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From left to right: Cristine Brosas, Roberto Conrriquez, Jose Hernandez and Maysaa Ibrahim (Photos: Candy Carson) From left to right: Cristine Brosas, Roberto Conrriquez, Jose Hernandez and Maysaa Ibrahim (Photos: Candy Carson)

SDSU Gilman Scholarship Recipients Share Their Stories

A record number of SDSU students were selected for the Gilman Scholarship.
By Michael Klitzing

“Getting the Gilman Scholarship was like the helping hand of an angel.”

Sixteen San Diego State University students received the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for fall, setting a new study abroad record for the highest number of recipients the university has received in a single semester.

A program of the U.S. Department of State, the Gilman Scholarship offers awards of up to $5,000 to students of limited financial means, allowing them to study or intern abroad to gain skills critical to national security and economic competitiveness.

Four SDSU students who received the prestigious scholarship and are studying abroad this semester share their experiences here.

A dream realized

As a seventh grader, Jose Hernandez developed a passion for international business while watching stock reports on the evening news. He also became fascinated with the Japanese language while watching anime.

Hernandez, an international business senior at SDSU, credits those two influences for his decision to study abroad at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Japan this semester.

“I feel like my entire life has led up to this,” Hernandez said. “This seems like a risk, but I’m not nervous. The biggest risk is not taking one at all.”

Hernandez, who grew up in Fallbrook and received an Associate of Arts Degree from Palomar College, said he was drawn to study abroad because it makes applicants more attractive to prospective employers. As a student coping with a neurological processing disorder, he said he’s also looking forward to go abroad to “break my limits.”

Hernandez said he was excited upon receiving the Gilman Scholarship acceptance email. He immediately shared the news with his manager and coworkers at the wedding venue where he works as a steward, then went home to tell his father.

“I sat down with him and opened the email,” Hernandez said. “I said, ‘Look father, I just wanted to show you that I’ve been working really hard.’ I’ve always wanted a big career so I can be an inspiration to my brothers and sisters.”    

A role model

SDSU Spanish senior Maysaa Ibrahim is excited for the adventure promised by her study abroad program in Madrid, Spain, but she’s nervous about leaving her 12-year-old daughter Zainab for a full semester. Fortunately, Zainab seems more than okay with the idea, Ibrahim said.

“She’s so happy because she has a friend from Korea and now she wants to learn Korean,” Ibrahim said. “She told me, ‘Mom, I’m ready to go to Korea after you get back.’”

Ibrahim came to the United States from Iraq as a refugee in 2011, settling in El Cajon. Given the chance to further her education, she thrived, becoming valedictorian of Cuyamaca College. On Feb. 15, she became a U.S. citizen, a momentous event she refers to as her second birthday.

Studying at Universidad Autonoma de Madrid seemed like the next step in her to become a Spanish teacher, though it almost didn’t happen.

“I applied for loans and financial aid, and even asked my friend to loan me money,” Ibrahim said. “Getting the Gilman Scholarship was like the helping hand of an angel.”

An ideal location

SDSU Japanese senior Roberto Conrriquez is studying abroad in Tokyo, Japan.

Like Hernandez, Conrriquez grew up fascinated by Japanese anime, as well as video games. He hopes his year abroad at Hosei University in Japan’s vibrant capital will put him on the path to become an English as Second Language teacher. Conrriquez said he is ready to both teach English and sharpen his Japanese while abroad.

“I’m excited to have native speakers to practice my Japanese with,” Conrriquez said. “Here all my speaking has been in the classroom.”

The southeast San Diego native is also a little nervous; not only is it his first time in Asia, it will be his first time living on his own away from his family. But thanks to the Gilman Scholarship, financial concerns won’t compound his anxiety.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I would have been able to leave comfortably without it,” Conrriquez said. “It took a lot of the pressure off.”

A personal exploration

SDSU international studies senior Cristine Brosas is viewing her study abroad program at Universidad de Zaragoza in Spain as an opportunity to explore her own identity. Brosas is not a Spaniard; her Spanish cultural heritage comes by way of the Philippines, which Spain colonized for nearly five centuries.

“I integrated that into my Gilman Scholarship essay and I think it’s a big factor for why I received it,” said Brosas, who came to San Diego from the Philippines as a ninth-grader. “I think being interested in getting to know my own culture provided a strong foundation for the essay.”

Brosas is excited about Zaragoza’s proximity to the larger cultural epicenters of Madrid and Barcelona. As a Spanish minor interested in international career opportunities, she also hopes the immersive setting will help her master the Spanish language.

Like the other scholarship recipients, she’s thankful for the financial support the award provides.

“Going abroad is not cheap, especially in Europe,” Brosas said. “Getting the Gilman Scholarship is helping me with rent and other expenses. Every penny counts.”

The deadline to apply for the Gilman Scholarship for the spring 2018 semester and early summer programs is Oct. 3. More information about the program is available on the Gilman Scholarship website.