23 November 2022

Gilman Scholarship a ‘mind-blowing’ opportunity for US student

Global Citizens

Kylie Jackson is from a small town in rural Virginia and is the first in her family to attend university, which is a big deal. What’s even bigger is that she is currently studying in New Zealand, an experience she could not have imagined was possible when she was growing up.

In her third year of a Bachelor of Science in Conservation Biology, Kylie secured a Gilman Scholarship and left her classes at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, to study marine biology and ecology courses for a semester at the University of Otago.  

She arrived in July and although she always dreamed of studying abroad, there are days when the opportunity she has been given to study here is still sinking in.  

“Growing up, we lived below the poverty line. When I was a kid living in a two-bed trailer with two siblings, it did not seem possible that I could even go to university, let alone study abroad in this amazing country,” she says. 

“It still blows my mind that I am here in New Zealand and I’m so thankful for the opportunity which will have a huge influence on my life.”  

Gilman Scholarship key to study abroad opportunity 

Kylie says her home university is quite small but offered good Study Abroad programmes which attracted her. “I knew that if I studied overseas, I would get a completely different experience. I wanted to understand another culture and chose New Zealand because I knew there was a big focus on conservation.” 

Kylie says she would not have been able to study in New Zealand without the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship and appreciates the value and prestige which comes with it.  

The Gilman Scholarship is a long-running programme funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the US Department of State, which aims to support US undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds to study or intern abroad where they would otherwise not be able to afford to.  

Education New Zealand signed a partnership with the ECA in 2017, making New Zealand the first country to offer dedicated funding for Gilman scholars. Others have since followed.  

The partnership is a win-win for both countries. The ECA wants to see more diversity among its outbound Gilman scholars and, for ENZ, the Gilman partnership is an opportunity to promote New Zealand as a welcoming and inclusive study destination, while diversifying the cohort of American students in the country. 

New Zealand education experience ‘exceeded expectations’ 

Kylie says her education experience in New Zealand has exceeded her expectations. She is excited to have secured an internship supporting PhD students working on an early summer population count of Hector’s dolphins off the Canterbury coast. 

“Hector’s dolphin populations are endangered, so it’s important work which almost exactly matches my career aspirations. I want to study populations in the wild to figure out how to conserve and preserve endangered species,” she says. “I wouldn’t have opportunities like this at my home university, and I’m so happy about it.” 

Kylie hasn’t wasted a moment of her time in Aotearoa, signing up for a range of volunteer projects in the Otago region, including tree planting with Forest and Bird, dune restoration with Halo Project, and bush restoration at Quarantine Island

“Getting part of your education abroad opens up a whole new perspective of the world,” she says. “It’s important to travel to other countries to understand that different countries have different strengths. A real strength of New Zealand is conservation, so it’s great to be able to come here and learn.”  

She has learned much about New Zealand’s unique approach to nature through the lens of te ao Māori. “The way Māori culture is part of New Zealand’s identity makes you see the importance of inter-connectedness between the planet, the resources, the way we live, and the impact we have. This is definitely something I will bring back to the US with me.” 

Kylie is a keen photographer who has taken “thousands of photos” during her stay. She plans to share her journey in New Zealand through presentations to her school and wider community.   

“I want to show that New Zealand is a unique and diverse country. It’s not one of the big countries on the world map, but there is so much international students can learn by coming here.” 

Caption for main image: Kylie Jackson (left) with other volunteers on the Okahau Dune Restoration Project at Warrington Beach, Otago

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