Olson receives Gilman Scholarship to study abroad in Spain

Erica Olson, of Gassville, Arkansas, received $2,500 from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program to study at the University of Granada: Center of Modern Languages in Spain during the fall semester. Photo by Ben Krain/UA Little Rock Communications.

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock student has received a prestigious Gilman Scholarship, so she can study abroad in Spain to improve her language skills to better serve her future Spanish-speaking patients. 

Erica Olson, of Gassville, Arkansas, received $2,500 from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program. She will use the money to study at the University of Granada: Center of Modern Languages in Spain during the fall semester.

The U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is a grant program that enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, thereby gaining skills critical to our national security and economic competitiveness.

“I am very grateful for the scholarship. I come from a single-parent household, so money for education has been tight,” Olson said. “Beginning in high school, I have tried to ensure myself financially by trying to get as many scholarships as possible to try to relieve that financial pressure on my mom.”

Olson is a super senior entering her fifth year at UA little Rock with three majors. She could have graduated in 2018 with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biology. During summer 2017, Olson went on a short-term study abroad trip to Spain led by Dr. Edna Delgado, professor of Spanish. They spent a week in Madrid, which Olson describes as the “New York City of Spain,” before spending a month living with a host family while taking classes at the University of Granada.

“My homestay life was incredible,” she said. “I had such a delightful group of ladies and an adorable, feisty cat to spend my time with during meal times and downtime. I have the palate of a five-year-old, and yet I found myself opening up to the variety of foods cooked for me. I also had the nerve-wracking yet exciting daily opportunity to practice my conversational Spanish with my family, all of whom were very patient and understanding.”

After discovering a love of the language and country, Olson decided to stay an additional year to complete a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and to study abroad for a semester in Spain.

Erica Olson, of Gassville, Arkansas, received $2,500 from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program to study at the University of Granada: Center of Modern Languages in Spain during the fall semester. Photo by Ben Krain/UA Little Rock Communications.
Erica Olson, of Gassville, Arkansas, received $2,500 from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program to study at the University of Granada: Center of Modern Languages in Spain during the fall semester. Photo by Ben Krain/UA Little Rock Communications.

“During and after my Spain experience, I kept thinking about how far I had come in my journey of learning Spanish and how much further I could and wished to continue,” she said. “Last summer, I was supposed to study for and take my MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and start applying to different medical schools.  

However, I had a revelation. I realized how the study abroad experience had affected me. I didn’t want to jump into medical school, where there would be rigid limits with regrets of not taking advantage of the opportunity I so desired. I wanted to study abroad again with the same amazing program and in Spain again to continue my dream experience but in a fresh, new way.”

Olson plans to attend the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She is already at home at UAMS as a volunteer in the Intensive Care Unit and a research assistant in the Emergency Department.

At UA Little Rock, Olson is a member of the Chancellor’s Leadership Corps, University Science Scholars Program, Biology Club, American Chemical Society, Wesley Foundation and a resident assistant and student ambassador for the College of Arts, Letters, and Sciences.  

Olson is also dedicated to helping other students get a head start in their careers. In 2017, she founded the university’s Pre-Health Club for students who are planning to work in the health industry as doctors, nurses, dentists, physical therapists, pharmacists, physician’s assistants, etc.

She is hoping that her semester in Spain will improve her language skills enough so she can hold conversations with patients who only speak Spanish.

“I came into college with the goal of becoming a physician who would be able to speak with patients in Spanish on at least a basic level,” she said. “This goal intensified when I would volunteer at UAMS in the Intensive Care Unit, and I would come across families who only knew Spanish, and I wasn’t able to communicate with them and meet their needs most effectively.

I would envision myself in the future as a physician and hope that I could bridge the gap between the communication barriers and make my patients feel more comfortable and understood. This inspired me even further to continue my Spanish education that was no requirement for any of my degrees. I am really excited to go back to Spain, get to visit new places, learn more about the languages, and be able to speak it more fluently. That’s my overall goal, so I can one day help patients, regardless if they can speak English or not.”

For more information about study or interning abroad opportunities, contact the Office of Study Abroad at 501-569-3376 or studyabroad@ualr.edu.

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