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News & Stories: 2008-09

Gilman recipient studies in Honduras
October 3, 2008

She had to get used to the traffic: “Taxis everywhere, constantly honking. People driving crazy—it’s fun,” said Calvin junior Julia Riddell of life in Honduras. Also, the social norms are different. People don’t really stand in line here, but that you also get used to.”

Julia Riddell photoRiddell, who is studying in Honduras through a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, has had a lot of practice getting used to things. The daughter of missionaries, she spent her entire life, until she came to Calvin, in France.

Studying Spanish in France 

There, Riddell took up the study of the Spanish language—her major at Calvin—while a high school student: “The French school system makes you take two languages,” she said. “English wasn’t an option in my mind because I already knew it; German was my first language, so Spanish became my second.”

Inspired by her sister, who studied for a semester in Chile, Riddell purposed to study in Latin America. “We talked a lot about that experience, and she got me really excited and pumped about studying abroad.” She deliberated between Calvin’s semester programs in Spanish-speaking countries: “Mexico was much too close to the U.S. and too full of American things, people.” she reasoned. “So Honduras it was, and as I got thinking about it and reading up on the country, I got intrigued about its development versus poverty problems—its culture and people.”

New to development

She’s enjoying making the adjustment: “The experience is awesome. It’s something that I’ve never been around before. The culture is different, the food, the people, the society. I love it. It’s the first time I’ve been in a developing country. It’s been a growing experience.”

Riddell’s Gilman Scholarship  is part of a program—sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the Institute of International Education—designed to encourage undergraduate students to study in non-traditional study-abroad destinations. Over 3,000 students (inlcuding several from Calvin) have received Gilman scholarships, to study in over 80 different countries—among them Cameroon, Egypt, Uruguay and Latvia—since the program was established in 2000.

Internationally aware

Calvin Spanish professor, Dianne Zandstra, said that Riddell and the Gilman scholarship are a good fit. “She’s somebody who’s been abroad already—grown up abroad—so she’s aware of international dynamic and has a lively interest in these things,” Zandstra said. “She’s sort of the student you’d love to have in class.”  

Riddell has a few ideas about how she’d like to use her Spanish language skills post-graduation: “I would like to possibly work for an NGO where I could use my Spanish …,” she said. “Some sort of organization or association that involves helping development issues, or international relations.

Almost forgot...

She said she was surprised to land the Gilman: “I received an e-mail congratulating me about mid-summer," she recalled. "They sent me an official letter as well, I believe, but I think it went to France. I was working as a camp counselor for the summer and was super busy and had almost forgotten about the scholarship application, so when I got the e-mail, I was really, really excited!”

~By Myrna Anderson, communications and marketing

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