WHY I STUDIED ABROAD (AND HOW I AFFORDED IT)

13570164_10204808309366899_1697912367_oBy James Long Truong
Staff Writer

This is part 1 of a 2-part series focusing on “How I Afforded It.” “Why I Studied Abroad” is part 2 of the series.

Summary: This article was written with the intention of breaking down the first barrier to scholarship writing, so that it becomes a little easier to express the power of your story and voice into writing.

Alongside the slew of graduation posts on social media around this time of year comes yet another prolific phenomenon: enthusiastic posts, pictures, and blogs about getting accepted to X university and living in Y city, where Z is happening; the exuberance from which follows the aforementioned illustrates an evident rise in popularity of studying abroad. Statistically, “over the past three decades, the number of international students has grown substantially, from 0.8 million worldwide in 1975 to almost 3.7 million in 2009, a more than four-fold increase.”[1]

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Source: Institute of International Education

Often perceived as a getaway from the rigorous trenches of one’s own academic endeavors, going on exchange is outstandingly beneficial in ways neither limited to the experiences nor the individual themselves. This statement speaks not only to the frequent traveler or city explorer, but includes even the modest study abroad student who seldom leaves the flat to wander and experience a taste of a new city, culture, and/or lifestyle.

–       For the philosopher: one might contend one needs not experience to fully ‘know’ what, e.g., culture is like, although that is not the point here. One might counter and say that this type of ‘knowledge’ does not encompass the unique knowledge gained from experience. For a brief musing, see Mary’s Room Thought-Experiment.

As someone who underwent 3 exchanges (with a fourth looming in the end of August), I—too—have experienced these benefits (which I mention in part 2. The focus of part 1 is on scholarship writing). While each of my exchanges was distinctly positive, I briefly shed light on them in this piece. My reason for writing Part 1 to share with you how I was able to afford all of them.*

–       *I hope my advice is helpful in its own right with respect to scholarship writing. To perhaps reassure you if otherwise, I have won over $35,000 out of 15+ scholarships. All of them involved essay(s).

One method of raising funds is simple and obvious, viz. scholarships, but I believe it is quite inconspicuous in an important respect, and that subtlety often serves as an underlying reason why one might not always succeed in this endeavor, including myself. I have failed many times, but I have understood it could be for several reasons I detail all below, but will mention one now: perhaps that particular scholarship might not have been the right fit for me! Other avenues, of course, exist and could be feasible to many, e.g. crowdfunding, support from close networks, grants, etc.

This article is targeted towards those who are simply eligible for any scholarship, but it is worthy to note most of my scholarships gave some preference to first-generation, low-income, ethnic minority, and/or high-achieving students. In saying this, I provide an outline that is broader (for inclusiveness purposes) and pertains to the mindset of writing a scholarship essay, a common writing structure, and some reasons why even the best personal statements might not succeed. While general in structure, this piece is naturally tailored to students who fall under said demographics (low-income, ethnic minority, first-generation college student) applying to need-based scholarships, but by no means is it limiting in content to other students.

Mindset of Writing a Scholarship Essay

First, we need to understand the following:

1)    Why do scholarships exist?

a.     Scholarships exist because donors want to invest in their beneficiaries, whether because they support their causes and/or simply believe in the beneficiaries themselves. Scholarships are ways of empowering one or the other or both.

2)    What do scholarships do?

a.     Scholarships provide (but are not limited to) financial support with the aim of easing the burdens one would otherwise endure with the absence of a scholarship. It lowers the opportunity cost of pursuing whatever the enterprise may be (e.g. studying abroad, attending university, pursuing a program, etc.).

b.     In a way, scholarships provide the means to develop the human capital[1] and social mobility[2] of their beneficiaries by removing a (tremendous) barrier, be it affordability or sustenance. The accumulation of scholarships can noticeably impact a student’s sense of creative/ambitious feasibility by lengthening the boundaries formerly imposed by the lack of affordability.

