USA Study Abroad Year in Review

Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program | Critical Language Scholarship Program | Preparing Alumni for Impactful Careers | Building Domestic Study Abroad Capacity | Building Overseas Study Abroad Capacity | Digital Resources | Looking Forward

The U.S. Department of State’s USA Study Abroad team is proud to be part of a community of outstanding professionals dedicated to the expansion and diversification of American student mobility! We had an amazing year in 2018, thanks in large part to all of you, and we wanted to take moment to reflect on what was accomplished. We are excited about the year ahead and hope you will stay connected to us for the exciting upcoming initiatives! Let us know at if you would be interested in receiving emails about opportunities from USA Study Abroad! And your thoughts and suggestions are also always welcome at that same email address.

Our core mission is to expand study abroad opportunities for U.S. students to gain critical skills in support of our national security and economic prosperity. We believe study abroad is for everyone – American students of all backgrounds – so we particularly focus on further diversifying student participation to better reflect the rich diversity of our country through the young people who travel overseas. As Secretary Mike Pompeo said, “Nothing can replace the people-to-people connections that happen when our young people study abroad,” so we also strive to expand opportunities in diverse destinations to ensure that Americans are engaging with peoples and cultures across the globe. We worked in conjunction with a number of partners in the United States and overseas to achieve these goals through a variety of programming and activities in 2018. We are grateful for the dedicated staffs at our cooperating agencies for their roles in supporting implementation of our exchange programs in 2018 – the Institute of International Education for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, American Councils for International Education for the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program, and World Learning for the Capacity Building for U.S. Study Abroad Program.

So, what exactly did we do?

We supported nearly 3,850 American undergraduate and graduate students to study and intern abroad in 115 countries across all world regions through our two main exchange programs.


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Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program

During academic year 2017-2018, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program awarded 3,276 scholarships to U.S. undergraduate students from 607 colleges and universities to study in 113 countries.


The Gilman Program expands the American student population who studies and participates in internships abroad by supporting exceptional undergraduate students with high financial need from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories with scholarships of up to $5,000, with an additional $3,000 available for the study of a critical language. Since the inception of the Gilman Program in 2001, more than 28,000 American undergraduate students from over 1,300 U.S. colleges and universities have studied or interned in 150 countries around the globe.

During academic year 2017-2018, the Gilman Program provided scholarships to American students historically underrepresented in education abroad.

We announced the Gilman Top Producers for the first time ever the at the Diversity Abroad conference in Miami, FL. With the Gilman Top Producers list, we highlighted U.S. higher education institutions that are at the forefront of expanding study abroad through the Gilman Program by recognizing institutions, based on size and type, which generated the most Gilman Scholars in 2016-2017. We also recognized institutions by priority achievement areas that are the hallmarks of the Gilman Program, including first-generation college students, students of racial/ ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, students in STEM fields, and students traveling to the most diverse destinations.

We built support for the Gilman Program through collaboration with Education New Zealand and Airbnb, allowing 15 additional Americans to study abroad in New Zealand and China this year. Education New Zealand committed to providing $50,000 over two years to support Gilman Scholars to study and/or intern for academic credit in New Zealand, and we match this funding. Airbnb’s support, a commitment of $80,000 per year for three years, furthers our objectives to increase scholarship support to an underserved population, advancing American global competitiveness and engagement across the world.

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Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program

In 2018, the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program provided 572 American undergraduate and graduate students with an intensive, fully-funded language learning opportunity in one of 14 critical languages in countries where these languages are predominantly spoken.


The goal of the CLS Program is to increase the number of Americans mastering foreign languages critical to U.S. national security and economic prosperity in order to prepare young Americans for future careers, advance American interests abroad, and contribute to U.S. national security. In 2018, the CLS Program offered opportunities to study Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu in countries where these languages are widely spoken.

The 2018 cohort of CLS Scholars represented 33 different fields of study, 96 majors, and the full diversity of American students.

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Preparing Alumni for Impactful Careers

In 2018, we developed new initiatives to support alumni of our Gilman and CLS Programs. Gilman and CLS alumni are making significant contributions to our national security and public diplomacy efforts as well as bringing their global experiences back to communities across the United States. Four Gilman and CLS alumni were named to Forbes 30 Under 30 for their work in public policy, healthcare, and education. Nineteen Gilman and CLS alumni were also selected as Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellows or Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellows, continuing the trend of our alumni using skills gained on program to pursue careers in the Foreign Service.

We wanted to assist our outstanding alumni as they pursued impactful careers and launched a pilot series of virtual and in-person initiatives.

We held career-readiness workshops for over 100 Gilman alumni in Kansas, Oregon, and Wisconsin. These full-day workshops included guest speakers representing public and private industries, as well as interactive sessions on how to highlight their experiences in resumes, job interviews, and social media.

Each workshop also included a session on Non Competitive Eligibility, a status that allows U.S. federal government agencies to hire eligible Gilman and CLS alumni, as well as alumni of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, outside of the formal competitive job announcement process. The workshops also strengthened the Gilman network by connecting these early-career professionals not only to resources, but also to each other.

