 years and chairing the House Foreign Relations Committee. He died in 2016.
The Gilman Scholarship program has three goals:
To develop a generation of future American leaders who represent the rich diversity of the nation and have the international networks and skills to advance U.S. national security and economic prosperity.
To expand the U.S. student population that studies and interns abroad, helping more young Americans gain the professional skills, language abilities and knowledge of the world needed for successful careers.
To broaden the destinations where U.S. students go to study and intern abroad, in order to build relationships, foster mutual understanding, and represent American culture and values, including in developing countries and countries critical to U.S. national security.