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Scholarship supports 6-month adventure overseas

Friday, March 7, 2014
Scholarship supports 6-month adventure overseas

Gillian Cooper on the island of Capri, Italy. 
OU student Gillian Cooper travelled three months throughout Western Europe prior to her three-month study abroad in Macerata, Italy, an overseas journey that gave her rich international, social, and cultural experience. Her adventure, which took place during summer and fall 2013, was made possible using the Gerald Pearsall Memorial Travel Award and a Sharp Scholarship.

“I had six months abroad in mind,” said Cooper. “I began by choosing major cities I wanted to see in Western Europe. Planning was stressful. I did a lot of Internet research and made my own transportation arrangements.  I had no experience and had never been out of the country before.”

Cooper realized that six months abroad would be pricey. To help finance her travel, she applied for the Pearsall Travel Award.

“The Pearsall Award is one of the coolest recent developments in our office. It doesn’t pay toward student accommodations during study abroad, but it pays for accommodations in  hostels and so students can use it before or after studying abroad, like Gillian did, in order to travel around inexpensively,” said Dr. Brian Connery, director of OU’s Office of International Education.

The travel award was initiated by a $25,000 endowment from the Michigan Council of Hostelling International USA. The award covers the cost of overnight stay at any Hostels International: clean, safe, low-cost accommodations for travelers of any age around the globe.

Cooper faced the budgetary limitations of an average 19-year-old.  The $250 Pearsall award helped cover the cost of overnight stays in hostels in London, Amsterdam, Prague, Barcelona, and Rome. Cooper found each hostel was unique and offered different amenities.

“My room in the Great Eastern in London had 12 beds, but didn’t feel crowded at all with the simple décor and floor to ceiling window which allow you to hear the waves of the Thames River at night,” said Cooper. “Breakfast was included - coffee, tea, toast, and cereal. Adaptors and towels were available to rent.”

When not staying in hostels, Cooper used Couchsurfing International, a hospitality exchange, where homestay is consensual between host and guest and no monetary exchange takes place. Couchsurfing is available in 100,000 cities and reports seven million members worldwide.

Cooper’s travel adventure ended in Rome where she boarded a train to Macerata, Italy and began her study abroad with a group of American students. A $500 Sharp scholarship helped cover program costs. 

“Former Board of Trustees member James Sharp and his wife, Tessie Baltrip Sharp, wanted to make study abroad economically feasible for as many students as possible, and so they endowed this scholarship so that we can give about twenty $500 scholarships every year,” said Dr. Connery.

The experience was life-changing for Cooper.

“My travel and study abroad were amazing, and I recommend both,” said Cooper. “You will meet some beautiful people. Now is the time to do it. The travel and experiences are geared to people in their 20s, and everyone there is the same age. It will change you.”

To be considered for the Pearsall Travel Award, an Oakland University student must be a member of Hostelling International USA ( and have a GPA of 2.8 or higher.  Applicants must submit a proposal that outlines travel plans and the educational benefits of the travel. Pearsall application deadlines are April 1 and Oct. 1.

Sharp Scholarship deadlines are April 4 and Oct. 4. Forms and details are available on the International Education website at

Student study-abroad walk-in advising is available Monday through Friday in 160 North Foundation Hall. No appointment necessary. For additional information on study-abroad/study-away programs, visit the International Education website or Facebook page.