Shepherd University senior Valerie Taggart-Perez has received a $3,500 Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for her study abroad.
Now in her second semester in St. Petersburg, Russia, the fine arts major from Martinsburg thought it was too good to be true when she learned of the award.
"It felt like someone had not only taken a huge burden off my back but also given me the essential tool I needed in order to continue to strive forward and realize my dreams," she said.
Taggart-Perez sought to study in St. Petersburg after having visited the city as a child and plans to use her artwork to share her Russian experiences when she returns home.
"During my nine-month stay here, I will be able to collect a significant amount of materials, ideas, and visual resources from which to draw upon and work with when creating current and future series of artwork," she said.
She has been taking classes in English about the city's history, literature, and culture, as well as an intense Russian-language class at St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University.
As part of her study abroad program, Taggart-Perez is also participating in weekly cultural excursions which enhance her classroom studies.
"They have created a deeper understanding of the people and the environment which I've surrounded myself with," she said. "By far, they have greatly enriched my study abroad experience."
Ann Henriksson, study abroad director at Shepherd, said studying abroad can be a transformative experience.
"Being exposed to new ways of thinking and living encourages independence, self-confidence, and academic and personal growth," she said. Taggart-Perez agreed.
"Aside from my academic and career goals, my time spent here has already been and continues to be very influential to my own personal growth and professional life," she said.
The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program offers grants for U.S. citizen undergraduate students of limited financial means to pursue academic studies abroad. It aims to diversify the kind of students who study abroad and the countries and regions where they go. Such international study is intended to better prepare U.S. students to assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world.
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.