hejinglan: Abra dozing off. (Otose and Gintoki)
[personal profile] hejinglan in [community profile] taiwanderland
好久不見,ye olde Taiwanderland! My apologies for the long hiatus - things have been unexpectedly busy on the island for these past few months, but in good ways for the most part. In any case, I'm glad that my time is being taken up by exploring Taiwan (and beyond!) so I can excuse not having an abundance of time to focus on blog posts. That being said, more posts and pictures should be coming this way in the coming weeks as our semester (and exchange period as a whole) begins to wind down here. 時間過得很快! Time sure does fly.

But before I get into all of that, there's a post that I've been meaning to write for a long time in here that I've been trying to find the right words for, as it concerns a subject that affects my schooling and life, as well as the life of many other USAmerican students who share a similar situation as myself.

That would be - not too surprisingly - finances.

I wanted to write this post to share my past experiences regarding the issue of paying for college and studying abroad as a low-income student, as well as shed some light on some fantastic resources that I have discovered. This information pertains particularly to low-income students and the opportunities available to them when considering studying abroad - if this interests or applies to you, read on. However, if you are interested in study abroad at all regardless of background you may still find some of the information below helpful or illuminating to some extent, too.


Like many USAmericans, my sister and I grew up in what some would consider an underprivileged household. Despite quite a few rough patches, our family situation was rarely dire, and I was fortunate enough to have the support of a few other family members other than my parents who would lend a helping hand and ensured that I had a comfortable life growing up. I took advantage of the free lunch program in public school for as long as I can remember, and am eternally grateful for it. My family lived on welfare, food stamps, donations, and assisted housing during varying portions of my life, all programs that I am grateful for existing as they helped me and my family enjoy privileges that many people in this world do not have.* However, even with these small and important blessings in my life there were still a few rough patches to overcome - such as spending a lot of time alone at home as my parent(s) worked, going through divorce and close family deaths at a young age, moving and changing schools frequently, even to the point of living out of a car for a couple of weeks to save on living costs. Although I rarely considered my life to be unfortunate or bad and often was able to see the silver lining, these and other events inevitably put a significant deal of stress on everyday life.

These stressors sometimes manifested in ways such as apathy towards school and homework. Despite this, my interest in other cultures of the world developed since childhood remained strong. As silly as it may sound, discovering Pokemon in elementary school was probably the most significant catalyst that inspired me to independently research Japanese culture, which eventually led to East Asian and Southeast Asian culture. Being exposed to East Asian culture at a very young age from my Korean born-and-raised mother, I had been cultivating this desire to travel abroad and see the world since my mom dressed me in my first hanbok, and my desire only grew as I did. However, due to my economic situation, I never thought that actually going and living abroad would ever be within my reach. These thoughts, however, changed gradually as I received encouragement and support from friends and relatives to pursue my dreams for higher education and international travel and I became aware of the possibilities and opportunities that were available for students such as financial aid, scholarships, grants, and student loans.

(*Note: Due to negative comments received in the past, I feel the need to make this clear: Please think twice before expressing any judgmental comments regarding my family's reliance on the welfare system unless you claim to fully understand my family's situation. Discrimination in any shape or form, including on the basis of social and/or economic class, will not be tolerated here. Thanks for your understanding.)

---


I started researching study abroad options at my university before I was even accepted, the myriad of programs offered by my university being a major factor in my decision to apply. I noticed that the International Affairs office offered a "Study Abroad Advising Drop-In" time and quickly took advantage of that to learn more about my options - and most importantly for me, my financial options. My peer advisor alerted me to one scholarship in particular, aimed towards US students with limited financial resources to help fund an overseas education. It sounded almost too good to be true, so I took a flyer home and checked out their website as soon as I could. (The official Gilman website can be found by clicking here: http://www.iie.org/gilman The information I found sounded promising so I soon began compiling my application materials. The process was simple to follow and I was impressed by the creative reign the Follow-Up Project offered, which encourages students to explore new and different ways of sharing their experiences abroad and the impact the Gilman Scholarship has had on their journey. (I, for example, chose to start up and participate in this joint blog as part of my Follow-Up Project.)

I was surprised and elated to discover that I had been awarded $4500 for my year in Taiwan by the Gilman Scholarship not long after I submitted my application. To me, this is an immense amount of aid, and one that I found would be invaluable in helping with study abroad expenses. Even though I budgeted to the best of my ability in preparation for my time abroad, there were still many little surprise fees here and there that I was happy to have a buffer for. For example, National Taiwan University required all applicants to submit a chest x-ray as a prerequisite for registration, which set me back a bit in doctor fees, as well as the procedure itself. After that, I was asked to come back for a second x-ray exam without telling me the cause, only to find out afterward that it was to confirm that I had a mild kind of pectus excavatum, a relatively common condition and quite harmless in my case. Although slightly perturbed that I had been called in twice for something relatively harmless, I was also grateful it was not something more serious - and most importantly, glad that I had the Gilman to help offset these necessary but unexpected costs related to study abroad.

Originally I thought the hefty sum of $4500 was more than enough to last me a good while, but unexpected costs like these came up in more instances than I could have expected - transportation fees, being placed into a more expensive dormitory abroad because my other cheaper choices filled up first, a two-month deposit for said dormitory that I wasn't informed about beforehand, travel insurance that I somehow looked over, as well as books and supplies that would be necessary for my next ten months in a new country. Needless to say, I became more and more grateful for the Gilman Scholarship as time went on and these little surprises popped up. The peace of mind coming from being able to adequately support yourself in a foreign country far from home is priceless.

So if you are an undergraduate student planning on studying abroad, I strongly recommend checking out the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program to see if you are eligible. The scholarship process is relatively simple and the staff at your local college or university are usually more than willing to help. Even if you aren't eligible for the Gilman, their website offers many other popular scholarship options for study abroad students that you are free to browse.

---

Additional options for offsetting the cost of study abroad:

+ As [personal profile] highways said, look into your host university for scholarship and grant options aimed towards incoming international students. You might be able to find special deals on housing, and even monthly stipends for overseas students are not unheard of.

+ Look into your home university for scholarships aimed towards students studying abroad. Many sponsors support the idea of an international education but a surprising amount of students do not take this opportunity. Indicating your intent to study abroad can be considered a bold move and might even give you an edge over other applicants in your university's scholarships.

+ As always, apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or the equivalent for your country. Applying is free and there is a chance that you will qualify for grants that can be put toward college and/or study abroad, as well as improve your eligibility for other scholarships.


---

I suppose what I want to say is that being in a compromised financial position is not always the final answer and does not have to be a nail in the coffin preventing you from studying abroad. You may have to work harder than someone who is more privileged with abundant resources, but it could be more rewarding in the end knowing that you forged a path for yourself on your educational journey. It has certainly been that way for me.

If you have any questions about the Gilman scholarship, the FAFSA, or other forms of financial aid related to attending college or studying abroad, feel free to leave them in the comments and I will answer them to the best of my ability.
More posts to come soon (with photos this time) about our four-day trip to the scenic Eastern coast on scooter, the International Flora Expo, rescuing a puppy in Lion's Head Mountain Scenic Area, and more. In the meantime, we'll be updating our Tumblr microblog more frequently with small updates, miscellaneous photos from our travels, assorted cultural tidbits about Taiwan, as well as Chinese/Taiwanese jokes Sara finds on drink lids. ^_^

Best of luck in your adventures and in everything you do.

-- Lara / Jinglan
何靜嵐

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taiwanderland: Sara and Lara outside National Palace Museum (Default)
何靜寧 & 何靜嵐 --- Sara & Lara

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