3)    How should scholarships be perceived?

a.     I think of scholarships as investments in social businesses. Unlike a traditional business, which focuses on maximizing profits to maximize stockholder returns, a social business is a “cause-driven business,”[3] i.e. seeking to maximize human welfare by addressing a cause they care about. To compare, one invests in a traditional business to maximize stockholder returns via juicy dividends, higher stock prices, etc. One invests in a social business to maximize human welfare via microcredit, encouraging local entrepreneurship, etc.

i.     Although arguably similar, do not think of scholarships as charities. Neither is superior/inferior by any means. Scholarships are different than charities because it is competitive; not freely given; and evaluated by performance metrics. This is what makes scholarships typically difficult to obtain.

4)    How should I, as a writer, perceive scholarships? [IF THIS MAKES SENSE, IT MAKES WRITING A SCHOLARSHIP ESSAY A LOT EASIER]

a.     First, perceive scholarships from the point of view of the donor (see above).

b.     Second, understand the intentions behind the scholarship (see above).

c.     Third, ask yourself whether the scholarship’s intentions align with your goals.

d.     Fourth, ask yourself whether receiving the scholarship furthers the donor’s goals of the scholarship through the advancement of your own goals.

e.     Fifth, if yes, keep that connection in mind when writing your essay.

f.      Note: While the language used refers to sole-benefactor scholarships, it is equally effective with group-benefactor scholarships.

Common Writing Structure

These are different approaches to writing scholarship essays. The following are actual essay prompts I have written about with different character constraints, so you will have to proportion your own content. These prompts should, nonetheless, give you a broad but comprehensive understanding of how to approach essays in general.

1)    Provide information about your interest in your major.

a.     A strong essay includes elements of a broader picture, applicability, and uniqueness. E.G.
i.     Why philosophy? What makes philosophy unique as a major?
ii.     How is philosophy applicable, relevant, and important to today’s world or   my own or both?
iii.     How does philosophy apply to me?

2)    What does philanthropy mean to you?

a.     A strong essay answers the question and every important subpart the question may entail. E.G.
i.     What is my definition of philanthropy?
ii.     How does philanthropy apply to me?
iii.     How have I engaged or intend to engage in philanthropy?

3)    Why have you chosen your country of study? What factors led you to select this country?

a.     A strong essay demonstrates a robust consideration of the desired country of study via aspects unique to said country, relevance of said country, and importance of said country towards one’s future. E.G.
i.     Why China? What makes China unique from other countries?
ii.     What connections do I have with China? What sort of connections do I desire creating?
iii.     How will living in China impact me, help me, and/or transform me? How will my study abroad in China advance my career?

4)    Please describe any socio-economic, educational, familial, cultural, or physical hardships or challenges you have overcome.

a.     A strong essay describes a genuine hardship faced and how resilience and other relevant attributes enabled one to overcome that hardship. E.G.
i.     How did my hardship impact me? How has my hardship challenged me?
ii.     How did I address that hardship?
iii.     How did I overcome it?
iv.     How have I grown as a result? What future impact can I make from overcoming this hardship?

5)    Explain how your participation in XYZ will enable you to advocate more effectively for social justice.

a.     A strong essay describes the process through which one becomes empowered to be a better advocate for social justice. E.G.
i.     Why did I select this program? How is it beneficial to my cause?
ii.     How can I use this program as a springboard to accomplish my goals?
iii.     In what respects do I need it? Why is it the case?

In all—but not limited to—the above five prompts, some common themes arise: vision, connection, and action. For some prompts, it is about envisioning a better future. For others, it is arousing empathy to connect/relate the reader to the writer. And for others, it is about conviction. Remember, what also matters is understanding the purpose of the scholarship and figuring out whether you can connect to that purpose.

Scholarship reader(s) rely on essays as subjective measures of fit, depth, and consideration. They simply would not want to award a scholarship to someone who has not put much thought into their own projects, pursuits, futures, etc. The readers need to believe in that person qua person or that the person’s cause is worth investing in.

