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Gilman Awardee + Music + Honors Student Blogs About Her Experience in South Africa

| Ashley Olszewski

Senior Music Education major and Honors student Mariah Sands recently studied abroad for a semester in Stellenbosch, South Africa with the support of a prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

The late Congressman Benjamin A. Gilman served in the House of Representatives for 30 years and chaired the House Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 to 2001. While in office, he helped to found the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. Since 2001, the program has since awarded an amazing 19,000 study abroad scholarships to U.S. undergraduate students who are also Federal Pell grant recipients.

Gilman scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply toward their study abroad. The Gilman program offers these scholarships to U.S. students who might not otherwise be able to afford to study abroad. “That’s one thing I know a lot of students struggle with,” says Sands. “I would encourage students to apply for scholarships because I don’t think they realize how many are actually out there and the Gilman is particularly special.”

“Even back in elementary school, I always wanted to go abroad and travel, and studying abroad, being able to immerse myself in another culture and to see life from other people’s perspectives really intrigued me.”

While studying abroad in Stellenbosch, Sands took courses that applied to her major in Music. These included courses in music education, choir, and even a course on playing the recorder. She also had opportunities to meet and befriend South African and other international students, and to travel. She visited the famous vineyards near Stellenbosch and traveled to the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains in Lesotho.

Sands has published a blog documenting her experiences and travels in South Africa, which can be found at

The University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire is a national leader for study abroad. According to the 2016 Open Doors Report of the Institute for International Education, UW – Eau Claire ranks 29th among national public and private master’s level colleges and universities in the overall number of students it sends abroad.

Sands’ advice to students who are considering studying abroad? “Do it without hesitation. You gain so many new perspectives on life and on how you fit into the world and how the world is interconnected. I think, especially as people from the United States, we have such a narrow view of what happens outside of our country, and we are not aware of how our interactions affect people all around the world.”

Though unsure about all of her plans for the future, Sands will begin student teaching during the fall semester of 2017 and will graduate in December 2017.

“I really want to go abroad again. I would love to go back to South Africa because I really felt I acclimated well there, and I love the friendships that I made. But I’m open to going anywhere because I know there is so much more of the world to see, and I want to be able to go different places and experience other cultures and try to find experiences that are not just for tourists.”

“This has made me realize that we are people everywhere. We all have hopes and dreams and aspirations. I’m very thankful to everybody here who helped me apply for the Gilman Scholarship and to the Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship Program for giving me this opportunity.”

Students interested in studying abroad should get in touch with the Center for International Education at UW-Eau Claire. E-mail or call 715-836-4411. More information about the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program can be found at