GTCC alum follows dreams to study abroad

Published on: September 29, 2023
Neil Sharma poses with a deer.
Neil Sharma was able to study in Japan after receiving the Gilman Scholarship, making his trip completely free.

 A common dream for many college students is to study abroad. Some want to learn another language, some want to conduct research, while others want to experience a new culture and country. For Neil Sharma, Guilford Technical Community College alum and current UNC- Chapel Hill student, all three were true.

When Sharma began his educational journey with GTCC, he assumed that studying abroad was inaccessible for someone like him. Even though he was aware of GTCC’s study abroad opportunities, he never applied. “I thought it was impossible, as a low-income, community college student,” said Sharma.

After graduating from GTCC and transferring to UNC-Chapel Hill, Sharma learned about the Gilman Scholarship, a federally funded program that aims to help Pell Grant students pay for a study abroad program.

Gilman explained that with the scholarship, traveling abroad for school is possible for all GTCC Titans, especially with the help of the Global Scholars department that’s equipped to help students submit their applications.

With the Gilman Scholarship, Sharma was able to spend his 2023 summer in Japan, conducting research and taking courses on the Japanese language at Kanda International University. The COVID-19 pandemic deterred his first attempt at studying abroad in 2020, but Sharma persevered and was able to make his dream come true.

Sharma, along with another student from UNC, stayed with a host family during the two months abroad. “Sometimes students are warned about culture shock and other international difficulties,” explained Sharma. “But this family, through their food and kindness, made sure that neither of us felt any of that. This family had my back.”

When not in class or doing research, Sharma had many exciting cultural experiences, including visiting sacred temples, enjoying an interactive art museum, eating and making traditional Japanese food, and seeing a traditional Kabuki theatre show.

Now that Sharma is home, he looks back fondly at his time in Japan. He hopes to return to Japan one day to establish his career there.

“For community college students, the time spent away and the price tag often make students feel that study abroad is impossible,” said Sharma. “But if you do your homework and make a plan, and get started on the application early, you can do it.”

Tiffany Overby, associate professor of English and the designated GTCC Global Scholars expert, said GTCC students have the option to study abroad in their time here, thanks to the Gilman Scholarship.

“Community college and first-generation students get priority for the Gilman Scholarship, so the chance of receiving it is very, very high for GTCC students,” explained Overby.

Overby encourages any GTCC students interested in studying abroad to reach out to her office to get help with the application and required essays.

“If you haven’t traveled abroad, I highly recommend it,” said Sharma. “No matter what it takes.”

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