Gilman scholars navigate study abroad in a COVID-19 world

First published in Around the O on December 17, 2020.

As a first-generation college student, Oscar Sigala is determined to serve as a role model for his siblings. He is among the nine UO students who received the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International scholarship to study abroad for the 2020 October deadline.  

“I can show my siblings that anything is possible as long as you put in the work,” Sigala said. Anything can happen.” 

The Gilman scholarship program awards up to $5,000 to undergraduate students for studying abroad. The scholarship is available to all students currently receiving the Pell Grant, which is available to undergraduate students and based on financial need. Another similar scholarship, the Gilman-McCain award, is offered to dependents of active-duty military members. 

Sigala and the other applicants faced a different world when applying for the scholarship in October. 

“It was really difficult,” Sigala said. “It was right around the time classes were starting, so adapting to everything was tough.”

But while grinding through the application, Sigala said he learned he “could do a lot under pressure, which was good in the long run.” 

Sigala is a junior studying journalism and plans to use his Gilman scholarship toward the Charles University exchange program in Prague. He was originally set to leave in February 2020 for the spring semester, but the program was cancelled due to COVID-19.  

Because of that, all recipients have the option to change or defer their program to a later date in 2021 when it’s safe to travel. 

“Thankfully, I was able to defer to the fall semester for 2021,” Sigala said.  

Originally from the Mexican state of Jalisco, Sigala and his family came to the U.S. when he was a sophomore in high school. 

“In high school, I met a lot of people from Latin America, from Brazil, and learning about their cultures sparked my curiosity of other cultures,” Sigala said.

The opportunity to study abroad has been something he’s looked forward to throughout high school and into college. Once at the UO, Sigala joined various international clubs and continued to seek out other cultures, appreciating the opportunity to learn from the people around him. The Gilman scholarship offered him a path to further this learning.

The nine Gilman scholarship recipients for this cycle are:

  • Stephanie Farnes, Spanish language and society in Rosario.
  • Richard Kim, architecture in Vicenza.
  • Giovanni Ricci, SIT: Refugees, Health, and Humanitarian Action in Amman.
  • Kathleen Rodriguez Perez, SIT: Indigenous Peoples and Globalization in Cuzco.
  • Oscar Sigala, Charles University Exchange.
  • James Taylor, Mexican studies and Spanish immersion in Querétaro.
  • Melissa Torres-Duran, Spanish language and culture in Segovia.
  • Kira Veselka, global business in London with an internship.
  • Ashley Younger, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“We are so incredibly proud of these awards, especially during such a difficult time,” said Dennis Galvan, dean and vice provost of the Division of Global Engagement. “Scholarships open the door for students who might not otherwise be able to study abroad. This is such a valuable experience, and that’s why the division provides support for students to access funding like the Gilman scholarship. We are so proud that the UO is consistently ranked as a top national institution receiving Gilman scholarships.”

Sigala plans to focus on sports broadcast journalism, and through studying abroad, he hopes to gain the skills and expertise he needs to take the next steps in his career.

“I want to encourage people to still apply for study-abroad programs, even though they might be cancelled,” Sigala said. “Next year will be my senior year, and it’s not usual for seniors to study abroad. But it’s something I wanted to do, so I’m doing it. So, don’t be discouraged. If you want to do it, then go out there and do it.”

—By Victoria Sanchez, University Communications