View Michelle Strucke (Egypt, 2005) | Senior Policy Manager at Oxfam America, Vice Chair of Virginia Council on Women's profile (0 KB, PDF)
In 2005, Michelle decided to challenge herself and study abroad in a country where she did not share any cultural ties. She arrived in Egypt four years after 9/11 with misconceptions that were soon to be dispelled.
“When I first got off the plane in Egypt, I laughed at how divergent my stereotyped view was of the vibrant and developed country before my eyes. There, I learned so much about kindness, generosity, hospitality, and humor. Egyptians I encountered made space for me and helped me grow into a kinder, more generous person.”
Influenced by her Gilman experience, Michelle returned to Egypt for her graduate studies, pursuing a master’s degree in human rights and completing a human rights-focused internship. Michelle, who comes from a low-income family, is now an experienced international advocate, manager, and policy professional focusing on humanitarian and development issues.
“It was a life-changing experience that catalyzed all my future jobs. I wouldn’t be doing anything I’m doing now without that scholarship.”
Studying abroad as a Gilman Scholar allowed Michelle to learn “what it meant to be seen as American,” to learn and think about the stakes that other people face, and to learn about the nuances of a different culture. She returned to the United States with a strong desire to be an ally to people around the world and with heightened self-awareness, political sensitivity, and cultural sensitivity that she was able to apply in her work at Islamic Relief USA and Oxfam America. Her competency also contributed to improved organizational partnerships for Islamic Relief USA and support for Oxfam America to break down silos around the role of faith-based actors in humanitarian leadership.
Michelle says that her life since going to Egypt as a Gilman Scholar has been a “cross-cultural life” and that she was able to change from a person from New Jersey with little knowledge about the world to a global ambassador for her family and community. She has found her calling in bridging cultures and understanding her role as an ally to underrepresented communities.
“I’ve spent much of my life and career representing and amplifying positive contributions from diverse communities in the Middle East and across the world, and a big part of that stems directly from the lessons I learned as a Gilman Scholar, the hospitality I experienced, and the deeper insights I gained about our interconnected humanity.”