I was ecstatic to be able to go to Kerala, India, for a winter study abroad opportunity. For the longest time though, India felt like this huge item on my to-do list in both the magnitude of preparation it required and the anxiety that came with traveling internationally on my own, for the first time. The magnitude of this achievement didn’t sink in until I stepped outside the Trivandrum Airport before sunrise, suddenly enthralled by these big birds and seeing the first of many palm trees, and I realized it was probably snowing back in Iowa.
Our hosts showed us multiple success stories of Kerala, a region known globally for its model of sustainable development, but it was also interesting to hear about how similar Northern India’s struggle of invasive far-right ideology is to the U.S. I truly loved, and am still fascinated by, the architecture principles put forth by Laurie Baker, the coexistence of different languages and cultures in South India, the wonderful, amazing, best meals I’ve ever eaten, and all the brilliant minds in Kerala who have proven women, science, and the expulsion of caste systems are key to development.
"Through this opportunity, I not only felt my passion for learning rekindled, but also gained tangible insight on the post graduate paths in my consideration. I also felt surprised by just how many paths there are globally that I hadn’t even considered. "
Coming into college, I identified as someone who loved learning, but unfortunately as the years kept going with no degree I started to give up on many plans. Through this opportunity, I not only felt my passion for learning rekindled, but also gained tangible insight on the post graduate paths in my consideration. I also felt surprised by just how many paths there are globally that I hadn’t even considered.
As an incoming first-generation student, all the statistics about past students like graduating in four years can be encouraging. However, I think what happens as a byproduct is you now feel an added pressure to finish college at the same rate as peers, some of whom don’t face the same challenges as you. I also identify as low-income and was astonished at how many scholarships I was able to earn, even with some challenges in receiving merit-based scholarships in the past. Moving forward, I hope first-generation students succeed no matter how long it takes them, but also find comfort that sometimes things work out in mysterious ways. If I had graduated when I was originally supposed to, during the pandemic, I would have missed out on studying abroad in Kerala, the best opportunity I’ve ever had.
Faith Benson (ethics and public policy and political science student with a minor in philosophy and a certificate in sustainability), a Diversity Ambassador Scholarship recipient, participated in a study abroad program in India in winter 2022-23.
The Diversity Ambassador Scholarship program provides awards to study abroad for a summer, semester, or academic year. The scholarships are intended to support the diversification of students who study abroad. Upon completion of the study abroad program and return to UI, award recipients are asked to submit a photo and an open letter to prospective students or suggest an alternate means of sharing with prospective students.
Please note that the opinions and views expressed by diversity ambassadors are solely those of the students and do not reflect or represent the views of International Programs or the University of Iowa.
International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement. IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.