By KAITLIN MAYHEW
University of Mary Washington student Amanda Walkins thought she was ready to study abroad when she received a $5,000 Cultural Envoy Scholarship. She didn’t realize that getting the scholarship was only the first step towards leaving the country.
“Essentially you become my slave for the semester,” said Chris Musick, director of International Academic Services jokingly as he described the activities of the Cultural Envoy Scholarship winners during the semester preceding their time abroad.
“Studying abroad was never a question for me,” said Walkins, a junior Spanish and Geography double major. “The only question was where I would go.”
The work Musick was referring to is the extensive research required of each participant. This includes learning information on their destination’s customs, politics, history and people.
In addition to their research, students begin to make contacts and familiarize themselves with the international office so they can become effective envoys in their areas of study.
“It allows you to develop the cognitive concepts before you go,” Musick said. “The goal is to develop friendship programs.”
The student Cultural Envoy Scholars represent the University of Mary Washington while they are abroad. Then, upon return, they act as the link between UMW and their chosen country.
Kristin Pytko, a junior, says in addition to creating student envoys, the scholarship features other unique qualities.
“This [scholarship] requires you to work on some kind of international project while you’re abroad, so that when you get back, you can continue doing something similar here,” Pytko said.
The details of the project vary. Community service programs, internships or programs within their guest schools all qualify. Pytko worked in the University of Duesto’s International Relations office in Bilbao, Spain for her project.
Walkins will be working with First People’s Worldwide in Ecuador this summer. The non-profit organization works to help native peoples strengthen their economic assets and improve their overall management.
The scholarship is open to students pursuing all majors. The student decides whether to incorporate their major in their project.
Hope Slagstad, a senior and Middle East Studies major, is studying in Cairo. Currently, she tutors English as a Second Language to adult students. ESL tutoring enables Slagstad to apply her studies in Arabic.
“I didn’t want to just learn about it in a book, but rather go to a country in the region and get a better idea of what life and culture is like there,” Slagstad said. “I guess you could say I wanted a more hands-on approach.”
After completing an application, qualified applicants are invited to talk with a scholarship panel of faculty members.
“I liked the interview process,” Slagstad said. “It focused mainly on what my interests are and the type of things I would like to do with the scholarship if I received it.”
Walkins says the scholarship enables students to go beyond the scope of a visitor or tourist and become more immersed in the culture.
“It’s not always easy to assimilate into another culture within such a short time period that a semester provides,” said Walkins. “Having an internship and getting involved creates more opportunities for the student to adapt and learn from their new surroundings.”