For Melanie Safi, traveling is in her blood. The child of Lebanese immigrants and a native New Yorker, she spent summers in Lebanon and the rest of the year in one of the most diverse cities in the world. So when Safi came to Brooklyn College, she knew she wanted to study abroad. But as a first-generation college student majoring in health and nutrition sciences, the path to do so seemed unclear, and possibly difficult. An e-mail from the Scholarships Office changed things.

In her junior year, Safi heard about the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program and with the help of Stephen Gracia, fellowship coordinator at the Office of Scholarships, and Mohamed Tabrani, director of the Office of International Programs & Study Abroad, she submitted a successful application.

In the summer prior to her senior year, and with the financial support of the Gilman Scholarship, Safi spent four weeks in Florence, Italy, with the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute, learning about the science of food health and well-being. Through the program’s culinary lab, she learned how to make traditional Italian dishes, using fresh ingredients and making pasta from scratch. In her free time, she and her classmates explored the city, tasting many varieties of gelato, walking through ancient palaces, and touring vintage stores in search of handmade leather goods—even taking a trip to Venice.

Those four weeks were crucial to shaping her long-term goals. “Living and traveling in a foreign country by myself and meeting people from all over the world widened my perspective,” she said.

Prior to her travels, she had only broad ideas of what she wanted to pursue. Upon returning to the United States, she began working at The Partnership for Food Safety Education and discovered a passion for marketing. Safi now hopes to find an internship abroad—hopefully in Europe—in which she can combine her formal education in food science and nutrition, her personal interest in marketing, and her newfound perspective on food, community, and culture.

She credits the Gilman Scholarship with giving her the insight to refine her goals, and the confidence to take the steps needed to actualize them. In addition to providing financial support to students with ambitions to study abroad, the scholarship connects them with the Gilman Scholar Network, a web portal that connects more than 34,000 Gilman alumni and provides a safe and private forum by which they can provide or seek mentorship, view exclusive job postings, and participate in Gilman-organized events.

Safi’s trip to Florence has not only given her unforgettable, unique experiences that would have been impossible to replicate in the classroom, but also a powerful support system she can lean on moving forward.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” she said.