Don’t be Afraid to Dream Big

UM freshman finds international adventure through Fulbright Program

Story by UM student Nick Hall-Skank

UM student Nick Hall-Skank visits Stonehenge on his way to study at the University of Exeter in southwestern England. As a freshman Nick applied for and was selected to participate in the Fulbright UK Summer Institute Program. He spent four weeks studying climate change alongside students from all over the world.

Last November, Laure Pengelly Drake, director of External Scholarships at UM, came to my Intro to Honors class to encourage my classmates and me to apply for various scholarships and award programs.

I was astounded to realize just how many opportunities were available to UM students, even freshmen!

One program in particular caught my attention: the Fulbright UK Summer Institute Program. Available only to freshmen and sophomores, this program enables students to travel to the UK over the summer to study at participating universities. The program covers the cost of tuition, flights and living expenses — it sounded too good to be true!

That is precisely why I almost didn’t apply. I knew the application would take a lot of hard work and that my chances of being selected were slim. But could I really let an opportunity this good just pass me by? Ultimately, I decided to apply, but without any real hope of being selected. What did I have to lose?

Seven months later, I stepped off the plane at Heathrow airport, excited for my first-ever international experience. I was headed for the University of Exeter, located in beautiful Devon County in southwestern England. There, I would spend the next four weeks studying climate change issues, immersing myself in British culture and making new friends from around the world.

The University of Exeter is one of the foremost climate research institutions in the world, so there was certainly a lot for me to learn. It was an honor and a privilege to have some of the world’s top climate scientists presenting their cutting edge research to my small class. Topics included everything from thermohaline circulation to peatland ecology to energy policy.

As someone interested in global conservation issues, I found it incredibly illuminating to see how issues like climate change are viewed and approached in another country. Given that the UK is a relatively small island nation threatened by sea-level rise, there certainly is a lot at stake. I was inspired to see how seriously the citizens and government of the UK take the issue of climate change. Practically every other building seemed to have solar panels on the roof and hundreds of wind turbines dotted the countryside.

Although I did spend a lot of time studying, the program left plenty of opportunities for adventure. I spent many weekends at the beach with friends, swimming in the ocean, looking for (and finding!) fossils, and hiking portions of the Southwest Coast Path.

While in London, I fulfilled a lifelong goal of mine, visiting the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, home to some of the rarest plant species in the world. Being an unabashed plant nerd, I was delighted to see in-person plants I’d only ever read about. Perhaps my favorite adventure of all was the day a friend and I decided to go on a boat tour off the Cornish coast, hoping to see some marine life. Our expectations were blown out of the water (literally) when we encountered a pod of over 100 dolphins!

One of the aspects that I most enjoyed about traveling abroad was meeting amazing people from all over the world. Students participating in the University of Exeter International Summer School represented 15 different countries from every inhabited continent. Just within my climate change class, there were students from China, Australia, Peru, Canada and all over the United States. It was truly a joy learning about different cultures and sharing my own.

Ultimately, however, I learned that our similarities far outnumbered our differences. Of all the people I met, I owe the biggest thanks to my English friends for sharing their knowledge and boundless hospitality. They took me to the best places to get fish and chips, taught me about pub quizzes, helped me navigate the London Underground, and introduced me to the culinary wonder known as the Cornish pasty. I still keep in touch with my friends from England and beyond, and hope to do so well in

to the future.

In sharing my story, I hope to show that incredible opportunities like this are available to anyone who is willing to buckle down, take the initiative and say “yes” when life offers you the chance to do something amazing.

Whether that means applying for your dream job, filling out a scholarship application, engaging in an awesome volunteer experience, or whatever it is you want to do in life, don’t be afraid to dream big. I can’t promise that you’ll get everything that you want, but I can promise that you won’t get it if you don’t at least try. My story could have happened to anyone, I’m not particularly special. I’m just a guy with a passion for the environment and an open mind who took the time to fill out an application.

Don’t be afraid to dream big — you might just do something amazing.

Learn more about external scholarships available to UM students. UM students interested in opportunities like Nick’s can contact Laure Pengelly Drake, director of external scholarships, at 406–243–6140 or

The UK Summer Fulbright Summer Institutes application will be posted here in late November.

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