Spain, the United Kingdom, Peru! In early 2020, three University of Tulsa undergraduate students will embark on journeys of learning and self-discovery far from home. Meagan Henningsen, Manal Abu-Sheikh and Paris Clark have received Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships, which is a program of the U.S. Department of State for Pell Grant recipients. Since the program’s inception, 28 TU students have benefited from this globe-trotting opportunity.
“We are very proud of our three Gilman recipients for spring 2020,” said Laura Semenow, the director of global student mobility in TU’s Center for Global Engagement (CGE). “The CGE is committed to supporting students of diverse backgrounds and economic status in their endeavors to study abroad, and the Gilman Scholarship program shares these values. These awards will give them the opportunity to have a much more immersive experience while exploring their host countries.”
From the Great Plains to the Mediterranean
Currently a sophomore pursuing a major in sociology and a minor in business, Meagan Henningsen’s Gilman journey will take her to Barcelona, the capital of Catalunya in northwestern Spain. There, she intends to spend the spring semester studying at the Institute for the International Education of Students in its liberal arts and business program. She is also in the process of organizing an internship position in that historic Mediterranean city.
Henningsen is no stranger to foreign travel. In fact, she has been to Panama three times – twice with TU’s JumpstartTU program (first as a pre-matriculation freshman and the second as a student mentor) and once with TU’s Global Scholars program. These experiences exerted a major influence on her decision to major in sociology and sparked her interest in researching and addressing poverty. “My academic goal is to help uncover possible paths out of poverty and change the social system in such a way that these paths are more visible and accessible to all,” Henningsen said. “The bridges out of poverty lie buried deep within hidden social factors and complications surrounding equal access to quality education.”
For her time in Spain, Henningsen is focused on immersing herself in Spanish culture while also gaining an understanding of the social and educational factors affecting the country’s high poverty rate. In Henningsen’s view, “Having an understanding of the education process and social issues impacting the income-gap in other countries is vital to comprehending the full extent of this issue and its possible solutions.” In addition, she commented, “Going abroad with an open mind, void of stereotypes and preconceived expectations of how things and people ‘should be’ is the best way to reach mutual respect and understanding.”
“I am grateful to have this opportunity to truly experience another culture,” Henningsen remarked. “I never imagined that I would have the chance to live in another country. I am still in shock, but I am also beyond excited to see where this adventure will take me next.” Looking ahead to her return to TU, Henningsen hopes to organize and run a study abroad session for first-generation students. She plans to present information on affordable programs, internship and job opportunities, as well as scholarships, such as the Gilman. “I hope this event will encourage other students to take the leap and continue their studies in other countries.”
Hello, this is London calling.
Also crossing the Atlantic soon will be Manal Abu-Sheikh. At TU, Abu-Sheikh is pursuing a major in psychology with minors in biology and chemistry, while working part-time for the Tulsa City-County Library. Abu-Sheikh chose to spend the spring 2020 semester at Queen Mary, University of London, because of its world-renowned strengths in biology, psychology and neuroscience.
“I have my sights set on becoming a neurosurgery physician assistant someday,” said Abu-Sheikh. To further that goal, she has spent two semesters as part of a research team in the TU Neuropsychology Lab. At Queen Mary, Abu-Sheikh intends to intensify her neurological studies. “One of the courses I’m looking forward to in London is entirely focused on emotion,” she commented. “I am fascinated by why humans are some of the most expressive beings on the planet. Emotions are key human aspects affecting our everyday functions. If I am to become a physician assistant working in the field of neurology, I will need to develop a deep understanding of patients’ emotions.”
The idea of living and learning in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities makes sense for someone who thrives on multiculturalism. Referring to herself as “the Palestinian girl who speaks Spanish,” Abu-Sheiks noted she has always been fascinated to learn about the “life stories of those around me. I am bicultural and bilingual myself, and being in London will test my cultural awareness and prepare me to encounter a wide variety of people in my professional life. London and hospitals actually have a lot in common – they are fast-paced, never sleep and every type of person winds up there.”
As she contemplates residing overseas, Abu-Sheikh’s mind is firmly fixed on the prospect of all the new intellectual and cultural horizons she will encounter. “I long to explore London’s museums, taste new foods and make new friends,” she noted. “I know that my life will be completely changed by the experience.”
The prospect of change is a common thread uniting the aspirations of all three of TU’s Gilman recipients. Echoing the sentiments of her fellow scholar-travelers, Paris Clark observed, “I am certain this will be an experience that changes my life’s trajectory, how I view the world and how I see myself and others.”
Departing a little later in the year (March) than Henningsen and Abu-Sheikh, Clark is anticipating a transformative semester in Lima, Peru. Currently pursuing a double major in international business and Spanish, with a minor in mass communications, Clark is set to enroll at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP). “In 2017, I had the good fortune to travel the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru’s Andes,” Clark said, “but this will be my first time in the country’s capital city. While I am in Lima, I am looking forward to living with and connecting with my host family and creating relationships with Peruvian students at the university.”
Clark will attend PUCP as part of a program administered by Butler University’s Institute for Study Abroad. All of the courses she takes will be taught in Spanish, and one of the requirements of this program is that students take a course entitled Peruvian Social Reality. In addition, she will have the opportunity to work with a local nongovernmental organization. Clark commented, “This program will give a thorough understanding of how organizations are combating various social issues in Peru and will allow me to understand better my role as a person who wants to work in international business development.”
Like Henningsen and Abu-Sheikh, Clark is looking forward to a deep encounter with local people and their lives. “With this program, I’ll be living with a local host family, volunteering at local organizations and taking classes that highlight Peruvian life and history,” Clark said. “I am grateful to have this opportunity to continue my education with a completely different, non-North American perspective, while having the ability to be immersed in and learn about another culture.”
The embrace of other people and experiences is at the foundation of Clark’s related service project. For this, she envisions making a collection of video recordings of people with whom she has forged relationships while in Peru. “The aim of this project is to share human stories,” she commented; “they might be about funny experiences, career aspirations, family life or any number of other topics” (Clark herself plans to contribute a video or two). The target audience for these videos are prospective or current TU students. “I want to demonstrate for them the beauty of studying abroad and the enrichment it brings to the human experience. And I want to emphasize the importance of relationships in dissolving cultural boundaries.”
Get in touch with TU’s Center for Global Engagement to begin your worldwide living and learning explorations.