My name is Korotoumou “Katy” Ballo, and I am originally from Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. I moved to New York City seven years ago. I am a first-generation student and an OP scholar double majoring in Management & Business and International Affairs. I was one of the recipients of the Benjamin A. Franklin Gilman Scholarship which was founded by the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, designed to assist students with limited financial means and support them with studying abroad. With the help of the Gilman Scholarship and Skidmore college, I had the privilege to study abroad in the Fall of 2019 at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I chose to travel to the UAE because I wanted to go to a non-traditional study abroad place, as well as my curiosity regarding the politics of the Emirates, its economy, and culture. This curiosity was heightened after finishing my independent research project with the Opportunity Program office on analyzing the geopolitical relationship between the United States and the Middle East.
I used to think studying abroad was a luxurious thing that I would never be able to afford. However, the Gilman scholarship and Skidmore College made it possible for me to study in a new school in a different country. With the Gilman Scholarship, I was opportune to attend a reception where I met and networked with world-class professionals from the United States Consulate in Dubai. Additionally, the financial support of Gilman helped me to travel to other countries such as Sri Lanka and Jordan, exposing me to different cultures. One of the highlights of my Jordan experience was visiting Petra and having an overnight stay at a camp in Wadi Ram with my friends and floating in the Dead Sea!
I would not trade my experience in the UAE for anything. It was an amazing experience especially at AUS where I worked with and met some Emiratis with whom I built long-lasting friendships. My experience also allowed me to develop strong mental agility. At AUS, I was able to take classes that enhanced my knowledge of International Business and Middle Eastern history and culture. Being a part of the IXO program and CIEE gave me the opportunity to participate in the making of the Dyouf Al Wosta documentary which helped me learn about the different aspects of the Bedouin culture through a variety of interactive activities.
My study abroad experience was full of meaningful interactions with different people. I got to learn a lot from my professors, peers, government officials, and locals. This experience is directly linked to my future career path. Working in the business world and connecting with people from diverse backgrounds has always been a goal of mine. My travel abroad experience gave me a first-hand feeling of what my future career will look like.
My semester was full of adventure and meaningful experiences ranging from visiting the famous Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Museum, Burj Khalifa, Desert Safaris, the Dubai Mall, and many other places. Traveling to the UAE opened my eyes to a new reality especially when it comes to the representation of the Middle East and Arab Culture in the media. However, my study abroad experience would have been wildly different had I not received the financial support from the Gilman Scholarship and Skidmore College. This scholarship enabled me to immerse myself in a new culture, try different activities, and network with professionals in different conferences who would later become mentors and role models. As a Gilman Scholar, my follow up project consisted of promoting the Gilman Scholarship for students who believe that money is a barrier to studying abroad. Studying abroad can be affordable with scholarships like the Gilman where you not only get the privilege of financial help, but also the strong alumni resources you are exposed to after your experience. I hope I can inspire anyone who reads this to know that your dream of being immersed in a culture can come true with the support of the Gilman Scholarship and Skidmore College.