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Center for International Studies
Study Abroad Alumni Profile – Sharonda Stith
Many WIU students don't even think about studying abroad. They think it's way too expensive; if it's hard to afford to even go to college, how can you think about an "extra" like studying abroad? That was what everyone told WIU alumna Sharonda Stith. But to Sharonda, studying abroad was just as important as going to college, and she was determined to make her dream a reality. And since then, she has used that determination and her study abroad experience to live and work abroad again and again!
Sharonda had financial constraints that caused her to stay out of school for one semester before she studied abroad. Even though studying abroad does not necessarily cost as much as WIU students may think it does, it is usually more expensive than studying at one of our Illinois campuses, so Sharonda knew she had to find a way to be able to afford it. She researched different study abroad scholarships before applying for and receiving a Benjamin G. Gilman International Scholar for Study Abroad for the 2002-2003 academic year at the University of Burgundy in Dijon, France. But, as it turns out, this was just the beginning.
After graduating from Western with a double major in French & Political Science, she went back to France in 2004 to teach English in Nantes for a year. Thereafter, she joined the U.S. Peace Corps in Gambia, West Africa to work as a Community Development Volunteer. In love with France, she went to Paris as a Department of State Intern at the U.S. Embassy, 2006, where she designed an evaluation study to track the occurrence of illegal immigration. Sharonda was elected to stay at the Embassy for 6 more months to work in the social service division assisting impoverished Americans residing in France.
Before she went back to the States, Sharonda studied at the famous Parisian Sorbonne University 2006 – 2007. Thereafter she earned her master's degree in Public Policy Administration at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, 2009. Fascinated by other parts of the world, Sharonda worked as an International Fellow & Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist at the International Foundation of Education and Self Help in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana, West Africa.
If Sharonda had given too much credit to the people who thought she couldn't make it, she wouldn't have studied abroad, and she wouldn't have gone on to so many adventures and rewarding experiences in other countries. Her will and the Benjamin G. Gilman scholarship were the "door-opener" for her to see what other opportunities are out there to help make dreams come true. We hope Sharonda's story will inspire other WIU students who think they can't afford to study abroad. If you are a WIU student looking for scholarship opportunities or just information about the real cost of studying abroad, please contact us.
Click here for more information on the Gilman Scholarship.
Click here for more information on study abroad scholarships.