We are grateful to Mount Mary University, University of Kansas, and University of Portland for hosting excellent workshops for our Gilman alumni!

In October 2018, we hosted an exclusive panel focused on tech careers for our Gilman alumni, moderated by ECA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary Caroline Casagrande. Five American women business leaders who serve as mentors for ECA’s TechWomen Program spoke with more than 60 Gilman Program alumni about launching careers in technology, business, and innovation. Thirty percent of Gilman Scholars during the 2017-2018 academic year were in STEM fields.


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Building Domestic Study Abroad Capacity

During 2018, we focused on “leveling the playing field” through a number of training sessions to build the knowledge and skills of Gilman and CLS advisors from a wide variety of colleges and universities. We also collaborated with several colleges and universities and our U.S. embassies and Fulbright Commissions to establish and expand study abroad programs for U.S. students through capacity building activities, including webinars, workshops, and student outreach. We built partnerships with other government organizations, allowing us to expand outreach and promote USA Study Abroad programs and initiatives.

Nearly 200 advisors and representatives from U.S. colleges and universities attended five advisor training workshops facilitated by USA Study Abroad in Mississippi, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Illinois, and California. The workshops increased attendees’ capacity to better promote the Gilman and CLS programs, support student applicants, and share best practices related to these programs on their campuses.

We are grateful to DePaul University, University of California-Davis, University of Kentucky, University of Rhode Island, and University of Southern Mississippi for hosting excellent workshops for our Gilman and CLS advisors!

In collaboration with World Learning, we launched the Capacity Building Program for U.S. Study Abroad in 2018. In 2019, twenty-one sub-awards of up to $35,000 will be given to selected higher education institutions in the United States to create and help expand their capacity to grow and diversify study abroad programs for U.S. students. We will also launch a series of interactive virtual and in-person initiatives to better support American student mobility.

In collaboration with the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA), we convened a series of virtual and in-person presentations for approximately 100 members of the U.S. study abroad community. CA outlined improvements to the Travel Advisory system and shared tips for overseas safety, while our USA Study Abroad team shared ECA scholarship and exchange opportunities. The series of engagements in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Washington, DC underscore the importance the Department of State places on the safety and security of Americans abroad. We are grateful to CA for the collaboration, as well as the support of the State Department’s Diplomats-in-Residence!

We are grateful to New York University, Spelman College, Tufts University, and University of Southern California for hosting these important information sessions!

We also spent time meeting with U.S. higher education partners across the country to listen to feedback on our programs and initiatives, but also to better understand the wider U.S. study abroad space. We also attended a number of conferences and other events to engage better with our stakeholder groups of U.S. higher education representatives and students. We thank everyone who took time of their overwhelming schedules to meet and share with us and look forward to meeting more of you in the future!

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Building Overseas Study Abroad Capacity

In 2018, we awarded 29 Study Abroad Engagement Grants (SAEGs) to our U.S. Embassies and Fulbright Commissions around the world to build international higher educational institutions’ capacity to recruit and host U.S. students overseas in study abroad or internship programs. Since the program’s inception in 2015, we have awarded 110 SAEGs to our embassies, consulates, and binational Fulbright Commissions in 64 countries across all world regions to support a diversity of programming. For example, Mission Ecuador used its grant to work with Yachay Tech University in Urcuquí to develop a study abroad program for U.S. students focused on biological and geological sciences (pictured).

ECA’s Assistant Secretary Marie Royce (pictured center) highlighted the success of our SAEGs during a town hall at the NAFSA Conference in Philadelphia in May. During NAFSA, which is attended by more than 10,000 international educators and professionals, Assistant Secretary Royce also launched our new Gilman Program logo and announced the addition of Brazilian Portuguese to the CLS Program.

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Digital Resources

At the end of 2018, there were nearly 5,000 users in 151 countries enrolled in our The Study Abroad Toolbox, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), developed in collaboration with Arizona State University, and designed to increase institutional capacity for U.S. study abroad. This free online course is a great tool for higher education administrators and faculty looking to build and grow study abroad programs at their institutions.

In addition to our MOOC, USA Study Abroad hosted several webinars to share information on our scholarship programs and resources during 2018. For example, we partnered with our colleagues at the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to host a series of webinars about the CLS and Gilman Programs for administrators and faculty at land grant universities (pictured). Visit the USA Study Abroad webinars site to view these webinars and our digital materials.


Looking Forward

Thank you to all of you who helped make 2018 a fantastic year for USA Study Abroad and U.S. student mobility! We look forward to 2019 being even better. We have launched our Capacity Building Program for U.S. Study Abroad program, are adding Brazilian Portuguese as a critical language on our programs, and will host even more career readiness and leadership workshops for our program alumni. Stay tuned for more updates, and again, let us know at if you would be interested in receiving emails about opportunities from USA Study Abroad!

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The Value of Study Abroad