Maria Chak

Maria Chak


UCD Semester in Dublin


The opportunities to travel to various European countries has been a tremendous privilege and a dream that I did not believe would come true. As a first generation college student, the opportunity to enter Cornell was not only an accomplishment for myself but, also for my family. Although I had accomplished what my parents never could, I wanted more; I wanted to travel the world and pursue my passion in international governance and equitable development.

With the support and encouragement of Brigid Beachler, Managing Director of ILR Off-Campus Credit Programs and Kevin F. Harris, Student Services Advisor, I was honored the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship towards my study abroad experience at University College of Dublin in Ireland. The Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship is a grant program that enables students to study or intern abroad, thereby gaining skills critical to our national security and economic competitiveness, with a 28% acceptance rate for Fall 2017. With this funding, I was able to to refine career possibilities by immersing myself into an enriching and foreign culture.

The unique collaboration between the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the Quinn School of Business at University College Dublin (UCD) provided an in-depth understanding about issues at work and workplace relations. The curriculum included an opportunity to visit the European Parliament and analyze international development strategies, international relations and decision making processes. During the visit, the current first Vice President of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness shared her experiences in politics, both successes and impediments, as well as advice for students interested in a political career. The experience was truly eye-opening and indescribable.

The experience of studying abroad has changed my perception of the world and who I am as a person. I have learned to survive in an environment without all my loved ones – without the support network with which I rely on a daily basis back at home. While I missed them dearly, and sometimes found it difficult without their support, when deciding to study abroad, I knew it would push me outside my comfort zone to develop into a more worldly individual.

Furthermore, prior to studying abroad, I had never traveled much. The only time I can remember traveling was when I was eight when I traveled to Hong Kong to see my paternal family. The experience was wonderful but limited. One can even say it was a tease-test to open my future to this incredible world. During my study abroad experience, I traveled to more than ten different countries. With these opportunities comes the inevitable reflection that it was a privilege that not many people had.

I return from my international experience with a deeper understanding of international development and governance as well as a motivation to travel and see more of the world. I want to understand and immerse myself into more cultures and more situations. And I don’t want to just be a tourist. I want to become a local who sees what locals see, eats what locals eat, and feels what locals feel. I may be far from this dream but, I am a girl with big