Three SLA Students Win Prestigious Grants
Three SLA students were recently recognized for their excellence by winning highly competitive grants
for their work abroad. Their stories not only reflect each student's outstanding achievements and high
level of motivation, but also demonstrate the wide variety of ways that international study can enrich a
student's academic experiences and individual growth. (The material below has been excerpted and
adapted from the Spring 2013 issue of Marist Magazine.)
For junior Kristen O’Brien and her identical twin, Allison, the Freeman-ASIA Scholarship
was profoundly life-changing.
“Without this scholarship, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to travel abroad,” wrote
Kristen, an English major double-minoring in music and global studies, in an e-mail from
Seoul, South Korea. “Receiving the Freeman-ASIA Scholarship has been an amazing
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me! I am also lucky because this is the last semester
that students receive the scholarship.”
From 2001 to 2009, Freeman-ASIA supported more than 4,000 U.S. undergraduates
from more than 600 institutions in their study abroad plans in East and Southeast
Asia. With funding from the Freeman Foundation, the private nonprofit Institute of
International Education relaunched the Freeman-ASIA Program for two academic years,
beginning in summer 2011.
Marist has produced 10 Freeman-ASIA scholars since 2006. The spring 2013 recipients
will be the last awardees as the Freeman Foundation funded the program only until
“I feel even luckier, because not only did I receive the scholarship, but my sister did as well,” says Kristen. “This only further convinced me that traveling to South Korea was fate for us.
“Allison and I were born in Seoul, South Korea, and we were adopted,” she says. “We’ve always wanted to return to Korea, to see our birth land, but due to financial circumstances, that was impossible.
“It’s ironic that about 20 years ago, we were making an unexpected journey to America,” she says. “Now, 20 years later, we are making another unexpected journey, but this time we are in Seoul, South Korea. I have literally thrown myself into the unknown, journeying to a country halfway across the world, making a journey that I never thought I’d make.”
“Freeman-ASIA has given me the chance to reconnect with my roots, while also experiencing a culture entirely different from my own,” says Allison, a graphic design major. “Initially I had a bit of a culture shock, more because I had not traveled very far before, and suddenly I was halfway around the world. I’ve never been away from my parents for very long, so I was glad to have my sister with me.”
Soon she would have more family with her. “After a couple of weeks of being in Seoul, Kristen and I finally met with our birth mother and sister in Hongdae at the Eastern Child Welfare Center,” Allison writes in an e-mail from Seoul. “The experience was unreal. It was amazing to see how similar our sister looked, and we learned that we inherited our artistic ability from our birth father. Our sister, Hyerin, majored in graphic design, aiming for the same type of career as me. She has the same bad eyesight, uneven teeth, and even the habit of walking with her foot turned slightly in like Kristen. We see our sister often, sharing the same love of music and art. Although there is a bit of a language barrier, it feels completely comfortable; she’s the sister we never knew.”
“Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity, and for me it has been more than just experiencing another culture,” says Allison, who plans to return to South Korea to teach English after graduating. “I’ve found a part of me that I never knew I had.”
“I have always felt like there was a part of myself that was missing—a part of me that I didn’t know,” adds Kristen. “After traveling to Seoul, experiencing the culture, meeting other Koreans, and meeting my birth family, I think I can finally say that I feel like I am whole. If it weren’t for the Freeman-ASIA Scholarship, this wouldn’t have been possible.”
A scholarship also made the dream of going abroad come true for Alirio Gonzalez of
Rhinebeck, NY. In 2012 he was awarded a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship
Since 2004, Marist has had nine Gilman scholars.
Award recipients are chosen by a competitive selection process and must use the award to
defray eligible study abroad costs including program tuition, room and board, books, local
transportation, insurance, and airfare. The congressionally funded program is sponsored by
the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and is
administered by the Institute of International Education.
The goal of the Gilman is to diversify the kinds of students who study abroad and the
countries and regions where they go. The Gilman Program awards more than 2,300
scholarships annually. In 10 years it has received more than 31,000 applications and awarded
more than 8,800 scholarships to students enrolled in nearly 950 U.S. institutions.
The Gilman supported Gonzalez’s studies in Madrid this past spring. A pre-law junior majoring in English and philosophy, he took courses in Spanish film, language, government, and literature at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. He feels fortunate to have been able to travel within Spain to Barcelona, Granada, Toledo, and Salamanca and outside of Spain to Portugal, Morocco, England, France, Belgium, and Italy.
“Winning the Gilman Scholarship means that all my efforts in life and at Marist have a value for which I am exceedingly grateful. It means having the opportunity to live a life in Madrid where I can experience things entirely unfamiliar to me while also having the opportunity to grow as a person by way of such experiences. Ultimately it means that there is always a way to attain one’s goals, as far reaching as they may at first appear.”
Poughkeepsie native Devin Lamar ’12 has wanted to live in France since he was in seventh grade.
Soon, at age 23, he will be doing it, thanks to a French Government English Teaching Assistantship.
From Oct. 1, 2013, to April 1, 2014, he will live in France—the exact location yet to be determined—
where he will teach English to middle and high school students.
Lamar was selected for the grant by the Institute of International Education’s National Screening
Committee, which recommends U.S. students for Department of State-funded Fulbright grants and
other grants sponsored by foreign governments, universities, and private donors. His award, which
came as a result of his application for a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant, will cover a salary,
health insurance, and housing.
He was one of 182 applicants for Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships in France. Six of these were awarded, and the Institute of International Education ranked the remaining applicants for consideration by the French government for its 50 assistantships.
“It’s been pretty much unbelievable, like a dream,” he says. “I’m ecstatic.”
Lamar believes his dream of living in France was inspired by his violin studies. He has played violin since third grade, learning the works of French as well as German, Italian, and Russian composers. “I was just obsessed with music,” he says.
He recalls what his father often said to him: “If you want to go to Europe so badly, make it happen.” So, after transferring from Dutchess Community College to Marist, he spent his first Marist semester studying in Paris at the Sorbonne. His father’s words again echoed in his head when Pat Taylor, Marist’s graduate school and fellowship advisor, suggested he apply for a Fulbright grant.
Lamar already has extensive teaching and tutoring experience. He is the first Marist graduate to earn a dual major in French and history with certification in both for adolescent education. He has served two student-teaching internships, in Marlboro Central Schools and Red Hook Central Schools. He has tutored in French and history since age 15 at his own high school, Spackenkill, and he also has taught violin since then.
Currently he is a teaching assistant at Astor Services for Children and Families in Rhinebeck, NY. He works there six days a week and spends the seventh working as a lifeguard at a local pool. When he completes the assistantship he plans to pursue a master’s in special education.
Lamar says his parents greatly influenced him in fulfilling his dream. “My parents helped motivate me to get this done.”