Chris Verstrate's Student Veteran Gilman Scholarship Experience

My name is Chris Verstrate and I studied abroad at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland Australia for my sophomore year. Studying abroad is a great opportunity to see the world and connect with fellow students, but navigating the study abroad process can be trickier for veterans. I ran into a few obstacles along the way but had plenty of help from various organizations at GVSU.

When the Padnos International Center presented in one of my classes, it sounded incredible and I was even happier to hear that the GI Bill covered study abroad. I quickly picked a program after visiting Padnos and started the process like any other student. When I spoke with my certifying official she told me that the process wasn’t quite the same, as your school of choice must be a university approved by the VA, even though your education benefits will still be applied as if you were going to Grand Valley.

This includes the housing benefits being paid at the same rate as the GVSU zip code and the payment schedule following GVSU’s semester schedule. While I studied in Australia, the semesters didn’t quite match up, so there were a few months in the summer where I was getting paid while I wasn’t in class and a few months in winter when I was not getting paid while attending class.

The first and most urgent problem I encountered involved getting my visa to enter the country. My student visa was not approved until the week before I flew to Australia, and they needed me to have a medical examination done because of how many foreign countries I had been to while in the Marines. It is important to get your visa taken care of as soon as possible, and to keep on it. I didn’t discover I needed the exam done until I reached out to Padnos International Center and they gave me the number to call the immigration office. You must stay proactive about your study abroad experience.

Grand Valley has many scholarships to help cover the costs of studying abroad, and the Gilman Scholarship is one of the best. The Gilman Scholarship is in place to help students with limited funding study abroad. Without this scholarship, my trip likely would not have happened, and the support from the Office of Fellowships were invaluable in fine tuning my application essay. If you apply, be sure to read the requirements and finish everything ahead of time. I had trouble getting my international insurance card due to the time difference.

Picking your classes can be challenging, several of mine were not approved until I was already in Australia. It can be difficult to find classes that fit your major as the VA requires, many GVSU partner schools have existing equivalencies to choose from, but if you are going for more than one semester you may have to get creative to find other courses to take. Again, just do it while you’re still in the same time zone, having to wait a day to correspond with academic advisors slows the process way down and just adds unneeded stress.

Studying abroad was easily worth the extra work, it helped me connect with students that are younger with me, showed me an entirely new side of international travel without a chain of command watching over you, and was a great transition into college life. If you’ve ever even thought about studying abroad, talk to someone, get more information! I went into it just looking to earn some credits somewhere sunny and ended up making life-long friends from all over while gaining a better perspective on the world.

Chris in Australia