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Manuel Santiago, Impacting His Generation and the World Through Diplomacy

Manuel Santiago, Impacting His Generation and the World Through Diplomacy

Manuel Santiago grew up in Guatemala City. His mom encouraged him to pursue a college education, and his deep curiosity about the world and its many cultures drove him to study abroad. Always thinking ahead, he chose NOVA because of the great transfer opportunities available here. Now, he is studying international affairs and expects to graduate in spring of 2023, after which he hopes to transfer to a four-year school that is strong in international politics and diplomacy. Manuel loves NOVA and has worked hard at learning German while he is here.

Last year, Manuel applied for and received the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, a U.S. Department of State scholarship to help undergraduate college students have the resources they need to study abroad. He was excited at the prospect of studying in yet another country and decided to use his scholarship to study and volunteer in Germany.

Santiago traveled to Germany during the summer of 2022 and worked as a volunteer and as a U.S. representative for Moabit hilft, a German humanitarian organization providing social services to a Ukrainian refugee camp in Berlin.

Moved by his experience, Manuel is now serving as a Gilman student ambassador on the Alexandria Campus, promoting the scholarship program to interested students. When the Office of International Education & Sponsored Programs held their Zoom information session to discuss details of study abroad and the Gilman Scholarship in early September, Manuel’s personal experience inspired the other students. Nearly 15 began their applications for the fall 2022 Gilman Scholarship cycle, triple the number they have seen in past sessions! Manuel also plans to develop a campus event, inviting the U.S. Department of State to the Alexandria Campus to help promote study abroad opportunities for community college students.

He is a believer in study abroad programs and in using those as an opportunity to serve others in need. He tells students to not be dissuaded from this life-changing opportunity by the length and complexity of the application process.

“For anybody wanting to apply for a Gilman Scholarship, the process may seem long at first, but it is doable and worth it,” he said. He felt a life-long spark was lit in him through his experience in Germany, and he wants to help light that spark for others. Here is a brief recap of his experience.

“Germany was incredible, it was a once in a lifetime experience and precisely what I needed to spark the flame for my future career as a diplomat. I applied for the Gilman scholarship ten days prior to the deadline. With some help from Leeza Fernand in the Office of International Education & Sponsored Programs, I was able to submit all three essays on time. The essays were intimidating but worth the late nights.

“The Gilman Scholarship has opened many doors I was unaware of, but that are incredibly necessary for my future. If it wasn’t for Gilman, I wouldn’t have been able to be part of the internship abroad and would have missed out on the great cultural experience of Berlin. The culture is so involved with sustainable ways to live their day-to-day life, and their culture revolves around art, society, expressing themselves through fashion, dancing, food, painting and many other ways. Plus, as a student taking German as a second language (actually a third language), I came back with a better understanding of the language, sentence structure and vocabulary that has given me an unspoken confidence, which I am grateful for. The friendships, first-time experiences and cultural awareness that I experienced will always be with me.”

Manuel Santiago is not just filing this away under “Really Great Experiences.” He is using it as a springboard to his dream of becoming an international diplomat. He is already thinking toward that goal and has applied to be a student intern at the U.S. Department of State for the summer 2023!

He is scheduled to take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) in February. Those signing up for the FSOT must choose three areas of focus. Manuel chose, public diplomacy officer, consular officer and political officer.

“As a diplomat, I want to be the change that I want to see in the world by helping people understand the differences between cultures and to understand that their differences are not a negative aspect, but just a different aspect,” he said.

“Being back in the U.S., the Gilman scholarship benefits have exposed me to so much more than I asked for. On my way to achieving my goals, I want to help as many people as possible. I am here to be a bridge between students and the Gilman scholarship. I will be working close to Leeza to help as many students as possible with their application process and essay structure for the Gilman Scholarship. Also, I will be doing events to make students aware of different ways to be involved with the Department of State and, who knows, even other departments of the Government. We will be the impact of our generation. 

For more on the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, contact Leeza Fernand in the Office of International Education & Sponsored Programs at LFernand@nvcc.edu

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is the largest public institution of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls nearly 80,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield (Medical Education Campus) and Woodbridge, through NOVA Online and high school dual enrollment. We offer more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs to help our students reach their academic and professional goals through university transfers and access to the most in-demand careers. At NOVA, we strive to ensure that every student succeeds, every program achieves and every community prospers. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, visit our website, www.nvcc.eduor call 703.323.3000.