Gilman Scholar Farah Mohamed to Spend Summer 2023 in Seoul, South Korea 

February 10, 2023

Korean culture has always intrigued Farah Mohamed. Instead of studying Spanish or French in high school, Farah studied Korean. Although she applied for a Gilman scholarship to study abroad, she wasn’t confident in her essays and felt she probably wouldn't win. So, she was NOT expecting an email congratulating her. 

When that email came, she thought, “Oh, this is just another school email.” But when she opened it, she was stunned! When I got the email, I just freaked out! I freaked out, and I sent it to my mom. And she was like, oh my god, you got it!”

Farah said it was around September 2022 when she found out about the Gilman study abroad scholarship opportunities. She saw the information on one of the TV display monitors on campus, and she just went ahead and applied. The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is a U.S. State Department-funded scholarship that offers international study abroad opportunities to students who otherwise would not be able to afford such a rich and valuable experience.

During the summer of 2023, Farah will spend about a month in Seoul, at Sogang University. She selected the study abroad program offered by CIS Abroad ( called, Summer in Seoul -- Korean Culture & Language Immersion.

I want to say I am very grateful for this opportunity! The beauty of South Korea, for me personally, is its history. I’ve done a deep dive into the history, and that’s when I really became fascinated. I thought if I went to Seoul, that I would become better at speaking the language. And I have goals of working in South Korea in the future because of their big tech industry.

Also, I’m interested in K-pop (Korean pop music) and K-dramas (Korean TV dramas). The K-dramas also help with learning the Korean language. 

To apply for the scholarship, I had to write three essays. It took me a while because I didn’t even know how to start or even what to write about. I went on YouTube and just typed Gilman scholarship tips. Then I just watched videos, and everything started coming to me all at once. I just wrote everything down. Then, I sent it to a study abroad advisor who reviewed it and recommended what to change and revise. After I did that, I just sent it in. 

I talked about how in high school, for my freshman and sophomore years, I studied in my parents’ home country of Somaliland. I think the experience of being in another country got me the scholarship. 

Somaliland is an independent country from Somalia, and it is where my parents grew up. The thing was that I wasn’t fluent in the language that they spoke. So, I had a difficult time adjusting, but the whole idea was to become immersed in my culture.

That’s what I want to do when I go to South Korea--immerse myself in the culture--because I plan on working there. I was like, let me talk about my experience of living in Somaliland in my essay, and maybe they will be interested in that. So that’s what I did, and I got the scholarship.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background
I'm 18 years old, was born in the states, and graduated from Fairfax High School. I like to read, travel, dance and draw a little. I speak fluent Somali and I can read and write in Arabic. 

What are you studying at NOVA? 
I am studying cybersecurity. This is my first year and my second semester. I came to NOVA because of how affordable it is. 

I'm glad I decided to go here instead of a four-year. I did apply to many universities and was accepted at places like Georgia State. But the thing that threw me off was the tuition. I don't want to struggle with money. So, I said let me go to NOVA for two years and then just transfer. And that's what I did!

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you've liked and friends you've met.  
I have met a lot of professors who were very kind to me and made the classes I took a lot more fun. But I had this one English professor; her name is Sarah Jacobson. At first, I wasn't talkative in her class because I just wanted to do my stuff and go. But she was really nice, and she made me feel really comfortable in her class. 

She's the one who wrote my recommendation for my study abroad program. That's how everything started. I just asked her, can you write it for me, and she said, ‘Yes, of course.’ She's one of my favorite teachers on the Annandale Campus. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA? 
I would say have fun and be yourself, but remember to focus on your studies. I would tell them not to be afraid of reaching out for help. Because I didn't reach out for help my first semester, it caused me a lot of stress. But after I reached out and asked questions, everything came together. 

I have a hard time with math, so I asked my math professor if I could get help. He said there is a math tutoring center upstairs near the library. I went there, and the people were really helpful. I learned a lot. I would say not to be afraid to reach out.

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?
When I graduate from NOVA in 2024, I have plans to transfer to GW (George Washington University). I'm studying cybersecurity now and will continue studying cybersecurity there. Also, I plan on minoring in Korean studies or international relations. I haven't decided yet.

I do want to land an internship to help build up my resume, maybe in my junior year. But I see myself graduating from George Washington University and working abroad somewhere in Asia or the Middle East.


The U.S. Department of State’s Gilman Scholarship is an undergraduate scholarship program for U.S. citizens or nationals of limited financial means to enable them to study or intern abroad. The program provides awards of up to $5,000 for students who are U.S. citizens, Federal Pell Grant recipients and studying at the undergraduate level at a two- or four-year institution. In the past two years alone, NOVA has had an impressive ten students receive this highly competitive scholarship! In fall 2022, eight applied and five received the scholarship! We are here to help NOVA students be the next recipient!

For more on the Gilman Scholarship, contact Leeza Fernand, associate director of the Office of International Education & Sponsored Programs,

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