Gilman Scholarship provides eye-opening experience in Morocco

Study Abroad Breakfast – Photo Credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

“We are all temporary citizens in permanent environments.”

That is a pretty insightful comment, especially coming from a college student. But UMKC sophomore Ida Ayalew is no ordinary woman.

This academic year, she is studying in Morocco, her tuition and other expenses covered by a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, the High School College Partnership, and a Don and Lucille Armacost Scholarship. Gilman Scholarships are sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

The goal of the Gilman program is to foster mutual understanding among the people of the United States and other people around the world. No less importantly, the program chooses diverse students, particularly undergraduates who might have financial limitations, to go to countries that are rare study-abroad destinations.

Ida fills the bill on all counts.

Before she was born, Ida’s parents moved to the United States from Ethiopia to attend college. Growing up, she felt the influences of both cultures.

“My parents’ desire to help their home country influenced me to follow in their footsteps. In 2008, when I was fifteen, I visited Ethiopia for the second time, and visited again just a month ago. I realize how lucky I am to be born an American, where I have the same opportunities as my neighbor. I have seen poverty in the United States, but it was personal in Ethiopia because people’s opportunities are extremely limited. As part of the diaspora, my dreams of success will always involve Ethiopia.

“These experiences shaped my life. This is who I am. It gave me dreams and desires and nothing can turn me back. I want to give back to both communities that shaped me.”

Ida chose UMKC for the six year medical program. But her experiences with the mock trial team tapped into her talent for public speaking, forensics and debate. Mock Trial became a comfort, a home away from home. Now a history and political science major, Ida looks forward to law school.

In landing the Gilman, Ida discounts the luck of the draw; instead, she insists that she told the scholarship committee why she was worth the investment and they had to agree. But she also praises the help she received from UMKC staff. Liz Barton, the College of Arts & Sciences scholarship coordinator, had a profound influence on Ida’s life. In addition to Barton, who she calls “extraordinary,” Ida also praises the International Academic Programs office (IAP).

“They are unbelievable,” Ida said. “Kate Wozniak, Emma Spong, and Dr. Linna Place got me to each milestone of the study-abroad process. This isn’t just a job for them.”

Once in Morocco, Ida made adjustments to the realities of life there.

“This society is openly patriarchal, but it is also very modern, very friendly and hungry for education,” she said in an interview conducted by email. “I quickly realized that changes must come from the inside. I should not ask what I can change, because the situation is not about me. I should ask how I can support local citizens who are making a difference.”

She lives in an apartment with five other American women, a great mix of people but at the same time somewhat limiting, like an “American bubble.” The cure for Ida is to visit the American Language Center and talk with Moroccan friends about social issues.
This setting gives Ida a chance to teach as well.

“I show them that not all Americans come from the same cookie-cutter, and that we want to learn about their culture without passing judgment.”

UMKC and her supportive family have given Ida the tools for this year abroad. At UMKC, Ida encountered many different types of personalities, ethnicities and religions. She recognized the differences, but they were offset by similarities and mutual respect.

The Gilman scholarship experience has given her purpose. She wants her time on earth to count for something. In the past, Ida might have succumbed to the pain of negative comments or racial slurs she has heard while abroad, but she has beaten back fear and low self-esteem. She refuses to be her own worst enemy.

“It is our generation’s time to shine, to put in the time, to do the dirty work.”

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