Gilman Scholars Off to Japan and Sweden


By Barbara Melendez


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 4, 2010) – Once dreamed-of overseas adventures are now a reality for two University of South Florida students who recently earned prestigious Gillman Scholarship Awards. Japan and Sweden were the countries they set their sights on, and they are now enjoying experiences of a lifetime.


Good advice and a series of wise decisions are landing Shalonda Isom in Japan for what may turn into an extended stay if things go according to plan. This enthusiastic international business major is using her scholarship to spend a semester in a country she has grown to love from a distance. 


“I’m excited, scared, curious, but above all I’m grateful for the opportunity,” said the 23-year-old junior from Atlanta, Ga., who is living in on-campus housing at Kansai Gaidai University. 


Isom transferred to USF from Valencia Community College in Orlando on the advice of one of her professors. A friend, knowing of her interest in business, suggested international business, an idea she clicked with immediately. USF’s program suited her plans because it required either an internship or a semester abroad. That sealed it, but there was another decision to make.


“One of the requirements of the program is to specialize in a country and I thought about what would most benefit me, based on my future plans. I came up with China, Japan and Korea,” Isom said.


Japan won out because she loves sushi and admires what she observed of Japanese culture. There was only the question of learning the language. Having already studied French and Spanish, she expected Japanese to be a lot more difficult than it turned out to be. 


“I loved my professors in the program, they were awesome. They made the experience of learning so much better for us. I love learning about different cultures and they involved us in actual tea ceremonies and research projects, so learning Japanese was a lot easier than I thought it would be.”


Despite facing weekly quizzes and never having applied for anything quite like this, she filled out the application and was pleasantly surprised to find herself with the prestigious scholarship for underrepresented students. 


Isom is looking forward to spending a few years working in Japan with an eye towards paying off her student loans and steeping herself in Japan’s culture, because her future plans involve opening a restaurant and somewhere down the road, a hotel of her own.


The other fortunate Gillman Scholarship recipient from USF is Danya Loutfi, also 23, and an international studies major from Ocala. 


Needing courses towards completing her major in English, her choices were limited to England, Denmark and Sweden. 


“I chose Sweden because of the country’s reputation as a very progressive state in terms of environment and human rights, etc.,” Loutfi said. “Also I felt that culturally they were less like the U.S. than England.  It seemed like the more charming, interesting option.”


While she can get by with English, Loutfi plans to learn some Swedish and learn more about Swiss culture. When she returns to the U.S., she plans to finish work on her bachelor’s degree and go on to medical school. It has helped Loutfi to have a supportive family and friends before and during this experience. 


“My family was very encouraging. My friends were really excited for me and supportive,” she said. “But I don't think any of us could really imagine that it was actually going to happen.”


She’s in Sweden right now and very happy to be there, but she still pinches herself.


“Honestly, the whole while that I was preparing to study abroad it didn't seem like a reality; and now when I reflect on where I am I'm still in a state of disbelief.  I'm pretty thrilled that I was given this opportunity and took it up.”


Isom agrees and has adopted the a new philosophy now that one particular dream has come true.


"I am overjoyed and excited about the things to come in my future,” she said. “I am extremely appreciative and by achieving this major goal in my life I feel as though no obstacle can stand in my way."



The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.