21. Bosnia & Herzegovina – To Jump or Not to Jump

Creative Nonfiction, Reflections, Thirty by Thirty, Travel

The sight of the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia & Herzegovina is one that stirs the heart of visitors and locals alike. In 2015 it was selected for one of the Red Bull Cliff Diving Competitions and, as I found myself backpacking without a strict itinerary, I made arrangements to journey there from Dubrovnik. For me, the thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie within still comes out on occasion, typically when towering heights are romanced by deep waters. With my visit spanning a couple of days, I was ecstatic in thinking that, as soon as the crowds cleared out, I would walk along the extraordinary landmark and jump off the bridge myself. After spending one afternoon downstream on some riverbank cliffs, I had a profound shift in my thinking that has affected how I perceive my travels, and the people I meet as a result of those travels. My awakening in Mostar spurred the dilemma I face with understanding my own rite of passage.

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Study Abroad – A Grateful Gilman Scholarship Recipient

Creative Nonfiction, Education, Gilman International Scholarship, Study Abroad

“Study abroad is a special experience for every student who participates. Living and learning in a vastly different environment of another nation not only exposes our students to alternate views, but also adds an enriching social and cultural experience. It also provides our students with the opportunity to return home with a deeper understanding of their place in the world, encouraging them to be a contributor, rather than a spectator in the international community.”
-Benjamin A. Gilman

For those of you who are just stumbling upon my blog, HI! my name is Kelsey.
For the last ten years I have been pursuing a round-about education through community college, overseas volunteer projects and backpacking trips, and, most recently, through a “Degree Called Me” at the University of Colorado.

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I will be studying abroad at the University in Oslo, Norway for the Spring 2018 Semester. During my application process, I became familiar with various scholarship programs, losing count of my submitted applications somewhere around thirteen. But today I am incredibly grateful to accept and thank the Gilman Scholars Program for their generous award towards my dreams of studying abroad. Below you will be able to read my Statement of Purpose Essay, as well as the ideas I will be moving forward with for my Follow On Service Proposal.

As a wholehearted advocate for education by immersion and developing empathy and cultural sensitivity by traveling and studying abroad, I hope that my posts continue to inspire and lead others to taking opportunities to study and travel to new nations and fall in love with various cultures, traditions, and perspectives about life.

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, is one of the most esteemed and competitive scholarships offered to U.S. Citizens who long to study abroad. Recipients of the award must meet requirements specified on the website

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.


  • Be a citizen of the United States;
  • Be an undergraduate student in good standing at an accredited institution of higher education in the United States (including both two-year and four-year institutions);
  • Be receiving a Federal Pell Grant or provide proof that he/she will be receiving a Pell Grant during the term of his/her study abroad program or internship;
  • Be in the process of applying to, or accepted for, a study abroad or internship program of at least two weeks for community college students and three weeks for students from four-year institutions, in a single country and eligible for credit from the student’s home institution. Proof of program acceptance is required prior to award disbursement;
  • Be proposing to study in a country not currently under a Travel Warning issued by the United States Department of State* or otherwise determined ineligible for program participation.


In the following paragraphs, I will share my Statement of Purpose Essay, as well as some of the ideas I have for promoting and thanking the Gilman Scholar’s Program with my Follow On Service Project.

