UNC student Ryan Ballard and classmate Sabah Kilm, a French exchange student, pose for a photo in Taipei City, Taiwan's largest city. In the background is the tallest office building in the world, Taipei 101, formerly called the Taipei World Financial Center.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Ballard
A highly-sought-after federal scholarship program is making it possible for two UNC students to afford a two-semester study abroad experience, something they once thought was beyond their means.
The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program this year will provide awards of up to $5,000 for approximately 2,300 U.S. undergraduate students who are receiving Federal Pell Grant funding so that they can participate in study abroad programs worldwide.
But qualifying for a Pell Grant doesn't automatically mean students will get a Gilman Scholarship. The program received over 6,500 applications and recipients are selected through a rigorous application process.
Ryan Ballard, a senior from Broomfield double majoring in International Studies and Economics, started classes at National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei City in early September and will be there until June 6.
Ballard is taking a variety of Chinese culture and literature classes in English, even though he speaks Chinese after taking language courses at UNC and immersing himself during a six-week UNC study abroad trip to China this past summer.
According to Ballard, the Gilman Scholarship is covering his tuition, books and lodging; he's taken out small student loans to pay for other costs.
"The scholarship enabled me to do both the trip to mainland China this summer and the nine months in Taiwan with a lot less debt," Ballard said. "Being able to experience both cultures will be invaluable for my career plans."
Ballard hopes to work in market research or anthropology in China after he earns a graduate degree in development anthropology.
Grant Thoresen, a junior from Cheyenne, Wyo., majoring in International Affairs, started classes at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Aug. 15 and will be there until the first week in May.
Ballard said that the Gilman Scholarship covered his airfare, the cost of living in the dorms for both semesters, and some daily expenses. Grants are helping cover all of the other costs. He chose KIMEP, the oldest and largest U.S.-style university in central Asia, after a lot of research.
"I wanted to study in a country that few Americans really have any concept of," he said. "Also, it's a country that is both primarily dependent on petroleum and natural gas and predominately Muslim, and I thought its proximity and connection to China and Russia would provide an interesting perspective."
According to Helen O'Keefe, director of UNC's Center for International Education, Ballard and Thoresen are the second and third UNC students to receive a Gilman Scholarship since the program was created by an act of the U.S. Congress 10 years ago.
For more information about Gilman Scholarships, visit the program's website.
- Gary Dutmers, Senior Editor/Writer