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Scholarships for Honduras Study
December 22, 2005

Two Calvin College students have received scholarships from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program to spend a semester studying development in Honduras.

Amy VanNocker a junior from Petoskey, Michigan who is majoring in both international relations and international development, received $4,500 from the Gilman program.

Junior Lauren Vander Plas, a social work major from Cadillac, Michigan, received $3,000.

Both students will use the money to participate in Calvin’s Development Studies Semester in Honduras in the spring of 2006.

“Fewer than 300 scholarships were awarded, and Calvin students won two of them,” says Ellen Monsma, the college’s director of off-campus programs. “I think one of the things that particularly helped this year was that both students were going to Honduras, an unusual destination for off-campus study. Also, there are not that many college programs that emphasize development studies.”

The Gilman scholarship program offers U.S. undergraduate students who are already receiving Pell Grant funding at two- or four-year colleges and universities the opportunity to study abroad. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the Institute of International Education.

“The program aims to encourage students to choose non-traditional study abroad destinations,” reads the Gilman Web site, “especially those outside of Western Europe and Australia.”

Calvin’s Development Studies Semester in Honduras program is distinctive not only for its location, but also for its focus. The semester, which combines poverty and development theory and Spanish language study, is a life-changing experience for the students who undertake it, says Roland Hoksbergen, director of international development studies at Calvin.

“It opens your eyes to the way other people live; it opens your eyes to the way you live; and it opens your eyes to the relationship between you and them," he says. "And all of those things are pretty powerful.”

The semester synthesizes the students’ experiences living with Honduran families with what they learn about poverty and development.

“It’s the connection between people’s lives interacting and the theoretical explanations of what’s going on in that country," says Hoksbergen. "The theories are so powerful because you’re living there.”

VanderPlas, who is considering a career in either policy or international social work, says she feels privileged to receive a Gilman scholarship. She believes her Honduran semester will reinforce her commitment to work on development and poverty issues in the future.

“I’m really interested in women’s rights and issues like poverty and prostitution in developing nations,” she says.

VanNocker, who plans a career in development work at the policy level, is also grateful for the Gilman funds.

“It was pretty shocking, actually. I didn’t anticipate it because the program is pretty competitive,” she says. Originally a Spanish major, VanNocker first planned to visit Honduras via Calvin’s Spanish Studies Semester in Honduras. She is excited that Calvin also sponsors development studies in the country.

“I had a lot of friends who had gone to Honduras for this as well," she says. "I’ve been waiting to go on this program for a long time.”

Programs like the Honduras semester are increasingly necessary in higher education, Monsma says.

“I think as the world moves more toward globalization, we owe it to our students to encourage them to go out and experience that wider world so that they are prepared to go out and work in it," she says. "And if they remain in the U.S., these programs help them to see the U.S. differently.”

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson