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Two USF Gilman Scholars Voyage to Africa


USF senior Claire Crowley embraces 11-year-old Ndumiso, one of many homeless kids she worked with during a summer immersion trip to South Africa in 2007. Ndumiso passed away from HIV/AIDS related illness shortly after Crowley return to San Francisco.

Senior Claire Crowley remembers sobbing in the Johannesburg airport as she waited to depart from a summer study trip in South Africa a year ago, wondering how she would ever afford to return to the continent that had enthralled her. Now she can, as the winner of a Gilman International Scholarship.

Crowley, an international studies major with emphases in African studies and global studies, and junior Cecily Cook, an international studies major, with emphases in peace and conflict and the Middle East, were recently named recipients of Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship awards. Crowley won $5,000 to study in Bamako, Mali this fall, while Cook won $8,000 to put toward a fall semester in Cairo, Egypt.

This is the third year that one or more University of San Francisco students have been awarded Gilman scholarships. Three other students won in years past, said Gerardo Marin, USF vice provost. The award is funded by the U.S. Department of State for undergraduate students who qualify for low-income college grants. Crowley and Cook were two of 700 scholarship winners, selected from 1,659 applicants for 2008.

Crowley, who spent five weeks working for a nongovernmental organization assisting thousands of children living on the streets of Durban, South Africa last summer, sees her return to Africa as an opportunity to more fully explore her major by living and studying for four months on the “humbly magnificent” continent that changed her life.

Departing at the end of August, she’ll return home in time for Christmas. While there, she’ll live with a local family in Bamako, study Malian history and culture, and French (Mali's official language), and conduct research on the impact of gender roles in a developing country, specifically within polygamous families.

“In today’s culture of hostility and terror, we are taught to fear those who are different than us, rather than try to understand them,” said Crowley, who spent time doing outreach to homeless children while in South Africa. “If we honestly want peace, we must transcend and supersede enemy images with dialogue, association, and solidarity among all peoples and cultures.”

She sees international study as one of the paramount ways of overcoming those cultural biases.

Cook, who received additional funds to study Arabic (one of the Gilman scholarship program’s “critical” focus areas for 2008), chose Cairo for its intrigue. “In general, my time in Cairo will make me more familiar with the customs, people, and ways of the area I'm studying,” Cook said.

Living and studying in the Middle East will bring a real-world context to her study of peace and conflict, something not easily absorbed from a book, Cook said. “It will give me a first-hand account of what life is like in such a volatile region,” she said. She’ll also experience what it's like to live, study, and travel in a Muslim and Arab country, which is important because of her regional emphasis, Cook said.

Like Crowley, Cook has devoted time to aiding street children in the developing world, having returned in July from a trip to Peru as part of the Not For Sale Campaign – whose aim is to stop human trafficking. A year ago, she took part in an Erasmus living-learning community immersion trip to Cambodia.

“I hope that my time in Egypt, learning the customs, language, and particulars of the country, will enhance the rest of my educational career and give me a competitive edge when it comes time to begin a long-term career, whatever that may be,” Cook said.

Written by Edward Carpenter »usfnews@usfca.edu