By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis

Fatimah Fair ’22 and Kara-Lyn Moran ’22 were two of 900 students across the country recently awarded a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State. The prestigious award provides study abroad funding for students who otherwise might not be able to travel overseas due to financial circumstances. 

“Beyond the funding, alumni of the Gilman Award are provided with a lifelong peer network and career development opportunities after their return from study abroad,” says Rochelle Keesler, director of international and off-campus education. “It also opens doors for students who hope to establish a career with the federal government.”

While international travel restrictions due to COVID-19 resulted in Fair and Moran having to change their plans, both remain optimistic about the time they are hoping to spend overseas in the near future. 

Fah Fair stands outside in a city with her hands over a railingFair—who has a major in film and media studies and a minor in environmental studies, and who dreams of someday working for National Geographic—was at first hoping to attend the School for Field Studies on the Turks and Caicos Islands, where she would have learned about and conducted field research on the effects of tourism, climate change, and environmental policy on local marine life and residents. 

After that program was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, Fair then applied to study at the School for International Training in Samoa, where she would have learned Samoan, produced a short documentary to accompany her research project, and taken classes on the varied impacts of globalization, westernization, and climate change in the Oceania region. Unfortunately, this program was canceled as well. Fair has deferred her acceptance to these programs and hopes to pursue her travel plans during her senior year. 

“I am still proud of myself for taking advantage of an opportunity to pursue my study abroad goals,” she says. “I have been looking forward to spending a semester abroad for as long as I can remember, so I’m hopeful that I will be able to go when the timing is right and that it will all work out despite COVID. Travel has been such a formative experience in my life that I think everybody should be able to experience it, so I love that Gilman focuses on supporting underrepresented students.”

Kara Lyn Moran stands with the Lafayette Leopard on the Quad during a sunny day. Like Fair, Moran—who is pursuing a double major in environmental studies and religious studies and would like to work in sustainable education, academia, or the nonprofit sector in the future—also had to adjust her study abroad plans after winning the Gilman Scholarship. Although she originally applied to use her award to study in Tanzania, the program in that location was canceled. She is now on track to travel to Copenhagen, Denmark, in January. 

In Denmark, Moran will be taking a course on the production and consumption of sustainable food. The country’s COVID-19 safety guidelines require that Moran quarantine and test upon her arrival, and that she does not travel outside Denmark during her stay there. However, Moran is still looking forward to traveling to Europe for the first time, visiting one of the world’s most sustainable countries, and immersing herself in the local culture.

“I have had to become very flexible, which has been difficult. But I have learned so much, and it makes me appreciate any opportunities I have,” she says. “I am excited to receive this award and for the opportunity to live in another city. Growth begins at the edge of your comfort zone, and the circumstances of the pandemic have made everyone live outside their normal level of comfort. Traveling in this time will present new challenges, but it will be a time to gain new skills, flexibility, independence, and cultural awareness. I will be traveling smart and safely so as to not contribute to the spread of COVID and to honor the front-line workers and others who have made so many sacrifices this year.”

Given the disruption of the pandemic, the Gilman Program is committed to offering flexibility to participants whose plans are impacted. The program continues to support students who are unable to start their programs abroad in their original destination or time frame by helping to identify alternative program options, or by permitting students to defer to a later program.

Keesler strongly encourages any eligible student to consider applying for the Gilman Scholarship: “Interested students should reach out to my office early in the application process for guidance,” she says.

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