That said, there is no shortcut for teasing out the underlying motivation for whatever you are pursuing. What gets quicker, however, is the translation from thought to text by having formulated a mental outline of your essay structure as you are reflecting. This comes easier with practice.  After understanding the mindset of scholarship writing and establishing a common writing structure, we will now transition into the final section of part 1 of this article:

Why You May Still Not Receive a Scholarship After Writing a Well-Written Essay

The usual suspects: poor writing, grammar, & structure; insufficient reflection; and perhaps not enough practice writing essays. If none apply to you, read on:

A thoughtful and well-written essay is great. You are perhaps farther now than where you might have been if you once fell victim to the aforementioned mistakes. Still, you did not manage to procure the scholarship. At this point, it might simply be due to the fact that you are not the right fit for their scholarship.

Think of it as a soft-rejection, and if you have encounter this type—which, after some practice, is a process of self-identification for the most part—be a little disappointed you did not get it, but also be reassured it was not because of your competence, effort, and ability.

I mention competence because it is crucial. At one point in college, I made the mistake of writing an essay but not directly answering the question. The effort and ability to write well was all there, but those were not helpful to my cause if I did not correctly address the prompt-at-hand. Upon receiving feedback, the professor was right in indicating while I understood the question in some parts, I lacked a full understanding of the question as a whole.

Think of that moment when you are explaining something to someone until you finally say, ‘Do you get the point?’ and your friend gets it half-right. Their understanding is half-there, but ultimately not, and that’s probably how my professor felt. Moral of the story? Try to fully understand the connection between the scholarship’s aim and your essay, as the former dictates the type of writing for the latter.

To end, everyone has a good story to tell, but the ability to navigate through the process of translating experiences into structured, refined writing can be daunting. I encounter these hurdles still, although not as much as when I first started. I received help, consistent feedback, and support from those who believed in me. 15+ drafts later, I had a personal statement ready to send to universities.

Your essay—while only constituting a portion of your application—reflects a refined version of your effort, ability, and thought process, which is very insightful for scholarship readers when they assess your application. That said, good luck.

The next piece of this 2-part series looks into “Why I Studied Abroad,” which will be available shortly.

[1] Human capital–the skills, knowledge, and experience possessed by an individual or population
[2] Social mobility—the movement of individuals, families, households, or other categories of people within or between social strata in a society. It is a change in social status relative to others’ social location within a given society.
[3] Term created by Muhammad Yunus.

[1] OECD (2011), “How many students study abroad?”, in Education at a Glance 2011: Highlights, OECD Publishing.

Photo by James Long Truong

BETWEEN THE ANCIENT AND THE MODERN: CUSCO, PERU IN PHOTOS

By Ellyette Iverson
Contributing Writer

This is the third article in our 2014 Week of Photo Journals: Changing Perspectives. Check back each day this week to see more beautiful photography and travel accounts from UC San Diego students.


Cusco, Peru. The location has been surrounded with an air of mystery, adventure and exoticism since it was made famous by Hiram Bingham’s ‘discovery’ of Machu Picchu in 1911. National Geographic later published photos from his voyage, which introduced readers around the world to a new sensational imagery. Today, the obsession continues, and tourists flock to Cusco in order to experience the wonder and awe brought forth by this discovery made over 100 years ago. But is it the same? Not quite. Cusco, which was once the capital of the great Inca Empire and one of the most powerful cities in the world, has become a place of rapid modernization and pop-up tour agencies, often hiding the magical wonders that quietly exist outside of the “tourist circuit.” As a student living in Peru, I had the opportunity to observe and discovery the other Cusco—the one filled with both modern and ancient stories. It was this Cusco that introduced me to the true Cusqueños who live there and let me see the wonders that were not so obvious at first glance.


Ceremonial rising of the flag. Plaza de Armas, Cusco.

Every Sunday, local government officials gather in the main square to honor various groups and organizations, as well as raise the cities flag with pride. Ironically, the city shares the same flag as the Gay Pride movement in the United States, and this connection has not been received well by the dominant “machismo” community of Cusco. Here, the rainbow signifies the origin of the Inca Empire, when, according to Inca myth, the founding emperors chose to settle in the valley of Cusco after a thrown staff sank deeply into the fertile grounds and a rainbow appeared overhead.


Commuter Bus, Sacred Valley (2 hours outside of Cusco)

One of the most entertaining subjects among travelers is the Peruvian dependence on buses for almost all transportation needs. In town, kombis, or small buses, are often packed to the brim with locals. While convenient and cheap, some of the buses can be extremely uncomfortable and at times dangerous. Nevertheless, bus rides always tend to be colorful experiences. Unlike our dreary public transportation system in the United States, bus drivers in Peru take pride in their vehicles, and often go to great extents to decorate and customize them with religious symbols and soccer accessories.