It is a tremendous accomplishment to follow in my sister’s academic and otherwise inspiring footsteps, as I am a first generation college student. My brothers and I are all in college because of her influence, due to a family tragedy where we lost our parents. My sister was twenty-two when our bi-polar mother unexpectedly took our father’s life. In turn, she selflessly filled the role, not only of an older sibling, but substitute mother and father to myself (eighteen at the time) and our then sixteen-year-old twin brothers.
After our dad died and our mom was incarcerated, my sister canceled her study abroad semester in France to stay in Minnesota and keep our family from falling apart any more than it already had. One year later, she had established stability for us, to the point where she was able to take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad. During this time, she told me stories over Skype about meeting new friends, delicious foods she was tasting, languages she was learning to speak, and unique trips she was able to take while living and studying overseas. Looking back, it’s unfathomable how much Raina overcame to attend her semester abroad, and this is just one way she imparted to me the importance of perseverance through difficult times.
Raina has always propelled me to strive to be a more genuine person. When we volunteered with Prisoner’s Assistance Nepal in 2009, her words and example taught me firsthand to love well, respectfully observe cultural differences, and to be inspired by everyone I meet. For five weeks I learned about the social repercussions of the lack of a foster care system as we worked with a Nepalese organization who aids children whose parents are in prison. Simultaneously on this trip, my eyes were opened to the beauty of differences in religious and cultural traditions. Many of the practices and habits I observed in my Nepalese acquaintances incorporated their way into my life on that trip, and my curiosity for international study was ignited.
Now, predominantly because of my sister’s example, I believe I can graduate college, take advantage of a semester abroad, and meet people who could direct me toward the international career I long for. The chance to study abroad in Norway, the place where my family emigrated from, brings me tremendous joy, and I look forward to learning more about my identity and heritage during this semester abroad. Presently living in Colorado, I am a member of the Sons of Norway organization, which connects and instructs people about our Scandinavian background. Upon returning, I will be able to give back to my community in an incredible way. Whether contributing to the communications and culture department, sharing a unique recipe at a bake sale, or calling out Bingo numbers in Norwegian, this scholarship and study abroad semester will have an effect on a great number of people.
Though I have the emotional support of a loving family, my schooling and other basic financial expenses are up to me to provide. As I am employed full-time, attending school full-time in addition has presented its challenges. That being said, I am proud to have made the Dean’s List with my 3.85 GPA. Awards like this encourage me to continue dedicating myself to excellence, and opportunities like studying abroad are the types of adventures that allow me to learn through life experiences and become the best version of myself to offer the world, which is one of the deepest goals I possess.
My dedication and passion for a greater understanding of cultural diversity make me a promising applicant for the Gilman Scholars Program. My ideal degree is not merely Communications, but one emphasized with international focus. I dream to join a company that does business in the United States and Norway, because there are large Scandinavian populations in Seattle, the Midwest, and New York, and I have family in those locations. By making myself an asset to a company through my studies in Norway and the US, my work may allow me to travel between these “hubs” and stay connected with my family while developing an understanding of my Norwegian heritage.
Studying abroad in Norway will allow me to observe global and regional economic change, as well as absorb Norwegian values on sustainability and respect for nature. Through this opportunity, I will be able to reflect on the standards and methods of my home country while simultaneously learning procedures and systems of greater Scandinavia and the international world. One outcome in merging my love for culture and communication is that I dedicate myself to describing what I learn in relatable ways to other people.
By choosing the semester abroad option, I believe I will have the chance to be heavily immersed in the Norwegian language and lifestyle. Specific courses I have requested admission to will tie into both my Communications degree, as well as provide me with insight to the Norwegian philosophies I am so fascinated by. In addition to being granted access to the intellectual community at the University in Oslo, I am looking forward to reconnecting with my extended family in Norway. One of my greatest obstacles in studying abroad is being distanced from my brothers and sister and their families. We have developed very precious relationships with one another based on our life experiences. However, through an extraordinary occurrence, I was introduced to an entire branch of my family tree that I have never officially met. As I plan to study abroad in Norway, my relatives and I have made plans to spend time together when our schedules permit. This is just one example of how my study abroad will help me achieve my personal goals of internalizing this culturally rich opportunity.
As one who applies myself wholeheartedly to giving and receiving from learning experiences, I am hopeful for the chance to join the Gilman Scholars Alumni and make the most of this remarkable academic adventure.

As a Junior, I have begun to create a social media persona, “CitizenPushpin,”  to be used as a portfolio following my graduation from UCCS. With the goal of remaining locally invested and globally enchanted, I hope to network whilst dedicating time and efforts to my education programs. My Follow-on Service Project will tie into this portfolio seamlessly, as I consider myself at heart to be an advocate for education by exposure, volunteering abroad, and immersing ourselves internationally to study culture and comparative religions. I love this world and the people and perspectives that fill it, and one of my passions is developing my ability to help individuals communicate cross-culturally to focus on what we share in common, rather than avoid each other because of the ways in which we differ.
Another reason I started this social media persona is to motivate people to grow their list of places they desire to visit and learn about, while simultaneously “pinning” locations as they achieve those goals; “CitizenPushpin: A home for bucket-lists and been-there’s…” By weaving a thread of uplifting, earnest media concerning global awareness, I am building a network that unites hopeful travelers with those who have experienced traveling. Utilizing platforms such as Instagram and a blogging website, I am working with and writing for brands that emphasize sustainability and promote the “Leave No Trace” cause locally in Colorado. My posts and presence on social media revolve around adventure, education, and intercultural communication, and I believe that engaging with Norwegians and other international acquaintances I make will strengthen what knowledge and outlooks I am capable of sharing with my developing network.
My Follow-on Service Proposal targets students interested in worldwide education who are unsure if they are prepared to live and study abroad. By incorporating a specific blog series into my CitizenPushpin portfolio about living and studying in Norway, learning the language, and interacting with local people, I hope to help students see that intercultural studies and immersion are incredibly rewarding and worth their efforts and investment. An increase of social media connections in recent years presents the opportunity to influence the world in unique ways. Because of my affinity for the diverse lifestyles and approaches taken by countries and people around the world, I feel my observations will spark interest and affection for learning about international matters. I long to help students pursue international study and believe sharing insights to my experience will encourage other students to become involved with the Gilman Scholars Program and benefit from studying abroad.
Storytelling is a value of numerous cultures I admire, and I aim to strengthen it as a skill of my own. By using my blog to articulate the excitement I feel as I navigate through a new city, I hope to foster intrigue in someone who wonders what it is like to wander foreign streets. In presenting what I learn about engaging properly with new traditions or norms I experience, I trust it will make an impression on one who has yet to consider that not every nation operates identically. Through posting a picture of my journey abroad, I hope to draw in like-minded explorers who will relate to my stories. There are reflective, humorous, and informative tales to be told concerning life overseas, and I desire to use CitizenPushpin to inspire others to make the most of every learning experience.
Blogs, podcasts, and photographic poetry are quickly climbing to the top of the market for relating and engaging with one another. Balancing being present in the moment and exhibiting a presence of positivity online is a challenge I am intentional about respecting. My conversations with peers and professors at the University in Oslo, or grocery store clerks and bus drivers, are all interactions with people whose lives add so much to my own. Describing these exchanges are ways I anticipate giving back to the local and global community.
It is my hope to impact the world as I am molded by and gifted with the wisdom and experiences that others share with me. I have delivered a one hour program to the Sons of Norway lodge in the past about a trip I took to Norway, and it was warmly received. Upon returning from my semester abroad, I would have speaking opportunities in this community, as well as through Student Leadership Conferences and other programs at UCCS, to promote education abroad opportunities and the Gilman Scholars Program.


