Hello everyone! My name is Abby Donovan, and I am a 2021-2022 Gilman Alumni Ambassador. In 2019, the Gilman Scholarship gave me the opportunity of studying abroad in Valladolid, Spain, a town 118 miles north of the capital, Madrid. I graduated from the University of Iowa in 2020 with my Communication Studies and Spanish degrees. I currently work for the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center at Iowa.
When I received the Gilman and studied abroad in 2019, I was just fishing the third year of my Spanish degree. I always knew that I wanted to travel and grow my language in skills in a different country, but I didn’t know if that would be possible for me. When I found out that I received the Gilman Scholarship I was beyond grateful and extremely excited that I had this opportunity.
I was eager to challenge myself by being immersed in a totally different culture where everyone spoke Spanish. When I first arrived, I was very nervous to speak to all the native Spanish speakers. I quickly realized that I needed to take the risk and just start trying my best to speak in a different language. The second I decided to give it my best shot, the people were so kind and accepting. They would critique me nicely and correct me if I used the wrong word. By allowing myself to open up in a new country I was able to learn a lot more about the language and become fluent by the end of my trip.
When I returned home, I quickly fell back into my old routine and for some time didn’t use my Spanish like I should. I began reaching out to those who I was in Spain with, and we started getting together to speak Spanish again. There are so many reasons why I wanted to keep up with my Spanish and continue advancing these language skills. One of the most rewarding aspects of learning a second language is being able to communicate to someone in their language and knowing that you are able to connect with a wider range of people in their personal and professional lives.
A year later, I graduated from the University of Iowa and was offered a job at the university in the Diabetes Research Center as their communications coordinator. Studying abroad and advancing my Spanish language skills helped me to excel in this position. There are people all over the world that work in our research labs and because of my time in Spain I have been able to connect with many of them through Spanish language.
Without the Gilman Scholarship I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to Spain, advance my speaking skills, and grow as a young adult. I realized that there is much more to learn around the world and the best way to go it is by immersing yourself into a different culture. The risk is always worth it, and you will almost always come out a better person because of it.