Glass Shard Balustrade. San Blas, Cusco

As you climb further into the hills surrounding the city of Cusco, the views become more spectacular while the architecture becomes less appealing. These barrios, or “neighborhoods,” tend to consist of the most basic homes with people often reusing materials for construction purposes. Broken glass bottles are often found atop walls. The other popular security measure is to plant cactus directly into the mud brick walls. While somewhat crude, these uses can be effective and at times even beautiful.


Dia de Los Muertos Flower Market.

While Americans busy themselves with preparations for Halloween, Peruvians begin preparing for two national holidays which take place on Nov. 1 and 2—Dia de Los Vivos and Dia de Los Muertos (the Day of the Living and the Day of the Dead). These holidays are meant to celebrate the cycle of life, starting with a celebration of life and ending with a remembrance day for those who have passed on. During this time, it is very common to see flower markets appear along the streets and plazas, with almost every local purchasing floral offerings for their deceased.


Peruvian Tuk-Tuk. Sacred Valley.

Just outside of Cusco lies the Sacred Valley, a lush agricultural area that sits along the bottom of a magnificent valley. Small towns dot the countryside, and transportation ranges from the public buses and taxis to the tiny tuk-tuks, or covered motorcycle cabbies, which act as the main traffic in the small roads crisscrossing through the towns. These can get especially colorful because drivers often compete for best designs in a unofficial competitions.


Hylephila peruana, Parque Privada de Santa Maria

As the city of Cusco grows at an increasingly rapid pace, ecosystems in the vicinity of the city have quickly disappeared. Places like the Parque Privada de Santa Maria have attempted to conserve sections of wildlife space in outlying neighborhoods. However, these areas are constantly faced with financial problems and lack of resources, holding their position as the only conservation park in Cusco on very shaky ground. This area is home to a variety of plant and animal species endangered in the area, including this moth, whose larvae was once eaten as a delicacy by the Inca nobility.


Huaca Cinca, Cusco.

Throughout Andean history, natural formations have held very important religious roles among the people. The fact that so many were dependent on the land for survival made certain landmarks very obvious places of worship. When the Spaniards arrived in Cusco, they calculated that the Inca Empire oversaw at least 3000 of these “shrines,” which ranged from fresh water springs to massive rocks and large obscure trees. Today, many of the huacas have been forgotten or destroyed. But some have lived on, such as this boulder that overlooks the city. While these historical sites are virtually unknown to tourists, they are carefully looked after by the local Cusqueños who live around it and hold as a very important place in the history of Peru.

HISTORY, HOLIDAYS AND HAM: A YEAR ABROAD IN SPAIN

This week Prospect Journal is publishing a series of photo journals about international travel – join us as we explore a diverse set of countries by reading our “Changing Perspectives: Journalism Through an International Lens” series!

By Emma Hodson
Staff Writer

I was going to Spain, and on the plane ride envisioned myself lisping to waiters to bring me more paella. While I never picked up the famous Spanish lisp, I did have my fill of paella, flamenco and my personal favorite —architecture left over from Islamic Spain. I spent a year in Granada, a major city in the southern province of Andalusia. There, I attended University of Granada, where my classes were conducted entirely in rapid-fire Andalusian Spanish. While Granada was my home base, and Monday through Thursday were generally spent haphazardly navigating the Spanish education system, I took weekends as opportunity for travel. It would be impossible to document every memory of every corner of Spain I was able to visit, but the following pictures will have to suffice.

Granada, Spain
Granada is the capital city of the province of Granada within the southernmost autonomous community of Andalusia. Like many other cities in southern Spain, Granada is known for its architectural and cultural remnants of the Muslim rulers who controlled the Iberian Peninsula from the year 711 until the conquest of the Catholic monarchs in 1492.

