Oftentimes, the things and experiences that are outside of a person’s comfort zone, as long as they are safe and beneficial, are the things and experiences worth doing, according to All Bahamas Merit Scholar (ABMS) Mahlia Neely. A semester abroad was definitely out of her comfort zone, but she’s glad she did it.
Mahlia, 21, recently completed a semester at Spanish university Universidad de Carlos III/University of Carlos III, where she was taught exclusively in Spanish, alongside students from Spain pursuing their bachelor’s degrees. Her reading assignments, essays, group projects, presentations – everything was in Spanish. Despite the added difficulty, her final grades will count toward her official transcript and grade point average (GPA) at Vassar College. Because of this, she said, she was pretty nervous going into the semester abroad. However, she pushed through and worked hard to do well. At the end of the semester, her final grades, after being converted from the Spanish grading system to the American grading system, were all in the A range.
She has a 3.95 GPA.
“Knowing how much work I put into this unorthodox semester, I am very happy with these results,” said Neely.
Neely, who will commence her senior year at Vassar in the fall to complete her studies in English, believes the semester abroad complemented her college experience, and said she is grateful she got the opportunity to do it.
“I appreciated the comprehensiveness of the experience. I really feel like I got to experience a little bit of everything – stimulating classes at a Spanish university, fun in the city with friends, and laughing at the dinner table with my host parents, my host siblings and my host dog named Bobby. I learned so much about culture and art and history and religion – and everything in between.”
Neely, who is now conversational in Spanish, said she plans to continue learning and practicing until she is fluent. Due to the classes and credits she had to take to prepare for it, she is now planning to pursue a minor in Spanish.
“With a few years of college under my belt, I still think education is as important as ever. My college experience, thus far, including my semester abroad, has only reminded me how valuable and fulfilling learning is – no matter the format.”
Neely is getting her education courtesy of the ABMS which is valued at $35,000 per annum for up to five years depending on the degree pursued, and is valued between $140,000 over four years, or $175,000 over five years, dependent on the degree program, and tenable at accredited universities locally or abroad.
The ABMS scholar said after her semester abroad, she has realized just how true and valuable the scholarship is.
“My advice is to believe in yourself. It’s important to truly believe that you can achieve whatever you put your mind to. Recently, I came across a quote that I really like. It says, ‘Everything you want in life is already yours.’ If you want to go to a certain college, win a national merit scholarship, or pursue a particular career path, you must first believe that it is already yours – that you can and will achieve it. No matter what your goal is this faith in yourself will motivate you to put in the work necessary to see your goal come to fruition.”
Neely chose Spain for her semester abroad for the simple reason that she had been learning Spanish for as long as she could remember – from primary school throughout high school and college. Then, there’s the fact that she wanted to visit Europe, so she thought Spain would be the perfect place for her to do a semester abroad.
The daughter of Corrina and Tyrone Neely said her experience in Spain was “nothing short of amazing”.
“I had a great time exploring different cities, conversing in Spanish with local people, watching television with my host family, trying new foods like paella and Spanish tortilla and just being immersed in a new culture.”
The professed island girl at heart said she enjoyed experiencing city life for a few months and will miss the hustle and bustle, the crowds of people walking around on a Saturday evening, and being able to get almost anywhere in less than 30 minutes on the underground Metro train.
The 2019 ABMS recipient, an honor she shares with Dehron Smith, is the highest level of merit scholarship awarded by The Bahamas’ government.
Neely and Smith were the 24th scholars to receive the ABMS since the introduction of the award in 1993.
The naming of Neely and Smith as co-ABMS recipients was historic as it was the first time in 25 years of the scholarship being offered that two people received the prestigious award in one year. Smith also received the award two years after graduating high school.