Toi Nichelle has been working to change the discourse on mental health for years. But it wasn’t until attending an Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (TIES) in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2019, that she became inspired to finish work on her mental health book, The Hush Language Mental Health Journal.
As an undergraduate student at San Francisco State University, Toi majored in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry. While there, she had an opportunity to engage in several workshops that pushed her to reflect on one single question: “How did those words make you feel?”
To further understand this question, Toi set off as a Gilman Scholar to study in Norwich, England during her senior year of college, where she immersed herself in a new culture with a series of workshops and writers who challenged her to consider her own thinking, as well as her ability to chase a story.
In 2007, Toi put her interest in writing and poetry into action, establishing Dream Loud Ink Publishing, which aims to help writers take the next step in their writing careers. She began to realize just how important this mentorship and support was – and it was during this time that Toi discovered her calling.
Toi eventually released her first official work, The Hush Language Memoir, which recounted a personal story of the challenges that she faced throughout her childhood and that had played a key role in shaping her perspective on life. With a belief that by encouraging others to look inward and to identify their own trauma, she could help others to put these memories into context and feel empowered to move forward. This eventually led her to begin work on The Hush Language Mental Health Journal.
At the same time, Toi reflected on the strong academic support that she experienced during her Gilman Scholarship, and she was inspired to get more involved. In 2020, Toi was selected as one of 25 Gilman Ambassadors, a role in which she promotes international education to a wide range of audiences, including students, colleges, and universities, by presenting Gilman as a funding option for students who wish to study abroad.
And then in 2019, Toi attended the “Art, Culture, and Transforming Conflict” Alumni TIES in Santa Fe, New Mexico as an arts participant. It was over the course of the three-day event that she was inspired to carry on the work she had begun years ago – and it led to her completing her mental health journal in 2021.
Reflecting on her time as both a Gilman Ambassador and Alumni TIES participant, Toi noted that both experiences had a profound impact on her career trajectory. “Being a Gilman recipient taught me that I always had the ability to go after higher education and study in another country.” Toi plans to continue her studies at Arizona State University as a student in the M.S. Family and Human Development program, where she will further explore the intersection between writing and mental health, and how she can continue to bridge arts-based projects in her community.
For those considering international exchange, Toi strongly recommends going for it. “Don’t overthink it because you’ll limit all that you’re already capable of,” she said. “The exchange program you choose will help to shape your thinking and understanding of other opinions in the world. You’ll also have many resources and networking opportunities available to you during and after your program ends, so you’ll never feel alone during your process.”
Learn more about exchange program opportunities at exchanges.state.gov.