Southwestern junior Dakota Cortez’s semester is off to an especially busy start. In fact, it’s been a nonstop whirlwind since she received the news that she had been awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for the fall 2017 semester.

The Gilman Scholarship is a highly competitive award that provides opportunities for U.S.undergraduate students to pursue academic studies abroad. Receiving the scholarship made Dakota’s dream of studying abroad possible. She completed the application in early March, and was thrilled to find out at the end of July that she’d won.

The excitement was accompanied by a few hectic weeks sorting out details and preparing for the semester abroad. Plane tickets, luggage, saying goodbye to family and friends – it was a whirlwind, and before she knew it she was on a plane over the ocean heading to Morocco.

Dakota’s independent study, Migration and Transnational Identity, provides “an amazing opportunity to do fieldwork and ethnography on my own.” Dakota is pursuing a double major in Anthropology and Feminist Studies, with a minor in Race and Ethnicity Studies, so the opportunity fits well with her majors and minors at SU. It gives her the chance to examine the issue of migration from many different angles.

The North African country of Morocco borders Spain (to the north), Algeria (to the east) and Western Sahara (to the south). Dakota is studying in the capital city Rabat, which is located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the river Bou Regreg. “It’s been a transition, for sure” she admits. “It was hard being so far away from home at first, but it has also been amazing to be here and apply all that I have learned at Southwestern about inequality, racism, migration, tourism to real life situations.”

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

In addition to growing academically, Dakota knows this semester presents a life-changing opportunity for personal growth. “To be able to immerse myself in another culture and view things from multiple perspectives will help me in all areas. I am very thankful that I was able to come here - it literally would not have been possible without scholarships.”

What does she miss the most about home?   

Fried chicken. Tacos. Family. Friends. (but not necessarily in that order!). She especially misses her family, but knowing how proud they are of her keeps her motivated. She knows they’re happy that she has the opportunity to pursue her dream. “It’s amazing to be here and to make this experience my own.”

About the Gilman Scholarship

The Gilman International Scholarship Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and administered by the Institute of International Education. It serves to encourage U.S. students to assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world. Students are encouraged to choose non-traditional study abroad destinations, in particular, areas outside of Western Europe and Australia.

For more information about Study Abroad opportunities with SU, visit The Office of Intercultural Learning or contact Tisha Temple at