My name is I’yanna, and I am a 2021-2022 Gilman Alumni Ambassador from Sunrise, Florida. I graduated from Florida State University in 2019 with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Spanish. As a Gilman Scholar, I studied the Spanish language in San Jose, Costa Rica in 2016.
I’ve always considered myself to be an adventurous person. At my core, I am an explorer. Like many of us, though, it’s hard to explore and travel when you don’t have the financial means to do so. During my freshman year of college, I was amazed at all the opportunities afforded to me as a student from a lower income background. Quickly after starting at Florida State University (FSU), my goal was to involve myself in organizations and opportunities that would enhance myself culturally and professionally. I figured the best avenues for this were student government and student-led organizations. My view of what a college experience could look like was limited by my lack of finances. One workshop I attended changed my entire college experience.
As a first-generation college student, I encountered obstacles that my parents, even with their wealth of knowledge and wisdom, could not help me with. Fortunately, I was a part of FSU’s Center for Academic Retention & Enhancement (CARE) Department. CARE invited the Office of National Fellowships to speak to students about a study abroad scholarship catered towards students like us who were Pell grant-eligible. Before this moment, I had never considered the studying abroad as an option for me because traveling out of the country seemed to come with expenses that I knew I could not afford. At this workshop, I learned about the components necessary for the application, heard from past recipients and learned of their unique experiences from trips to China, Germany, and Spain. I remember being amazed that students who did not have the funds to travel abroad found a way to make the most of their college experience. This was the push I needed.
At times, my financial burdens made me feel like a burden. I found that having examples of those who were successful at achieving this new goal of mine encouraged me to apply to the Spanish Immersion program in San Jose hosted by the Conversa Linguistics School. Shedding myself doubt, I met with the ONF representative and set up weekly meetings to work on my application. I worked on my statements before and after class. In between classes I visited the ONF office for advice. I tried and failed many times. My advisor would tell me “Show, don’t tell” and that concept was difficult for me to grasp, but once I got it, I believed I submitted my best work. Despite the difficult time crafting my application, I was proud of pushing past my initial fears and finding a way to learn in a foreign country.
About a month after submission, I was informed that I was not selected for the award. I was crushed. I went through my application again. What could I have missed? I misspelled something or made a syntax error. I questioned the hard work I put into the application and if there was anything I could have done differently. I had accepted the email that I was an alternate as confirmation that I would not have my trip funded by Gilman. A few weeks later, I jumped for joy as the new email read “Congratulations!”. Out of 3,400 applicants, I was one of 950 who would be awarded!
In a conversation with my mentor, I told her the good news and the struggles I faced up to that point. She said my scholarship award was “delayed, not denied”. She mentioned that things do not always fall into place in the exact way that we envision, but that did not mean that our goals would not come to pass or that they deserved to be celebrated any less. This lesson is one I have carried with me throughout my collegiate and professional careers. A “no” today, could be a “yes” tomorrow, and despite your obstacles, you should remain confident in your ability to achieve any goal you set out to accomplish.