I was a sophomore in my summer engineering internship when I decided to Google “study abroad scholarships” to pass the time. That’s when I came across the Boren Awards, a national scholarship that provides up to $20,000 in funding to successful applicants who intend to learn an in-demand foreign language.
This was one of the few study abroad opportunities I’d come across that actually gave preference to STEM students (many cater to business, arts, or soft sciences.) With support from my study abroad and international education office, I was able to submit a strong application and be become one of the select few Boren Scholars from thousands of applicants and study Arabic in Dubai, UAE for one academic year.
Scholarships were the only way I ever would have been able to study abroad, but they gave me much more than an international education.
Allowed me to travel through a new region
With the money that I was able to save on tuition, room & board and activities with scholarships, I was able to use whatever remaining money I had for extracurriculars. During my time in Dubai, I traveled to 6 new countries including Oman, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Netherlands, and the Republic of Georgia. I doubt I ever would have had these travel experiences on my own if they hadn’t been afforded to me through study abroad scholarships!
Flights to these countries from the United States would have been upwards of $800 at the least, so the Boren allowed me a unique opportunity to visit these destinations at a greatly reduced price because of proximity.
Introduced me to other ambitious, travel-loving young people!
The people I met through the study abroad program and the Boren Award Alumni networks have lasted long after my return home. It’s rare to find communities of other young people who are ambitious and enjoy travel, many Boren Awardees have stayed in touch to help each other find jobs, plan trips together, and just remain friends.
Without my study abroad scholarship I also never would have met the amazing friends I met during my travels or my study abroad.
Gained marketable skills for job hunting
Studying abroad in the Middle East and learning Arabic became a huge talking point on my resume when I was job hunting after graduation.
Arabic in itself is a critical language, meaning in the United States (especially in defense or government roles) it’s very highly sought after, making my resume stand out amongst the rest.
My experience abroad itself was a notable point on my resume. Recruiters and hiring managers would often ask me questions such as: How do you think the skills you learned in your international experiences can translate into the work environment? In what ways did studying abroad change the way you interact in diverse teams? What did your award of such scholars
My study abroad experience led me to add an “International Competencies” section to my resume where I detailed my foreign language skills, international experiences, and cross-cultural skills, and I also added the study abroad scholarships I’d won to the “Awards & Special Recognition” section of my resume.
Made me take risks with my writing and blog
Traveling abroad for an extended period of time was a pivotal point for my travel blog. Before then, I’d been writing on my blog sparingly, and when I did write I would be sharing what I “thought” I should be sharing—based on Blogging 101 articles and common trends I saw—and less about what I was actually passionate about or an expert in.
The Boren Scholarship shook me out of this mindset by allowing me experiences and opportunities that were extremely unique to me. I couldn’t turn my study abroad scholarship experience and time abroad into a “Top 10 Things to Do In…” post! I was forced to take more risks, share more of my personal opinions, and truly develop my own voice in this time.
Helped me secure a job after graduation
One penance of the Boren Scholarship was that I committed to working at least for one year supporting the U.S. federal government. This could be in many capacities, from participating in the Peace Corp, supporting federal agencies such as USAID, the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and many more. With such a diverse pool of valuable job options, I accepted.
The Boren Scholarship also provided special hiring exemptions via service appointment under Schedule A (r) and non-competitive conversion to career status under NDAA FY 13. This all is a fancy way of saying that I had certain “skip the line” privileges for certain federal positions if I applied to them.
Study abroad scholarships—notably, the Boren Language Scholarship—did much more than allow me the opportunity to study abroad. The lessons and skills I learned during that time abroad resonate with me even now, 3 years later, and have changed me in more personal, financial, professional, and entrepreneurial ways than I ever could have imagined.
Gabby Beckford is a Gen Z travel and lifestyle entrepreneur who runs the blog Packs Light.