Saturday, November 22, 2014

Study abroad scholarships

As an undergraduate student, one of the biggest obstacles for my dream of studying abroad was money.  I was managing to fund my studies via a full tuition scholarship, various smaller scholarships, Pell grants, and work study. I didn't think I could manage to cough up enough money to finance a semester-long study abroad program, but my boyfriend (now my husband) encouraged me to at least check it out, so I did. As it turned out, I was able to apply the dollar value of my full tuition scholarship towards the total cost of the program, and fund the remaining portion with a study abroad scholarship and student loans (which were worth every penny that I'm repaying!).  But if I hadn't had the full tuition scholarship, I never would have had the opportunity, because I couldn't have managed to come up with the money on my own.

That's why I love these two scholarship programs.

  1.   This program has scholarships for undergraduates and fellowships for graduate students.  These awards are extremely competitive, because they fully fund the study abroad program, and it funds study in areas that are of interest to national security (Western Europe is off the list, in other words).  This scholarship does come with some strings attached, as recipients have to agree to work for the federal government
  2.  This program is for undergraduates who receive Pell grants. Participants can study anywhere except Cuba and countries on the State Department's Travel Warning List.  The award can be up to $5,000, with $4,000 listed as the current average. In addition, if you're studying a critical language, you can apply for an additional award of $8,000 to support your study abroad program.  If I were an undergraduate now, I would be learning Mandarin.  (I'm still going to keep trying, but my old brain doesn't retain the characters.)

If you're interested in study abroad, speak Spanish, and would like to know more about my study abroad experience, I've written about it here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Kelly Graves and the Morrow Community Center, and Sarah Cooper and the Compton Community Center

I'm doing a terrible job at updating my blog, and I apologize. But once again, I have a good excuse.  His name is Staffan (pronounced /stə.'fan/), and he was born in January!

We're in Nebraska, so of course we're football fans. 
We're also big baseball fans, and we love the College World Series!
This post actually isn't about language learning, but it is about technology. I've started to get emails from various people telling me that my resources page is helpful, and they've found a site they think should be added. In general, they claim that either children have found said site, or that they found it while looking for resources for children. Here are two recent messages I've received:

How are you? My name's Kelly and I'm a mentor at the local community center. The kids that I mentor wanted me to email you and let you know that they think your page,, has great spanish resources.
As the kids were looking for some more resources online, they had a wonderful idea to send you a resource they found, [link deleted to avoid generating traffic for the site]. What a fabulous idea. 
I wanted to surprise the kids with a field trip to one of the local restaurants that serve Spanish cuisine, my treat, if their resource is added. (Also, for their efforts as well of course.) 
So, if it's something you add, let me know! The kids would love to make a contribution.
Kelly Graves


My name is Sarah Cooper and I work at Compton Community Center in Compton, California. We are beginning to introduce a series of summer camps for children in our area.

I'm developing activities for students from first through 12th grade, and one of the most important topics I've been searching for is foreign language. I wanted to let you know that your page ( was extremely helpful to me. I really appreciate it!

I also found this article:[article titled and link deleted to avoid generating traffic for the site]
It's educational and would be a great resource to include on your page. What do you think? I would love to hear any thoughts you have to share. 
Thanks again!
Sarah Cooper
Assistant Director of Educational ActivitiesCompton Community Center

So what's going on with these requests?  The sites listed in all the requests do have a Spanish resources page, but usually the information is basic, sometimes it's just plain incorrect, and frequently it's just a list of random sites somehow related to learning Spanish (not usually a good list, either).  What's really going on is that the sites in question get a higher page ranking (they show up higher in the list in Google searches) the more sites that link to them. And they're not really about learning Spanish or any other subject; they have a paid product (trip insurance, for example) that is the main purpose of their site, but they have a bunch of subpages that they use to try to generate more hits and get higher in the search rankings, thereby gaining visibility and enhancing profitability. (That's my deduction, in any case; there's probably a better technical explanation, but the bottom line is that links to the page improve their search ranking, and an improved search ranking means that it's more likely that people will find them and purchase their product.)

So what's the problem? They know that most people don't really care whether their site gets higher in the search rankings, so if you just email someone and ask them to link to your page when they have no good reason to do so, they're going to say no. So they create these crappy resource pages, and then to "sell" them, they say that children have found the site, and they will get a reward if their site gets added to your resource list (as in "Kelly Graves'" email). And it works. Google "Kelly Graves Morrow Community Center" (not in quotes), and you'll see that "Kelly Graves" has gotten a ton of people to add .com links to their resource pages with the fake children scam.

Things to note: All of these requests come from someone who appears to be affiliated with an educational organization, such as a school or community center. They've all gone to the trouble of creating real websites (even .org websites) to appear like a legitimate organization, but if you peruse the websites, you'll notice that there's no physical address or contact information for the supposed community center or school.

Fake sites (I've included links here because these are the dummy sites that these sites/companies have set up to trick people into believing that the suggestion is coming from an educator, child, tutor, etc.; these are not the links to the for-profit sites):

  1. Morrow Community Center (Notice how there's never any mention of where this community center is located, either in terms of a physical address or even a city and state):
  2. Compton Community Center (At least has a city and state, but still no contact information or physical address):

So what's the point?  Usually when I get a resource suggestion, I look over it and decide if it's any good or not. If it adds something to my resources list, I'll add it, and if it doesn't contribute anything new or worthwhile, I don't add it. When I got the request from "Madeline", supposedly a 4th grader, I also looked over the site, saw that it wasn't a worthwhile site, but because the request came from a supposed 4th grader who was going to get credit if I posted the link, I posted the link anyway.  It's worth noting that the class really exists; I was able to find the school and teacher in the town and state mentioned. But that doesn't mean that the person that emailed me was really a fourth grader in that class. The takeaway: If a site isn't valuable, don't include it anyway because it came from a child, because a group of children came up with it, or because of any other manipulative tactic designed to get you to link to a site with no real value to your educational resources list.

Just for fun:  Feel free to email "Kelly Graves" and "Sarah Cooper" to tell them you read about them here.

Kelly Graves:
Sarah Cooper:

EDITED TO ADD: I emailed "Kelly Graves" and "Sarah Cooper" the link to this post, and today I see that I have a hit on my blog from Internet Marketing Ninjas.  So now I know who's been hired to promote at least one of the .com pages, and how they use unethical business practices in order to improve page rankings for their clients.  So if I were going to use a marketing service, I'd avoid using that one.