Alhambra
Granada’s most famous landmark is the Alhambra, a palace built during the Nasrid Dynasty in the 1300’s. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Alhambra is one of the most visited sites in Spain. I personally visited the Alhambra two times, and its beauty certainly did not diminish. The exact geometric patterns of its architecture, its arched doorway, and the carvings of Arabic calligraphy are breathtaking.

Alhambra
As a student of the Arabic language, I was particularly amazed by the Alhambra. Unfortunately, as much as I tried, I could not decipher the Arabic inscriptions on the wall. Regardless, long portions of my visits to the Alhambra consisted of me staring adamantly at all the ornately carved walls.

Generalife Gardens
The Alhambra consists of a few different parts, including the Generalife gardens. The Generalife was the summer palace of the Nasrid kings, and visitors of the Generalife will have no doubts as to why. The lush garden walls are draped with flowers and fountains run throughout. I was struck by the use of water as an architectural element in the Islamic architecture in Spain. In the summer months, with temperatures rising over the 100 degree mark, the water provides a cooling and calming atmosphere to the gardens.

Carre Supermercado, Granada, Spain
While Spanish food is often raved about in the US, it seems to me that the emphasis is unfairly placed on paella. In reality, ham, or in Spanish jamón, is truly the dish that epitomizes Spanish cuisine. Served in everything from tapas, to breakfast foods, Iberian ham is abundant, and can often be found hanging in restaurants, cafés, grocery stores, gas stations, Chinese restaurants—or really, anywhere. In Spain, no time is a bad time for ham.

Nerja, Spain
The Mediterranean Sea is only a few hours away from Granada, duly named the Costa del Sol, or the Sunny Coast. Its sparkling blue water, white sandy beaches, and its usually sunny weather have been a huge attraction not only for Spaniards, but for ex-patriots from the UK, looking for sunnier skies. Especially in Nerja, one of the most popular beach destinations, Irish pubs and English taverns are never too far from sight.

Mezquita-Catedral, Córdoba
One of my favorite places other than Granada in Andalusia was the city of Córdoba. Its streets are lined with orange trees, and the old Jewish quarter recalls again the days of the Islamic empires, where Jews, Christians and Muslims cohabited the cities while maintaining their separate niches. This coexistence of course was not maintained, and this fact is most visible in Cordoba’s most famous landmark, the mezquita-catedral, or the Mosque-Cathedral. Once a large Islamic mosque, it was converted into a Catholic cathedral during the Reconquista. Massive in size, the Mosque-Cathedral maintains its Islamic architecture while still having ornate catholic paintings, statues, pews and chapel features.

Besalú, Catalunya, Spain
Barcelona is famous for obvious reasons, but less-renowned cities in Catalunya are definitely worth a visit. I particularly enjoyed visiting the medieval city of Besalú, a few hours outside Barcelona. It was there that it was truly apparent that Catalunya had a distinct culture from much of Spain. Our tour guide unmistakably spoke Spanish as a second language as she explained to us the long history of Besalú and the various groups that had occupied it throughout the ages. Though it had been occupied by the French as well as the Islamic empire, today the Catalan flag flies high on the stone gateways to the city.

Mallorca, Spain
Since the Spanish University seemed to be fond of excuses for a holiday, I was able to have a second Spring Break of sorts, which I spent in Mallorca. One of the Balearic Islands, Mallorca, along with Ibiza, Minorca, Formentera, and a few other islands, compose an off-shore component of the Spanish nation. Mallorca is home to the famous tennis player Rafael Nadal, and is often thought of as a party destination, but I experienced it as a place of incredible natural beauty, with rocky cliffs, crystal blue water and sprawling hills.

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain
The last place I visited in Spain was Bilbao, another large city in Basque Country. Mostly an industrial city, Bilbao draws most of its tourism because of its famous Guggenheim Museum, which resembles a massive ship as it flanks the river. Designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, the museum is a strange albeit beautiful landmark, and it houses a large variety of modern art. Though the museum is the main attraction, I enjoyed Bilbao by strolling along the river by day and eating Basque tapas, called pintxos, by night.

My year in Spain was beyond doubt the most incredible year of my life. Spain’s history, culturally varied autonomous communities, its art and architecture, and its natural beauty are only umbrella terms for the experiences and memories that I will have for my entire life.