McKenzie Coleman has always wanted to travel the world. But when she got to Joliet Junior College, Coleman didn’t think she could study abroad.
“I always had this idea that studying abroad was only a thing for bigger schools and universities,” Coleman said. "I was so surprised when one day I got an email from JJC saying I was qualified to study abroad.”
Now she’s studying overseas in Ireland thanks in part to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.
The federal scholarship awards up to $5,000 to Pell Grant-eligible students to cover study abroad expenses. Since its inception in 2001, over 130,000 applications have been received and over 34,000 scholarships have been awarded, giving the scholarship program just over a 26.1% acceptance rate.
JJC professor and study abroad advisor Nataliya Marchenko was in “disbelief followed by excitement” when she learned Coleman was chosen.
“Knowing that only three JJC students applied and how competitive this scholarship is, I logged into the Gilman portal not expecting to see any awardees,” Marchenko said. “Yet there it was — McKenzie's name! At first, I thought I may have misinterpreted the information but after double and triple checking, I realized that she indeed was awarded the scholarship.”
“I was completely shocked when I found out,” Coleman said. “I almost didn't believe her! I immediately felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Coleman’s study abroad journey in Ireland lasts four weeks. Much of her family is from Ireland, and she recognized that visiting and exploring her family’s homeland “would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”
Her destination is also meaningful to someone else in her life.
Coleman works as a certified nursing assistant at a memory care facility, and one of her residents has been to Ireland many times.
“Nearly every time I go to work, this resident tells me about his time in Ireland and how I need to go there someday,” Coleman said. “When I found out I had the opportunity to go, I didn't give it a second thought. I knew I needed to go!”
Though Coleman is a diagnostic medical sonography student at JJC, her courses in Ireland will focus on modern Irish literature and the Irish experience. She’ll learn about Irish plays, texts and novels and dive into Irish history — all while traveling the country.
“It will broaden my understanding of different cultures and allow me the opportunity to connect with a wide variety of future patients,” Coleman said. “It will also help me understand that there are so many diverse cultures out there, and it is vital that I accommodate to each patient’s cultural beliefs and needs.”
Marchenko encourages students to study abroad because of the “unique opportunity to achieve many things,” such as improving language skills and fostering personal growth and independence. In addition, Marchenko said students who study abroad are more likely to maintain a high GPA and complete their degrees on time.
The Institute of International Education recently selected JJC as a recipient of an American Passport Project grant to assist students in obtaining their U.S. passports, allowing them to participate in exciting study abroad opportunities, like Coleman’s trip to Ireland.
“I am most excited about the new experiences that I am going to have,” Coleman said. “I cannot wait to experience another culture, another atmosphere and a whole new society that I have not seen yet. There is so much to explore in Ireland, and I can't wait to get started!”
To get started on your own international educational journey, visit the JJC study abroad webpage.