In conclusion, I cannot express my gratitude to the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, not merely for selecting me as a recipient, but for the vision they have in sending U.S. Citizens out into the world to deepen their understanding of the way things work internationally. As globalization spreads, it is important to me that we value and respect cultures in their most authentic forms, all the while learning to work together for the common good of our planet and the people, plants, and creatures that call it “home.”

I hope you’ll join me for my study abroad journey.
Advice and insight from previous experiences is warmly received!

Yangon, Myanmar

Read more about the vision for CitizenPushpin here

12. Panama – A Cloud Forest Illuminated

Creative Nonfiction, Intercultural Communication, Outdoors, Thirty by Thirty, Travel

Think back to a day where you collapsed at its end.
Consider the weight that your mental and physical frame felt.
I remember one of those days.

We were exhausted; the labor of the day lingering on our bodies like the cigarette smoke from our French host’s lips. Gathered around some scattered lanterns, we sat on the floor eating our dinner in what could best be described as the skeleton of, what would soon become, a house.

6. Cambodia – first they killed my education

Creative Nonfiction, Thirty by Thirty, Travel

A blood-red sky clothed earth at dusk,
I gazed through the chain-link fence.
Heavy-laden within my being I
pondered new-found understanding,
and each-and-every-thing I never knew.

At a take-a-book-leave-a-book, one had stood out,
the auto-biography of a brave little girl.
Travelers before me left worn, tear-stained pages,
its burden opposing the paperback’s light-weight.
Stories that followed were gut-wrenching tales
of power, corruption, and war-torn rememberings.
First They Killed My Father, the heart-breaking title proclaimed,
and tragic words of non-fiction were uttered.

5. Malaysia – The Worlds of Murphy’s Law

Creative Nonfiction, Thirty by Thirty, Travel

Choppy waters beneath the bouncing boat gave us the workout of a lifetime as we clutched our stomachs with laughter. The bulky life jackets made this quite challenging; their padding by no means lessened the intermittent blows to our spinal columns. If the ride was a musical score, it was a jumble of smooth minuets and unexpected staccatos. After reaching the outward reef of the island, we paid the driver and tossed our backpacks into the smaller water taxi that would shuttle us to shore.

Pulau Perhentian. A sweeter sight had never been seen. Relief and exhaustion were culprits of our delirious giggles, for it had been nearly thirty hours since our last full night’s sleep.

4. Nepal – Freed by Peace

Creative Nonfiction, Intercultural Communication, Thirty by Thirty, Travel

Coffee colored strokes danced across my hand like ripples. Swirling lines and accents spoke a dynamic script, narrating the setting and characters who had burst onto the scene of my life only weeks prior. Giggling girls gathered around the next candidate and watched their house-mommy paint a lattice of love with both concentration and ease. Their eyes like marbles, I wondered if it was the charcoal eyeliner or innocent delight that widened their gaze so. Sitting on the staircase below a tall, slender window, natural light spilled upon us, causing the coconut oil coating our henna to shimmer like liquid gold on the palette of our diverse skin tones.

Nepal Collage

Henna. Kathmandu, Nepal.

