By Jill Spotz

International affairs major Eline Pellicano ’24 wanted to visit Senegal since she was 6 years old. Not only does Pellicano have several family members from the west African country, but she grew up listening to her father tell stories of his many visits while working for a series of nonprofits.  

Eline Pellicano ’24 smiles in front of art.“Throughout his visits, my father developed Senegalese relationships that were important to him. One of my goals in life was to also visit Senegal and begin to establish a connection,” Pellicano explains. This desire was strengthened while in high school when Pellicano volunteered for an organization that helped young women from countries like Senegal and Mali, among others, to transition to American schools and communities. Pellicano’s participation allowed her to assist with homework, cooking classes, and other activities that would support a healthy integration for women in the program. During this time, Pellicano spoke with many Senegalese women about their experiences, which only deepened her desire to visit the country one day. 

Pellicano’s dream came true this past winter as she was awarded a Gilman Scholarship, enabling her to study in Senegal. Pellicano is one of two Lafayette students who received grants through Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program to support international opportunities. The second scholarship recipient, Jessica Melhorn ’24, will be traveling to Kraków, Warsaw, and Berlin this summer to learn more about present and past international conflicts. This year, the Gilman International Scholarship Program awarded nearly 1,500 U.S. undergraduate students with scholarships to participate in study abroad programs in more than 80 countries worldwide.

Study abroad is so important to a student’s personal and academic growth. I am thrilled for this year’s recipients of the Gilman Scholarship. We are fortunate to partner with the Office of Financial Aid to ensure all students who have financial need are aware of opportunities like the Gilman Scholarship so they can apply,” says Rochelle Keesler, director, Office of International and Off-Campus Education. “Between external funding sources like the Gilman Scholarship (funded by the U.S. Department of State) and other forms of support like the new Bergh Family Fellows program (supported by Chip Bergh ’79 H’22), we are moving closer to our goal of ensuring all students who wish to study abroad are able to do so regardless of their financial need.”

During her time in Senegal, Pellicano and a group of 22 additional Lafayette students were led by Wendy Wilson-Fall, professor and program chair of Africana studies, and Rachel Goshgarian, associate professor and assistant head of history, through a total immersion of Senegalese culture. The students participated in daily language lessons to learn the native language, Wolof, traveled to historic sites, and participated in discussions with Senegalese university students and professors. 

“Every day at 9 a.m. we would take Wolof lessons,” explains Pellicano. “There was one lesson in particular where we learned basic formalities of saying please and thank you. The way people say ‘You’re welcome’ in Wolof is ‘Noo ko bokk’ (pronounced no ko buk), which translates to “we share it.” If you think about it, that’s a totally different state of mind. In the U.S. ‘You’re welcome’ means I did YOU a favor. But in Senegal, whatever benefit I brought to you is something we share. This is just one example of a paradigm shift that was so meaningful and transformative to me in a lot of ways.”

Pellicano’s trip to Senegal was her second study abroad experience, as she previously spent a semester abroad in London. She plans to return to Brixton, London, this summer to intern at Baytree Centre, a nonprofit organization supporting refugee girls awaiting placement at a U.K. school. It also supports older refugee women with English lessons and community-building opportunities. 

Keesler points out that during the 2022-23 academic year the Office of International and Off-Campus Education has advised more students during their application process for a Gilman Scholarship than any previous academic year. Simply applying directly through the Department of State provides students some advantages, as some of their program partners provide scholarships to eligible students who apply to the Gilman Scholarship. 

Pellicano’s experiences abroad were so transformative that she urges other Lafayette students to pursue similar opportunities. 

Think about it … when else in your life are you going to be supported during a trip anywhere you want to go?” Pellicano asks. “While we are here, we have campus support, guidance, and the presence of people we know. All of that support is so integral to a college study abroad experience.”

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