Hi, my name is Jade and I’m a Gilman Alumni Ambassador for the ‘21-’22 year. I studied and interned abroad in Seoul, South Korea in 2019.
When I came back from Korea, the world changed as I knew it. Places shut down, people remained home to quarantine, and masks became essential when traveling such as a wallet or phone. I knew I didn’t want to continue higher education entirely online. Nobody was hiring for jobs. I never imagined my professional life would mirror my sisters’, who graduated during the 2008 Recession. I found myself stuck in a rut for nearly two years. I began to feel unproductive and inactive, like I was wasting time instead of gaining experience and advancing in my non-existent career. I had numerous existential crises and job denial after denial did not help liven up my spirits.
My prospects began to liven up when I learned about the Gilman Alumni Ambassador program. My initial thought was that I would at least be able to help others and feel like I was contributing to the world. What I found instead was the Gilman program helping me realize my full potential.
Since participating in the program, I became more involved with the Gilman Alumni Network and Gilman social media channels, which provided me with ample job, fellowship, grant, and seminar opportunities. A couple of months ago, I learned about the Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES), which are gatherings for U.S. government-sponsored exchange program alumni to network and learn about current foreign policy or public diplomacy topics. Out of about 150 applicants, I was one of the 40 chosen to attend a seminar on the theme of “American Identity: Exploring Our Collective Memory, Heritages, and Histories.” This seminar, representing over 30 exchange programs and 25 states, featured discussions about the roles that education, media, and historical tourism play in sharing American stories and shaping the American identity, with a special focus on ways to share stories that are often represented in American history. I was one of the youngest participants, with the oldest being 70 years old and the majority being middle aged. One participant completed her exchange with the Peace Corps in 1996 and traveled to Hawaii to participate in the seminar more than two decades later! They bestowed a lifetime of wisdom upon me that I could not get anywhere else.
My attendance at the seminar was transformative and inspiring. Speaking with each and every attendee, hearing their stories, and their plans to enact change was the spark I needed to refuel my drive and confidence and allow the imposter syndrome and fear to oxidize. Because of my involvement in the Gilman, I am also eligible to apply for grants, seminars, and federal jobs using the Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE).
Through Alumni TIES, I met outstanding individuals from across the United States that I am grateful to call my friends, peers, and mentors. I didn’t realize how much involvement the The Department of State has on exchange programs and how much potential it can have for future exchange programs that focus on the arts, technology, and education. I thought my ties to the Gilman and U.S. exchange programs ended after studying abroad in Korea; I’m glad I was wrong.