3. Thailand – Put Me in My Place

Creative Nonfiction, Thirty by Thirty, Travel

Had just two weeks passed since I was watching Sex and the City from the comfort of my tempurpedic bed in Minneapolis? Could it really have been five days from the time I was drinking too many cocktails in New York City, embarrassing myself by [wink] “whispering secrets” in the ear of a stranger? In a bungalow clear across the globe, I now sweat – I mean sat – [in my own sweat, nonetheless] – with furrowed brow and a quivering lip.

The less than reliable electricity meant I didn’t feel the soothing breeze of the rickety fan, nor see the ceiling lamp illuminate the mosquito net I had been so enamored by the night before. It also meant I couldn’t see any of the unwelcomed pests – or pets, we called them to assure ourselves of our safety – but no light with which my sister could see my sour expression didn’t mean we both couldn’t feel the lump in my throat from choking back tears.

1. USA – Maps and Markers

Creative Nonfiction, Thirty by Thirty

Hoisting myself up until hipbones met metal, any energy directed toward rational contemplation lasted no more than a moment. With a little bounce inspired by elementary gymnastics, I swung my legs out to the side, emphatically dismounting the dumpster – cardboard prize in hand. Four solemn faces met my stubborn, angry eyes.

With bare feet embracing the hot Utah asphalt, I shaded my gaze to look across the parking lot, hot vapors dancing above it. Whispering witnesses to fury, they melted into an otherwise mundane weekday afternoon. Pebbles and tar bits clung to my soles as I marched into the five-and-dime style gas station, asking the attendant if I could please borrow a sharpie.

“Colorado,” I penned. I was not getting back in that car.

Thirty Nations by my Thirtieth Birthday

Creative Nonfiction, Thirty by Thirty

Discovery: of culture, of countries, of character revealed.

The World Pushpin Pano

For years I have explained that my love for travel and appreciation for culture is rooted in an obscure longing to find gems scattered across the globe that belong in my soul. Reflection is not always my strong suit, as I tend to move quite fast through life. However, upon realizing I am a few countries shy of tacking thirty pushpins into different nations on my bulletin board world map, I’ve made it a quest to visit them prior to my thirtieth birthday. Whilst preparing to tackle the next adventure, I will be focusing on how traveling has changed me and helped me see the world more fully. Abroad or at home, both innocence and ignorance have been my companions. My first international exposure as an adult was in 2009. I was a twenty-one-year-old little girl, coming out of a socially-awkward childhood, clueless as to cultural differences and customs.

The adventures were intoxicating, though I believe they would be better referred to as conquests… pushpins, if you will. Desperate to quench an insatiable hunger and thirst for meaning, purpose, and understanding, I leapt from one life experience to another. Volumes of journals were filled, with the occasional page left blank, unresolved, waiting for the completion of the thought, the comprehension of the events at hand. I never felt prepared to reflect or ponder the past, but grasped at the new, leaving behind gaps for which I could not yet find satisfactory expression.

The hope for this blog series is that in some way I will be able to contribute to the community of explorers; whether describing locations or customs or the invaluable lessons that come with exposing yourself to them. In reading and listening to other travelers’ experiences, I have been inspired. It has given me insight to what I can learn from my journey because, in some way or other, I can relate to theirs. Thank you in advance for letting me speak honestly on where I’ve been, physically as well as mentally, and how my addiction to travel has propelled me to delve into the greater world, and how myself and others view it so differently.

Beginning 31 August 2017, thirty Thursdays remain before the milestone in question, and each week until March 25, 2018, I will share a story from the journey.

It is my hope that this connects me with more like-minded people and travelers, ones who have valuable insight to the world and the persons with whom we share it.

Let maps, adventure, and pages of journals unfold:


Read along in the posts below:

1. USA – Maps and Markers
2. Canada – The Awe of a Child
3. Thailand – Put Me in My Place
4. Nepal – Freed by Peace
5. Malaysia – The Worlds of Murphy’s Law
6. Cambodia – first they killed my education
7. Mexico – Below Borders 
8. Dominican Republic – Entitled, Will Travel
9. China – Menu Mania
10. Myanmar – Photographic Glimpse
11. Nicaragua – For the Love of Bicicletas
12. Panama – A Cloud Forest Illuminated
13. Norway – Reality Show or Reality Check
14. France – Fromage with Friends
15. Germany – Drunk King, Sober Saunterer
16. Netherlands – For the Love of Beer
17. England – “Show Me the Night That I Dreamed About Before”
18. Spain – Mermaids of Menorca
19. Italy – When In Roam
20. Croatia – The Universal Language of Tragedy
21. Bosnia & Herzegovina – To Jump or Not to Jump
22. Poland – Prisons, Pierogies, and Queens
23. South Korea – Strolling Through Seoul
24. Israel & Palestine – A Gallery

25. Iceland – Frozen Hearts and Puddled Lands