Accounting Major Earns Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship

By Tom McLaughlin

Truth be told, recalls Bielka Gonzalez, her fascination with South Korea actually began when she and her friend took an interest in a popular Korean language Netflix series called Strong Girl Bong-Soon. Although they dutifully watched the show with English subtitles, she wanted to understand it in Korean and was soon learning the language online.

“I got so invested in it,” recalls the rising Rutgers University–Camden senior with a laugh.

Gonzalez says that she especially looks forward to improving her Korean language skills living and studying among native speakers.

It is precisely this “can-do” attitude that has now earned the Rutgers–Camden accounting major a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which she will use to study at Ewha Woman’s University in South Korea this fall semester.

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs awards the scholarship to U.S. citizen undergraduate students to pursue academic studies or career-oriented internships abroad. Gilman Scholars are often invited to attend diplomatic receptions, present on the U.S. higher education system, and network with foreign participants of U.S. Department of State exchange programs.

“I am so excited to earn this scholarship. It’s a great weight off my shoulders,” says the Pennsauken resident, who will use the $2,500 award to pay for housing and flight expenses. “I can’t wait to see what opportunities lie ahead.”

Gonzalez says that she especially looks forward to improving her Korean language skills living and studying among native speakers. And that friend she had mentioned? Sylvia Santiago, an English major at Rutgers–Camden, will be studying at Ewha University right alongside her.

Gonzalez plans to blog about her experiences living in South Korea on the website Mindful Banter Travel. She already has posted on such topics as explaining how to apply for study abroad programs and seek financial aid assistance and about her inspiration for traveling to South Korea and what she expects to get out of the experience.

This summer, she is preparing for her semester abroad by taking introductory and advanced Korean language classes online through Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s Department of Asian Languages and Cultures.

A Camden native, Gonzalez began her journey to South Korea one block from the Rutgers–Camden campus as a preschooler in the LEAP Academy University Charter School, founded by Rutgers University Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor Gloria Bonilla-Santiago.

Gonzalez is currently earning her certification to teach English as a Foreign Language.

Fifteen years later, Gonzalez – a 2016 high school graduate of the LEAP Academy – arrived at Rutgers–Camden and quickly found a home away from home in the Honors College. Since day one, she says, advisors are there to help students pick out their courses, but assist them in a way that enables them to learn to help themselves.

“They’ve been there since the beginning,” says Gonzalez. “They help support you so much throughout your journey. Whatever you need, they are there for you.”

In her first year, Gonzalez completed two internships in Center City Philadelphia with Pricewaterhouse­Coopers (PwC) that the Rutgers School of Business–Camden and the Career Center helped her find. She recently completed another internship with the company this spring, helping expatriates and inpatriates complete their taxes in accordance with U.S. regulations as a member of PwC’s Global Mobility Service Team.

Gonzalez has also volunteered during her time on campus. She led the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk for the past two years and served as a Jumpstart Corps member, tutoring preschoolers at the Early Learning Research Academy – where she once attended – at Rutgers–Camden.

“I love the children – I was in their shoes before,” she says. “I want to give back to my community.”

Gonzalez is currently earning her certification to teach English as a Foreign Language upon graduating next spring. She may return to South Korea to do so, but is exploring many options. She then plans to transition to a job in the accounting field.

Wherever she goes, and whatever she does, says Gonzalez, she is confident in her abilities to succeed and isn’t afraid to explore new opportunities. After all, she says, that’s how her parents raised her, adding that she has an amazing support system of family and friends who provide “real-time feedback” if she is making a bad decision.

“Who would have known 10 years ago that I would be this professional businesswoman going to South Korea. It’s mind-boggling,” she says. “Now I’m 19 years old, a year away from graduating, and I can’t wait to see what happen next.”

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